restricted access The Church in an Age of Danger: Parsons and Parishioners, 1660–1740 by Donald A. Spaeth (review)
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203 of Tillotson, whose 254 collected sermons might be said to embody the very heart and soul of Anglican theology— renders Mr. Schmidt’s collection enormously deficient. That the Wesleys appear instead is almost to add insult to injury—and while we are happy to reread the quotable Samuel Johnson, he would almost certainly have objected to passages from Rambler being included in a collection representing Anglican spirituality . All this notwithstanding, Glorious Companions would well serve as required reading for all students of the eighteenth century, if only to overcome, in some small way, our increasing failure to understand theageinrelationtoitsown deepest concerns as well as our own. As Mr. Schmidt astutely notes, the essence of Anglican theology resides in the doctrine of incarnation; that insight alone, traceable through the five centuries of quoted materials, is worth the price of admission, most especially because so many modern commentators seem not to recognize that the eighteenth century’s continued commitment to the Word made flesh is,infact,itsprimaryliterarytheory. Melvyn New University of Florida DONALD A. SPAETH. The Church in an Age of Danger: Parsons and Parishioners , 1660–1740. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2000. Pp. xiii ⫹ 259. $65. Focusing on the Established Church of England in 30 parishes in the diocese of Salisbury, where lay-clerical disagreement was commonplace after 1660, Mr. Spaeth challenges recent interpretations of Church of England history during this period. He takes issue with scholars like J. C. D. Clarke who characterize the period as one where common people were increasingly alienated from the Church, while landed elites and clergy conspired to enforce the social dependency of their inferiors. Mr. Spaeth argues instead for the convergence of popular and elite culture ; complaintsagainstclergy,heargues, often involved like-minded rich and poor members of the same community who wished to support the Established Church. The book effectively calls into question the notion that the Restoration Church was a convenient tool for the maintenance of elite power in the countryside . Conceding that the influence of the officialChurch declinedduringthefirsthalf of the eighteenth century, Mr. Spaeth is uncomfortable with the claim that English women and men despaired of the institutional Church, its theology, its rituals , and its place in society. Instead, the evidence from Wiltshiresuggeststhatdifficulties facing the Church often involved personal relationships between the clergy and the people. Quarrels over the payment of tithes, clerical nonresidence, and the quality of pastoral care did not cause popular disdain; the Church still enjoyed considerable favor. Clergymen who were hostile toward Dissenters and who failed to permit a larger role for the laity in communal worship were the source of growing discontent. Too many clergy became protective of their monopoly over the liturgy and refused to allow for more popular expressions of worship. With open meetings and appeal to lay participation, the Methodists in mid-eighteenth century engaged a growing number of parishioners , untilbythe1820s‘‘overhalfthecommunities in Wiltshire had at least one dissenting meeting-house, attracting roughly one-third of the population.’’ From the detailed case studies, it is clear the Church of England was losing ground rapidly, first to dissenting con- 204 gregations, and then to Methodism. But in claiming that the Church’s problems were ‘‘more psychological than structural ’’ and in assigning the crisis to the failures of individual clergy, Mr. Spaeth draws a distinction that readers may contest . At what level, for example, is the institutional Church of England, and especially its policy-making hierarchy, responsible for the inflexible positions taken by its ordained clergy? As he points out early, the Church ‘‘was particularly sensitive to evidence of anticlericalism’’ and deeply resented being the target of Restoration wit. Who, in the end, was responsible for the inability of clergy to accept greater lay participation in the liturgy ? Even in those cases where the wealthy and the poor united to challenge the shortcomings of individual parsons and to championtheiridealoftheChurch, were they not also indicting clerical leaders who allowed problems to fester in the first place? As the clergy turned inwards and became more defensive in the face of new perspectives on Protestant Christianity , one might argue that they did so with the acquiescence if not the support of their superiors. W. M. Spellman University of North Carolina at...