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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

XVIII. “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity”

§ 4. The puritan position

The petition was that all irregular baptisms by deacons or midwives should be “sharplie punished,” that communicants should be examined by elders, “that the statute against waffer cakes may more prevaile then an Injunction,” that kneeling on reception of the sacrament should be abolished. But the most important demand was that, in true conformity with the Calvinian system, “Excommunication be restored to his old former force,” and “that papists or other, neither constrainedly nor customably, communicate in the misteries of salvation.”

Discipline, rigorous and impartial, was the chief aim of the petitioners. The bishops and all their officials must be removed and complete equality of ministers be established. The whole regiment of the church is to be placed in the hands of ministers, seniors and deacons. These are to punish the graver sins, blasphemy, usury (2nd ed. “drunkennesse”), adultery, whoredom, by a severe sentence of excommunication, uncommutable by any money payment. In a vigorous apostrophe, parliament is exhorted to imitate the example of the Scottish and French churches and thoroughly to root out popery.

  • “Is,” ask the petitioners, “a reformation good for France? and can it be evyl for England? Is discipline meete for Scotland? and is it unprofitable for this Realme? Surely God hath set these examples before your eyes to encourage you to go forward to a thorow and speedy reformation. Ye may not do as heretofore you have done, patch and piece, nay, rather, goe backward, and never labour or contend to perfection. But altogether remove whole Antichrist, both head, bodie and branch, and perfectly plant that puritie of the word, that simplicitie of the sacraments, that severitie of discipline, which Christ hath commanded and commended to his church.”
  • It has been necessary to dwell at some length on the subject of the Admonition, not only because it is an excellent specimen of the eloquence and vigour of prose composition during the early days of Elizabeth, but, also, because it practically states the whole case for the demands of the puritans during the period; and it is practically against these that Hooker is contending throughout his controversies with Cartwright and Travers. There is, it must with justice be admitted, much to be said for the puritan demands for church reform. The abuses of the church courts, owing to the multiplicity of jurisdictions, were great; the new clergy, who had been ordained by the Elizabethan bishops, left much to be desired in both conduct and capacity; nor have the denunciations of the puritans regarding the expense of the cathedral establishments, the system of patronage and the like lacked the justification of subsequent experience. But had parliament been allowed to legislate as the puritans desired, the result would have been to set up an ecclesiastical tyranny which, inevitably, would have succeeded in damping the rising spirit of England, and, almost certainly, would have provoked a civil war. The puritans, like some other politicians of our own time, were aiming at an ideal state of society and were ready to allow the country to run any risk to secure its establishment. Experience has shown that such an attempt always demands the sacrifice of personal liberty, and to this, Englishmen, especially under Elizabeth, were thoroughly averse. With the possibilities of life ever growing wider, with a country developing at a rate hitherto unprecedented, with a constantly expanding horizon of life and thought, England, then, despite her religious zeal, thoroughly humanistic, was not going to submit to a system which had only succeeded in a petty municipality like that of Geneva, and which was being experimentally adopted, with doubtful benefit to the country, by a nation so barbarous as the Scots were considered to be in the sixteenth century. Elizabeth understood her people far better than did parliament when she resolutely opposed the discussion of the grievances of the puritans.