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Latitudinarians

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a name given to those divines who in the 17th century professed indifference to what they considered the small matters in dispute between Puritans and High-Churchmen, and, looking at theology from a philosophical point of view, laid more stress on classical philosophy than on Christian theology. They attempted to compromise the differences between Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Independents. Their views were a result of the changes then going on in the religious world, and of the influence of philosophy. The doctrinal Puritans had already taken a position midway between the school of Laund and the fanatical Puritans. Abbot, Carlton, Hall, and others were the chief leaders of that party. They attached no importance to externals, and prized practical piety far above all matters of form; and, though themselves attached to the Protestant Episcopal Church, they allowed others to differ from them as to the best form of ecclesiastical government. In their theology they adhered to the milder Calvinism of the Thirty-nine Articles; but, being the most moderate, they were soon overwhelmed by the other parties. As liberal, but differing from them in doctrine, we find among the Eaton scholars Hales, who, although an opponent of Laud's High-Churchism, was in dogmatics an Arminian; and Chillingworth, who desired to reduce Christianity to a few essential practical principles. In the midst of the struggle, and the rapid changes of religious views and systems, the moral conception of Christianity was daily gaining ground; on the other hand, theology was unable to withstand the influence of philosophy. The regeneration which the latter had experienced at the hands of Bacon and Des Cartes obliged theology to review its foundations in the light of philosophy and science as well as of history (compare Professor Maurice, Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, in the Encyclop. Metropol. 2:656; Stewart, Essay on Metaphysical Philosophy, pages 58, 61, notes, and 246, note O).

Thus Platonic philosophy and theology were introduced into Cambridge by Cudworth (q.v.) and Henry More (q.v.). Men of these views (among others, also, John Smith, Worthington, bishop Wilkins, and Theophilus Gale), and especially the more moderate among them, were looked down upon with contempt by the more ambitious ones in power, and, as they would not follow the selfish tendencies of the times, were called Latitude- men. In the days of the Commonwealth they were reproached with Arminianism and prelatism. But when the High-Church party came again into power with the Restoration, and its old adversaries tried to atone for their former attacks by all means in their power, the moderate party was accused of want of loyalty and of opposition to the Church. Whoever refused to submit to the High-Church, or did not take sides with the strict Puritans against it, were called Latitudinarian. "That name," said a contemporary, "is the man of straw who, in order to have something to fight against, has been set up for want of a real adversary a very convenient name wherewith to defame any one who we may wish to injure." As the name came thus to be applied to a number of persons who had no connection whatever with the party which it designated at first, and even to such. as were totally indifferent in matters of religion, the appellation soon came to be regarded as equivalent to Socinian, Deist, and Atheist. As regards the original Latitudinarians, they retained the liturgy, rites, and organization of the English Episcopal Church. They considered a general liturgy as a necessary guard against the often fanatical prayers of the Puritans, and they considered the English liturgy as the best, on account of its solemn earnenestness and its character of primitive simplicity. The form of public worship they looked upon as a happy medium between that of the Romish Church and that of the conventicles. Ceremonies they deemed useful for the purpose of edification, and episcopacy they cherished as the most correct and evangelical form of Church government, differing both from what they regarded as the tyrannical authority of Scotch Presbyterianism and from the anarchy of the Independents. In point of doctrine they also retained the confession of the English Church, which they considered as according thoroughly with the Scriptures.

The commentaries of the primitive Church were the guides by which they wished reason to be governed, and reason they recognized as the source of our knowledge of revealed and natural religion, which agree on all points. The fundamental principles of true religion are freedom of the will, the universality of the redemption by the death of Christ, the sufficiency of divine grace; and these find entrance into the human heart sometimes by the testimony of Scripture, sometimes by the unvarying testimony of the primitive Church, and again by reason only. In theology, the oldest views are always found to be the most reasonable. Nothing that is false in philosophy is true in theology; but what God has united, let no man put asunder. Natural sciences have made immense progress, and philosophy and theology cannot remain behind. True science cannot be put down any more than the light of the sun or the motion of the ocean. It is the best weapon against atheism and superstition (comp. Smith [John], Discourses [ed. 1821], 2, page 19).

Thus the Latitudinarians took at once for their basis science and toleration. They taught respect for the Church by their submission to it, defended it by their learning and activity, and hoped to win over the Dissenters by their moderation, and the Presbyterians by their accommodating spirit, thus preventing them from anarchy. This is the character given to the Latitudinarians by one of their contemporaries in a work entitled A brief account of the New Sect of Latitudinarians (1662). It is remarkable how many ideas of the school of Laud this party still retained, in spite of its philosphihical views. Its broad platform admitted men of the most different tendencies. While Cudworth, Whichcote,Worthington, and Wilkins inclined to philosophical views, Burnet, Tillotson, Whiston, and Spencer adhered more to the Church doctrines. Bury, in The Naked Gospel (1690), declared all Christian doctrines, except those of repentance and faith, non-essential. For this he was attacked by Jurieu in his La Religion du Latitudinaire, and vainly attempted to defend the orthodoxy of his views in his Latitudinarius orthodoxus (1697). The attempts made by the Latitudinarians in 1689- 1699 to reconcile the Episcopalians and Presbyterians failed utterly. Latitudinarianism was subsequently identified still more with indifferentism, and seldom appeared in theological works. It is only in quite modern times, and especially under the influence of human theology, that this tendency has been brought to light again in the Broad-Church party, which forms a sort of medium between the High and Low Church. By their opponents the Broad-Churchmen are, however, designated as Latitudinarians or Indifferents. They consider the differences among Christians as unimportant when compared with their essential unity. The watchword of the party is love and toleration. For doctrines, they hold to those of incarnation and atonement, conversion by grace and justification. They coincide with the LowChurch in considering Scripture as the only rule of faith, but taking exceptions here and there to miracles, and with the High- Church in believing that man shall be judged according to his works. In opposition to the doctrine of the invisible Church of the evangelical Church, they lay great stress on the doctrine of a visible Church. They take what is good anywhere, as well in the Romish as in the evangelical churches.

They aim at nothing less than the accomplishment of a religious and moral reformation, and seek to occupy in our day the place held at the beginning of this century by the evangelical party. This end they strive to attain partly by their science and partly by their practice, and thus distinguish among themselves between the theorists and and-theorists. They derive great power from the high scientific attainments of many of their members, and try to advance the education of the masses. The founders of this school were S.T. Coleridge and Thomas Arnold, and its most eminent followers Hare, Whately, Maurice, Kingsley, Stanley, Alford, Conybeare, and Howson. About one seventh of the English clergy and a number of bishops belong to it. See Conybeare, Church Parties; Schaff, Zust. u. Partheien d. engl. Stcaats-Kirche in Deutsch. Zeitschrsift. 1856, No. 17; Edward Churton, The Latitudinarians from 1671-1787 (Lond. 1861. 8vo); Amer. Presb. Rev. 1861, April, art. 6; Westminster Rev. 1854, January; Bib. Sacra, 1863, page 865; Farrar, Crit. Hist. of Free Thought; Gass, Dogmengescicih. 3 (see Index); Stoughton, Eccles. Hist. of England (since the Restoration), 2:262 sq., 341 sq., 359 sq.; Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 8:215; Blunt, Dict. Doctr. and Hist. Theol. page 395 sq., and his Key to the Knowledge of Ch. Hist. (Mod.) page 97 sq. On the present Broad Church of England, see Miss Cobbe. Broken Lights (London ed. page 63), and Hurst's History of Rationalism, Eng. edition (greatly enlarged), pages 423-438.


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Latitudinarians'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/l/latitudinarians.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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