Alternate History

Religion in the Commonwealth (Cromwell the Great)

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Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works..(James 2:17-18)
In the Commonwealth all Protestant groups and sects enjoy full religious liberty, as stated in the Instrument of Government (1653), and confirmed by the Humble Petition and Advice (1657) and the Constitutional Framework. Also England, Scotland, Ireland, and later Wales, have a national Church.

Initially, besides the repealment of the episcopal polity and the Act of Uniformity of 1558 in 1646 and 1650 and the recognition of the Church of Scotland as national church, and the establishment of the commissions of triers and ejectors (1654), there were no further details of its structure or beliefs. It was left to the Lord Protector and Parliament with wide discretion as to how to organized the national church either as a Presbyterian or Congregational policy. In the 1660s the main lines and principles were drawn for the three, and later four, national churches.

A further proof of the independence of Church affairs and religious tolerance was that a large part of the Cromwell family and household remained congregationalist in their faith.

The Religious Settlement of the 1660s

One of the policies on assuming Henry Cromwell as Protector, was to settle the religious problem of the Commonwealth. There had been no consensus on the establishment of a national church, its form of government, articles of faith and liturgical book. Above all was the problem of the tithes and who had the right to them and the stance with the congregationalist churches.

In 1662 a meeting at the Savoy Palace of the main factions (Presbyterian, independents and Episcopalians), was assembled with the purpose of reconciling positions and establishing on common ground for one national church in England. At the same the Commons debated on religious issues. The Savoy Conference failed to unite opinions and only exerted differences. Although it approach the Presbyterians, conservative Congregationalist and Episcopalian in further negotiations on a national church. Also the Commons was divided on the issue and only agreed on a petition to the Protector and Council of State to consider, study and send on possible solutions to the Parliament. Henry Cromwell along the Council of State and the Army considered, some against their own religious opinions, to established a reform national church, but giving enough assurances for the Independents to be within it or apart of it.

The Settlement, under a series of compromises and its uneasy passage thru the Parliament established several rights and duties. It also marked the defeat of Erastianism, the idea that state is supreme in church matters, or at least its most extreme partisans. One common consensus was the lack of will to establish a Presbyterian organized Church in England and Wales, although there was some sympathy of it in Ireland. The religious settlement was established in at least five main acts approved and enacted between 1663 and 1666.

The Amended Westminster Confession of Faith for England, Wales and Ireland of 1663, that does not included Chapters 30 and 31 on Church discipline and lifted the main obstacle of establishing a non Presbyterian Church and opened up the negotiations for the establishment and organization of the national churches.

The Act on the Organization of the Churches of England, Wales and Ireland of 1664, reaffirmed the dissemblance of the church, however it kept the system of triers and ejectors. However their role was delegated to the government of the national churches. Public preachers and churches that received public monies and are outside the national churches would be under the jurisdiction of county councils and a central council of triers and ejectors. The payment of tithes are administered by the Board of Trustees and its delegates. The triers, ejectors, trustees and delegates are named by Protector on candidates proposed by the national churches and the voluntary unions or associations of preachers and independent churches for fixed terms of years. The Act allow freedom to chose the liturgy of the service, but it must be common in national churches or associations or union of independent churches and preachers. The Act also allowed the association of parish churches in voluntary unions or associations and the establishment in England and Ireland of national unions that would have control of disciple and services, but must be licensed by the local county commissions of triers and ejectors.

By Act of the Government and Discipline of the National Churches of 1666, the national churches were aligned along the proposals of the late Archbishop James Ussher, more commonly called the conjoined polity or Ussher scheme, a via media of church governance. The conjoined polity mandated a synodical form of church government whereby both presbyters and bishops would share the governance of the church. At each level, the bishop (or the rector of the parish) presides over a council of presbyters who offer advice and share in making decisions. All members have equal vote with matters being decided by majority vote. Establishing a partnership and mutual dependence of both.

The Act of Public Monies and Endowment for Religious Observance in Scotland of 1666 normed the tithes and toleration of independent churches and public preachers.

The Act for matters of government of the Church of Scotland of 1665, reaffirmed its Presbyterian polity and allowed for the gathering, abolished since 1653, of its General Assembly the following year. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) is the only valid confession in Scotland.

Trustees, Triers and Ejectors

These three administrative bodies have the duty of collecting and paying tithes, supervision and licence of priests and preachers in the Commonwealth as part of the Religious Settlement. The colonies of North America have similar institutions.

The Trustees or Board of Trustees and commissioners has the duty to collect tithes and make payments to priests and preachers duly licensed of the National Churches and voluntary unions and associations. It also carries out changes of parish limits in their jurisdiction.

At first established for England and Wales (1654), later Ireland (1649 State payment, 1658 own tithe system, 1664 general system) and Scotland (1665). Boards are established in each home country, with commissioners assigned according to groups of parishes or counties in helping and supervising the labors of the Board. The Boards and commissioners are named by the Protector and the State Council. In 1665 the first joint annual session of the Trustees, Triers and Ejectors for England and Wales and Ireland was called, Scotland followed the next year.

The Triers[1] examine, approve and license all clergy and preachers before their admission to the benefices. The triers are organized in a Central Council and county commissions in each Home Country. At first they were established for England and Wales (1654), later Ireland (1664) and Scotland (1665). Its members are Presbyterians, Baptists, Independent, National Church clergymen and also pious laymen. Candidates are proposed by special boards of clergyman on regional basis and appointed by the Protector and the State Council for an ten year term.

The Ejectors[2] are appointed to remove and expel inadequate ministers and schoolmasters from their offices. The Ejectors were forbidden from inquiring into a minister's doctrine, and could only expel a minister for neglect of his parish or for "scandalous behaviour" (e.g. adultery, drunkenness, profaning of Sabbath, etc.). They have the same duties with schoolmasters.

The Ejectors are organized in local county commissions and a Central Council for appeals, in each Home Country. At first established for England and Wales (1654), Ireland (1664) and Scotland (1665). Its members were clergymen and laymen. County commissioners are proposed by special county boards of clergy and laymen, and appointed by the Protector and Council for an ten year term. The candidates for the central council council are proposed by special boards and appointed by the Protector and the State Council for an ten year term.

Liturgical books

Having been no agreement on a common liturgical book a compromise was made that each national church would issue or use one or more (as in the case of the Church of Ireland) and the Independents could adopt freely any of those or issue their own book. This list was given formal status by the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1670 that only authorized the printing and distribution of liturgical books adopted and approved by the national churches and the national associations of independent congregationalist and baptists.

So the list contained the

  • Directory for Public Worship of 1645. Used by the Church of Scotland and a minority of the congregationalist,
  • the Irish Common Prayer Book (Leabhar na hUrnaí Coitinne) of 1661, revised in 1665. Used by the Church of Ireland and part of the congregationalist in Ireland,
  • the Common Prayer Book of 1662. Used by the Churches of England, Ireland and Wales, and
  • the Book of Reformed Liturgy of 1662. Also known as Baxter’s Reformed Liturgy, and used by majority of the congregationalist and baptists.

Religious Toleration

Mainly on the insistence of the Army, many independent churches were tolerated, although everyone still had to pay tithes for the maintenance of national churches and public preachers. There are no penalties for not going to church, or attending other acts of worship.

Public and private worship is allowed as long as it does not disrupt public peace, injures or molests other faiths, nor is contrary to the Holy Scripture.

The main protestant groups that enjoy religious tolerance outside the national churches are:

  • Independent or Congregationalist churches,
  • Baptists,
  • Quakers,

Other groups are the following:

  • Calvinists,
  • Calvinistic Presbyterians, and
  • Lutherans

Jews are allowed to resettle since 1656 and have the right to establish temples, cemeteries and private religious services and worship in the 1660s. Along with the possibility of becoming denizens.

However toleration is not extended to Catholics, Episcopalians (or Anglicans, until 1670s), Socinianism (Unitarianism) and some extreme sects like the Ranters, the Fifth Monarchists, the Seekers, and the Muggletonians. These extreme sects are seen as a threat to to public peace, social order and property rights, therefore open to prosecution and exclusion from the public and military service.

Anti-catholicism in England, Scotland and Wales remains an important issue and rallying cause of national unity and identity. However in Ireland, with its large rural catholic following, was more a problem of civil unrest and missionary activity, part of which was compensated in the late 1670 with services in the majority of the parishes of the of the Church of Ireland given out completely in Irish and much later with the revival and interest on Celtic Christianity.

Origin of the Church of Wales

The Commissioners for better propagation of Gospel in Wales had the powers to examine and eject ministers and schoolmaster. and also root out superstitious practices and beliefs, it carried out its duties for three years (1650-1653). Later the Commissioners for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge in Wales was created with the same purpose of the one of 1650, and renewed every 10 years (1665 to date), with the added tasks of promoting the use of Welsh languages by ministers, schoolmasters and Church services and texts. This Commission, that was a specialized body of the Church of England, became later the basis of the Church of Wales arranged in a union of parishes.

The national churches of the Commonwealth

The main characteristics of the national churches are the following:

National Church Church of England Church of Scotland (Scots: The Scots Kirk, Scottish Gaelic: Eaglais na h-Alba) Church of Ireland (Irish: Eaglais na hÉireann) Church of Wales (Welsh: Eglwys Cymru)
Territorial jurisdiction England, Wales (until establishment of its own National Church), Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and colonies and territories of America, Africa and Asia Scotland (and Nova Scotia) Ireland Wales
Language services English.[3]. Also Welsh until its establishment as a separate church English and Scots Irish and English Welsh and English
Theology and practice Anglican - Reformed (Presbyterian - Independent) Reformed (Presbyterian) Reformed (Presbyterian - Calvinist), later also traditional and reformed Celtic Christianity Reformed (Presbyterian - Independent)
Article of Faith Amended Westminster Confession of Faith (1663) Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) The Irish Articles (1615, revised in 1666) and Amended Westminster Confession of Faith (1663) Amended Westminster Confession of Faith (1663)
Polity Episcopal-Presbyterian (Ussher scheme) Presbyterian Episcopal-Presbyterian (Ussher scheme)[4] Episcopal-Presbyterian (Ussher scheme)
Liturgical book Common Prayer Book of 1662 Directory for Public Worship of 1645 Common Prayer Book of 1662 and Irish Common Prayer Book (Leabhar na hUrnaí Coitinne) of 1661, revised in 1665 Common Prayer Book of 1604, revised in 1662

The main denominations outside national churches of the Commonwealth

The main associations or voluntary associations outside national churches of the Commonwealth are the following:

  • Independent or Congregational Churches: Congregational Fellowship of England, Congregational Churches of Ireland and Union of Welsh Independents,
  • Baptists: Baptist Union of England, Irish Baptist Association, Baptist Union of Wales
  • Episcopalian Church of England and Wales and Scottish Episcopal Church,
  • the Quakers have the Yearly Meetings of London, Dublin, Scotland and Wales

Not officially recognized but existing de facto:

  • Roman Catholic Church in Ireland
  • Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales
  • Roman Catholic Church in Scotland

Independent or Congregational Churches Baptist (General and Particular) Episcopalians Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Language services English. Also Welsh and Irish English. Also Welsh and Irish English. Also Welsh and Irish English. Also Welsh and Irish
Article of Faith Cambridge Platform (1648) or Savoy Declaration (1658) The 1644 Baptist Confession of Faith Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1563) Book of Discipline (updated periodically by each Yearly Meeting)
Theology and practice Anglican - Reformed (Calvinist - Presbyterian - Independent) Baptist Anglican doctrine Variable; depends on meeting
Polity Congregationalist polity Congregationalist polity Episcopalian polity Congregationalist polity
Liturgical book Book of Reformed Liturgy of 1662 and Directory for Public Worship of 1645 Book of Reformed Liturgy of 1662 Common Prayer Book of 1662

Religion in the dominions and colonies and territories of the Commonwealth

Most of the overseas dominions and colonies and territories of the Commonwealth were founded or chartered to religious dissidents from the Church of England. However there are particularities. Virginia's adaptation of the Religious Settlement gives more powers and attributions to the legislature and local vestries. The Dominion of New England gives equal status to both the Church of England and Congregational churches. New England's religious legislation established a system which required every man, woman and child to belong to a church, and permits each church to tax its members. In Nova Scotia the Church of Scotland was established due to the large and permanent population of Scottish settlers and sailors.

Establishment Denomination of established church Other important denominations Founders Notes
Virginia 1607 to date Church of England
Newfoundland 1610 to date Church of England
Bermuda 1612 to date Church of England
Leeward Islands Colony 1623 to date Church of England
Barbados 1627 to date Church of England
Massachusetts Bay 1628-1675 Congregational Founded by Puritan, Calvinist, Protestants. Member of the New England Confederation (1643)
Plymouth 1628-1675 Congregational Founded by Pilgrims (Brownist Dissenters), English Dissenters or Separatists, Calvinists. Member of the New England Confederation (1643)
Maryland 1632 to date None Church of England, Catholics, Congregational, and Quakers. Toleration to all Christian groups 
Connecticut 1636-1675 Congregational Founded by Puritans Member of the New England Confederation (1643)
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations 1636-1675 None Baptist, Quakers and Jews Founded by religious dissenters forced to flee Massachusetts Bay Freedom of religion
New Haven 1638-1675 Congregational Founded by Puritans, Calvinist, Protestants. Member of the New England Confederation (1643)
Bahamas 1648 to date None Congregational, Quakers, Church of England Founded by Puritans Freedom of religion
Nova Scotia 1654 to date Church of Scotland Catholics, Church of England and congregational churches
Jamaica 1655 to date Church of England
Dominion of New England 1675 to date Church of England and Congregational churches Baptist and Quakers Founded by Puritans, Calvinist, Protestants.

  1. commissioners for approbation of public clergy and preachers.
  2. commissioners for ejecting scandalous, ignorant and insufficient ministers and schoolmasters.
  3. With considerations for Manx and Norman in Man and the Channel Islands
  4. Althought it as strong Presbyterian practices and customs

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