Puritans, Anglicans?

The word "Anglican" was in use from at least the end of the 16th century precisely to describe the English manifestation of the international Reformed movement

I heard a Cambridge history professor recently (lamenting the recent death of the great Patrick Collinson) say that we really need to move beyond the strange idea that Puritans were not part of the Church of England, but some kind of external, foreign-inspired invaders. They were not; many of the great names we celebrate and “meet” on this blog were in fact ordained Anglican ministers.

 

The word “Anglicanism” is a slippery one. In the nineteenth century, the “high church” Oxford Movement tried to invent this idea that the Church of England was a nice middle way (a via media) between Rome and Geneva. Not Catholicism, not Calvinism, but Anglicanism. A nice, moderate, compromise sort of church in continuity with the Catholic Church but reformed (small “r”) of a few Medieval abuses and Roman silliness. This is a nineteenth century fabrication of course, reliant on some strange historical reconstructions and bizarre readings of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, invented by people like John Henry Newman (1801-1890)—who, you may recall, clearly loved Anglicanism so much he became a Roman Catholic and was made a Cardinal!

I heard a Cambridge history professor recently (lamenting the recent death of the great Patrick Collinson) say that we really need to move beyond the strange idea that Puritans were not part of the Church of England, but some kind of external, foreign-inspired invaders. They were not; many of the great names we celebrate and “meet” on this blog were in fact ordained Anglican ministers. (I’m sorry if that upsets, shocks, or offends anyone…!) I am of the view that the Church of England is, historically-speaking, not some special “third way” between Protestants and Catholics, but another branch of the international Protestant Reformed church. That’s how most people saw it in the 16th and 17th centuries (and beyond). Historians like Patrick Collinson, Nicholas Tyacke, and Anthony Milton have established this “Calvinist Consensus” view carefully and solidly. The C of E is Reformed—not Catholic. It is Reformed—not Lutheran. It is Reformed—not Arminian. I think that’s pretty clear from reading the Thirty-Nine Articles in their historical context, and from reading the (perhaps surprisingly) Reformed writings of early modern Church of England theologians and bishops.

Ah yes, we have bishops. That’s a difference of course, from most Continental Reformed churches. But other Reformed communities had bishops too, so we’re not unique. And others who didn’t have them, but some kind of Presbyterianism instead, sometimes wished they did. (And if I may be permitted a little contemporary observation—some Presbyterians and Baptists who claim they don’t have bishops, really do, don’t they? In all but name).

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