Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

The Patience of the Saints, the Apocalypse, and Moderate Nonconformity in Restoration England

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

The Patience of the Saints, the Apocalypse, and Moderate Nonconformity in Restoration England

Article excerpt

The convention of dividing studies of the political history of seventeenth-century England at 1660 has entrenched certain assumptions about the divergent characteristics of the years preceding and those following that supposed watershed. It has been widely accepted that the Restoration saw a change in the nature of political concerns, particularly the decline of religion as a relevant aspect of political discourse, a mistaken assumption which contributes to the persistence of the 1660 divide. (2) Such suppositions infer that the religious, political, and intellectual concerns of the previous half century quickly dissipated with the re-establishment of the Stuart monarchy.

Nonetheless, a number of works have begun to break down this division between pre- and post-1660 influences, demonstrating that radicalism and religious convictions continued as integral elements of Restoration political concerns and as incitement in the crises of the 1680s. (3) Indeed, Mark Goldie asserts that during the Restoration "the predominant language of politics was overwhelmingly the language of religious parties and civil war wounds." (4) The present study agrees with this contention, arguing particularly that millenarian and apocalyptic speculation, historiographically tenable as an explanation of political and religious impetus prior to 1660, (5) remained a significant aspect of the language of estrangement from the government and ecclesiastical settlement of Restoration England.

Although examination of apocalyptic thought in the later seventeenth century has not been entirely overlooked, (6) these studies have not sufficiently placed their analyses in the broader context of a larger Restoration political and religious discourse. A general tendency is to see apocalyptic thought as an idiosyncrasy, peripheral influence, or a the remnant of pre-1660 forms among the ideas of persons perceived as worthy of examination. In many ways, opinions regarding the nature of Restoration apocalyptic thought remain prejudiced by earlier assertions; concentration on early and mid-seventeenth-century issues led to claims that apocalyptic ideas were divested of political and religious potency with the failure of civil war aspirations, or even that millenarian beliefs, interpreted as a legitimate form of political and religious expression prior to 1660, suddenly became "the prerogative of the cranks' in the Restoration. (7) Contrary to these assumptions, however, the examination of apocalyptic thought within moderate nonconformity in the later seventeenth century demonstrates that the Restoration did not stifle the articulation of apocalyptic beliefs and that acquiescence did not necessitate the abandonment of these earnest convictions. Instead, resignation to the post-1660 political reality forced the adaptation of apocalyptic expectations and expression, providing important insights into the nature of moderate dissent in the later seventeenth century. Nonconforming authors were the most productive source of enduring apocalyptic commentary during the Restoration, and their writings focussed on the role of the saints within prophecy, the appropriate attitude toward civil authorities, the acceptable reaction to erroneous doctrine and worship forms, and the censure of the false ecclesiastical policies of spiritual and temporal powers.

It is important to distinguish between radical and more moderate forms of apocalyptic expression during the Restoration. While radicals voiced aspirations to actively bring down the re-established monarchy and Church of England in order to set up Christ's kingdom on earth, moderate nonconformists turned their attention to the significance of the Restoration religious and civil settlement in the apocalyptic scheme, spuming violent, aggressive behaviour in an effort to avoid association with rebellion or sedition. (8) The temper of moderate nonconformity developed in response to the imposition of a renewed uniformity with Church of England worship in 1662 and the subsequent legal penalties and punishments implemented to enforce that compliance: this atmosphere of suppression of religious expression and belief provided the backdrop for their apocalyptic ideas. …

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