Men like George Herbert started back from the bare, intense spiritualism of the Puritan to find nourishment for devotion in the outer associations which the piety of ages had grouped around it, in holy places and holy things, in the stillness of church and altar, in the aweful mystery of sacraments. Men like Laud, unable to find standing ground in the purely personal relation between man and God which formed the basis of Calvinism, fell back on the consciousness of a living Christendom, which, torn and rent as it seemed, was soon to resume its ancient unity. On the other hand, the appeal which Hooker addressed to reason produced a school of philosophical thinkers whose timid upgrowth was almost lost in the clash of warring creeds about them, but who were destined - as the Latitudinarians of later days - to make a deep impression on religious thought. As yet however this rationalizing movement limited itself to the work of moderating and reconciling, to recognizing with Calixtus the pettiness of the points of difference which parted Christendom, and the greatness of its points of agreement, or to revolting with Arminius from the more extreme tenets of Calvin and Calvin's followers.
No men could be more opposed in their tendencies to one another than the later High Churchmen, such as Laud, and the later Latitudinarians, such as Hales. But to the ordinary English Protestant both Latitudinarian and High Churchman were equally hateful. To him the struggle with the Papacy was not one for compromise or comprehension. It was a struggle between light and darkness, between life and death. No innovation in faith or worship was of small account, if it tended in the direction of Rome. Ceremonies, which in an hour of triumph might have been allowed as solaces to weak brethren, he looked on as acts of treason in this hour of defeat. The peril was too great to admit of tolerance or moderation. Now that falsehood was gaining ground, the only security for truth was to draw a hard and fast line between truth and falsehood. There was as yet indeed no general demand for any change in the form of Church government, or of its relation to the State, but for some change in the outer ritual of worship which should correspond to the advance which had been made to a more pronounced Protestantism. We see the Puritan temper in the Millenary Petition (as it was called), which was presented to James the First on his accession by some eight hundred clergymen, about a tenth of the whole number in his realm.
It asked for no change in. the government or organization of the Church, but for a reform of its courts, the removal of superstitious usages from the Book of Common Prayer, the disuse of lessons from the apocryphal books of Scripture, a more rigorous observance of Sundays, and the provision and trainmg of preaching ministers. Even statesmen who had little sympathy with the religious spirit about them pleaded for the purchase of religious and national union by ecclesiastical reforms. "Why," asked Bacon, "should the civil state be purged and restored by good and wholesome laws made every three years in Parliament assembled, devising remedies as fast as time breedeth mischief, and contrariwise the ecclesiastical state still continue upon the dregs of time, and receive no alteration these forty-five years or more?" A general expectation, in fact, prevailed that, now the Queen's opposition was removed, something would be done. But, different as his theological temper was from the purely secular temper of Elizabeth, her successor was equally resolute against all changes in Church matters.
No sovereign could have jarred against the conception of an English ruler which had grown up under Plantagenet or Tudor more utterly than James the First. His big head, his slobbering tongue, his quilted clothes, his rickety legs, stood out in as grotesque a contrast with all that men recalled of Henry or Elizabeth as his gabble and rhodo-montade, his want of personal dignity, his buffoonery, his coarseness of speech, his pedantry, his contemptible cowardice. Under this ridiculous exterior however lay a man of much natural ability, a ripe scholar, with a considerable fund of shrewdness, of mother-wit, and ready repartee. His canny humour lights up the political and theological controversies of the time with quaint incisive phrases, with puns and epigrams and touches of irony, which still retain their savour. His reading, especially in theological matters, was extensive; and he was a voluminous author on subjects which ranged from predestination to tobacco. But his shrewdness and learning only left him, in the phrase of Henry the Fourth, "the wisest fool in Christendom." He had the temper of a pedant, a pedant's conceit, a pedant's love of theories, and a pedant's inability to bring his theories into any relation with actual facts.
All might have gone well had he confined himself to speculations about witchcraft, about predestination, about the noxiousness of smoking. Unhappily for England and for his successor, he clung yet more passionately to theories of government which contained within them the seeds of a death-struggle between his people and the Crown. Even before his accession to the English throne, he had formulated his theory of rule in a work on "The True Law of Free Monarchy;" and announced that, "although a good King will frame his actions to be according to law, yet he is not bound thereto, but of his own will and for example-giving to his subjects." With the Tudor statesmen who used the phrase, " an absolute King," or "an absolute monarchy," meant a sovereign or rule complete in themselves, and independent of all foreign or Papal interference. James chose to regard the words as implying the monarch's freedom from all control by law, or from responsibility to anything but his own royal will. The King's theory however was made a system of government; it was soon, as the Divine Right of Kings, to become a doctrine which bishops preached from the pulpit, and for which brave men laid their heads on the block. The Church was quick to adopt its sovereign's discovery.