Home >> Cyclopedia Of Knowledge >> Minal to Or Rever Sion Life >> Nonconformists_P1

Nonconformists

church, month, worship, edward, roman, catholic, eliz, act and queen

Page: 1 2

NONCONFORMISTS. Nonconfor mity is the term employed to designate Protestant dissent from the Church of England. It was in the reign of Edward VI. that the English reformed church first received a definite constitution. During the time of Henry VIII. it re mained in a great measure unsettled, and was subject to continual variation, accord ing to the caprice of the king. As or ganised by Edward, while Calvinistic in its creed, it was Episcopalian in its government, and retained in its worship many of the Roman Catholic forms and observances. In the first of these parti culars it resembled and in the last two it differed from the Genevan church. During the temporary restoration of the Roman Catholic faith under the adminis tration of Philip and Mary, great num bers of the persecuted followers of the reformed faith sought refuge in France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and other parts of the Continent. Of those who fled to Germany, some observed the eccle siastical order ordained by Edward; others, not without warm disputes with their brethren, which had their com mencement at Frankfort, adopted the Swiss mode of worship, preferring it as more simple, and more agreeable to Scrip ture and primitive usage. Those who composed this latter class were called Nonconformists. The distinction has been permanent, and the name has been perpetuated. Queen Elizabeth's accession to the throne, in 1558, opened the way for the return of the exiles to the land of their fathers. It was natural for each of the parties of which they consisted, to advocate at home the systems of worship to which they had been respectively at tached while abroad ; and the controversy, which had been agitated by them in a foreign country, immediately became a matter of contention with the great body of Protestants in their own. It suited neither the views nor inclinations of Eli sabeth to realise the wishes of the Non conformists, or Puritans, as they began to be called, by giving her sanction to the opinions which they maintained, and as senting to the demands which they made. The plain and unostentatious method of religious service which they recommended did not accord with that love of show and pomp for which she was remarkable; and the policy of the early part of her reign, in which she was supported by the high dignitaries both in the church and state, was to conciliate her Roman Catholic subjects, who in rank, wealth, and num bers far exceeded the Nonconformists. The liturgy of Edward VI. having been submitted to a committee of divines. and certain alterations, which show a leaning to the Roman Catholic church rather than to Puritanism, having been made, the Act of Uniformity (1 Elia. c. 2) was passed, which, while it empowered the queen and her commissioners to " ordain and publish such further ceremonies and rites" as might be deemed advisable, for bade, under severe penalties, the perform ance of divine worship except as pre scribed in the Book of Common Prayer.

By § 14 a penalty of 12d., to be levied by the churchwardens, was imposed on persons who did not frequent the parish church. This penalty of 12d. is repealed, but only so far as dissenters are concerned. [Law, ClIDIINAL, p. 38.] The act was only partially carried into effect from the time of its being passed. in 1558, to 1566. But in 1565 it began to be rigidly en forced, and many of the Nonconfortniste were deprived of their preferments (for notwithstanding their sentiments, most of them had still remained in connection with the Established Church, being from principle averse to an entire separation); many also were committed to prison. The High Commission Court [ESTABLISHZD Careen, p. 849] became still more severe in the exercise of its power. The act 23 Eliz. c. 1, § 5, provided that " every person above the age of fifteen who shall not repair to some church, chapel, or usual place of common prayer, but forbear the same contrary to 1 Eliz. c. 2, shall forfeit 201. a month; and if any such person forbore to attend church for twelve months, be was to be bound with two sureties in 200/. at least, and so to continue bound until be conformed. In §§ 6 and 7 of this statute it is enacted that " if any person or persons, body politic or corporate, shall keep and main tain any schoolmaster which shall not repair to church as is aforesaid, or be allowed by the bishop or ordinary of the diocese, they shall forfeit 101. a month ;" and it was further provided that " such schoolmaster or teacher presuming to teach contrary to this act shall be dis abled to be a teacher of youth and be imprisoned for a year." By another sta tute (29 Eliz. c. 6, §§ 4, 6), it was enacted that persons who had been once con victed of not attending divine service contrary to 23 Eliz. c. 1, were, for every month afterwards until they conformed, to pay into the Exchequer, without any other indictment or conviction, in every Easter and Michaelmas term, as mu 43 as should then remain unpaid at the rate of 2o/. a month ; and in default of payment, the queen might, by process out of the Exchequer, seize all the goods and two thirds of the lands of such offenders. By 3 Jac. I. c. 4, § 11, the king might refuse the payment of 201. a month, and take two parts of the offender's land at his option. Towards the close of Eliza beth's reign the offence of Nonconformity and its further progress was attempted to be stopped by another statute (35 Elia.

Page: 1 2