From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660 to 1700

By G. R. Cragg | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ECLIPSE OF CALVINISM

THE second half of the seventeenth century saw many changes in English religious thought, but none more striking than the overthrow of Calvinism. By 1660, Calvinism in England had passed the peak of its power, though at first contemporaries scarcely recognized the fact. Throughout the following generation, the character of the change became increasingly apparent, and after the Revolution all the dominant forces in public life combined to hasten yet further the decline of Calvinism. At the beginning of the century, it had dominated the religious life of England; by the end its power had been completely overthrown. In that process, the Restoration was as decisive as any political fact can be in altering the character of a people's thought. In the seventeenth century, religious developments were so closely related to political affairs that changes in one area inevitably produced important results in the other. The return of Charles II was at once the overthrow of the Puritan party and the defeat of the Puritan theology. The Restoration meant that all the political forces in the nation added their pressure to the various influences which were discrediting Calvinism. To understand the change we must follow its results during the Restoration period, but to grasp its causes we must first glance backward to the beginnings of the struggle against Calvinism. The change is so important and so closely related to national life in the seventeenth century that it is impossible to consider the new day without relating it to the old.

The conflict with the Puritans was not at the outset an

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