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 IV
THE LATITUDINARIANS

A NAME given in contempt is often retained for the sake of convenience. 'Latitudinarianism' was coined as a designation for the Cambridge Platonists,1 but it has held its place because there is no better term to describe the liberalism of the latter part of the seventeenth century. A feebler nickname never achieved success. From the very first it was found to be long and cumbersome, and 'the cholerick gentlemen' who used it had to teach 'their tongues to pronounce it as if it were shorter than it is by four or five syllables.2 It started as a term of abuse;3 because it was comprehensive it proved to be permanent and ultimately became a designation which implied respect.

The circumstances surrounding its rise explain the persistence both of the name and of the phenomenon it described. A pamphlet4 published shortly after the Restoration ostensibly contains the reply of a Cambridge man to the inquiries of a friend from Oxford. Wherever he goes, remarks the friend, he meets this word, at once so popular and so ill-defined. He has heard it used both from pulpits and in taverns, but never by anyone who could adequately

____________________
1
G. Burnet, History of My Own Time (ed. by O. Airy), vol. 1, p. 334.
2
S. P., A Brief Account of the New Sect of Latitude Men; Together With Some Reflections on the New Philosophy ( 1662), p. 4.
3
'A Latitude-man, therefore . . . is an image of Clouts, that men set up to encounter with for want of a real enemy; it is a convenient name to reproach a man that you have a spite to; 'tis what you will, and you may affix it unto whom you will; 'tis something will serve to talk to, when all other discourse fails.' A Brief Account . . ., pp. 4-5.
4
S. P., A Brief Account. . . . The author is usually identified as Simon Patrick, though the attribution has been questioned.

-61-

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