- Religion, Politics and Dissent, 1660–1832: Essays in Honour of James E. Bradley ed. by Robert D. Cornwall and William Gibson
Dissenters and Dissent do appear in this collection of essays, but, despite its title, this is not a book of Dissenting history. It is, rather, a collection clustered around two themes that have continued to keep historians busy. The first is religious heterodoxy; the second, the relationship of religion to politics.
Intellectual history is well represented by Thomas C. Pfizenmaier, whose essay on the relative heterodoxy of William Whiston, Samuel Clarke, and Isaac Newton launches another salvo in an ongoing dispute with various scholars, mostly concerning Newton’s theology. Mr. Pfizenmaier argues here that Whiston was an Arian, while Clarke and Newton should be taken at face value as more moderate and acceptable semi-Arians. (Though in this context we might bear in mind Bishop Gibson’s famous refusal of Clarke’s preferment [End Page 273] to the episcopal bench because he was “not a Christian,” and Clarke’s dispute with the bishop of London in 1718–1719 over a modified doxology used at St James’s, Westminster, which gave glory to God through Christ his Son, and omitted the Holy Spirit.)
Subtly examining Philip Doddridge’s lectures at his Dissenting Academy, Richard A. Muller shows how Doddridge tried to use a modified Lockean philosophy to transmit a Calvinist orthodoxy. Muller’s “historical theology” approach opens up this subject—the lectures of a Dissenting minister—in a much larger context than purely Dissenting history, and we find Doddridge located as much in the republic of letters as in the county of Northampton-shire.
Stephen Taylor illuminates “the Bowman Affair,” a minor religious controversy in the Hanoverian Church of England. Like Pfizenmaier’s essay, this is about heterodoxy within the Established Church, rather than outside it. Mr. Taylor deals with both text and contexts of this outburst of “clerical anti-clericalism,” concluding that, although discretionary powers were eventually successful in bringing Bowman into line, the episode also illustrated that by the 1730s the bishops were reluctant to pursue anyone through the church courts for expressing their beliefs.
Essays that examine the relationship of religion to politics include those by both editors. Mr. Gibson investigates the part played by Dissenters and clergy of the Church of England in the elections between 1689 and 1710. Mr. Cornwall turns to the political implications of the controversy over the validity of lay baptism that ran between 1708 and 1715. This dispute, which involved nonjurors, had dynastic implications, since George I was a Lutheran, whose church did not have bishops in an apostolic succession, and the validity of whose baptism was therefore questioned. It might be added that this apparently obscure theological spat in fact exposed serious fault lines of Anglican identity—by trying to bring some clarity to the Church’s sacramental doctrine, the disputants questioned, did the Church of England identify its sister churches on the basis of a shared Episcopal ministry, or a shared Protestant identity?
David L. Wykes details the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts in 1719. The identification of the sources and their significance in the diffuse items of archival material, particularly of the material which relates to the debates in Parliament, is well handled.
While James Bradley is the personal inspiration for the essays in this collection, they do not add much to his contention that it was the socially marginal and participatory nature of Dissent that led to the growth of “radicalism,” rather than religious heterodoxy. Much of the religious heterodoxy examined comes from within the Established Church, rather than from Dissent. Nor does the anticlericalism we encounter come from the socially marginalized, but from whig clergy (such as Bowman), or from those whig gentry who objected to the clergy, many of whom came from relative poverty and a low social status, exercising their votes which would affect the propertied.
Several authors are either teachers in seminaries or pastors of churches, and in the...