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Winners and losers at the Restoration

10 April 2015

Paul Avis revisits 1662 and its aftermath

by kind permission of the state library of new south wales, sydney

Anglicanism transported: St Thomas' Church, Port Macquarie, 1832-1842, by Joseph Backler (1813-95), adorns the cover of Michael Glad­win's Anglican Clergy in Australia, 1788-1850: Building a British world, about the early years of Britain's Australian colonies. Sometimes caricatured as "flogging parsons", the clergy are here more widely studied for their con­tribution to the development of civil society  and Australian institutions (Boydell Press, £50 (£45); 978-0-86193-328-0)

Anglicanism transported: St Thomas' Church, Port Macquarie, 1832-1842, by Joseph Backler (1813-95), adorns the cover of Michael Glad­win's Anglican ...

"Settling the Peace of the Church": 1662 revisited
N. H. Keeble, editor
OUP £60
Church Times Bookshop £54 

IN THE mid-17th century, at the time of the Civil War and the Cromwellian aftermath, the fabric of the Church of England "as we know it" was dismantled.

The Book of Common Prayer and with it the Christian Year, including Christmas and Easter, were abolished. The bishops were turned out of office, and cathedral foundations were dissolved. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, preceded his sovereign, Charles I, to the block. Parish churches and cathedrals were vandalised and desecrated. Exeter Cathedral, for example, was divided by a brick wall between the nave (where the Independents stood for worship) and the choir (where the Presbyterians could sit).

Many loyal Anglican parochial clergy were hounded out of their livings. A Presbyterian majority and an Independent (congregationalist) minority invaded the national Church and its pulpits, while Baptist and Quaker separatist communities mushroomed outside it. Religious chaos and national insecurity contributed to the desire to bring back the monarchy, and the Restoration took place in 1660.

Charles II had indicated that he would seek to accommodate "tender consciences", and for a short while there were hopes of a comprehensive national Church that could include the Presbyterians, perhaps incorporating a "reduced episcopacy" in which bishops would share oversight with presbyters. But the bishops who returned to office from exile or from an underground ministry were in no mood to compromise with those who had devastated the Church and beheaded "the Lord's anointed". Charles II also, mindful of the advice of his grandfather, James I, who famously said, on the basis of bitter Scottish experiences, "No bishop, no king", and of the fate of his own father, had second thoughts - or perhaps they were his first thoughts all along.

The concerns of the Puritans or Reformists (the nomenclature is far from straightforward) were largely dismissed at the Savoy Conference of 1661, and what emerged was a further revision of Thomas Cranmer's Prayer Book as the Book of Common Prayer, 1662, which formed the staple of Anglican worship in the Church of England and many countries of what later became the Anglican Communion for several centuries. But there was a huge cost in the haemorrhage of probably more than 1000 ministers (the figure depends on how it is calculated) who were unable to accept the BCP, including the Ordinal that required episcopal ordination, which became law by the Act of Uniformity, 1662. By St Bartholomew's Day (24 August) they were required to conform or quit. The exodus is known as the Great Ejection.

No doubt some who left were bigoted, truculent, or hyper-scrupulous, but there were also, as the Anglican philosopher and advocate of (restricted) toleration John Locke put it, "a very great number of worthy, learned, pious, and orthodox Divines". For the Church of England, the Great Ejection was a great amputation.

So, while Anglicans remain profoundly thankful for the restoration of liturgical worship and episcopal ordination in the matchless BCP, the Nonconformists (as they now became) felt unjustly persecuted and cast out. What 1662 definitely did not do was to "settle the peace of the Church". Instead, it had the making of a true tragedy, engender-ing deep feelings of bitterness on the part of those excluded, which are not entirely a thing of the past. In recent years, the Church of England has engaged in theological conversations with the heirs of the 17th-century Dissenters, in the United Reformed Church, and with the successors of the 16th- and 17th-century separatists, the Baptists. The "ecumenical canons" (B 43 and B 44) make meaningful "shared ministry" possible. In February 2012, a remarkable joint service of "Reconciliation, Healing of Memories, and Mutual Commitment" between the Church of England and the United Re- formed Church took place in Westminster Abbey.

After a concise narrative of events by the volume's editor, this collection of scholarly studies focuses in detail on several key aspects of "1662". Contributors examine the notion of "things indifferent" (adiaphora), on which compromise might have been possible but did not happen; the motives of Henry Hyde, later Earl of Clarendon, a key player in the Restoration "settlement"; the repercussions in Ireland, Scotland, Holland, and New England; the stance of John Bunyan, a Baptist, who chose imprisonment rather than worship out of a book in his parish church; the testament of Richard Baxter and the competing narratives of the sufferings of Nonconformist ministers and Conformist clergy, each wanting to prove that their side endured more pain and privation than the other during these violent decades.

Libraries will want this densely referenced work for their history, theology, and English-literature shelves. All who study the momentous events of the mid-17th century, which have left their mark on both the Anglican and the Nonconformist churches of today, will need to get hold of it.

The Revd Dr Paul Avis is a former General Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity, honorary professor of theology at the University of Exeter, a Chaplain to the Queen, and editor-in-chief of Ecclesiology.

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