Presbyterianism Under Elizabeth I

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The Catholic revival of the 1570s was matched by some very significant changes among the
Puritans, so that the established church was threatened from the left as well as the right by
opposition which was more formidable, more fundamental and more organised than it had been
during the first twelve years of Elizabeth's reign. The Puritan criticisms of the church which had
been developing during the 1560's still continued and grew in intensity, but to these there was
now an added and more dangerous element ­ the rise of English Presbyterianism .
It is important to realise that not all Puritans became Presbyterians or that they all supported the
movement for the fundamental changes in the church government that the Presbyterians
demanded. Nor must we think of the English Presbyterians as people with a clear-cut programme
and party line based on the pre doctrine of Calvin or Geneva. English Presbyterianism, like the
Church of England was distinctly English and therefore it was not paralleled in Geneva, Scotland,
France or the Netherlands, although it was influenced in varying degrees by all of them. Other
European reformed churches and earlier English Protestant traditions all plated their part in the
gradual evolution of an English Presbyterian movement whose leaders differed considerably
between them about precisely what they wanted to put in place of the existing system of
government of the church by diocesan bishops .
Because the Presbyterians wanted many of the reforms demand by Puritans who weren't
Presbyterians, the whole Puritan movement had been tarred with the Presbyterians brush. And
therefore it was to those who were in positions of authority in the Church to suggest all Puritans
were advocating the Presbyterian Movement that was threatening the whole basis of the
established church and therefore a threat to Elizabeth's authority. However, the real, committed
Presbyterians were a small, vocal minority in the ranks of English Puritans.
Thomas Cartwright was strongly associated with the Presbyterian Movement due to his vocal
demands for fundamental changes within the Church government. Cartwright made a name for
himself as a preacher and was recommended to Cecil as a strong candidate for the archbishopric
of Armagh when Loftus was transferred to Dublin. He was appointed Lady Margaret Professor of
Divinity in the University of Cambridge on 1569, and in 1570 he gave a series of lectures on the
fundamental aspects of the Church of England, however at this stage he had not put forward a
full-blooded Presbyterian system as he had not yet been directly influenced by continental
Classical Presbyterianism was based on groups, or conferences, of local clergy who met regularly in secret to
discuss the scriptures and common problems. Each group corresponded with others. The network was
coordinated by John Field's London group which was also in tough with international groups. The movement
aimed to re-organise the government of the Church, along the lines of Calvin's Church in Geneva. Presbyterianism
was a threat to Elizabeth's supremacy and it was seen as the most dangerous aspect of Puritanism. It directly
challenged Elizabeth's belief that the Church and state government was the responsibility of the monarch. The
Queen appointed John Whitgift to succeed Grindal in an effort to deal with Presbyterianism. Whitgift laid down
regulations to improve clerical standards and uniformity within the clergy, he then set up a High Commission
which, armed with a list of 24 questions, set out to determine the clergy's allegiance to the Elizabethan
Settlement. Between 300 and 400 ministers were removed from office; however Whitgift's methods were often
attacked by the council
They wanted the Church to be governed by elders of equal rank rather than a hierarchy of archbishops, bishops
A bishop in charge of a diocese (district). In the Church of England, a diocese can be divided into parishes and

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Calvinist churches. Nevertheless, what Cartwright had proposed differed radically from what had
been established by law ­ making him a revolutionary challenge to the established church and the
royal supremacy.
However, the threat of a large scale separatist, Presbyterian movement was much less than it
appears, there were a few Presbyterians that toyed with the idea of separating with the Church of
England and in some degree they were separatist in practice, but they were more concerned with
reforming the Church than creating a schism.…read more


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