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date: 21 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The ecclesiastical polity, and the laws that governed it, were at the heart of post-Reformation England’s constitution. Yet there was no consensus about where the ecclesiastical polity was located, who made its laws, or how those laws should be enforced; the same theological compromises that helped preserve the peace of the Church rendered religious law incoherent. Famously, Richard Hooker attempted to resolve this incoherence in his Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, but he failed to do so, as did all subsequent early modern attempts. The result was that, well into the nineteenth century, the fundamental ambiguity of the ecclesiastical polity—was it an object of human discretion, or was it an unfolding of God’s revealed plan?—challenged and undermined the precocious rationality of the first modern state.

Keywords: ecclesiastical polity, ecclesiastical law, Richard Hooker, Church of England, English Reformation, baptism, conscience

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