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latitudinarianism

latitudinarianism was a reaction against the theological controversies and civil wars of the 17th cent. It drew upon the ideas of Cudworth and the Cambridge Platonists, placing little emphasis on precise points of doctrine and arguing for toleration. The spirit was evident soon after the Restoration, with Pepys noting in 1669 that Dr Wilkins, bishop of Chester, was ‘a mighty, rising man, as being a Latitudinarian’. Tillotson, archbishop of Canterbury after the Glorious Revolution, preached a celebrated sermon on ‘His commandments are not grievous.’ Their high-church opponents retorted that tolerance could slide into deism, as it did with Locke, or into downright indifference, their charge against Hoadly. Latitudinarianism has often been seen as the prevailing characteristic of the Hanoverian church. But there were powerful counter-currents, and methodism and evangelicalism, while agreeing to avoid doctrinal disputes, laid great emphasis on Christianity as a profound spiritual experience.

J. A. Cannon

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Latitudinarianism

Latitudinarianism. Anglican Christians who took a ‘broad’ view of the necessity for dogma and definition in matters of belief. They are naturally distinguished more by what they oppose than by what they propose as a consistent set of doctrines.

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Latitudinarianism

LATITUDINARIANISM

A name at first applied to those 17th-century members of the Church of England who, while not skeptics, were indifferent to creeds, ritual practices, and church organization, and who set much store by personal prayer and holy living. Eventually, however, the name came to be applied to those members who combined an attendance at Sunday worship services with various degrees of rationalism and agnosticism.

Latitudinarianism is a product of two streams of thought in the 17th century. The first was an increasing distrust of religious polemic; the theological controversies of the 16th century had generated political controversy and wars. In the second place, a growing interest in scientific experiment put a premium on reason and downgraded respect for authority and tradition.

The influence of these currents of thought was seen in a handful of scholars who became known as the cambridge platonists. Though members of the Church of England, they were strongly influenced by puritanism. They refused to concern themselves with doctrine, ritual, and organization, and stressed the importance of prayer, meditation, and godly living. Their views became increasingly popular in the late 17th century, but not without some change of emphasis. The result among many socially prominent churchmen in the 18th and 19th centuries was a divorce between preaching and practice. This state of religion stimulated the rise of evangelicalism and methodism.

Though the term latitudinarian became obsolete in the 19th century, its ideas remained powerful and served to encourage the Broad Churchmen of a later age in their work of adapting religion to what they considered to be the demands of a modern and scientific age.

Bibliography: g. p. h. pawson, The Cambridge Platonists and Their Place in Religious Thought (London 1930). g. r. cragg, From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660 to 1700 (Cambridge, Eng. 1950).

[e. mcdermott]

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