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9-08-2015, 17:56

Protestant state churches

The close relationship between church and state can best be seen in the Lutheran states of Germany and in Scandinavia. Here rulers controlled every appointment to higher church positions, set clerical salaries, and oversaw all practical matters involving the church. They saw the church not simply as an institution for sustaining and expressing faith, but also as an agency of public policy, requiring clergy to publish offi cial decrees and recruit for the army. Those pastors who refused, or who argued that the church should play an independent role, were dismissed from their positions or given minor rural posts where they could have little infl uence and had only a precarious income. Because the clergy could not be intellectually, fi nancially, or politically independent, many turned their attention to theological controversies, hurling invectives at those who disagreed with them on such issues as the exact way in which the Bible was divinely inspired, and developing a rigid Lutheran orthodoxy. They criticized those who disagreed with them, or who suggested that certain points of theology might not be essential to salvation. Sermons became occasions for pastors to show off their knowledge of obscure theological points rather than provide moral guidance. A seventeenthcentury Lutheran sermon on Matthew 10: 38, for example (“Even the very hairs of your head are numbered”), did not focus on the larger meaning of this verse – divine concern for all aspects of human life down to the smallest detail – but on the origin and correct care of hair, other biblical references to hair, and the hairstyles proper to good Lutheran men and women. Calvinists engaged in intense theological debates as well, expanding Calvin’s already comprehensive theological system into very detailed statements of faith. In the Netherlands, theological controversy centered on the exact nature of predestination. The more conservative faction, called Gomarists, argued that before the beginning of the world, God had decided who would have faith and who would not, so that an individual’s going to heaven or hell was a matter of God’s will . The less conservative faction, called Arminians or Remonstrants, argued that before the beginning of the world, God had decided to send Christ as the redeemer; God knew, but did not decide, what each person’s response would be, so that predestination was a matter of God’s knowledge . In 1618, just as the Thirty Years War was breaking out, the Dutch States General called for an international conference of Calvinists to decide this matter. This meeting, called the Synod of Dort, took a very conservative position on the disputed issues and condemned all those who disagreed. For a decade or so, leaders of the opposition were exiled or executed, but in 1631 the States General changed its mind about the wisdom of this, and granted offi cial toleration to a range of Calvinist opinions. This was the fi rst step in an expanding pattern of toleration that would eventually extend even to non- Christians, and play a signifi cant role in Dutch prosperity and cultural advance. Once they had established this general pattern, however, neither the States General nor the stadholders in the Netherlands intervened in the operation of the church in the ways Lutheran princes did in Germany. In England, disputes about the structure and theology of the established state church were one of the causes of the Civil War in the 1640s. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, all adults were supposed to be members of the offi cial Church of England, attend church, and pay their church taxes. All teachers and tutors were licensed by bishops, who also censored books and could excommunicate those who did not conform. Bishops had seats in the House of Lords, and many also had other positions in the royal government. Church services were in English, clergy were allowed to marry, and the offi cial position on most theological points was clearly Protestant, but many people thought that there were still too many “popish” holdovers. They supported measures they thought would “purify” the Anglican Church – for this they were given the name “Puritans” – and bring it theologically closer to continental Calvinism with its emphasis on predestination and personal piety. Puritans wanted clergy who were both learned and godly, and frowned on “frivolous” pastimes such as dancing or cards, as these wasted time better spent in reading Scripture or praying. Every waking hour could be improved by greater concentration on spiritual matters: family devotions should start and end each day, work should be done in a reverent spirit so that it better pleased God, free moments or hours should be used in self-examination and exploring one’s conscience. In terms of church structure, Puritans had widely varying opinions. Some were willing to stick with bishops as long as incense, elaborate clerical dress, and complex worship services were dropped. Others wanted to follow the Calvinist model of the Scottish Kirk, with meetings of lay elders called presbyteries given the most power. Others, who came to be called “independents,” wanted each congregation relatively independent in terms of doctrine and structure. A few even wanted no state church at all. James I did not give in to any Puritan demands and affi rmed the existing church structure. He instructed a group of scholars to develop a new translation of the Bible that would be more faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew than the existing English Bibles, resolve certain disputed points of translation, and support the understanding of Christian theology and church structure accepted by the Church of England. The resulting Authorized Version – often called the King James Version – was accepted only slowly in England, but eventually came to be the standard Bible in most English-speaking areas, and had a tremendous infl uence on religious and secular English-language literature. Puritans responded to James’s support of the Church of England by gradually developing alternative institutions, as well as continuing to push for reforms. Wealthy individuals, especially in London, paid unoffi cial “lecturers” to preach and teach, which James came to see as seditious. They organized what were known as “gathered” churches in their own homes where individuals prayed and read the Bible, often without a member of the clergy present. Puritans viewed prayer as an active force that could infl uence state affairs, so they prayed privately and publicly for certain political changes, and were fi rmly convinced that prayer aided one’s family, community, and political allies. As we saw above, Puritans hoped to convert the entire Church of England to their way of thinking, but when it became clear this was not going to happen, they turned increasingly inward and concentrated more on personal conversion than on institutional change. Some Puritans left England for the Netherlands, where they rarely ran into diffi culties with authorities as their aims and practices blended well with the Calvinist traditions that were dominant there. About a hundred of these people left the Netherlands for British North America in 1620, and shortly afterwards other Puritans emigrated directly from England; at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, these groups established Puritanism as the offi cial state church, and in turn persecuted dissident groups such as the Quakers. Puritans who stayed in England increasingly made their opinions known in Parliament as well as their houses and streets, which led, as we traced in chapter 9 , to war, and eventually to rule by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell – along with most of the army – was basically an independent, but he had no comprehensive plan for a new church structure, so religious measures were gradual and piecemeal. Bishops were deprived of their positions, compulsory attendance at church was dropped, and church courts ceased to function, though the army leaders who actually governed England carried out some of their functions and enforced social policies many Puritans supported, such as banning cock-fi ghts, closing disorderly ale-houses, and shutting theaters. Puritan leaders in Parliament briefl y established a presbyterian form of church and drew up a long statement of faith called the Westminster Confession that largely agreed with the Synod of Dort on its main points of theology. Cromwell did not support these moves, however, and the disorder of the Civil War made enforcing anything diffi cult, so a strictly Calvinist state church in England was never really established. The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 also restored the Church of England with its bishops, and laws were passed against Catholics and anyone who refused to conform to the state church. Such Nonconformists – often called “dissenters” – were forbidden to hold private religious meetings and were banned from public offi ce, while Nonconformist ministers were stripped of their positions and incomes. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed Nonconformists to have their own ministers and places of worship, but it still prohibited them, as well as Catholics, from attending universities. Nonconformists responded by developing their own places of higher education, which in the eighteenth century became much more vigorous places of intellectual exchange than the allegedly stuffy and elitist halls of Oxford and Cambridge. Restrictions on Nonconformists eased slowly throughout the eighteenth century, though those on Catholics remained longer. Catholics in all of Britain – including Ireland – were prohibited from sending their sons abroad to be educated, passing their lands to a single heir, or serving in Parliament. As voting rights were slowly expanded, Catholics were explicitly prohibited from voting in 1728. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a series of measures gradually began to lift these restrictions, though the fi rst of these provoked the Gordon riots in 1780, when a huge crowd marched on Parliament and destroyed Catholic churches, chapels, and homes. Complete religious toleration was later adopted in the United Kingdom, though the Church of England remains the offi cial state church today, with the reigning monarch as its offi cial head.

 

 

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