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The Church of England in the Eighteenth Century

Religion in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

In the Eighteenth Century the Church of England (the Anglican Church) had become very lax, complacent and conservative. It was an integral part of the Establishment. Both Church and parliament were dominated by the same socio-economic class: the landed gentry and aristocracy. The monarch was (and still is) the Head of the Anglican Church. Defence of the status quo was prevalent and the ruling classes did not contemplate reform in any shape or form. Religion was comfortable and respectable. The Anglican Church ministered to the gentry in a form of what might be called 'snob Christianity'. Most people's interest in religion was generally academic and pragmatic. 'Enthusiasm' was considered to be dangerous - a left-over from the English Civil War (1642-9) and the Wars of Religion in Europe in the Seventeenth Century.

A general rule of thumb is to see the Church of England as a political institution. Bishops were appointed for their political leanings rather than for their spirituality, and could (and did) make or break legislation. In 1834, a parliamentary motion for exclusion of bishops from the House of Lords was made by C. Rippon: this created a furore. In individual parishes, particularly in rural areas, the incumbent (be he a Vicar or Rector) had a great deal of social power, as evidenced by Joseph Arch. [also see this page]

However, the Clapham Sect and the Oxford Movement did bring 'enthusiasm' and a social conscience to the Church of England in the Nineteenth Century at a time when Methodism was gaining ground.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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