chapter  2
26 Pages

Definitions: Parishioners, Preachers and the People

A recent and important article on theological developments within the English Church in the later sixteenth century referred in passing to the 'fact' that 'many people had little or no understanding of or liking for Calvinist orthodoxy and preferred their own version of what might be termed popular Pelagianism'.1 Although the author of this claim is explicitly concerned with the 'opinions of an educated elite' and not those of the mass, his aside is reflective of the strength with which concepts such as 'popular Pelagianism' have gained amongst historians of early modern England.2 The questions begged by this 'fact' are both numerous and large involving the debates surrounding the spread of reformation, the divide between popular and elite culture and the complex relationship between centre and locality. Yet before historians consign the 'people' too quickly to a state of 'popular Pelagianism' we do well to consider some of the evidence for 'popular' or 'parochial Protestantism' and the ways in which a variety of definitions of religious commitment were used by contemporaries.