Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

John Tillotson's Latitudinarian Legacy: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

John Tillotson's Latitudinarian Legacy: Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Article excerpt

High on the chancel wall of the London church of St. Lawrence Jewry rests a marble plaque to Archbishop John Tillotson. In bas relief, Tillotson's corpulent cheeks and prominent shock of hair are framed by two pudgy putti, each with a pendulous tear emerging from melodramatic eyes. Comical, if stared at for too long, the monument commemorates England's most popular preacher in the century following the Restoration. Occupying a coveted lectureship at St. Lawrence Jewry for nearly thirty years, Tillotson was interred in the church's vaults following his 1694 death.

Wartime enemies, however, do not recognize the resting places of famous preachers. In its 1940 blitz of urban London, Hitler's Luftwaffe destroyed Tillotson's church. Following the war, plans were drawn up to reconstruct the building and, in a macabre twist, the vaults were filled with cement. John Tillotson now rests encased in cemented darkness. No longer able to visit the vaults, which are politely described as "sealed," visitors are left to pay their respects to a marbleized Tillotson and his crying angels.

John Tillotson's cemented resting place is metonymical of his historiographie reputation. Beginning in Tillotson's lifetime, religious polemicists and hack writers used the calculus of Christian orthodoxy to paint the archbishop's homiletics as dangerously heterodox. Three centuries later, historians continue to use the same method to judge Tillotson's ideas. Echoing Tillotson's seventeenth-century Grub Street critics, modern scholars have staked the archbishop's historiographie reputation on the supposedly orthodox or heterodox nature of his popular sermons. Indeed, whether their assessment of Tillotson has been laudatory or negative, the question of Christian orthodoxy has dominated critical treatments of the archbishop. In this sense, Tillotson's historiographie reputation has remained statically cemented within a narrow continuum of theological opinion. It should be clearly stated that, although "orthodoxy" and "heterodoxy" are historical categories of analysis when utilized by seventeenthcentury polemicists, they are decidedly not useful when applied by modern historians. Historians can and should interpret the arguments of Tillotson's theological opponents but they should be very reticent in expressing their own subjective, value-laden theological opinions. When a modern historian takes up the mantle of a seventeenth-century hack writer and argues fervently that Tillotson was "orthodox" or "heterodox," historical analysis of the past has been replaced by theological polemic. This article examines ways in which seventeenth-century polemicists and more recent historians have utilized the value-laden calculus of orthodoxy in their treaünentjohn Tillotson. The article also suggests an alternative methodology, rooted in Tillotson's ecclesiology of virtuous happiness, for interpreting his ideas.

JOHN TILLOTSON'S POPULARITY

Achbishop of Canterbury under William and Mary, John Tillotson was for more than one hundred years the most popular preacher in the English-speaking world. Born in 1630 to a dissenting Yorkshire family, Tillotson was educated at Puritan-dominated Cambridge. He served as a tutor in the family of Oliver Cromwell's attorney general and later married the protector's niece, Elizabeth French. With Puritans forced from power in 1660, Tillotson took Aiglican orders and rose to become London's most popular preacher. In 1661 he began giving well-attended Tuesday lectures at St. Lawrence Jewry, and in 1663 he became the official preacher for the legal society of Lincoln's Inn. By all accounts, Tillotson's preaching drew large crowds. His homiletic abilities were steadily rewarded with ecclesiastical preferment; he became became successively dean of Canterbury (1672) and dean of St. Paul's (1689). A former chaplain to Charles II, Tillotson sided with William and Mary during the Glorious Revolution and replaced the nonjuring Thomas Sancroft as archbishop of Canterbury in 1691. …

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