Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The National Churches of England. Ireland and Scotland 1801-46

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The National Churches of England. Ireland and Scotland 1801-46

Article excerpt

STEWART J. BROWN. The National Churches of England. Ireland and Scotland 1801-46. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001. Pp. x + 459, select bibliography, index. $95.00.

In the space of two or three decades in the early nineteenth centuryfrom roughly 1825 to 1850-the established churches of the United Kingdom underwent change so dramatic and fundamental that historians have not flinched from using words like "crisis" and "second Reformation." In England and Wales, large elements of the old "confessional" state were dismantled, and the Church of England purged of its most glaring weaknesses and abuses. In Scotland, a program of reform, and theological difference, split the Kirk down the middle. In Ireland, the Establishment was reduced, and the scene set for its eventual dismantling. Behind all these developments lay the pressure of rapid social and economic change, bringing with it political crisis and reform.

The chronology, and indeed the dynamics, of this period of crisis and reform in each of the national churches have received attention from historians often enough before, but Stewart Brown is the first in the modem period to have tried to produce a comprehensive study setting all three churches in comparative perspective. With a wealth of material to hand, including substantial recent monographs such as those of Arthur Burns and Peter Nockles, this was an ambitious task. The result is a triumph of clarity and scholarship. Though specialists in the history of any one of the three national churches are unlikely to find significant new material in their chosen field, nevertheless they will undoubtedly benefit from the insights comparison opens up.

Brown's method is mostly to attend to each of the three churches in turn within chapters arranged chronologically. The effect of this is to highlight similar impulses and aspirations running through the churches as they sought to respond to the changing political and social context. Contrary to popular myth (and even many social historians' assumptions), Brown follows the work of a number of church historians to emphasize the optimism of reformers within the churches in the years leading up to the Reform crisis. …

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