How Puritans Shaped Anglicanism

Some will not like reading this, but Alec Ryrie cannot be canceled so readily .

Between the Elizabethan settlement and the English Civil War, the Church of England was unapologetically a Reformed Protestant church. It was also much closer to being a truly national Church than it has ever been since. This has left some awkward legacies to later Anglicanism. The fact that many Puritans were driven into nonconformity after the Restoration has given rise to a wholly unjustified myth among Anglicans: that Puritans had been cuckoos in the Church of England’s nest since the beginning, and so are not truly a part of Anglicanism’s history. The majority of Anglicans are in long-standing denial over their Puritan heritage, reluctant to recognize that these people are part of Anglicanism’s story — and fully so, not on sufferance. Meanwhile, a minority strain within Anglicanism is so enthusiastic to claim England’s Protestant, Puritan Reformation as its heritage that it asserts that Reformation ought to be normative for Anglicanism, not merely a strand within it.

The plain facts are, first, that the Church of England was once a mainstream Reformed Protestant church; and second, that is is not any more. How it, and the English-speaking world more widely, should deal with that mixed heritage is a story of two books.

The Book of Common Prayer is the more complicated of the two. When Thomas Cramner introduced its first two editions in 1549 and 1552, it was an alarmingly radical engine of reform. . . this new English ‘common prayer’ was intended to be a united voice, in which the minister spoke to the people as much as to God and in which the greatest part of worship was instruction. The outwardly traditional elements of the new liturgy were a digestif intended to make two novel features palatable to a largely conservative people: first, the huge slabs of the Bible that comprise the bulk of most of the services; and second, the robustly Protestant theology that is texts taught. . . . But when the Prayer Book was re-imposed by Charles II in 1662, although its text was virtually unchanged from a century earlier, its meaning was reversed. Despite its title, it no longer aspired to national ‘common prayer.’ It was an instrument of division, not of unity. It was designed to smoke out those who wished to remain part of the national church but could not tolerate this half-reformed liturgy. . . .

The second book is of course the English Bible. The English Reformation produced no theologians of European stature, but in Tyndale it did produce a truly great translator. It is a plain fact that he did more than any other individual to shape the modern English language, and that the English Bible he set in motion would become central to English identity for centuries. (The English Reformation, 63-65)