In the Context of the Years 1558-1660, to What Extent Was Puritanism Only a Force to Further the English Reformation"?

Topics: Puritan, English Reformation, Charles I of England Pages: 11 (4062 words) Published: March 21, 2013
In studies of Puritanism as a movement from 1558-1660, historians have debated over the definition of the word ‘puritan’ because of the changing nature of the movement as it responded to various political, social and religious developments. The conventional historical interpretation shared by historians Christianson and Wrightson is that ‘Puritan’ more narrowly referred to the ‘hotter sort of protestants’ who, although theologically indistinguishable from their Anglican counter-parts, actively sought reform of the established church from within whilst maintaining some doctrinal reservations. This definition encompasses the understanding that Puritanism was a distinct movement to further the English reformation, yet does not account for the greater circle of puritanical separatists who wished to leave the church altogether. Therefore it is best to adopt the widest description offered by Kearney in defining Puritanism as the “circle of discontent both within and without the Established Church from the 1560s onwards...What was common to all [the critics]...was a vision of what the Church of Christ ought to be if it were stripped of externals and inessentials. Where they differed...was in their view of what was external and inessential”. This interpretation more accurately allows for Puritanism to be understood in light of its constantly evolving ‘vision’ and ‘set of values’ through the years, which manifested in forms such as Presbyterianism in the 1580s and the political backbone of the Parliamentary force during the Civil War as interpreted by many a historian, including revisionist and Marxist historians. Wrightson argues that in 1558, to the Puritans, the church was “…half reformed. They were anxious to push ahead… to move urgently towards ‘further reformation’” of the Elizabethan settlement. Whilst relieved by the succession of a protestant monarch, many Puritans were urgent to pursue moderate reform of the settlement, to purge it of the ‘rags of Rome’, specifically from within the hierarchy of the Church of England. Edmund Grindal’s career as Archbishop is an example of moderate Puritanism acting as a force to further the reformation from within the established church. Indeed, Grindals swift promotion by the influential hand of Burghley and an anonymous letter sent to Grindal by a member of the Privy Council upon his appointment, strongly suggests there was an inter-governmental campaign by those of significantly higher office to promote Puritan leaders. It is clear that their intention was that “If reform was to come from within the establishment, there would never be a more favourable opportunity [to advance Puritanism]”. Supported by Collinson, this shows of how “progressive bishops [were] acting as catspaws for nervous courtiers in promoting moderate reform”. For moderate Puritans, the desire to pursue the reformation over-shadowed the controversy of accepting Episcopal office. Through laying stresses on the churches pastoral rather than disciplinary aspects, it seemed that an alliance between hierarchy and Puritans might be possibly on the basis of a shared desire for moderate church reform. Therefore, among the first generation of Elizabethan bishops, Puritanism was set apart as a religious force within the national church that “tarry[ied] with the magistrate” to achieve a reformation of the national church. However, evidence suggests that many Puritans who had accepted preferment into the hierarchy of the church neglected furthering a national reformation to pursue a reformation within the localities. As parliamentary reform was stunted in 1576, and Elizabeth I actively opposed activities such as prophesyings “...a younger generation of [Calvinist] clergy and academics…[became] disillusioned by the failure of the bishops to continue the process of reformation” and instead devoted themselves to itinerant preaching as a means of reconstituting the church from among the localities. This local activism changed the...
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