Advanced Information

This critical label became attached to a group of Anglican divines in the late seventeenth century whose thought displayed a high regard for the authority of reason and a tolerant, antidogmatic temper ("gentlemen of a wide swallow"). In many ways products of the Cambridge Platonists (to whom the term was originally applied), they nevertheless lacked their mystical and imaginative depth. Moreover, though mostly Cambridge men, they became prominent churchmen. They included John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury; Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester; Simon Patrick, Bishop of Chichester and Ely; Gilbert Burnet, Reformation historian and Bishop of Salisbury; and Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury. They reacted against the Calvinism of the Puritans and were broadly Arminian in outlook. They aligned themselves with progressive and liberal movements in the contemporary intellectual world.

Hostile to scholasticism and Aristotelianism, they drew inspiration more from Descartes's new "mechanical" philosophy. Respect for "the theatre of nature" led them to support scientific developments such as the Royal Society. Thomas Sprat, Bishop of Rochester, was its historian, and Joseph Glanvill was a fellow of the Society as well as rector of Bath and the author of The Vanity of Dogmatizing and The Agreement of Reason and Religion. The new mathematics of Isaac Barrow and Isaac Newton they hailed as signs of a new age of light.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
Their comprehensiveness allowed only a narrow core of fundamentals in religion. They resisted the Laudian or High Church insistence on conformity in nonessentials such as church order and liturgy. Stillingfleet's Irenicum advocated "comprehension" between Anglicans and Presbyterians; Burnet tried to incorporate Nonconformists into the Church of England. They approved "that vertuous mediocrity which our Church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome, and the squalid sluttery of Fanatick conventicles" (Patrick). Above all they held that "true philosophy can never hurt sound divinity," which in practice normally meant harmonizing Scripture and the fathers with the light of reason. Theologically vague and spiritually insubstantial, their religion was strongly moralistic. Their emphasis on reasonableness looked forward to the skepticism of Hume and the reductionist theology of the next century. They were also the precursors of the Broad Churchmen of the nineteenth century, e.g., the contributors to Essays and Reviews (1860), and of the modernists and radicals of more recent Anglican divinity.

D F Wright

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

G. R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason and From Puritanism to the Age of Reason; B. Willey, The Seventeenth Century Background; M. H. Nicolson, "Christ's College and the Latitude Men," MP 27:35-53.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet