The state church ideal

The civil wars fought within the British Isles from the Scottish 'Bishops' Wars' of 1638-39 into the 1650s were essentially wars of religion, often initiated as bids for control of national churches. Almost all parties to these conflicts had initially held the rightness of a homogeneous, authoritative church congruent with the polity; what distinguished the participants were their goals forthat unitedbody. Yet the realities of conflict splintered this ideal: in the 1640s the 'plural society' triumphed as each man did what was right in his own eyes. This teeming, passionate sectarianism meant that at the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 a revived state church was the least likely of political possibilities. Yet the ideal of a national church was first reinstituted, and then enjoyed a hegemonic position into the 1820s.

This was especially so in England. The idea of an 'Ecclesia Anglicana' had a millennium of varied development behind it by 1660; the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563 had drawn upon older assumptions in referring without explication to 'Every particular or National Church' (Article 34). The sense in which the church in England was regarded as the Church of England was strengthened but not invented in the 1530s and 1550s. The mutually supporting relation between the secular and the sacred was a high ideal as well as a set of administrative procedures, and a legitimate role for the Christian prince in governing the church was conventionally traced back to Constantine. In 1660, each of the component territories of a restored composite monarchy sought to apply a still-powerful ideal. England, Scotland, and Ireland all had their national churches, and each shared a vision of a homogeneous Christian society that the status of these churches expressed.

William Warburton echoed a truism of his age when he argued that 'wherever there are diversities of religion, each sect, believing its own the true, strives to advance itself on the ruins of the rest . . . What persecutions, rebellions,

0 0

Post a comment