Strange fire: John Howe (1630-1705) and the alienation and fragmentation of later Stuart Dissent
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Any attempt to understand fully the roots and decline of English Dissent must address theological issues. Crucial to the enterprise will be an approach which describes a spectrum of theological emphases. This thesis will propose a detailed theological model which employs an ecclesiological spectrum mapping relative stress on the visible or invisible church. When this model is applied to the later Stuart period the importance of John Howe (1630-1705) becomes evident. Howe's life spanned a time of considerable disruption. His family was affected by Laud's policies, he became a minister during the Interregnum and his career lasted into Anne's reign. His significance has been masked by a hagiographical tradition and the fascination of historians with Richard Baxter. Howe's Platonist philosophical roots led him to emphasise the transcendence of God and, accordingly, the invisible Church. He was active in Nonconformist affairs during the 1680s. He entered controversies sparked by "latitudinarians" Tillotson and Stillingfleet and maintained important contacts among dissident groups. He built a sophisticated theological case for unity which hinged on Christian charity. Howe was the crucial figure in Dissent following the Toleration Act of 1689. An analysis of Howe's career and writings establishes the theological model proposed in this thesis. By this, in turn, the continuity of Dissent with "Puritanism" can be validly identified. Howe's influence on later Dissent was considerable, arguably greater than that of either John Locke or Baxter. His emphasis on the invisible Church relegated uniformity and structure. An increasing "bias to the invisible" was a factor in the alienation and fragmentation of later Stuart Dissent.