Happy Birthday Oliver C…

Today is the 409th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s birth.

While he used to be a rather obscure historical figure as far as I was concerned, of late, with the repeated claims that a new Reformation is underway, led by voices within historic Anglicanism, Cromwell is suddenly not so jejune.

From Encyclopedia Britannica’s piece on his role in the Reformation:

“The Independent clergyman John Owen guided the religious settlement under Cromwell. He maintained that the ‘reformation of England shall be more glorious than of any Nation in the world, being carried on, neither by might nor power, but only by the spirit of the Lord of Hosts.’ Doctrinal error was a problem for both Cromwell and Owen, but, as Owen explained, it was better for 500 errors to be scattered among individuals than for one error to have power and jurisdiction over all others.

Such was the basis for a pluralistic religious settlement in England under the Commonwealth in which parish churches were led by men of Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist, or other opinions. Jews were permitted to live in England, but Roman Catholics and Unitarians were not allowed to hold religious views publicly. Cromwell was personally willing to tolerate The Book of Common Prayer, but Parliament was not. Voluntary associations of churches were formed, such as the Worcestershire Association, to keep up a semblance of order among churches and pastors of differing persuasions.

In the upheaval brought on by the wars, radical groups appeared that both challenged and advanced the Puritan vision of the New Jerusalem. The Levellers (a republican and democratic political party) in the New Model Army in 1647 and 1648 interpreted the liberty that comes from the grace of God freely offered to all through Christ as having direct implications for political democracy. In 1649, the Diggers (agrarian communists) planted crops on common land—first at St. George’s Hill near Kingston and later at Cobham Manor, also near Kingston—to bring forth God’s millennial kingdom, which they understood to be an unstructured community of love with a communal economy. In the same year, the Fifth Monarchy Men (an extreme Puritan millennialist sect), presented their message of no compromise with the old political structure and advocated a new one, composed of saints joined together in congregations with ascending representative assemblies, to bring all men under the kingship of Jesus Christ. As distinct units these groups were short-lived. A more enduring group was founded by George Fox (1624–91) as the Society of Friends, or Quakers, which pushed the Puritan position against popery to its logical conclusion by rejecting the need for ministers, sacraments, or liturgy in the church. Puritanism had never been a monolithic movement, and accession to power generated factionalism. The limits of the Puritan spirit showed clearly in the widespread persecution of the Quakers.”

Interesting no? Limits of tolerance, issues of right doctrine, spontaneous groups rising up out of the foam of societal upheaval… Sounds familiar somehow.

Read the rest here.

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...