WHILE maintaining a high standard of scholarship, this new series from Oxford presents the most recent findings of a new breed of church historians in an accessible and engaging way. Volume II is particularly timely, as it offers a revisionary reading of the long 18th century, often regarded as the age of fox-hunting parsons and worldly bishops, and of general dullness and decrepitude in the Established Church, relieved only by the Wesley brothers.
Jeremy Gregory, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Arts and Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Nottingham, explains in his editor’s introduction that Anglicanism in the period from 1662 to 1829 “remained remarkably under-studied until fairly recently”, and that the past 30 years have brought forth a radical reassessment.
As Mark Goldie noted as late as 2003, the later Stuart and Hanoverian Church had been “overcast by what must be the longest shadow in modern historiography”. This was caused mainly by two influential Victorian commentators, as B. W. Young demonstrates in a later chapter on theology in the Church of England. Young focuses on Mark Pattison’s critique of 1861, and points out that Leslie Stephen owed much to Pattison in his history of 18th-century thought (1876). “Rather than dwelling on the failures and shortcoming of the Anglican Church,” Professor Gregory suggests, “modern scholars have highlighted its successes and strengths.” The 24 chapters and 527 pages in this book prove the point.
After the editor’s discussion of two “Es” — “Establishment” and “Empire” — and a nod towards two others — “Enlightenment” and “Evangelicalism” — Part I, “Defining Anglicanism”, is made up of three magisterial chapters that engage with the complexities of their respective periods. Grant Tapsell demonstrates that the “messy realities of the later Stuart Church resist easy concluding simplifications”. Robert G. Ingram’s excursion through a thicket of archbishops and controversies is illustrated with splendid quotations from the period 1714-83, including one from a pamphlet on “Quakero-Methodism” in which two Georges — Fox and Whitefield — were said to resemble one another in “their Pretences to Inspiration, to every intimate Familiarity with the Deity, and the Power of working Miracles”.
Mark Smith rounds off with analysis of the revolutionary and reformist years from 1783 to 1829, during which the view persisted that “the English state and Church were two sides of the same coin so that Parliament could be seen as the ‘lay synod’ of the Church of England”. Such a view may seem strange to us today, but shortly after 1829 W. E. Gladstone entered the House of Commons with the specific purpose of defending the interests of the Church.
Part II, “Regional Anglicanisms”, takes us first to England (W. M. Jacob) and then to Wales (Paul Yates), Ireland (Toby Barnard), and Scotland (Alasdair Raffe). As the editor reminds us, the period witnessed the growth of Britain’s imperial reach, bringing “new opportunities for the Anglican Church for dramatically extending its sphere of activity overseas as well as challenges of planting the Church in unusual and often unpromising and inhospitable locations”. These are points that are richly illustrated in chapters on North America (James B. Bell), the Caribbean and West Indies (Natalie A. Zacek), India (Daniel O’Connor), Africa (Elizabeth Elbourne), and Australia and New Zealand (Joseph Hardwick).
Part III, “Anglican Identities”, ties together much that has gone before. Bryan D. Spinks is particularly impressive on the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy, and worship, quoting Wren on auditories, while William Gibson gives a lively account of sermons, and the 18th-century habit of “sermon-gadding”. Unsurprisingly, J. C. D. Clark’s chapter on Church, parties, and politics is authoritative in its account of the High, Low, and Broad Church groupings of the period.
Tony Claydon sifts the “muddled inheritance of Anglicanism” in his chapter on the C of E and the Churches of Europe, and Louis P. Nelson offers a fresh reading of church building and architecture. Whereas Nicholas Temperley considers a rich field in his chapter on Anglicanism and music, Clare Haynes’s subject — Anglicanism and art — is somewhat thinner.
In his impressive chapter on theology in the C of E, Dr Young challenges his colleagues to “absorb their work” as historians of religion “into a deeper appreciation of England’s peculiarly Christian experience of Enlightenment”. And finally we are offered chapters on Anglican religious societies, organisations, and missions (David Manning), Anglican Evangelicalism (Gareth Atkins), and Anglicanism and Methodism (David R. Wilson).
I described the third volume in this series as a treasure house (Books, 29 September 2017). So, too, is this second volume. Some of its contributors are young scholars, which offers hope for the future in a burgeoning area of study.
Dr Michael Wheeler is Chairman of Gladstone’s Library and a Visiting Professor of English at the University of Southampton.
The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume II: Establishment and empire, 1662-1829
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