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When we speak of toleration, we mean that there is a dominant religion, but that dissent from it is not of itself an offence against the law. As the word was used in the seventeenth century, it fell far short of religious equality; for it did not mean that dissenters were to have the same political rights as others; but it did mean that the State allowed them full civil rights, and protected all peaceable and decent worship. On one side, religious beliefs must not be made an excuse for overt acts of treason, breach of the peace, or scandalous immorality. On the other, they must not be taken as summary proof that such acts have been committed.

Toleration may be universal, in the sense that all beliefs are so protected; but it is more commonly incomplete. Certain sects may be forbidden, or subjected to special disabilities. Thus Protestantism has been tolerated in Spain since 1868, but only on condition that it gives no public sign of its existence. A notice at the street corner, or a Bible exposed for sale, would be illegal. Even in England, a decent and sober expression of atheistic belief still seems to be a crime in law. But law and practice often differ widely. The authorities may limit or disregard the legal rights of an unpopular sect, or stir up the mob to lawless violence; or, again, they may leave persecuting laws unexecuted, or even frustrate them by annual acts of indemnity. But this kind of practical toleration is precarious: and if the dissenter runs little danger, he cannot feel free from stigma till the law is formally repealed.

There could not be much idea of toleration in the Middle Ages, when the Latin Church turned religion into a concrete law, summing up all virtue in obedience, all vice in disobedience, and handing over offenders to the secular arm. Disobedience per se was an ordinary offence for which penance might be done or ordinary punishment inflicted; and no question of heresy arose till the authority of the Church was disputed. But then there was no mercy. Heresy was a sin that brought down the wrath of heaven on the land, so horrible a sin that even the records of the trials were systematically destroyed.

Of course every persecuted sect pleads for toleration; but nothing is gained till toleration finds advocates in the dominant Church, or at least till the sectaries take some better ground than that error ought not to persecute truth. Neither of these conditions was fulfilled in England before the seventeenth century. Sir Thomas More indeed, on the eve of the Reformation, drew a clear picture of toleration. But that was in Utopia: when it became a practical question, he proved as merciless a persecutor as others. In making Scripture (and therefore its meaning, as determined by sound learning) superior to Church authority, the Reformers made persecution logically indefensible. But they did not see the full meaning of what they had done. They took over ways of thinking from the Middle Ages, and made less of a break with the past than is commonly supposed. If they made the Church national, they fully agreed with the Roman Catholics that there ought to be one Church only, and that no dissent could be allowed. This was the dominant theory from the separation in 1534 to the Toleration Act of 1689. Edward VI established a single form of Common Prayer in 1549, and in 1552 required all persons to attend on Sundays and holydays on pain of ecclesiastical censures, to which Elizabeth added fines in 1559. The system was now complete; and with most persons the only doubt was where to draw the line—what doctrines or practices must be enforced, and what might be left open. Comprehension was a method open to discussion, but toleration was utterly ungodly.

For a few years the system seemed a complete success; but Puritan conventicles began in 1567, Romish after 1571; then first Elizabeth and James struck hard at both parties, and afterwards Charles I struck so hard at the Puritans, who represented much of the best religious life of the time, that he drove over the moderate men to their side. However, it is not surprising that the Roman Catholics generally fared worse than the Protestant sectaries, and were expressly shut out even from the Toleration of 1689.

The Civil War [1575-1644.

The English Roman Catholics were commonly loyal enough, and in the Civil War much too loyal to please the Parliament. In fact the Stewarts (after the first years of James I) were not very zealous against them. But there was a real difficulty in the way of toleration, after the Bull of Pius V in 1571 forbade them to be loyal subjects, and still more when, a few years later, seminary priests came over from Douay. If some of these devoted themselves in good faith to spiritual ministrations, there were others who stirred up sedition or encouraged assassination; and it was not easy for the Government to draw the line between them. Besides this, the modem principle that overt acts are needed to constitute treason was not yet established; it is therefore not surprising that some of them should have suffered for refusing to disavow treasonable beliefs which they never dreamed of carrying out in practice. The Roman Catholics came out of the Reformation discredited by the Marian persecution; and this was followed by the Bull against Elizabeth, the Massacre of St Bartholomew, the coming of the Douay priests, the Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the Irish Massacre, the Popish Plot, and the designs of James II, while the intervals were filled up with plots and rumours of plots which never gave time for suspicion to die away. Till the last danger was dispelled at Culloden, the English were never allowed to forget that the struggle with the Roman Curia was a struggle of life and death for everything of value to the nation.

It was different with the Puritans. Their loyalty was never in doubt before the Civil War, and even the Church was in no serious langer from them for at least a generation after Cartwright’s time. Speaking generally, they were sober and serious churchmen, who wanted only a little more liberty inside the Church. Anabaptists and Brownists were the only revolutionaries, and the more violent of these were mostly exiles on Dutch and New England soil. On their behalf pleas for toleration were put forth by Leonard Busher so early as 1614, and by others after him. Of course they had no effect. Toleration was a new idea; the Anabaptists were a specially obnoxious sect; and Busher’s first principle, that the State has no right to meddle with religion, ran directly contrary to the main current of English thought.

So things drifted from bad to worse, till at the meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640 the Government had practically no supporters. Reform was pushed into revolution; and indeed revolution is almost unavoidable when a king cannot be trusted. But then it was seen that, however the mass of the nation might resent the administration of Charles and Laud, they had no quarrel with monarchy or with the Church. So the end of the Civil Wars found Church matters in strange confusion. Had the King conquered, there would have been an orderly episcopal Church of some sort; and if the Presbyterians had got their way, the Scotch discipline would have been regularly organised all over the country. In neither case would there have been any question of toleration. In this respect the Presbyterians were narrower than Laud, who had no great dislike of heterodoxy that was not Puritan—witness his patronage of Chillingworth and Jeremy Taylor.

But the Presbyterians did not get their way. The Covenant was forced on England by the military necessities of 1643; but it was never generally liked. It was Scotch; it was newfangled; it was too rigid for some, too morose for others. The Episcopalians awaited their time; but the Independents represent a ferment of thought such as was never seen again till the French Revolution. It was greatest in the army, where every man was welcome who “had the root of the matter in him,” and could be trusted to fight against the King. Within these limits, toleration was already established, to the disgust of the Presbyterians. And the principle of 1647 was that of 1789. Saints and Jacobins both began with the sovereignty of the people; only, the Saints never forgot that they were God’s people. It was a principle which could not but profoundly influence the development of politics and society, of religion, and of philosophy. So we see three distinct lines of thought slowly coming out from the enthusiasm of the time, in which they lay confusedly together. First, the Independents proper maintained the right of every congregation to settle its own worship; then, they dealt with the King as a public servant who had betrayed his trust; then, in 1653, they set on foot the far-reaching reforms of the Nominated Parliament. So far Cromwell had gone with them; but now he had to stop them. He could not let them unsettle the whole structure of society in hope of Christ’s return on the morrow. The reign of the Saints was over, though the Instrument of Government reflected their ideas, so far as they were consistent with order. The purely religious side of the current enthusiasm came next to the front; and, after a stormy transition period of plots and Fifth-Monarchy dreamings, it was partly absorbed by the great centre party of serious persons, and partly settled down upon the claim of the Quakers for the individual conscience guided by the inner light. Later in character, though scarcely later in date than the other two, a third movement made its appearance. Reaction as it was from the enthusiasm, it was largely shaped by the enthusiasm. It held some of the best religious thought of the time, yet was largely irreligious. For good or bad reasons many were tired of controversy; and the stress laid on personal religion in an age of controversy tended to emphasise the central doctrines which may commend themselves to reason, and to throw the rest into the background. In one direction we have the Cambridge Platonists and the beginnings of the Latitudinarians, in another Biddle and the Unitarians; and in different ways we note fore­shadowings of the Deists and the Arians of the next age, with its shallow moralism and indifference to religion.

Now, all these three lines of thought pointed to toleration. If congregations ought to be independent, they must not be restrained by a state Church; if the individual conscience is free, it must not be coerced by others; if reason is to judge, the shibboleths of controversy are not worth enforcing. Accordingly, the first effective demand for toleration in England is contained in the Agreement of the People, presented to Parliament by the officers of the army in January, 1649. They agree that Christianity in its purest form be “held forth and recommended as the public profession in this, nation,” and that its teachers be paid by the State, but not by tithes. That to this public profession none be compelled by penalties or otherwise, but that all who profess faith in God by Jesus Christ shall be protected in their worship, “so as they abuse not this liberty to the civil injury of others, or to the actual disturbance of the public peace.” This means full toleration of all Christian worship; for the principle is not infringed by the further provision that “this liberty shall not necessarily extend to popery or prelacy.” Serious as the exception was, it might be defended after the Civil War as a political necessity.

Cromwell is the only man who has ever ruled England with success from an almost isolated position. He crushed the Episcopalians in the first period of civil war, the Presbyterians in the second (1648-51), and separated himself from the Independents, when he allowed the Nominated Parliament to resign its powers (December, 1653). Levellers and Quakers detested him, though he was on terms of personal respect with Fox; and even a man so free from partisanship as Baxter thoroughly distrusted him. But Cromwell was always enough of an Independent to keep in touch with the army; and his policy was that of the Independents, with the unpractical items omitted. At one point he went beyond the toleration they offered to all Christians, for he allowed the return of the Jews, who had been banished from England since the time of Edward I. The Instrument of Government and the Humble Petition and Advice, under which he ruled, simply copy the clause already quoted from the Agreement of the People, but with one significant change. The limitation which the Agreement indicates is now made actual. “Provided that this liberty shall not extend to popery or prelacy, nor to such as under the profession of Christ hold forth and practice licentiousness.” The Humble Petition also shuts out those who publish horrible blasphemies, while requiring belief in the Trinity and that Scripture is “the revealed Will and Word of God.”

The Episcopalians said that it was the execution of the King which made impassable the gulf between them and Cromwell; but it was quite as much the systematic fines and sequestrations which the financial distress of the Parliament induced it to levy from the “malignants” who had fought for the King. Royalists and fanatics never ceased to plot, and could sometimes plot together, against Cromwell. No wonder if he struck at them with harsh measures. Thus his proclamation of November 24, 1655, forbade sequestered or ejected ministers to keep any school either public or private, or either publicly or privately (except in their own family) preach or use the Book of Common Prayer. But Cromwell seems to have meant this rather in terrorem than for serious use. He was on friendly terms with such an Episcopalian as Ussher, and allowed his daughters to be married by the form of the forbidden Book. In any case, the law was not steadily enforced. Thus Morton, Jeremy Taylor, and others, were left unmolested in their private chaplaincies; and a large proportion of the Episcopalian clergy retained their livings throughout the interregnum, often saying the Prayers of the Liturgy by rote, or disguising them with a few alterations. Even the Roman Catholics were virtually tolerated so far as concerned religion, though they suffered heavily as malignants.

The oppression of Cromwell’s government brought together Episcopalians, who formed the bulk of the “malignants”, and Presbyterians, who had also suffered defeat from him; and the confusion which followed on his death convinced the bulk of the nation that the only hope of good order was in the immediate recall of the King. So the Restoration was carried out by a coalition of the two parties which had always been opposed to toleration. Jeremy Taylor certainly advocated it in his Liberty of Prophesying (1647); but he is much the reverse of a typical Episcopalian, and even he does not keep clear of the sceptical argument that most questions are uncertain, which logically leads back to the old doctrine that truth (when certainly known) has a right to suppress error. So there was no more serious thought of toleration. Charles had promised from Breda (April 14, 1660) “a liberty to tender consciences,” and that no man should be called in question for such religious opinions as do not disturb the peace of the kingdom. But this promise had to be put into shape by Parliament; and it soon appeared that comprehension, not toleration, was in view.

The Presbyterians were no longer the haughty Covenanters of twenty years before. Moderate men like Baxter tended to Presbyterianism as a via media between the Laudian churchmen and the fanatics of the Commonwealth. So now the mass of the party wanted only some ceremonies abolished and others made optional, freedom for extempore prayer, and the autocratic power of the Bishops limited by councils of presbyters. They flattered themselves that, if they brought back the King, they would be able to make their own terms with the Episcopalians, and then the united Church could put down the sects. A vigorous persecution of Quakers was set on foot before Venner’s insurrection (January 6,1661).

The Convention Parliament, for which “malignants” had not been supposed to vote, held the balance fairly even, though it yielded more and more to the rising tide of royalism. But the new Parliament, which met in May, 1661, was almost entirely Cavalier. It began by imposing the Sacrament on its own members, and went on to pass the Corporation Act. By this all members of corporations were required (1) to swear (besides the oaths of allegiance and supremacy) “that it is not lawful on any pretence whatever to take arms against the King, and that I do abhor that traitorous position of taking arms by his authority against his person,” as was done in 1642; (2) to declare the Covenant null and unlawful; (3) to have received the Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England within a year before their election.

Presbyterianism as a political power was destroyed at once by its exclusion from the Commons and the corporations; but could it not still obtain some concessions in matters of religion? The answer was the Act of Uniformity (May 19, 1662). All persons in Holy Orders, all teachers in the Universities, and all public or private schoolmasters, were to make the same declarations as members of corporations, and all public ministers further to declare their “unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed” in the Book of Common Prayer recently revised; while all Orders not episcopal were made legally invalid. And the revision of the Book had not been conciliatory. The Bishops at the Savoy Conference refused nearly all the demands of the Presbyterians, and the concessions afterwards made by Convocation were not very, important. Few of the “offences to tender consciences” were removed, and one or two more were added, such as the reading of Bel and the Dragon. Harsher still was the provision that the assent and consent must be declared before St Bartholomew’s Day (August 24)—just before the half-year’s tithes fell due. Some clergy were unable to make it, solely because the Book had not reached them in time. But if the Presbyterians got very little by the revision, the Laudians at the other end of the scale got nothing, for the amendments in that direction proposed by Sancroft were all rejected. The restored Church took its stand with the Articles unaltered, and the Liturgy very little changed from its form of 1559, or even from that of 1552.

1658-62] The Restoration.

Once again, and for the last time, England returned to the old ideal of a single national Church with no dissent allowed. And from that Church the Puritanism which had been struggling within it for the last century was now shut out by law. The national Church had been substantially national till it was narrowed into a party by Laud; and now it was condemned to remain a party in the nation—no doubt the strongest party, but still not more than a party; for one whole side of the religious life of the nation was driven into opposition. So persecution assumed a new character. Elizabeth might plead that the contest with Rome was in the main a struggle with foreign enemies for the very existence of Church and State in their national form; and even Laud might fairly say that the Puritans would put him down, if he did not put them down. But there was no excuse of self-defence in 1662. The mass of the Non­conformists were no enemies of the Church, and desired no great changes in it: and, had they been ever so evil-disposed, the Church was utterly beyond the reach of attack. Baxter would have had no more chance gainst it than Lodowick Muggleton. But, if there was no valid plea of self-defence, persecution was pure and simple revenge on the defeated party; and of mere revenge the better sort of churchmen would sooner or later be ashamed.

They were half ashamed all along. Even the Cavalier Parliament only passed the Act by a majority of six (186 to 180). The Lords would have exempted schoolmasters and allowed a maintenance to ejected ministers, as the Commonwealth had done, and Clarendon himself wished to give the King some power of dispensation; but the Commons would allow no change. The distress caused by the Act was great and widespread. Near two thousand ministers—including those already displaced by the old royalist incumbents—went out; and these were of the better sort, for of course all time-servers conformed. Thenceforth the controversy never rested till the Revolution. On the side of the Church were Sheldon’s chaplains, first Thomas Tomkins, then Samuel Parker (James II’s Bishop of Oxford, 1686) and men of learning like Richard Perrinchief and Herbert Thorndike. The main argument was rather political than religious. Nonconformists had been rebels before and were still rebels at heart. The worst they got was less than they deserved, and they would not complain if they were honest men. Herbert Thorndike was more of a Laudian, and wanted the Catholic faith enforced, and the laws of the primitive Church within the first six General Councils. This, however, was not the general view of Sheldon and the Bishops. Roger L’Estrange, writing as a layman and a man of the world, refers to the answer of the Judges in 1604, that it was an offence “very near to treason and felony” to collect petitions in a public cause as the Puritans had done, in order to tell the King that, if he denied their suit, many thousands of his subjects would be discontented. The most remarkable position he takes is that the malcontents had perfect freedom of conscience already; because they were free to think what they pleased; but that freedom of action in religion must be absolutely at the command of the State. This last might have been a hint from Hobbes. On the other side were moderate men like Corbet, who advocated “an establishment, a limited toleration, and a discreet connivance.” The limited toleration was meant to shut out the Roman Catholics, on the ground that it was part of their religion to kill kings, and to persecute all who differed from them. Later, in 1675, Herbert Croft, Bishop of Hereford, published The Naked Truth, which called out a host of answers. Croft saw no need of any Confession beyond the Apostles’ Creed; and, as for ceremonies, the only wonder was that anyone thought it worth while to dispute about them.

One of the most effective charges against the Nonconformists was that they were disciples and allies of the Jesuits, who also held meetings in holes and comers, set up “enthusiastic” preaching, hated the Liturgy, and laboured for the overthrow of Church and State. In fact, the Church was a bulwark of Protestantism, and the Nonconformists themselves lamented that the separation weakened it in the critical times that followed. The Puritan controversy was very soon entangled with the Roman, and gradually bccame secondary to it. Charles II was a Roman Catholic, so far as he had any serious belief at all; and this drew him to France, which under Louis XIV was moving towards a distinctly Romanising policy, very unlike that of Richelieu. So the history of his reign resolves itself into a triangular contest of King, Commons and Nonconformists. The Commons are resolute for persecution; but they are also resolute for the liberties of England as they stood at the opening of the Civil War. The King is plotting to restore despotism and Romanism, leaning on French subsidies, and striving to win the Non-conformists to his plans by first letting loose the Commons to persecute them, then offering them an illegal dispensation—which also covered the Roman Catholics. It was a hard choice for them; and the future of England turned very much on the question whether they would have sense enough to see that religious liberty is precarious without civil liberty. If the King gave them toleration for his own purposes, he could also revoke it for his own purposes.   

The contest imder Charles II. [1662-7

Alongside of this triangular contest which brought politics into religion there was another which had a more directly philosophical bearing, however little some of the combatants may have perceived it. The sharpest clash of the Civil War was that of men who thought Episcopacy needful and Calvinism false against men who thought Calvinism needful and Episcopacy sinful. These were the main parties, thougii the division was not sharp; for some Episcopalians like Hammond were decided Calvinists, and many of the later Presbyterians modified the Calvinism and allowed a limited Episcopacy. But, even so, the two parties were never the whole of the nation. There were always many who believed in, and perhaps fought for, one side or the other without regarding the difference as vital. The common intercourse of life was teaching moderate men of all parties a good deal of mutual respect; and intermarriages were not always unfortunate as in Milton’s case. A good foundation is already laid for legal toleration, when the regret that a decent neighbour is on the wrong side is—not because it will hring him to hell some day, but because it gets him into trouble now. And this was often the feeling, even as regards Roman Catholics.

The larger number of these men went their own way without much regard to the reason of the thing; but, as others thought it out more or less distinctly, opinions from all sides drew together to form a third party in favour of toleration. The Puritan side contributed something. Baxter and Howe were not the only champions of past controversy who fell back in later life upon the simplest teaching of a common Christianity. On the Episcopalian side also we find a succession of conspicuous men more or less of this way of thinking, such as Chillingworth, John Hales, Jeremy Taylor (three friends of Laud), Hammond, Sir Thomas Browne, Wilkins and the Cambridge Platonists, Tillotson and Locke. Greatly as in many respects they differed from each other, they were as earnest in religion as any of the zealots, and all upheld toleration and respect for other men’s conclusions. Nothing marks more dearly the change of feeling than the way Locke takes it as self-evident that the saving power of a religion is not to be reached by an assent of the old sort, but only by full belief in such religion.

Now that we have seen the forces at work in the transition period (1662-89), we can trace the history of their action. The first despair of the Nonconformists was soothed by a proclamation which announced the King’s desire to exempt peaceable persons from the penalties of the Act. Next year (1663) a Bill was brought in enabling him to dispense not only with the Act of Uniformity but with all other such Acts, and to grant such dispensation not only to Protestants but to Roman Catholic recusants. The aim was too clear. The Nonconformists themselves would not support the proposal, and the Commons took alarm. Next year (1664) they passed the first Conventicle Act, making penal all meetings of more than five persons (beyond a household, if any) for worship other than that prescribed by the Liturgy. And in 1665 they followed this up with the Five Mile Act, which forbade an ejected minister to come within five miles of any market-town or of any place where he used to minister aforetime, unless he took the oath of non-resistance, and farther swore that he would at no time endeavour any alteration of government, either in Church or State. This completed Clarendon’s work of persecution; for the second Conventicle Act (1670) was not passed till after his fall, and the Test Act, as we shall see, was not aimed chiefly at the Puritans.

Charles was watching his opportunity. The fall of Clarendon in 1667 made way for the Cabal and an attempt at comprehension. The scheme of 1668 bore the name of John Wilkins, one of the founders of the Royal Society, and a man of such eminence that his marriage with Cromwell’s sister did not prevent his appointment to the see of Chester. Its chief novelty was that those ordained by presbyters were to receive imposition of hands from the Bishop with the form “Take thou legal authority”; so that it was not a re-ordination, but simply a calling according to the existing law. The scheme had strong support, but the Commons threw it out: nor would the King have cared to strengthen the Church.

In 1670 came the secret Treaty of Dover. The first condition, that Charles should declare himself a Roman Catholic, had to be postponed; but the other—war with the United Provinces—could be taken up at once. Charles won over to it Ashley, the political advocate of the Nonconformists, by promising an illegal indulgence not extending to Roman Catholics (issued in 1672), while French subsidies enabled him to do without Parliament. But the Dutch held France and England together at bay so long that Parliament had to be summoned (1673). It met in a dangerous temper, for grave and just suspicions of a Romish plot were widespread, and yet could not be fully proved. They began by forcing the King to recall the Indulgence and promise that it should never be made a precedent. Their next step was a Test Act, of which the provisions and the results have been alike described in a previous chapter. It required from all persons in the employment of the State the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, a declaration against transub- stantiation, and reception of the Sacrament according to the Liturgy. The Duke of York avowed himself a Roman Catholic; Clifford laid down the Treasurer’s staff, and numbers of officials resigned their posts.

Suspicion was now thoroughly roused, and deepened yearly. The Non-conformists themselves supported the Test Act. Men suspected, and suspected with reason, more than they could prove; and then they grew wild. In vain Parliament strove to force the King into a clear and consistent Protestant foreign policy. Genuine Popish plots in great variety were always hatching in Stewart times, and, if Oates and Bedloe piled up a monstrous heap of perjuries, they piled them over a foundation of truth. At first they got little credit: the panic was only let loose by Godfrey’s murder—for murder it seems to have been—but at such a time as this every tale went down. It was the worst panic in English history, for Danby and Shaftesbury encouraged it, each for his own purposes. For once the penal laws against Roman Catholics were strictly enforced, and became a real persecution. The King played his game with consummate skill. Let the managers of the agitation sacrifice as many victims as they pleased: he “gave them line,” and waited for the reaction when the series of judicial murders became too shocking. There was good reason for preventing the succession of the Duke of York; but Shaftesbury scandalised all decent feeling by proposing the King’s bastard, Monmouth.

So the last years of Charles II were a time of reaction. A loyalist revival swept away Shaftesbury and the Exclusion Bill, and Protestant suspicion was abated. After all, the Papists were not so bad as Oates had made out. Charles used his victory with moderation, and was careful to give no further provocations. Hardly a murmur was raised when the Duke of York became King in 1685; for Monmouth’s rebellion was an utter failure. None but exiles could have dreamed of success for so wild an enterprise.

Our first impression may be that the reign of Charles II is a pure and simple falling-back from the toleration which seemed approaching in Cromwell’s time. It began with persecution systematic and extensive—Quakers lay in jail by thousands—and it ended with few signs of amendment. Every attempt to relax its severity had been defeated; and in 1685 persecution and passive obedience seemed as much the dominant creed as in 1662. But in 1662 these principles were an enthusiasm; in 1685 they were little more than orthodoxy, and men were not wanting who saw this. The University of Oxford might proclaim passive obedience (1662); but Bishop Morley from his death-bed (1684) warned the Duke of York that, if ever the clergy wanted a way out of it, they would certainly find one. So, too, with persecution. The belief of educated men was more and more coming round to toleration. It was adopted by men of all sorts—by divines like Tillotson, by royalists like Bishop Croft, lawyers like Orlando Bridgeman, students like Wilkins and Locke, politicians like Shaftesbury, men of the world like John Churchill, the future Marlborough. The cause was really won; but a shock was needed to show that it was won. That shock was given by James II.

1685-8] The reign of James II.

James began with fair professions; but his actions soon revived the worst suspicions. Had his one object been to convince the nation that a Roman Catholic is never to be trusted, he could not have done his work better. The open parade of Roman worship and the open favour shown at Court to crowds of Roman Catholics and renegades gave offence enough, and the matter became serious when James packed the Bench till he obtained from his judges what he could not get from the most loyal Parliament on record—power to dispense with the Test Act—and when he proceeded to officer the army and the civil service with Roman Catholics. Before long the most devoted loyalists took alarm, and the English Roman Catholics themselves mostly held aloof. The Pope was for moderation, but the Jesuits and the renegades urged the King to reckless haste.

So far James had reckoned on the Church, in hopes of getting a legal toleration for recusants only. He thought he could do what he pleased with men who preached passive obedience. But Morley’s warning now came true. Instead of practising their doctrine, they began to reconsider it. They had taken for granted that an English King would be a good son of the Church; and they might fairly doubt whether quite the same obedience was due to such an enemy as James. They could go a long way with the King; but, when the successive blows of the new High Commission, the suspension of Compton, Bishop of London, and the attacks on the Universities and the Charterhouse brought them face to face with Romanism and despotism, they settled down into opposition.

Meanwhile James had changed his tactics. If the Church would not help him, he could turn to the Nonconformists. They had been persecuted with much severity since 1681, and might be grateful for relief. So in April, 1687, came out a Declaration of Indulgence. King James expounded that conscience ought not to be constrained, and that such constraint had always been contrary to his inclination, promised to protect and maintain the Church as by law established, and finished up by guaranteeing to all men their lands and properties, particularly church and abbey lands. To carry out this liberal policy, he “ thinks fit, by virtue of Our royal prerogative,” to suspend all penal laws and all religious tests affecting Nonconformists and recusants.

The jails were emptied. The Nonconformists were invited to White­hall, and plied with the seductions of Court favour. It was a strange promotion for them. “The other day they were Sons of Belial; now they were Angels of Light.” But would they help the Jesuits and the Bang to pull down the Church? Some were willing, but leaders like Baxter and Howe and Bunyan ranged themselves on the other side, and presently (about August) the case was summed up by Halifax in his Letter to a Dissenter. Could they believe in this sudden change? Was Popery the only friend to liberty? Would they justify the dispensing power and all its consequences? Were they willing to repeal and enact laws with the Roman Consistory for Lords of the Articles? It was idle for the Court to offer securities or “equivalents” to Protestantism. As Halifax said later in his Anatomy of an Equivalent: “If laws were binding, let them be observed: if not, they were no security.” Such arguments as these were decisive; and, though a few of the dissenters like Penn supported the Court, it soon appeared that the main body of them preferred a Church which persecuted by law to a King who claimed the right of suspending laws wholesale at his pleasure.

In truth, it was not now a persecuting Church. Even in the time of exile the Caroline divines never showed much leaning to Rome. In the main they were as resolute Protestants as the Puritans themselves; and now the common danger drew even extreme men like Sancroft closer to the Nonconformists. The old quarrels were dropped, and all was peace and charity in the Protestant fold. Very few “remained in their peevishness.” So, when James added insult to injury by reissuing the Declaration of Indulgence in May, 1688, and ordering the clergy to read it in church, dissenters and churchmen stood together against him. Even the Roman Catholics—the English Roman Catholics—would not lift a hand to save him. What the Revolution overthrew was little more than a cabal of Jesuits and renegades.

Now, the condition of this league of Protestants was that the Nonconformists were to be secured relief by law—toleration certainly, and if possible comprehension. Accordingly, so soon as William and Mary were fairly settled on the throne, the work was taken in hand. It was a Tory and a zealous churchman who brought in the Bills. The Earl of Nottingham (then Mr Daniel Finch) had borne a hand in framing them in the days of the Popish Plot; but Shaftesbury would not hear of them. Now, he laid them on the table of the Lords, and the Toleration Act passed without difficulty (May 24, 1689). It enacted that the Act of Uniformity and the persecuting Acts should not apply to persons taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy and making the declaration against transubstantiation, provided only they did not hold meetings with locked doors. Ministers were also required to sign the Articles excepting those on Church government; and the Anabaptists were further excused the clause approving Infant Baptism. The Quakers had to “promise and solemnly declare” themselves good subjects who renounced the authority of the Pope and believed in the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible. Dissenting chapels were to be certified, and there was to be a penalty of twenty pounds for disturbing the same. But Papists and those who denied the Trinity were expressly excluded from the benefit of the Act. Toleration was thus established in practice, though not in theory; for the persecuting statutes were still the law of the land, and toleration was only an exemption. So late as 1787 the Methodists were liable to the penalties of the Conventicle Act, and could gain no relief till they were not only licensed, but licensed as dissenters. As for the Roman Catholics, after the Revolution connivance was the most they could expect, and this they generally got. Toleration such as William or Halifax would have given them was hardly a matter of practical politics: the Tories were against it to a man, and most of the Whigs too. Fresh persecuting statutes were enacted later, especially after the Tory reaction of 1699 and Bolingbroke’s plot of 1715; and though they soon fell into disuse, no great relief was given by law till 1778, and even then it led to the Gordon riots.

After the Toleration Act, the Comprehension Bill. This Bill, brought forward in 1689, relaxed the subscription to the Articles, made the “nocent ceremonies” optional in most churches, and admitted Presbyterian ministers without reordination. The Bishop was to lay his hands on them with the words, “Take thou authority to preach—in the Church of England.” It ended by proposing to ask the King and Queen for a commission to revise the Liturgy. But now came difficulties. The mass of the clergy were Tories and High-churchmen; and, now that they had got over the panic of 1688, they were most unwilling to make any changes so as to let in dissenters. If Nottingham himself was for comprehension, he chiefly aimed at making the Church strong enough to enforce the Test Act, which the dissenters largely evaded by the practice of occasional conformity. And this again raised difficulties on the other side. The veterans of 1662 might look back wistfully to the Church from which they had been expelled; but a younger generation was growing up which preferred to remain outside. Better be content with toleration than become unwelcome guests of a hostile Church. Moreover, there were many dissenters whom no comprehension could include; and every such person saw the danger to himself of Nottingham’s policy. The greater the success of comprehension, the greater the danger for those not comprehended. Indeed, the men who raised the Sacheverell riots (’710) and passed the Schism Act (1714) were quite capable of repealing the Toleration Act.

Thus the Comprehension Bill was attacked on both sides—by the High-churchmen who hated the idea, and by the dissenters who feared its success—and the Whigs were divided, one section of them wanting Comprehension, the other preferring to relax the Test Act. However, an Ecclesiastical Commission was appointed which revised the Liturgy. But Convocation refused even to discuss their labours, and proved so mutinous that it had to be prorogued. The Comprehension Bill was dropped.


Liberty of Prophesying : Taylor, Jeremy.

The Naked Truth : Herbert Croft.

The anatomy of an equivalent -- A letter to a dissenter George Savile, Marquis of Halifax , 1633-1695