Canterbury

The opinion of the Divines of England, the most celebrated in the whole Christian world, is requested on this controversy, as it appears that this might conduce not a little towards confirming the peace of the Reformed Church in France. ~John Davenant

“Fog in Channel: Continent Cut Off,” or so goes the famous and possibly apocryphal British headline, exemplifying the peculiar British view of its relations to Europe. This anecdote has been cited by a recent historian to make the point that there is certainly something foggy about a great deal of early modern British ecclesiastical history written from the late 19th c until just a few years ago. In this case, the continent which gets obscured by that fog is Continental Protestantism, a movement which the English Reformers considered themselves unqualifiedly part of. The historical revisionism of the Oxford Movement, which systematically misread and misrepresented early modern English formulae and theological works in the doomed hopes of finding them closer to the unreformed, found a sort of broad appeal with an insular-minded sensibility present among many popular writers and even academics, who liked the thesis of English exceptionalism even if more or less indifferent to the essential project of the Oxford revisionists. And of course those who sympathized with the Oxford project were more than happy to promote that account of things. The trouble is that it was largely false. The view that the English Church from the accession of Elizabeth I onward was something other than a Reformed church was contested, of course, by those who knew better, from the time of Newman until recently. But the number of those who know better has been increasing, due in part to the remarkable restorative work of historians such as W.J. Torrance Kirby, Nigel Atkinson, and Peter Nockles.

Why should we care? British Christians and members of the Anglican Communion have to, because this is the history of their own congregations. The rest of us should care because the history of the English church,and the works of its great writers, have had an incalculable effect on English-speaking Christians and indeed on English-speaking people altogether. Also, we feel that the English church under Elizabeth and James offers a fascinating example of a very irenic, comprehensive, and cosmopolitan model of Reformed reflection and community; and it is a shame that many Reformed are unaware that writers such as Hooker, Andrewes, and Field were Reformed too. We hope to be of some help in amending this problem. We hope that British evangelicals especially will find this resource very useful as it continues to develop here.

The later history of the English church is profoundly tragic; and the circumstances of the time prevented the development of a strong consensus. But although certain later 17th c British writers have received excessive attention to what seemed to be the possibility of their greater usefulness to the Oxford revisionists, we will soon be posting sketches and essays regarding those so-called “High Churchmen” of the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as the Westminster divines of the Commonwealth period.