The Restoration Church of England: 1646-1689.

The Restoration Church of England: 1646-1689. – book reviews

Michael Finlayson

Here is a book about the religion of some seventeenth-century Englishmen and women (although we do not hear much about the latter) that does not focus on Puritanism and begins only after the end of the first English Civil War. For a book that lays claim to making an original contribution to understanding this complex historical period, this is a good start. The religion of Restoration English society has not received a great deal of attention when compared with the period between the Reformation and the Civil War. Even more original was John Spurr’s decision to write about Restoration Anglicanism, for this is a subject about which, it has long seemed, little could be said that is either good or new. The traditional view of the Restoration Church of England, Spurr writes, is that it was “lukewarm, emasculated, and Erastian, (and) a spiritually moribund vehicle of reaction and intolerance which had little to offer the laity” (xii). This is the view that Spurr sets out to challenge.

It is impossible to do justice to the subtlety of the author’s argument in a few words. Essentially, he suggests that during a period beginning with the Puritan attack on the Laudian church in the 1640s and ending with the 1689 Toleration Act, which put an end to the Church’s pretensions to be a national church, Restoration Anglicanism developed as a distinct form of the Reformed Protestant religion, distinguishable both from the various forms Anglicanism took before and after Spurr’s chosen 43-year period and also from contemporary Catholicism and Dissent, its two great enemies. The principal and unique marks of this short-lived but vibrant Restoration Anglicanism were its national and episcopal ecclesiology, its beleaguered sense of unity, its obsessive belief in “the decay of Christian piety,” and its unique theology and piety that were sustained by the Book of Common Prayer.

Despite their abolition of episcopacy and their attack on the entire church, the Puritans had been unable to eradicate the established church at the parochial level and there, writes Spurr, are to be found the roots of Restoration Anglicanism. The Interregnum was not an easy time for conventional parish clergy – And these were the majority – but it is to the gloomy and pessimistic providentialism that these hard times nurtured that Spurt traces Restoration Anglicanism’s reliance on the authority of bishops and the importance of piety as the only antidote to the atheistic Hobbism, rebellion, and popery that were endemic.

Spurr has written a good, scholarly book that makes the Restoration Church of England a more credible institution. However, it raises the question of how the author’s insertion of principled Anglicanism into the narrative of Restoration history illuminates the understanding of the bigger issues in seventeenth-century English history. If it is indeed the case that the Restored Church was characterized by a highly providentialistic view of its times that gave rise to an intense and distinctive piety, this would seem to provide one more nail in the coffin of the view of the English Civil War as the first modern revolution that ushered in the brave new world characterized by, among other things, an erastian national church in a secularized and laicized modem society.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group