Extensive Definition

For this term as used in philosophy, see Latitudinarianism (philosophy).
Latitudinarian was initially a pejorative term applied to a group of 17th-century English theologians who believed in conforming to official Church of England practices but who felt that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, and ecclesiastical organization were of relatively little importance. In this, they built on Richard Hooker's position, in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, that God cares about the moral state of the individual soul and that such things as church leadership are "things indifferent". However, they took the position far beyond Hooker's own and extended it to doctrinal matters. As a positive position, their stance was that human reason is a sufficient guide when combined with the Holy Spirit for the determination of truth in doctrinal contests, and therefore that legal and doctrinal rulings that constrain reason and the freedom of the believer were neither necessary nor salutary. At the time, their position was referred to as low church (in contrast to the High church position). Later, the latitudinarian position was called Broad church.
The best example of the latitudinarian philosophy is the Cambridge Platonists.
While always officially opposed, the latitudinarian philosophy was, nevertheless, dominant in the 18th century in England. Because of the Hanoverian reluctance to act in church affairs (see, for example, George II's actions in the Bangorian Controversy) and all sides of the religious debates being balanced against one another, the dioceses became tolerant of variation in local practice. Furthermore, after George II dismissed the Convocation, there was very little internal Church power to sanction or approve. Thus, with no Archbishop of Canterbury officially announcing it, nor Lords adopting it, latitudinarianism was the operative philosophy of the English church in the 18th century. For the 18th-century English church in the United States (which would become the Episcopal Church after the American Revolution), latitudinarianism was the only practical course since it was a nation with official pluralism and diversity of opinion and diffusion of clerical power.
Today, latitudinarianism must not be confused with ecumenical movements, which seek to draw all Christian churches together, rather than to de-emphasize practical doctrine. The term has taken on a more general meaning, indicating a personal philosophy which includes being widely tolerant of other views, particularly (but not necessarily) on religious matters.

See also

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