Barbour 2001

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Barbour, Reid. Literature and Religious Culture in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Introduction: Spirit and Circumstance in Caroline Protestantism

"In the decades of the 1620, 30s, and 40s, authors attempting to secure English Protestant orthodoxy against its critics undertook something more daring in the process: a rich and complex inquisition into the wide cultural constituents of religious experience itself. By and large, these writers were less interested in articulating a core of doctrine than they were in exploring and testing the very conditions in which their faith was imagined, situated, and lived." (1)

Laud called it "the hedge," Herbert, "the double moat" of the church -- "namely, the criteria for assessing the sometimes mundane and palpable, sometimes elevated and elusive, conditions and instruments mediating God's gracious dispensations." (2)

"In the 1620s, 30s, and 40s, advocates of the Church of England are deeply committed to the investigation of religious circumstance as the most pervasive and pious level of religious experience. But critics of their church have a strong conviction that the bog of circumstance is stagnant and debased, filled with the debris of the world's vanity fair. For these critics, a focus on circumstance amounts to cunning policy at best, and hapless perplexity at worst." (5)
"The Caroline religious imagination flourishes neither as the reified spirit of Anglicanism nor the local permutations of policy but in its explorations of the conditions and circumstances of a Protestant life of faith." (10)
"The writers of this period often focus their attention on some semantic field of the word 'circumstance,' a rich and complex nodal term that ranges across a wide spectrum of Christian concerns, agitates those concerns, but also laces them intricately together." (11)
"In the Caroline stocktaking of the human experience and construction of Protestant faith, religious circumstance pertains to the discursive conditions of persons, places, and times (both past and future); to the circumscribing realities of matter and providence; to worship as decoaration and as imagination; to the ways in which Protestants interact, institute their churches, think, solve moral and social dilemmas; and to the means through which they dramatize, spread, and heroize the faith, and find salvation." (11)
"Caroline writers use the term 'circumstance' when reasserting or refashioning order or boundaries in their religious culture, but also with a skepticism that suspects cicumstantiality of unsettling order and of crossing borders." (12)
"the relationship between a putatively unpredictable, chaotic fancy and a uniform, decent ceremony is not so simple -- in the diary of Laud, in masques at court, in the prose of Jeremy Taylor -- as the polarities of Caroline polemicists often protest." (14)
"The lapses of consensus in the Caroline church meant not only that the church would be haunted by its own skepticism but also that it would be well stocked with alternatives for rebuilding a consensus more lasting than before." (20)

The church heroic: Charles, Laud, and Little Gidding

"Far from collapsing under the pressure of the Elizabethan ethos, however, Caroline Protestants respond to the past of their own faith with an acute skepticism toward its myths and with richly inventive revisions of the heroic pomp and circumstance of faith. For heroic curcumstance, they understand, comprises the various means -- practical, ceremonial, or imaginative -- through which the advocates of a church secure its singular elevation and, therefore, its warrant as the best of all possible churches." (21)

in Laudianism, "the assumptions behind religious heroism, worship, and social organization are corroborated by an image of the natural world according to which the ceremonies of the temple and the harmony of the social order find their counterpart in a magical, holistic cosmos whose forces are so often invoked in Stuart masques." (21)

"Hailed even by its critics as more morally and aesthetically elevated than its Jacobean predecessor, the Caroline court promulgates a comprehenseive heroic synthesis centered on a godly prince but including the heightened ceremony and beautification of the church.In response, critics both within and outside the court detect and accentuate the fault lines and contradictions in this idealized synthesis. In no small measure, the Ferrar family members living at their Little Gidding estate operate in response to major alterations in the Caroline/Laudian church, both in imitation and in opposition. They deliver scathing criticisms of a Stuart, especially courtly, culture in love with the wrong (romantic) traditions of heroism, but in their staged dialogues the Ferrars epitomize the arduous and multifacted Caroline search for the elusive marks of the genuine church heroic." (22)
"it is under Charles I that the loss of a consensus on Protestant heroism is deeply felt and that strenuous, elaborate efforts are made to reassemble synthetic archetypes for this heroism or to justify a heroism committed to abdication from and critique of the old myths." (23)
"the Caroline church is distinguished by its transmission, transformation, and urgen, creative analysis of interconnected but also hostile versions of religious heroism." (23)
"In the 1630s, Charles devoted himself to recasting a brave new ideal of religious heroism set forth in a ceremonial synthesis of power, virtue, and style -- a holism from which no irksome component could wrest itself free and embarrass the lapsing prowess of the monarch. That is, he sought to create in symbol the honor that was languishing in military action and foreign policy." (26)

"Charles's synthetic ideal of heroic religion attempts to subsume its more controversial elements in a larger, inestimable mythology" (28)

heroic synthesis

Foxeian heroic in opposition to Laudian church principles (31)

"in the Gidding story books Protestant heroism is as complex as it is pervasive."

  • "the Little Gidding interlocutors are convinced that most of their contemporaries have no appreciation for the true heroism of the church" (36)
  • "the story books mediate competing notions of Christian heroism and criticize even those heroic ideals dear to the interlocutors themselves -- not leas the epic odyssey of the Virginia Company." (36)

influence of Foxe on Little Gidding; but his legacy "is not altogether simple for the admiring inhabitants of Little Gidding'

  • "For one thing, Foxe supports both establishmentarians and nonconformists in the English church -- and LIttle Gidding is at once conformable and irreducible to the Caroline version of the same."
"For the Ferrars, heroism at its simplest level amounted to the labors required to excavate, imagine, or attain this other ground." (37)
"the heroism at Little Gidding involves the adventure of reinventing the dignity of the Church of England itself, and that this adventure is characterized not by some confident, even magical technology of synthesis promulgated by the Caroline court, but by trial and error, dismay and hope, in the enrichment of worship and the reformation of spirituality." (37)
"As it is explored in the Gidding dialogues, heroism is offered as an epitome of what the Church of England ought to be or has failed to be -- witness the collapse of the Virginia Company -- and as a synopsis of what the church is: a critical and fallible negotiation between rival notions of the church and, as such, equivocal and mediating." (37)
"It might even be said that heroism at Little Gidding comprises the laborious condition of striving to answer in life as in discourse the very questions that plague the straightforward validation of the resources of militant Christianity." (38)
"What the Little Gidding community emphasizes in its day-long dialogue on Charles's retreat from empire is how vexed and fitful the retirement was for Charles himself -- indeed, this struggle over whether and why to retire, and over how to live once one has retired, is the most imitable and legible aspect of Charles's heroism for the Gidding interlocutors." (40)

mediating "between models of perfection and the ongoing spiritual contests of the fallen world" (45)

"middle ground between cloister and activism" (47)

"heroic exercise at Little Gidding proves to be discursive as well as practical" (48)

violence against romance is "an act of godly violence meant to exorcise the false spirits of heroism from the estate" (48)

romance fiction villianized in the story books (48-9)

"As critics and target sof what they take to beimpiety, decadence, and malice in Stuart England, the family has sought in semi-isolation to reconstruct the Church of England at home, with a heightened commitment to its prayer book, creed, offices, and catholicity. On the other hand, their involvement with the Virginia Company and support of the Palatinate tend to implicate them in the violent opposition to papist idolatry." (49)
"Although they admire patient saints and martyrs, the Gidding narrators read the persistence of Christian warfare as a sign of the fallible and exploratory nature of the church heroic." (51)

"The Winding Sheet" -- "repudiation of a marriage between militarism and piety ... leads to the rejection of romance in the name of a more skeptical heroism's mortification, charity, and peace. But the interlocutors also confess their fascination with romance and cannot altogether jettison holy violence. INstead they prefer to characterize religious heroism not as a clean divorce from the vicissitudes of life on earth, but as a laborious, resourceful, and vulnerable struggle in the fallen world over the terms and costs of an exchange between violance and spirituality. This struggle parallels the hardships of reinventing a church that must resourcefully navigate between rival creeds and disciplines or somehow locate another estate for the greatness of the church beyond the impasse of those rivalries." (53)

"the interlocutors expose the Caroline synthetic mythology to ridicule by pointing to its popular reception as the kid of mock-romance permitted at court only in the antimasques of the 1630s." (53)
"In the story books, the pomp and circumstance of war are converted not into a masque's beautiful myth but rather into casuistry and critique. As a form, dialogue is well suited for scruitinizing and refashioning the grounds and means for religious heroism, and for moving that heroism toward an irenic and a skeptical alternative to Protestant aggression and courtly pomp. The form also shifts the preoccupation of epic religion away from grand designs against the Antichrist or even relatively peaceful claims for the superiority of the national church. Instead, heroism is quieter, more local, and less sure of itself: it involves a small community staging, strengthening, and enriching its covenant with a God who expects an all-consuming -- yet by no means perfect -- devotion." (54)
"the Ferrar family construes the enrichment of English spirituality as a bold journey for which they stand alone at the Pillars of Hercules, with no one else yet at sea." (55)

Great Tew and the skeptical hero

"dialogue was secondary to private study among the visitors at Tew. All in all, the theological and philosophical work carried out at Great Tew was oriented toward a reconstitution of religions heroic circumstance as more open-ended than ritualistic or formulaic; more epistemological than epic; and more metaphysical than militaristic." (59)
"In the late 1620s and early 1630s Jonson and Carew delineate the fault lines in heroic values that Lucius Cary comes to embody." (63)
"For Falkland, the community at Great Tew provided the opportunity to elevate the discourse of the Church of England and to lend assistance to its leading lights as they sought to liberate that church from its political and ideational bonds. What is more, Neoplatonism served as a transition for Falkland from the Elizabethan conventions of heroism to the internalized, Erasmian, and skeptical valor that he developed with Chillingworth -- this, despite the fact that Falkland never finally abandoned the old warrior's mindset of his father." (69)
"Falkland's contemporaries and his finest modern scholars agree that the one set of values which he replayed time ad again in the refashioning of his own public persona was that of the religious hero. Falkland took it as his life's office to inhabit the past but also to recast the future of the character of the valiant Protestant." (78)
"For a few years at Great Tew, Falkland attempted to live out a skeptical heroism of the mind and soul, free of arrogant claims, of war, politics, dogma, and prescription. His was a relatively open if intellectually elitist coterie, one suspicious of any precedent that, unlike convivial Socrates or Erasmus, was not itself a skeptical host. In a time of domestic peace yet of growing stress in religious and political culture, Falkland sought to convert honest misinterpretation into the very virtue of the Church of England -- in contrast with the malicious misprision traded between 'Puritans' and 'Arminians' and productive, according to Clarendon, of the Civil War. By contrast to Tew, Little Gidding was more closed than open, more familial than friendly, more desirous of prescription and heroic precedents and almost plaintively critical of the same. People flocked to tour -- and to be inspired by -- the always remote and enigmatic 'Arminian nunnery' run putatively by Virginia Company separatists; people came from Oxford to live, think, and breathe at Great Tew, but the heroic service of Tew could not be taken down in prayer book formula. If Gidding was the distant yet luminous Castor of religious heroism of which people traveled for a glimpse, Tew was the imminent Pollux to which people looked for synthesis and leadership." (85)
"If Caroline communities such as the court, Little Gidding, and Great Tew strove to reassemble or to redefine the church heroic, these efforts were in part responses to the obvious failures of the Caroline church in military Protestantism." (87)

Between liturgy and dreams: the church fanciful

"For Laud the dreamer, Davies is horrible not just because she disrupts the Caroline church, but because she represents the infiltration -- perhaps just the habitation -- of a potentially wild and seductive fancy within the walls of the temple itself." (102)
"Whatever the middle ground between them, the supposed opposition between liturgical forms and inspired dreams intensifies just beore, during, and after the Civil War. Especially at the end of Charles's reign and just after, such radical men as Gerrard Winstanley and ABiezer Coppe promulgate their dreams in order to challenge the forms of the national church, be it prelatical or Presbyterian." (102)
"What emerges from the many defenses of ceremony is an intermittent and somewhat nervous apology for fancy and the dream." (107)
"In sum, defense of a ceremonial imagination challenges apologists for the English church to discipline a transgressive fancy as well as to explain the origin of all ceremony's benefits in terms of fancy, that mediator between the body and soul. This question of origins leads us not just to what for Laud must be an ironic kinship between dreams and ceremony but also to the brink of an equation between them. The equation also encompasses the spectacle of state religion -- of poetry, dance, music, and gesture -- otherwise known as the masque." (111)

Respecting persons

Decorum and redemption in the theater of the person

Nature (I): post-Baconian mysteries

Nature (II): church and cosmos