Occasional Papers eBook

Richard William Church
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 378 pages of information about Occasional Papers.
new to many in England, that “the Reformation, as a religious movement, took its shape in England, not in the sixteenth century but in the seventeenth.”  “It seems plain,” he says, “that the great bulk of those burned under Mary were Puritans”; and he adds, what is not perhaps so capable of proof, that “under Elizabeth we have to look, with rare exceptions, among the Puritans and Recusants for an active and religious life.”  It was not till the Restoration, it was not till Puritanism had shown all its intolerance, all its narrowness, and all its helplessness, that the Church was able to settle the real basis and the chief lines of its reformed constitution.  It is not, as Mr. Gladstone says, “a heroic history”; there is room enough in the looseness of some of its arrangements, and the incompleteness of others, for diversity of opinion and for polemical criticism.  But the result, in fact, of this liberty and this incompleteness has been, not that the Church has declined lower and lower into indifference and negation, but that it has steadily mounted in successive periods to a higher level of purpose, to a higher standard of life and thought, of faith and work.  Account for it as we may, with all drawbacks, with great intervals of seeming torpor, with much to be regretted and to be ashamed of, that is literally the history of the English Church since the Restoration settlement.  It is not “heroic,” but there are no Church annals of the same time more so, and there are none fuller of hope.

But every system has its natural and specific danger, and the specific English danger, as it is the condition of vigorous English life, is that spirit of liberty which allows and attempts to combine very divergent tendencies of opinion.  “The Church of England,” Mr. Gladstone thinks, “has been peculiarly liable, on the one side and on the other, both to attack and to defection, and the probable cause is to be found in the degree in which, whether for worldly or for religious reasons, it was attempted in her case to combine divergent elements within her borders.”  She is still, as he says, “working out her system by experience”; and the exclusion of bitterness—­even, as he says, of “savagery”—­from her debates and controversies is hardly yet accomplished.  There is at present, indeed, a remarkable lull, a “truce of God,” which, it may be hoped, is of good omen; but we dare not be too sure that it is going to be permanent.  In the meantime, those who tremble lest disestablishment should be the signal of a great break up and separation of her different parties cannot do better than meditate on Mr. Gladstone’s very solemn words:—­

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