The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII.
THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY.

RELIGIOUS grievances formed one of the chief irritant causes of the revolt heralded by the meeting of the Long Parliament in November, 1640. As a consequence, the attention of both Houses was immediately on their assembling directed to these grievances; and the consideration of them consumed a serious part of the time of the Parliament during the first three years of its existence. Most of the religious debates and agitations of these three years, 1640-3, proved futile, in the sense that very little sound legislative enactment resulted from them: but in another sense they proved effectual beyond the anticipation even of extremists. For they brought to light an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the party of moderate reform and the Root-and-Branch party. From the moment that the Long Parliament accepted the Covenant as the price of Scotch military aid, the reconstruction of the national Church on a Presbyterian basis became a political necessity; and, so soon as the Long Parliament clearly apprehended that necessity, the existence of the Assembly of Divines was determined and its work was outlined in prospect.

There is thus an important difference in kind between the attempted religious legislation of the Long Parliament prior to the outbreak of the Civil War and the actually accomplished legislation after its outbreak. Starting with a marked unwillingness to approach the question of Episcopacy as an institution, the House of Commons gradually, by means of its debates of December, 1640, on the moderate proposals of the "Ministers' Petition," and of February and March, 1641, on the more drastic proposals of the "London Petition," rose to the point of challenging Episcopacy as a system. At the same time, and proceeding quite independently, the House of Lords was, under the guidance of Bishop Williams' Committee, feeling its way to a standard of reform a little, but not much, short of that reached by the Commons. The debates in the Commons resulted in the Bill of April, 1641, for removing Bishops from the House of Lords: while the debates in the Lords finally resulted in the Bill of July, 1641, for regulating Bishops and Ecclesiastical

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