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Religion, Reform and Modernity in the Eighteenth Century

Religion, Reform and Modernity in the Eighteenth Century: Thomas Secker and the Church of England

Volume: 17
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 335
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  • Book Info
    Religion, Reform and Modernity in the Eighteenth Century
    Book Description:

    The eighteenth century has long divided critical opinion. Some contend that it witnessed the birth of the modern world, while others counter that England remained an ‘ancien regime’ confessional state. This book takes issue with both positions, arguing that the former overstate the newness of the age and largely misdiagnose the causes of change, while the latter rightly point to the persistence of more traditional modes of thought and behaviour, but downplay the era's fundamental uncertainty and misplace the reasons for and the timeline of its passage. The overwhelming catalyst for change is here seen to be war, rather than long-term social and economic changes. Archbishop Thomas Secker [1693-1768], the Cranmer or Laud of his age, and the hitherto neglected church reforms he spearheaded, form the particular focus of the book; this is the first full archivally-based study of a crucial but frequently ignored figure. ROBERT G. INGRAM is Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Ohio University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-586-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    (pp. 1-18)

    The eighteenth century has long been an era in which historians of England have glimpsed important lessons about their own present. For Victorian whigs and liberals, it was Falstaff to the nineteenth century’s Henry V, a debauched and discredited age which stood in stark contrast to their own.¹ ‘Modernists’ in the twentieth century likewise found the eighteenth century useful for contemporary purposes, fighting in it a proxy war over the purpose of history and the nature of the English state.² In the last four decades, the eighteenth century has lost none of its instructive appeal, with historians giving it a...

    (pp. 19-44)

    Thomas Secker might seem an unlikely Anglican church reformer, not least because he was not reared an Anglican. Instead, he was brought up a Presbyterian and at some point early on espoused Arianism. Why this heterodox nonconformist became an orthodox churchman bears explaining first. He certainly did not blaze new trails in his journey away from nonconformity: the depletion of their ranks, particularly of ministerial candidates like Secker, worried Dissenters during the early eighteenth century. Yet those Protestant nonconformists who conformed to the established Church rarely explained their confessional conversions, leaving hostile contemporaries to impute to them less than flattering...

  7. Chapter Three BECOMING AN INSIDER
    (pp. 45-70)

    Many had ideas about how to reform the eighteenth-century Church of England, but few were in a position to do so. In 1720, not many would have thought it likely that a defector from Dissent would one day become archbishop of Canterbury; only a convert from Catholicism would have seemed a more unlikely candidate. Yet within a decade and a half of his ordination, Thomas Secker was on the episcopal bench and in a position to formulate and implement policy within his dioceses. How did this convert Dissenter become an Anglican insider? It is a necessary question to address because...

    (pp. 71-113)

    Thomas Secker was bearish on England’s moral state. ‘Christianity is now ridiculed and railed at, with very little reserve: and the teachers of it, without any at all,’ he groused in 1738.¹ It was a recurrent theme in his public and private pronouncements on the state of the nation. England’s wars abroad and the continuing belief in God’s providential intervention in human affairs made the causes and cures of England’s moral decline issues of national security.² Many argued that new temptations, particularly a thirst for luxury goods, sapped the nation’s moral strength.³ ‘We have increased Amusements and Gaieties to a...

    (pp. 114-156)

    Thomas Secker’s thoughts on how to reform Anglican pastoral provision strongly echoed Gilbert Burnet’s Discourse of the Pastoral Care (1692), a work written by the bishop of Salisbury in the aftermath of the Toleration Act. Thereafter, many churchmen fretted about how to deal with the confessional competition from Protestant nonconformists. Some advocated legal coercion of Dissenters and pressed for laws banning occasional conformity and regulating the Dissenting academies even more carefully.¹ Others came at the problem from the other end, advocating religious comprehension to obviate the problem of religious nonconformity.² Most, though, thought the Church could lure back confessional defectors...

    (pp. 157-208)

    Convocation embarrassed many among the orthodox during the eighteenth century. It was the nation’s spiritual parliament, in its highest conception the spiritual co-equal to the Parliament at Westminster. In the first decades of the century, though, controversy spilled out from the Houses of Convocation, further fuelling the nation’s already combustible political life. The crown subsequently interpreted the royal supremacy to include the power to stop Convocation from conducting substantive business. From 1717 until the mid nineteenth century, the gathering of the clergy in Convocation was purely ceremonial, an act that for many highlighted the Church’s emasculation.¹

    The antiquarian-cleric William Stukeley...

  11. Chapter Seven THE CHURCH AND AMERICA
    (pp. 209-259)

    On 20 February 1741, Thomas Secker stepped into the pulpit of St Mary-le-Bow to deliver the ‘annual anniversary sermon’ to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). He had been invited by the archbishop of Canterbury to speak on the occasion, and the audience drew from the great and good of the English governing class.¹ It was Secker’s first public airing of his views on the religious situation in America, and, in retrospect, established an interpretative framework that remained consistent for him right through to his death. Things on the other side of the Atlantic...

    (pp. 260-282)

    On 6 October 1745, Secker addressed his parishioners at St James’s, Westminster, on the dangers of popery, arbitrary government, and universal monarchy. Wars provoked crises of national and religious identity during the eighteenth century,¹ and they tended to give occasion for clerics to declaim the popish menace. In substance, Secker’s sermon hardly distinguished itself from the many others which flew off the presses in 1745–46.² The Church of England was ‘the most rational and worthy of God, the most humane and beneficial to men, the furtherest from being either tyrannical or burdensome, the freest from superstition, enthusiasm, and gloominess,...

    (pp. 283-289)

    ‘He is indeed to Us Ultimus Romanorum, the last of those Great and Good Men with whom we have been connected,’ the earl of Hardwicke wrote to his brother on learning of Thomas Secker’s death.¹ The end came in the late summer of 1768. Secker had spent the entire year in agonizing pain, suffering from what his physicians thought was rheumatism. Though Secker tried to hide his discomfort from family and friends, he confided to his doctors that ‘the Pains were so excruciating that unless some Relief could be procured, he thought it would be impossible for human Nature to...

    (pp. 290-303)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 304-311)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-314)