An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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Latitudinarian, Latitudinarianism

Spiritual descendants of sixteenth-century humanists like Erasmus and the ancestors of the nineteenth-century broad church party. The middle years of the seventeenth century in England were marked by religious civil war, with royalists (Episcopalians) pitted against Puritans who had left the national church. Those outside the national church included Presbyterians, independents, and sectarians. Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, and his Puritan Commonwealth ended in great disillusionment and unpopularity. In 1660 the Stuart monarchy was restored under Charles II. The restored Stuart kings, however, flirted with Roman Catholicism. This was equally unpalatable to a vast majority of the English. After 1688, the latitudinarians sought to end religious controversy, to make the established church as inclusive as possible, to provide toleration for dissent, and to minimize the importance of doctrine and forms of worship in the interests of "reasonableness."

Although many of the "latitude men," like the Cambridge Platonists and their intellectual successor, John Locke, possessed a deep personal piety, some latitudinarians tended toward deism in religion. They saw the church as a department of the state. They considered the church to be necessary to preserve and encourage morality and to support a Protestant monarchy. Gilbert Burnet's Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (1699) was written from this point of view.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.