Commonwealth and Protectorate; The English Civil War and Its Aftermath
The Fifth Monarchy Men
The period between the Reformation and the Restoration of Charles II was the heroic age of English history. The lightest actions were heavy with decision, the simplest utterances were couched in prophetic language. Ivan Roots’s characterization of the Great Rebellion can be applied to the whole period:
It was an iron age, an age of destruction, of the squabbles of kites and crows, of petty schisms, meanness and ignorance. It was also a golden age, an age of construction, of the large wars of truth, of unity, generosity and knowledge.
Queen Elizabeth told one of her parliaments:
I have ever used to set the last judgment day before mine eyes, and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a Higher Judge.
while a humble Fifth Monarchy man ended a letter addressed to Oliver Crom-well:
Sir, I am
a man of sorrows
mourning for Sion waiting
for King Jesus
rising up early
ready to quench the thirsty Little Horn [Daniel 7:8] with the blood of my heart, if that would do it.
Not until the very end of the period did the sense of the Almighty at one’s shoulder become less real, and even then few were ready to admit that the most mundane political transaction was not part of God’s Higher Purpose for Man. When the leaders of the New Model Army announced in 1647:
We were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of Parliament to the defense of our own and the people’s just rights and liberties,
they were introducing a new dimension of merely political or social obligation, and preparing the way for the total exclusion of God from politics under King Charles II.
The English Reformation was so half-heartedly conducted in the beginning, and subject to so many accidents and temporary reversals in its development, that it positively invited contestation, speculation, and amendment. When Henry VIII took the English Church into schism, he did not contemplate joining the Continental Reformation, and England’s chronic failure to produce a theologian of original genius or a clerical leader of any consequence on the reforming side made it possible for him to maintain the status quo, however precariously. At his death the Church was still Catholic—indeed Roman Catholic—in liturgy, observance, and belief. But the defective succession, which had set off the whole process, betrayed him. Edward VI was too young to rule, and the ambition and cupidity of his regents transformed the palsied urging of ecclesiastics like Cranmer into violent action. In six years the Mass was translated into English, then retranslated and revised in a form which made certain Protestant assumptions inevitable, and (more startling still to the ordinary worshipper) the parish churches were ruthlessly stripped of images, paintings, and statuary, converting most of them from colorful and comforting theaters to austere, unyielding sheds. Nothing is more …