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Latitudinarians, or latitude men were initially a group of 17th-century English theologians – clerics and academics – from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England who were moderate Anglicans (members of the Church of England, which was protestant). In particular, they believed that conforming and adhering to very specific doctrines, liturgical practices and church organizational forms, as did the Puritans was not necessary, and could be harmful: "The sense that one had special instructions from God made individuals less amenable to moderation and compromise, or to reason itself." Thus, the latitudinarians supported a broad-based protestantism; they were later referred to as Broad Church.
Examples of the latitudinarian philosophy underlying the theology were found among the Cambridge Platonists and Sir Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici. Additionally, the term latitudinarian has been applied to ministers of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Scotland who were educated at the Episcopal-sympathizing universities at Aberdeen and St Andrews, and that broadly subscribed to the beliefs of their moderate Anglican English counterparts.
Today, latitudinarianism should not be confused with ecumenical movements, which seek to draw all Christian churches together, rather than seeking to de-emphasize practical doctrine. The term latitudinarian has taken on a more general meaning, indicating a personal philosophy that includes tolerance of other views, particularly, but not necessarily, on religious matters,
In the Roman Catholic Church, latitudinarianism was condemned in the 19th century document Quanta cura; Pope Pius IX felt that, with its emphasis on religious liberty and the freedom to discard traditional Christian doctrines and dogmas, this attitude threatened to undermine the church. Latitudinarianism within the Catholic Church, which may or may not be be hidden in certain ways, is criticized using the epithet Cafeteria Catholic. Many people espouse Catholicism while rejecting certain more progressive tenets, such as the banning of female clergy and divorce. Strict Catholics question how a person can claim ro be Roman Catholic while ignoring, being indifferent to, or denying aspects of Catholic dogma and praxis.
The latitudinarian Anglicans of the seventeenth century built on Richard Hooker's (1554–1600) position in Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Hooker argues that what God cares about is the moral state of the individual soul. Aspects such as church leadership are "things indifferent". However, the latitudinarians took a position far beyond Hooker's own and extended it to doctrinal matters.
As a positive position, the latitudinarian view held that human reason, when combined with the Holy Spirit, is a sufficient guide for the determination of truth in doctrinal contests; therefore, legal and doctrinal rulings that constrain reason and the freedom of the believer were neither necessary nor beneficial. At the time, their position was referred to as an aspect of low church (in contrast to the high church position). Later, the latitudinarian position was called broad church.
While always officially opposed by the Anglican church, the latitudinarian philosophy was, nevertheless, dominant in 18th century In England. Because of the Hanoverian reluctance to act in church affairs, and the various groups of the religious debates being balanced against one another, the dioceses became tolerant of variation in local practice. Furthermore, after George I of Great Britain dismissed the Convocation, there was very little internal Church power to either 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.
- Landsman, Ned (1997). From Colonials to Provincials, American Thought and Culture 1680&endash;1760. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 64.
- George I was actually born in the Germanic state of Brunswick-Luneberg, the capital of which was Hanover. He was the Elector of Brunswick-Lunebergverify until his accession to the British throne in 1714 at the age of 54. Because he was not a member of the Church of England, when he arrived, and despite becoming its head, his lack of knowedge and experience would have limited his authority to intervene in fact, if not in law.