Arthur Middleton on the masquerade of Anglicanism

When John Bramhall became bishop of Londonderry, he decided to raise the theological standard of his diocese among his clergy. He told Laud, ‘I doubt much whether the clergy be very orthodox.’ What he found was a Calvinism masquerading as Anglicanism. Succeeding a Puritan, Bramhall determined to instruct his clergy by preaching and conversation, and brought some to ‘more sober and charitable thoughts of some doctrines, against which the prejudice of their education, and the esteem they had for their former Bishop, made them zealous.’

Some clergy he removed ‘as branches that brought forth no fruit’ [Vesey’s Life of Bramhall]. The condition of the clergy and church services were deplorable and most resident clergy were irregulars, Presbyterian ministers. Only twelve Books of Common Prayer in all their Churches could be found. Bramhall wrote to Laud, T have had anabaptistical prophetesses run gadding up and down, and the doors of Churches barricaded up for a quarter of a year together.’

Calvinism masquerading in an Anglican cosmetic was due to the appointments policy. At Trinity College, Dublin, Puritanism was introduced by Provost Loftus who recommended Cartwright, the champion of English Puritanism, for an Irish bishopric. Travers, Hooker’s Puritan opponent at the Temple, whom Whitgift sacked because he had condemned the Book of Common Prayer, was a Presbyterian and not ordained according to the Ordinal of the Church of England. He succeeded Loftus and continued Puritanism. Provost Bedell was anti-Roman and held Calvinistic views about the sacraments. Ussher, the future Archbishop and Primate, and the generality of the clergy of the Irish Church, were trained in this theological climate, which Ussher himself promoted when he became Provost and Archbishop.

Theologically the state of the Irish Church was complicated by the presence of Presbyterian ministers admitted before the seventeenth century. This influence over the theological instruction of the future ministry had its natural effect in promoting Genevan ideals and Calvinist Protestantism. So the clergy were at this time Nonconformists, in principle and in practice. They conformed sufficiently to ensure their security and maintenance. This was all that some bishops required. When succeeding prelates exacted stricter conformity, clergy generally yielded to the canonical obedience required from their superiors; but in their parishes, they continued to observe the Presbyterian forms.

This was the doctrinal condition of the Irish Church at Bramhall’s consecration. Leslie, Bishop of Down in 1636, denounced the ignorance of the Puritan preachers, who used exclusively the English liturgy, with reservations about the Christmas Collect, and, rejecting the Real Presence, saw kneeling to receive the sacrament as idolatrous. Bramhall required they read what the first English Reformers said about kneeling to receive Communion and see that such kneeling was no idolatry.

Laud’s aim in appointing Bramhall to Ireland was set to securing the closest agreement between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England by every means in his power. Bramhall greatly facilitated this work. He could see no reason why the two Churches should differ in their official declaration concerning theology and he naturally desired to see the Irish conform to the Church of England.

What masquerades as Anglicanism today and to what extent is theological education responsible?