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Bishop Francis Atterbury
Francis Atterbury
Bishop of Rochester 1713-23

Hallo again to all.

For a time, ending in the first part of the 18th century, England was bitterly divided by a dispute about High Church versus Low Church. Since Church and State were interwoven, a dispute within the church was also a dispute within the government. It is both tempting and dangerous to oversimplify history, but one can state roughly that most clergy were High Church and most bishops (appointed by the King) were Low Church. This battle over Churchmanship was interwoven with the politics of the Jacobites, fighting to restore the House of Stuart to the English throne.

The events of that era, which early-on resulted in the invitation to the English throne of William and Mary, of the House of Orange, are part of the foundation of much modern religious conflict and also much modern governmental structure.

There was so much conflict, involving so many people, that we can only give you a glimpse into that era, which many felt would be the end of the church as they knew it. Benjamin Hoadly was a prominent Low Church spokesman -- a latitudinarian, as they were called. His major enemy was Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, a prominent High Church spokesman (and, it appears, prolific ghostwriter for other High Church spokesmen). Atterbury is said to have written the speech that Henry Sacheverell gave for an unsuccessful defence during his libel trial. Sacheverell's sentence was, besides a three-year suspension from preaching, that two of his sermons were to be burnt at the Royal Exchange. Atterbury also seems to have been responsible for the pamphleting campaign that made a martyr out of Sacheverell, and humiliated his prosecutors, the Whigs.

Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope

With the latitudinarians in power, Bishop Atterbury, as a prominent malcontent, was arrested and sent to the Tower. Soon exiled to France, he became, perhaps unsurprisingly, a prominent leader of the Jacobite refugee community. During much of Atterbury's life, he remained in correspondence with Alexander Pope, a gentle Roman Catholic best known for writing The Rape of the Lock. Atterbury (who was ultimately exiled for fraternizing with Roman Catholics) spent some time trying to convince Pope to renounce Romanism and become Anglican. Pope's reply to Atterbury in 1717 seems more Anglican than Atterbury himself:

I'll tell you my politick and religious sentiments in a few words. In my politics, I think no further than how to preserve the peace of my life, in any government under which I live; nor in my religion, than to preserve the peace of my conscience in any Church with which I comunicate. I hope all churches and all governments are so far of God, as they are rightly understood, and rightly administered: and where they are, or may be wrong, I leave it to God alone to mend or reform them; which, whenever he does, it must be by greater instruments than I am.

Alexander Pope is now much better known than his activist bishop adviser. As a prominent Tory, Atterbury could hardly be called a radical, and his tumultuous stand against what he saw as an angry mob of unthinking Whigs was one of the root causes of the changes that gave us both the modern church and the modern British government. But Pope was a better writer, so him we know. We've always been fond of Pope's 'An Essay on Man', which ends like this:

Cease then, nor order imperfection name:
Our proper bliss depends on what we blame.
Know thy own point: This kind, this due degree
Of blindness, weakness, Heav'n bestows on thee.
Submit. --In this, or any other sphere,
Secure to be as blest as thou canst bear:
Safe in the hand of one disposing pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the mortal hour.
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony, not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

'All partial evil, universal good'. Maybe that's the watchphrase of the week.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 20 February 2005

A thin blue line
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