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Reassessing the shaping of Anglican Identity

A book review by Christy Wang on Andrew Cinnamond's 'What Matters in Reforming the Church? Puritan Grievances under Elizabeth I.

Andrew Cinnamond’s short book on the Elizabethan puritan/conformist polemics enables the reader to reassess the shaping of the Anglican identity. Cinnamond first affirms the revisionist challenge to the traditional, yet inaccurate, portrayal of puritans as seditious radicals who destroyed the via media of the established Church. He helpfully points out that, while holding to different interpretations of Scripture, especially the Old Testament, and disagreeing over fundamental issues like church polity and discipline, Elizabethan puritans and conformists shared a Reformed consensus and anti-popery sentiments. For many of us, this observation alone poses a healthy challenge to our understanding of what the Church of England was historically.

Cinnamond compares puritan and conformist narratives through a concise survey of the Admonition Controversy, a pamphlet war between presbyterians and conformists from 1572 to 1577. Two polemicists dominated the pamphlet war, Thomas Cartwright (c.1535-1603), then Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and an outspoken presbyterian, and John Whitgift (c.1530-1604), then vice-chancellor of the same university and a zealous conformist. Cinnamond’s exclusive attention on Cartwright and Whitgift means that his discussion is useful for understanding hard-line Elizabethan presbyterianism, not puritanism as a whole. The author’s concluding remarks serve as a helpful qualifier: “Puritanism became a dynamic and flexible movement of spiritual renewal, constantly reinventing itself in response to political realities and historical circumstance” (56).

If we speak of puritanism as a “movement,” Cinnamond is right that it was at best an incohesive and ever evolvi