THE RELIGIOUS SETTING OF THE EARLY FRIENDS
The Quaker movement began in England in the 1650s as an intensely transforming religious awakening of individuals, many small groups, and a few whole regions. The striking changes Quakerism made in their ethical life included a new vision of human society: yet then and throughout Quaker history the wider English and American society shaped their religious experience and Friends' ideas. The setting in English religious life of the first Friends needs to be presented here in some detail both for readers unfamiliar with England and its colonies in 1650 and for scholars aware of conflicting claims about Quaker origins.
The puritan movement had dominated English faith for three generations and established the English and New England Commonwealths, when Quakers arose to extend, fulfill, and challenge it. The name Puritans is narrowly used for the English Calvinists who meant to turn the Church of England into a federation of uniform parishes and presbyteries. The wider puritan movement was a cluster of diverse religious groups committed to purifying every aspect of English life. The early Quakers can be understood only in the setting of the Puritan view of cosmic history. Calvin had felt his calling to be to glorify God through human community life. His ideal was expanded through the Puritans and Quakers into the English and American dream of "building the Kingdom of God on earth." George Fox*, the first leader of the Friends or "the Children of Light," saw them as the fruit of the renewal of the conquest of the world by the Spirit or Light of Christ, the climax of God's plan for world history that had begun with Paul the Apostle, had halted for a thousand years of Catholic apostasy, and had begun again as incomplete renewal in the Protestant Reformation and Puritan Revolution. 1
Both Friends and Puritans saw themselves as parts of the people and Church