- Windows into Men’s Souls: Religious Nonconformity in Tudor and Early Stuart England by Kenneth L. Campbell
What is primarily a study of the works of the separatists John Robinson, Thomas Helwys, and John Smyth seeks to put them in a very broad context, both temporally and intellectually. This is a work that has proven to be impossible to review without using the term curate’s egg. It certainly has strengths, and attention will be drawn to them. However, it also has problems—factual, structural, and conceptual—which cannot be ignored. To begin with the strengths, this is a useful addition to the historiography. Where attention has concentrated on the common ground shared within the Church of England between the godly and the conformist and more recently on the internal tensions among the godly, the more fulsome criticisms, criticisms that were acted on, on behalf of the Separatists have sneaked under the radar of attention. This treatment, building on the work of scholars such as Stephen Brachlow, is a pertinent reminder; and the specific engagements with the Separatists’ writings are insightful and thought-provoking, not least in examining the tensions within the conditional loyalty of the Puritans to the Church of England.
That much accepted, the reception is spoiled by unfortunate descriptions and judgments. To describe William Perkins as “an early Puritan” (p. 80), Guy Fawkes as “a disgruntled Catholic terrorist” (p. 113), and Joseph Hall as “the most anti-Puritan among the bishops” (p. 186) is simply inaccurate. To speak of the irony that “some of the leading Nonconformists” turned out to be Arminians and to press the case with the sole example of John Goodwin is unconvincing (p. 188), and to suggest that the reluctance of Puritans to eschew “their own economic interests for the sake of religious Nonconformity” is the key to why so few became Separatists before the 1630s serious underestimates the tension between reform from within, pastoral concerns, and heartfelt misgivings about the state of the church.
Although the breadth of context is to be admired, seeking some sort of Nonconformist culture rooted in the Lollards is an unconvincing echo of A. G. Dickens’s old thesis. A similar failure to take advantage of more recent work perhaps plays a part in the concentration on soteriology in the religious politics of the 1630s. Greater absences are to be found in the broader conceptual tools employed. There is a recurrent theme of Catholics and Separatists alike being against a “state” church without ever addressing what the “state” was (and perceptions of heresy and an incomplete Reformation would surely be more profitable roads to follow). The greatest underaddressed term is Nonconformist. Kenneth L. Campbell adopts John Bossy’s muddying of the waters in the first chapter, which raises hopes, but thereafter the term is employed with an assumption of common ground. Within the [End Page 152] church, the context-dependency of nonconformity is ignored, either in the sense of enforcement or accepted silent practice. The willingness of some bishops to turn a blind eye to nonconformity on condition that it was not accompanied by explicit denunciation could be a compromise to clear consciences and relative peace. Similarly, the “outing” of some by bishops more stringent in their insistence on conformity works against the idea of an unchanging group of Nonconformists. Although the return of attention to Separatists is to be applauded and well executed, this would have been enhanced by a greater application of the promised sensitivity to nomenclature.