J.P.SOMMERVILLE

 


RADICAL RELIGION IN THE CIVIL WAR

 

 

367 -7 (2)

" …a numberless crew of locusts have sprung out of the bottomless pit, assuming to themselves the names of Arians, Arminians, Socinians, Antinomians, Anabaptists, Familists, Antiscripturists, Antisabbatarians, Antitrinitarians, Libertines, Erastians, Levellers, Mortalists, Millenaries, Enthusiasts, Separatists, Semiseparatists, Quakers, and many more of the same brood … No country from the foundation of the world hath brought forth and brought up, so many monstrous births as it [England] hath done."

(Thomas Hall, 1660)

 

The spread of radical religion

bulletThe North and West of England were poorer than the South and East of the country. These areas sent fewer students to university to train as clerics, and had fewer valuable livings to attract graduates. Lacking "official" interpretations of the Bible, the people invented their own. A number of heterodox thinkers, including Gerard Winstanley, Lawrence Clarkson, and John Lilburne were Northerners.
Many Welsh, in addition, spoke a different language and regarded English officials as foreigners. Baptists were particularly numerous in Wales.
bulletOne Northern heresy that predated the Civil War was Grindletonianism, which was developed at Grindleton in Yorkshire, near where George Fox (the Quaker leader) was later to begin his spiritual adventures. Grindletonians stressed an "inner light" of mystical enlightenment and allowed anyone so inspired to preach.

 
"Never age produced so many spiritual monsters, as this wherein we live. And I think few parts of England be so much infected with them, as these Northern parts be."

(Richard Sherlock 1656)


 

bulletLondon's religious heterodoxy was fostered by different factors. London was full of "masterless men," not subject to the usual constraints of social and familial hierarchy. The apprentices were especially prone to political and religious radicalism (like young people elsewhere).  London's suburbs were swollen by immigrants from all over the country and from the Continent. The isolation of an English village made "gadding about" to hear different preachers difficult, but in London a host of views were on offer.
bulletThe outbreak of the Civil War increased social disruption. Many of the most radical preachers and the most committed puritans joined the army fighting against Charles I. Early in the Civil War, such soldiers spontaneously destroyed "popish" ornaments in churches - such as statues and altar rails. Later, the New Model Army became a hotbed of still more radical views. Soldiers were away from their homes for long periods of time, encountering different views, in surroundings highly charged with political and religious discussion.

 

 

Anabaptists and Baptists

bulletOne of the first radical groups that appeared in England were the Anabaptists. Their rejection of compulsory infant baptism struck at the root of the established churches, threatening to turn all churches into purely voluntary organizations.
bulletThe English Baptists divided into two groups - the General Baptists (who held basically Arminian notions on universal grace) and the Particular Baptists (who were orthodox Calvinists in their beliefs on predestination).
The General Baptists' founder was John Smith or Smyth (1554-1612); Smith was called the "se-Baptist",  because he baptized himself after deciding that his - and everyone else's - baptism as an infant was invalid.
 


William Kiffin

The Particular Baptists  developed during the 1630's and 1640's - especially in London. Their early leaders included the prosperous merchant, William Kiffin, John Spilsbury and Henry Denne - a New Model Army chaplain.

 

"For we will hear, note and believe in heart
That what you speak is in your conscience wash'd
As pure as sin with baptism."

(Henry V 1.2)

 

 

Familists

 

bulletFamilism was founded by Henry Niclaes (1502? - 1540), a Dutch merchant born in Germany. His doctrines were spread in England during the 1550's by Christopher Vittels.
bulletThe followers of Niclaes were called the "Family of Love" and aimed at achieving a mystical union with God. They interpreted the Bible allegorically and denied the reality of heaven and hell.
bulletIt is difficult to tell how widely Familist ideas spread since its adherents had no objections to denying their beliefs if persecuted. It has been suggested that the philosopher, Justus Lipsius and Queen Elizabeth herself were members of the Family of Love. During the 1640's, Familist works were reprinted, but it hard to discover to what effect.

 


Jacob Boehme

A similar mystic was Jacob Boehme (1575-1624). He too saw heaven and hell as states of mind and looked to the spirit not the letter of the Bible. His works were translated and printed in England where they influenced Quaker thought.

 

"The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermix'd
With scruples and do set the word itself
Against the word:
As thus, 'Come, little ones,' and then again,
'It is as hard to come as for a camel
To thread the postern of a small needle's eye'."

(Richard II 5.5)

 

Seekers

bulletThe system for enforcing people's attendance at their parish church broke down after 1640. While Presbyterians and Independents competed for control of the established church, many people refused to adhere to any sect and nursed millenarian hopes. William Erbery and John Saltmarsh were two key Seekers.
bulletSeekers distrusted all the established churches as corrupt and were sometimes referred to as "Waiters":  - not only were they waiting for Christ's Second Coming and the Rule of the Saints, but their church services lacked all form or ritual - the attendees simply waited for the Holy Spirit to make himself felt.
bulletThe Seekers were in favor of tolerating all religions (except Roman Catholics).
bulletThe failure of the program for radical reforms launched in 1647-9 led many Seekers into quietism, and many later went on to join the Quakers.
bulletSeekers were sometimes accused of antinomianism - the belief that since Christ has freed the faithful from the Law and since Christians are saved by faith (not good works). a true believer can without fear of divine retribution commit any act, no matter how apparently immoral.

 

Ranters

A scurrilous depiction of Ranter excesses

 

bulletAnother group accused of antinomianism was the Ranters. Their reliance on the inner light and rejection of a graduate clergy was common to many radical sects, but the assertion that saints need not abide by conventional morality was unusual.
bulletJohn Bunyan - the author of Pilgrims's Progress - recollected how he "happened to light into several people’s company; who though strict in religion formerly, yet were also swept away by these Ranters."
bulletRanters supposedly met at alehouses, smoked tobacco, swore freely, cavorted naked and fornicated promiscuously. They denied the existence of heaven and hell as well as of sin, and regarded all mankind as "fellow creatures" - brothers and sisters without regard to social rank.
 
The Blasphemy Act of 1650 was aimed at Ranters and other Antinomians:

"That all and every person and persons (not distempered with sickness, or distracted in brain) who … shall deny the holiness and righteousness of God, or shall presume … to profess that unrighteousness in persons, or the acts of uncleanness, profane swearing, drunkenness and the like filthiness and brutishness are not unholy and forbidden in the Word of God … or the acts of lying, stealing, cozening and defrauding others, or the acts of murder, adultery, incest, fornication, uncleanness, sodomy, drunkenness, filthy and lascivious speaking, are not things in themselves shameful, wicked, sinful, impious, abominable and detestable in any person … [shall be] committed to prison or to the House of Correction for the space of six months without bail or mainprize…"

 

bulletIt is doubtful whether the Ranters were ever very numerous and they soon disappeared in the face of official persecution.
bulletAbiezer Coppe (1619-72) was the author of A Fiery Flying Roll (1650) - a work which claimed that - after a mystical revelation - God was active in him in such a way that none of his actions could be sinful. Coppe had been educated at Oxford and preached in the New Model Army, but despite his respectable antecedents he was soon in trouble for his odd views and behavior. Coppe attacked established moral standards, the social hierarchy and the clergy. After a brief episode of expressing wild religious and political views, he returned to respectability - changing his name and settling down as a physician after the Restoration.
bulletAnother Ranter who had served with the New Model Army was Lawrence Clarkson. He was arrested in 1650 for insisting that any acts done in Christian faith - including adultery and drunkenness - were godly. He rapidly recanted and later became of a Muggletonian.

 

"If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! if to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned: if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh's lean kine are to be loved"

(Henry IV i 2.4)

 

 

bulletQuakers stood at the opposite extreme in their insistence of the highest standards of morality. They became known for their high standards of conduct in business and trade.
bulletIn many ways, Quakerism meant a return to primitive Christianity - everyone was to preach, not just a few graduate clergy; the written word was unimportant in comparison with the inner light of the Spirit; the sick should be healed by prayer.

 
"These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by his immediate Spirit and power. Yet I had no slight esteem of the Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth, and what the Lord opened in me I afterwards found was agreeable in them."

(George Fox)

 

bulletThe term "Quaker" was initially an insult - mocking the way they quaked with the Holy Spirit.  Quaker worship was very informal and anyone moved by the Spirit could speak.
bulletQuakers disrupted church services and refused to pay tithes to a 'hireling' clergy.

 
"Oh, the vast sums of money that are gotten by the trade they make of selling the Scriptures, and by their preaching, from the highest bishop to the lowest priest! What one trade else in the world is comparable to it, notwithstanding the Scriptures were given forth freely, and Christ commanded his ministers to preach freely, and the prophets and apostles denounced judgment against all covetous hirelings and diviners for money"

(George Fox)

 

bulletQuakers also rejected man contemporary social conventions - they refused to doff their caps to gentlemen and other social superiors and addressed them with the familiar "thou" not the respectful "you".
 
"The bad language and evil usage we received on this account [i.e..their refusal to remove their hats] are hard to be expressed, besides the danger we were sometimes in of losing our lives for this matter, and that, by the great professors of Christianity, who thereby discovered that they were not true believers."

(George Fox)

 .

The Quakers were very unusual in allowing women to preach. This was considered outrageous not only for its social implications but because it seemed to run directly contrary to Paul's injunction that women should remain silent in church. (One of these Quaker women, Margaret Fell wrote in justification of female preaching.)

 

bulletThe Quakers were at first confined to the North of England but sent traveling missions to the South from 1654 onwards. Their simple Christian message spread rapidly and by 1660 there were between 35,000 and 60,000 Quakers in England.
bulletThe popularity of Quaker views provoked a sharp reaction. The response included the punishment of James Nayler and repeated accusations that Quakers were being secretly manipulated by the Roman Catholic Church.
"By this time I suppose both you and all men see that the papists are crept in among all sects, especially the Quakers and Seekers, whom they animate, and also among the Anabaptists, Millenaries, Levellers, yea and the Independents, and if this week’s Diurnal say true, one was taken that was a pretended friend to the Presbyterians…"

(Richard Baxter)

 

bulletIn the aftermath of Nayler's punishment, the quietist elements of Quakerism, led by George Fox predominated. Nonetheless, the popularity of Quaker views and the threat they posed to the established social and educational order clearly played an important part in provoking conservative reaction and preparing the ground for the Restoration.

 

Muggletonians

bulletJohn Reeve (1608-58) and his cousin, Lodowick Muggleton (1609-98) claimed to be the two witnesses that the Book of Revelation predicted would prepare the world in the last days before Christ's second coming.
 
"And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth"

(Revelation 11:3)

 

bulletReeve began the movement in 1652 on the basis of his ecstatic visions. He quarreled with George Fox and the Quakers. He also ran afoul of the government which briefly imprisoned him and Muggleton for blasphemy in 1653.
bulletAfter Reeve's death, Lodowick Muggleton led the sect (despite a bid by Lawrence Clarkson) to assume that role. Muggleton stressed the imminence of the Second Coming less than had Reeve. He rejected the Trinity, doubted the immortality of the soul and encouraged his followers to keep a very low profile.
bulletMuggleton was fined for blasphemy in 1676, but the Muggletonian sect survived even after his death.
 
"So the Reader may clearly see, that there is no other Satan to tempt God or man, but the motions and words that proceed from the seed of reason in man and woman."

(Lodowick Muggleton)

 


Chamberlen forceps
 

Saturday Sabbatarians

bulletPuritan biblicism found its logical extreme in the Saturday Sabbatarians, who believed that Christians should celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, since nothing in the Bible itself reversed this law.
bulletOne of their most notable members was Peter Chamberlen (or Chamberlain, 1601-83). His family invented a type of obstetric forceps whose basic design is still in use. He also advocated social reforms such as state regulation of midwives and public baths, and wanted common land used for poor relief.

 

Socinians

bulletThe religious beliefs preached by Faustus Socinus (Sozzini) had first spread in Poland in the early seventeenth century. After 1638, many Socinians moved to the Netherlands.
bulletUnlike many of the puritan sects, which stressed biblical literalism or spiritual inspiration, Socinianism was essentially rationalist. It attracted not only lower class radicals like John Biddle, but also educated gentlemen such as Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, John Hales of Eton and the cleric, William Chillingworth. Socinianism was closely associated with Unitarian ideas (i.e. rejecting the Trinity and so denying that Christ or the holy Spirit were divine).
bulletSocinians stressed the mercy of God, and insisted that God would not damn anyone for mere ignorance or confusion. If people believed in Christ and did their best, God would give them the benefit of the doubt even if they had not grasped every subtle doctrine of Christianity.
bulletAfter the Restoration, such ideas spread widely amongst the English upper classes. They led to latitudinarianism - as much an attitude as a set of beliefs, latitudinarianism stressed ethical conduct, downplayed doctrine, and treated much of Scripture as metaphorical.

 


William Sancroft (1617-93)
Archbishop of Canterbury from 1677 to 1687

The Restoration

 

bulletThe Restoration of Charles II gave back authority to the Church of England - attendance in local parish church was enforced and dissenting meeting were banned.
bulletAfter the Glorious Revolution of 1688, toleration was given to dissenting Protestants, including Quakers and Baptists.
bulletThe millennial expectations of the Civil War and Interregnum virtually died out and were replaced by belief in secular, scientific progress.

 

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