Tag Archives: Eighteenth Century

Levis on Changes in the Church of England from 1660-1760

The Oxford Journal of Church and State has posted The Pragmatic Pulpit: Politics and Changes in Preaching Styles in the Church of England, 1660–1760 by R. Barry Levis (Rollins College).  An extract of the piece follows.

Victorian evangelicals and Tractarians shared a negative assessment of the eighteenth-century church. E. B. Pusey, for instance, saw the deficiencies of his contemporary church stretching back to the previous century. Pusey, as well as the other Tractarians, maintained that the eighteenth-century church had “suffered deeply, both in lukewarmness of life and degeneracy of faith, until the horrors of the French Revolution awoke us as out of a death-sleep.” In another context, he noted with disdain that “the eighteenth century was comparatively a stagnant period of the Church,—in England, owing to the violent revolution, whereby so many of her best members, the Non-juring Clergy, were ejected, and that, at one time, the State set itself to corrupt and degrade her, and her writers looked for strength in foreign alliances;—abroad, through the development of the principles of the ultra-reformation, and the influence of degraded England and corrupted France.” Instead, Pusey looked with particular nostalgia toward the seventeenth-century divines.

Many in the eighteenth century would have concurred with this judgment that the Church of England suffered from decay in both discipline and doctrine. Fiction writers portrayed its clergy as incompetent buffoons. Henry Fielding famously depicted Parson Trulliber in Joseph Andrews as more at home in the pig sty, “but two steps from his parlour-window,” than the pulpit. Trulliber had a special gift to arouse female members of his congregation with his preaching. One overly stimulated congregant who “to say the truth, the parson had exercised her ways than one; … , resolved to receive the bad things of this world together with the good.” Jane Austen painted an obsequious Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Likewise, William Hogarth produced several satirical etchings skewering the clergy.