Like the essays published here earlier under the Voices of Light category, the eleven chapters posted in the past three months can now be seen as a book-length sampling of Quaker theological thought, this time as I sense it extending to contemporary discoveries and discussion.
Although the essays were serialized in reverse order, now that they appear in full, they can be read in the other direction — making the logical inquiry more direct, perhaps, even though we’ve engaged it thoroughly in our weekly presentations.
In the past year-and-a-half, As Light Is Sown has offered some pretty meaty, and sometimes esoteric, material. I hope it’s stimulated your faith and daily walk in faith.
We’re planning to kick back for the next month before launching a Quaker Daybook for 2014 that will have daily postings of Scripture, a brief reflection, and a photo. Hope to see you on January 1, or as early Friends insisted, First Month 1st.
The ancient Quaker counsel, “Walk in the Light,” was a call both to experience on ongoing personal relationship with the Spirit of Christ and to submit individual lives to the discipleship of a circle of similar practitioners. There has always been a tension between the two. On the one hand, a person may “run ahead of his Guide” or “run ahead of his leading,” as we hear in other old Quaker cautions; an insight may be based more on mere “notions” rather than eternal truths, or be prompted by egotism rather than selfless devotion. On the other hand, the circle may fail to be fully obedient to its common Source; it may rely more on custom or prevailing culture than a calling to move into unknown and perhaps threatening terrain.
This tension is no less applicable in our own era, when many individuals profess to be pursuing “my own spirituality” without any connection to community or established tradition. Others have fled the faith of their childhood when they sensed it could not provide them with the open nurture their lives required. Still others are appalled to discover scandals in the lives of religious leaders of all stripes – public figures who simply could not practice what they preached and can no longer be trusted. Yet there are people of faith today who engage fully in this dynamic and live transformed and enriched in its multifaceted dialogue.
Such a group is what I have found in the Society of Friends, or Quakers. It is not perfect – more like a marriage and family, in fact, where one’s shortcomings may be most fully revealed – but it has also brought me into relationship with many remarkable people, living as well as historic, who share a unique faith and practice. As a result, I cannot imagine living otherwise. Nor has this led to a closed circle; rather, with my own understanding securely rooted, I appreciate times of exchange with other earnest and guileless people of faith, both within and outside of the Judeo-Christian stream.
While my presentation here addresses ways Quakers have coped with the dynamic of direct experience and community discernment, I would hope it stimulates Friends and non-Friends alike. The issues are universal; our daily lives, discrete. How we respond is the ongoing opportunity and challenge.
Major gaps exist in standard presentations of early Quaker history, which are essentially drawn from George Fox’s perspective. Or perhaps, more subtly, Margaret Fell’s. Little material exists from the time before she joined the movement in 1652, while the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed Quaker materials that may have provided a fuller understanding of the movement into the south of England. Fox says little of the people he associated with before 1652, including Elizabeth Hooten, without whom there may have been no Quaker movement at all. In addition, in 1647, in the depth of his spiritual struggles, Fox was given crucial support and guidance from “one Brown, who had great prophecies and insights upon his death-bed of me. And he spoke openly of what I should be made instrumental by the Lord to bring forth. … And when this man was buried, a great work of the Lord fell upon me, to the admiration of many, who thought I had been dead, and many came to see me, for about fourteen days’ time. For I was very much altered in countenance and person as if my body had been new moulded or changed. And while I was in that condition, I had a sense and discerning given me by the Lord, though which I saw plainly that when many people talked of God and of Christ, etc., the Serpent spoke in them.” The “great prophecies and insights” apparently included some teaching that pointed Fox to profound transformation, yet, tellingly, he cannot remember this elder’s first name. In addition, Fox fails to indicate whether this meeting with Brown was a one-time occasion or the culmination of extended fellowship; I suspect the latter.
I hesitate to call Fox the founder of Quakerism, a definition I feel slights many likely profound contributions by other important early Friends, including those whose names we may never know. Fox may more accurately be considered a consolidator who managed to amalgamate many radical currents, some of them secular, into a religious legacy. To call him the founder even downplays the vital organizational contributions of his eventual wife, Margaret Fell, or the emotional and intellectual support as well as physical refuge against persecution she provided. For all of his psychic struggles before 1652, once he experiences his Pendle Hill epiphany, he voices no doubts; humility is no longer in his character, nor is he likely to credit others if he can take the spotlight instead. A more accurate description for Fox would be co-principal organizer, along with Fell, whose contributions are no doubt greatly overlooked.
In his encounters with the Seekers, or Separatists, in the weeks after that Pendle Hill vision, Fox contends that he was “gathering” them into his movement, although it could be as easily argued that he was injecting himself to their already existing affiliation of worshipping communities. The core of early Quaker itinerant ministers came from those Seekers bodies, and the fact they could so quickly be dispatched to preach the Friends message would indicate they already had mastered its unorthodox content.
Among them was Francis Howgill (1618-1669), who had been an Anglican priest before eventually becoming a Seeker minister in Westmorland. Along with John Camm, he was also identified as a Gringletonian, a obscure sect named for a settlement at the foot of Pendle Hill, where a teaching of Christ Within similar to what Quakers would express was also found, albeit on a Lutheran base, rather than the prevailing Calvinism. In his memoirs, Howgill speaks of coming across this teaching during his religious sojourn, but of also recognizing that those who taught it were not empowered by it in their own lives. Fox, on the other hand, struck Howgill as someone who spoke with this authority. In addition, once Fox’s teaching connected this Christ Within to the Light, Howgill’s understanding was invigorated; what had been theory now had practice as well. It may be that the Light metaphor sufficiently shifted the focus of his meditation from Jesus to the Holy Spirit to guide his worship to a deeper awareness or spiritual experience.
Howgill may also be pivotal in sharpening James Nayler’s understanding of the Light, explaining why Nayler was so quickly writing so eloquently of its dimensions. Of the early Quakers, Howgill was closest to Nayler in age. They came to Friends at the same time, and were soon imprisoned together for four months at Appleby, in a situation with “adequate light, writing supplies, and the means to pass the product of his work along to get it to London for publication,” David Neelon observes in James Nayler: Revolutionary to Prophet. “He [Howgill] could have stood with him in the way Fox might have, as a peer, an elder in the spiritual sense, perhaps also as an editor and co-author. He was a good writer,” as his memoirs demonstrate. Yet, for all of his activity on the forefront of Quaker expansion, little of Howgill’s own voice survives. He is not alone.
In addition, while the Seekers are traditionally credited with originating the silent “waiting” worship now seen as distinctively Quaker, we have no idea of the worship practices of the earlier Friends in the English Midlands. Did they follow a more programmed service, with Scripture reading, vocal prayer, personal confessions, or singing? Another important Friends minister, Richard Farnsworth, or Farnworth, who had been a leading member of the Seekers at Balby, writes that singing was indeed common in Quaker worship.
However complex the developments within the Quaker stream, they reflected the rapidly changing turmoil in the populace around them. Friends absorbed much from other movements. For instance, the General Baptists, with whom Fox and other Quaker leaders had been affiliated, held much in common with the Mennonites (or Anabaptists) in the Netherlands; from them Friends adopted the structure of lay ministers and elders (or bishops) within the local congregation, as well as the role of unity in making business decisions or daily discipleship, including what would emerge as the Quaker Peace Testimony. From them, Friends likely also inherited a strict adherence to honesty, including the refusal to take oaths, and the observance of Plainness, or simplicity, in their dress and possessions. Not only can this influence be seen placing the Society of Friends within the larger Anabaptist pathway of church history, rather than Calvinist, Lutheran, or Catholic, it also brought an identity to Friends as one of the “historic peace churches,” along with the Mennonites, Church of the Brethren (Dunkers), and Amish. Significantly, in England the General Baptists largely disappeared after the emergence of Friends; among the more Calvinist Particular Baptists, however, the teaching and practice soon depart from the Anabaptist ways.
Other major influences come from the Levellers, with their call for social and economic equality, and the New Model Army, a short-lived experiment and schooling in democracy and radical theology. Throughout this period, individuals are found participating in multiple movements, and these two were no exception. True Leveller and Digger leader Gerrard Winstanley presents a curious association with Quakers, especially in the years 1648 to 1652 and again shortly before his death in 1676. When his collected early tracts were published in 1649, the included phrases that were quite close to those Friends would espouse: “a man shall be made to see Christ in other creatures as well as in himself” or “Christ or the spreading power of light is drawing the knowledge of himself as he lies in all things into the clear experience of man” (Hill, 140). In his examination, Christopher Hill notes, “Winstanley took over and transformed other popular beliefs. The myth of the Everlasting Gospel goes back at least to Joachim of Fiore in the twelfth century.” For Fox, the Everlasting Gospel would be a central expression. Hill, still discussing Winstanley, adds, “It was a heretical doctrine, for it not only rejected the authority of the institutionalized church, but it put the spirit within man above the letter of Scripture. This doctrine had been taken over by the Familists and Jacob Boehme; it was widespread in the England of the 1640s.” (Hill, 148) The Quaker Hat Testimony, the refusal to remove one’s hat in deference to any person, can be traced to Leveller practice; it also landed many early Friends in prison. Likewise the distinctive Plain language of thee and thou to all individuals, without resorting to the plural for one’s social superiors, can come from this tradition.
A 1648 Leveller pamphlet, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, and its 1649 sequel, More Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, suggest that the Light imagery that would figure so prominently in Quaker theology and teaching may have held political and economic meanings as well as mystical religious ones.
Many of the Levellers were also members of the Parliamentarian armies. Not only did the New Model Army, especially, give the emerging Friends movement some crucial protection as it emerged in the north of England, the ranks of former officers also provided Quakers with the majority of its early itinerant ministers, including James Nayler. Through the successes of the New Model, Britain was finally united under one government. But the result quickly proved unstable. In addition, the radicals’ emphasis on individual decision-making challenged longstanding authority, and clashes were inevitable. For example, “Burford was the place where in 1649 an incipient rebellion of Levellers from within the army, en route to London, was intercepted by Cromwell in a surprise nighttime raid. Some were killed in the church where they slept. The ringleaders were executed at dawn,” Neelon notes. (153) Diggers, or True Levellers, also met violent repression in this period – and some of their locales later emerged as Quaker centers (Hill, 126). Hill suggests that by 1653, the Leveller movement had been essentially suppressed: “They must have had a great deal to do with the ‘shattering of Baptist and Independent churches from which the Quakers were to benefit” (Hill, 128).
The decisive downward turn in this English Revolution came in Cromwell’s refusal to extend the right to vote for House of Commons members to all of his former soldiers. To limit this right to landowners, rather than all who had risked their lives in service to that Parliament, was an injustice, one fueled by a fear of communism – that is, a redistribution of property and wealth, as well as democracy. In his subsequent struggles with Parliament and his own trappings as Lord Protector, Cromwell could be seen returning the nation to the very tyranny it had just cast off.
All of this is reflected in Quaker history, though hardly in its fullness. In spreading into the south, the Friends leadership was severely stressed, in part because many of the leader Quakers were in prison and in part because the movement continued to rely largely on the ministers who joined in 1652 and 1653, rather than adding significantly to its cadre of leaders, who typically traveled in pairs. In addition to the Biblical model, there were practical reasons for sending its missionaries out two-by-two. While one Friend taught and preached, the other could remain silent, holding his or her companion in prayer and watching for excesses or errors; the role could reverse, as needed. The public attraction the movement received in London outstripped its resources. For whatever reasons, much of the weight of this effort fell to Nayler, but often without the essential travelling companion. Again, most of what we know of the ensuing events comes from Fox, written from the vantage of his old age and his desire to sanitize history.
Fox, for instance, mentions that in 1655, “I cast my eyes upon him, and a fear struck in me concerning him.” While the traditional interpretation has been that Fox discerned a false spirit working in Nayler, Fox’s subsequent actions did nothing to curb that spirit, despite Nayler’s pleas for eldership. Rather than reenforce Nayler in London, Fox instead dispatched Friends to Ireland and rural shires.
The urban realities of London, especially, were quite different from what Friends had previously encountered. In our own time, Kathleen Norris has observed how different a Biblical text and a sermon are received in a congregation of farmers and another in a very small city just miles away (Dakota). Perhaps Fox was personally uncomfortable with city life and its needs. Without the daily backing of seasoned Quaker leaders, and rising to the demands of frequent public debates and presentations, Nayler naturally fatigued. Furthermore, his most central supporters were new to Friends, many of them women who seemed to worship him in a now embarrassingly intimate manner, yet similar (and suppressed) letters exist from earlier Quaker activity, especially regarding Fox, elsewhere.
Tensions between the old Quaker leadership, with (Burrough and Howgill), and the leading women, Martha Simmonds and Hannah Strange, soon escalated. Nayler could not bring himself to rebuke them, as ordered. They, on the other hand, went to Fox, who was imprisoned in Launceston, and accused him of being a false leader. Soon after his release, Fox visited Nayler in prison in Exeter and rose during worship to rebuke Nayler in what seemed to be a prepared and calculated message, rather than a prophetic utterance from the Holy Spirit, as Friends would demand. Events quickly deteriorated, leading Fox to tell Nayler he could kiss his foot, rather than his hand – a response that could be seen as Fox demanding to be honored as a cardinal or pope, rather than an equal.
Fox’s actions lead me to believe he had become jealous of Nayler and was afraid of losing control of the movement, especially to other weighty leaders.
In addition, Simmonds and Strange, however strident and difficult their outburst, accused Fox and the others of sexism regarding Quaker ministry. While Friends had welcomed women as ministers from the very beginning with Elizabeth Hooten and the General Baptists, these two apparently were not of the same cast. Their experience, apparently, arose more from the Ranter movement’s individualism than from the Anabaptist circle of discipleship and yieldedness.
Here may be the crux of the tension finally ripping through Friends; Nayler’s emphasis had been on individual experience of the Light and an immediate, personal response to it. Fox was now intent on establishing an organization, channeling its energy into a coherent whole. Moreover, while Nayler sought compassionate eldering, Fox stood above all others – even with Margaret Fell; as events unfolded, this was hardly a circle of discipleship Friends. Instead of healing a breach among Friends, Fox instead created one.
Larry Ingles (First Among Friends) suggests that in the buildup to the catastrophic downfall of Nayler in 1656, Fox rebuffed calls to comfort and guide his coworker, instead casting him increasingly as a rival. In his own retelling of early Quaker history, Fox essentially erases the contributions of its leading minister and theologian, and no doubt others.
With Nayler’s death in 1660, the Quaker message essentially codifies, with refinements to be added over the next two decades by Isaac Penington, Robert Barclay, and William Penn.
To perceive the Quaker movement as a distillation or aggregation of many radical sources largely explains the ongoing tension between individual mysticism and social activism across the history of the Society of Friends, even today. Early Friends were persecuted and imprisoned for both.
London Yearly Meeting was established in 1671 in large part to provide a suitable institution for appealing the criminal sentences imposed upon individual Friends; included in its sessions were the Meetings for Sufferings in their recognition. We can ask whether any other denomination was established with political dissent so much a part of its heritage, at least until the emergence of the Salvation Army, which drew much of its inspiration from Friends. The fact that Quakers in the United States have both the American Friends Service Committee and the Friends Committee on National Legislation continues this legacy.
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Despite all of my reservations about calling him the founder of Quakerism, it is still hard to imagine a Society of Friends emerging without Fox’s indefatigable influence, and his spiritual life journey stands as the model for Quakers then and since.
Fox’s Journal underscores the reclusive nature of his youthful spiritual quest, “without the help of any man, book, or writing,” yet in his maturity he repeatedly admonished others into disciplined religious companionship. Ears that have become accustomed to the intimate singular of thee and thou should pick up on Fox’s nearly universal usage of the plural ye in his communications with Friends, even when he might appear to be addressing an individual, as his 1658 letter to Elizabeth Claypool demonstrates. Salvation, he insinuates, is not solely a matter of an individual relationship with the divine, but bears fruit through faithful communities living in relationship with the Light of Christ.
His stress on covenant discipleship suggests crucial roles others may have had in shaping and informing Fox’s developing theology, despite his assertions to the contrary, especially in regard to the doctrine of the Light. It also raises questions about just how much leeway there was for others to engage in a similar solitary spiritual journey once the Quaker movement was under way. Moreover, there is the question of how many individuals were predisposed to parts of the emerging Quaker message – and if so, to which elements and to what extent Light-imagery extended or embraced their comprehension. In addition to Fox’s evolving articulation of his experience of the Light, some Friends ministers were attempting to relate their encounters in ways other people could understand. As a movement, what was first voiced by one Friend might repeated and advanced by others; what we credit a particular person for first publishing may have been previously preached by another.
Serendipitously, as I began pondering these prospects, Rosemary Moore’s The Light in Their Consciences: The Early Quakers in Britain, 1646-1666, appeared in print, drawing on her systematic and thorough examination of pamphlets and manuscripts both by Quakers and by their opponents. Unlike a number of fine Quaker histories, this one breaks new ground by focusing on documented ideas interposed with historical context. Significantly, without downplaying Fox’s role in shaping the Quaker movement, she suggests other personalities may have played equally essential functions at one time or another. I am left wondering, for instance, how much was already in place in 1647 when Fox began worshipping with the group assembling in the home of Elizabeth Hooten, a former Baptist preacher (as Douglas Gwyn notes in the Covenant Crucified); if her autobiography had been written and published, would we be considering her “the first Quaker,” rather than Fox? She was, after all, certainly active in the traveling ministry and in subsequent imprisonments; “it is probable that Elizabeth Hooten was more important in the history of Quaker beginnings than the [Fox] Journal indicates,” Moore remarks. “The role of Margaret Fell as friend and supporter of Fox is well known, but before Fell there was Hooten, another middle-aged, capable, strong-minded woman who also opened her house to Fox.”
The years 1647-49 were, Moore asserts, “the high tide of the radical revolution,” when England was awash in new-sprung bands advocating political and social change of one sort or another. To what extent they, too, influenced or were assimilated by the emerging Quaker movement during the following decade is now difficult to ascertain. It is safe to deduce, however, that the Society of Friends carries much of their imprint, however residual or refined.
Moore raises intriguing possibilities about shadowy groups in the English midlands before Fox began preaching. While contemporary Friends like to cite the appeal of the Quaker message to groups we now refer to as the Seekers in northern England in the 1650s, Moore contends that an earlier, unacknowledged parallel had already occurred in the previous decade – and that this formation of early Quaker meetings has not been fully appreciated. Furthermore, she pointedly cites Fox’s mention of Friends’ gatherings in Leicestershire in 1644, Warwickshire in 1645, Nottinghamshire in 1646, and Derbyshire in 1647: “If the 1644-45 dates are correct, then proto-Quaker groups existed in the East Midlands before there is any clear record of them, and possibly before the first preaching of George Fox.” Lamentably, she finds, “There are no surviving Quaker pamphlets that can certainly be dated to 1652, although at least one was published toward the end of that year, for a letter from Farnworth to Fell dated December mentioned the printing of three hundred books that were now in use and being publicly read.”
In other words, if Quakerism began to form as early as 1644, we’re left with very little contemporaneous historical source material for the first eight years of the movement – a fertile time filled, from available accounts, with a charismatic/Pentecostal character.
Could it be, then, that the concept of an Inner Light originated with one of these other early Friends? Moore’s conclusion: “It is possible that some of the light-imagery, and specifically the phrase ‘the light within,’ derives from the proto-Quaker groups that were already in existence in Yorkshire before Fox’s arrival. Farnworth favored this phrase, and also ‘mind the light of God in you,’ in his early tracts, at a time when Fox preferred other terms.”
But Moore quickly points out that early Friends conceived this much differently than most present-day Friends would: “‘The light’ was an overwhelming invasive force, not a vague mental illumination. It must be emphasized that the phrase, ‘inner light,’ often used by modern Quakers, never occurs in early Quaker writings, and that ‘inward light’ is rare. ‘Conscience,’ also, was a stronger word than today, with something of the sense of ‘consciousness.’ ‘The light in the conscience,’ if it was attended to and not resisted, involved a take-over of one’s personality.”
What we have here, then, is something quite different from current usage. Moore also perceives something unexpected happening in the gradual application of “light” as well: “The word most strongly associated with Quaker teaching is ‘light.’ [Quaker opponent] Francis Higginson knew the phrase ‘the light within’ as regularly used by the first Quaker preachers, and the word ‘light’ is common in Fox’s early papers. However, ‘the light’ in Quaker thought may not have had the prime importance before 1653 that it came to possess later. In the first years of the Quaker movement … Fox was mainly concerned with the unity between Christ and the believer, for which he was several times charged with blasphemy. When he spoke of ‘the light,’ sometimes he used the phrase as equivalent to Christ and sometimes he meant the way Christ made himself known. It may be that ‘the light’ developed into the characteristic Quaker phrase because it was a safe alternative to ‘Christ,’ to be used with less risk of blasphemy charges.”
Moore acknowledges some disturbing logical consequences of this Christ-unity: “Fox was on record as calling himself ‘the son of God’ on a number of occasions, and there were two such references in the original Journal manuscript, which were omitted from the first printed edition, and another in the Short Journal, which was written in 1663-64. He retained this form of expression throughout his life despite the fact that it could be considered blasphemous.” She then cites “a curious paper by Fox … important to the understanding of the original Quaker theology. It is not in the collected edition of the epistles, presumably having been suppressed as unacceptable when these were published.” She concludes “it shows that Fox in these early days transgressed the current blasphemy law in expressing his sense of unity with Christ, something that is not obvious in his published Epistles.” Moore also observes, “There are a number of surviving letters, mostly to George Fox and to Margaret Fell, in which the recipient is addressed in the language of popular devotion as Christ would be. In later years they were an embarrassment, but the original scripts show attempts, probably made by Fox himself, to delete the offending passages.”
Thus, we have evidence of a desire to reframe some descriptions of the original Quaker experience; Light-imagery may have been just abstract enough to suit their needs. “It was perhaps the experience of several trials for blasphemy, and possibly the advice of such people as Judge Fell, that persuaded Quakers to adapt their language,” Moore observes. “The more extreme language describing union with God or with Christ was confined to letters, while material for publication was more cautiously expressed.” She then notes this may have served a dual purpose, to avoid persecution by civil authorities and to discourage Ranterish behavior within the movement.
We can see, then, a potential secondary reading to Fox’s proclamation that Christ has come to teach his people himself: Christ is standing here in front of you, in the flesh, teaching. For those expecting Messiah to arrive and take control of the government, the implication is openly political – especially in the heady events leading up to 1653, “a turbulent year in British politics, (which) had a great influence on the development of Quakerism,” as Moore emphasizes. “In the early months of 1653, radicals of all complexions shared the hope that the hated tithes would soon disappear for good, but it proved impossible to agree on an alternative. In November the Parliament was dissolved, with the tithe system still intact, so that Quakers and other radicals, greatly disappointed, had to rethink their strategy.”
Against this backdrop, was it possible for Friends to systematically express their understanding of this Light? More decisively, could they do so in a way that would answer their opponents? Apparently not. How does this Light relate to the Holy Spirit? To the person of Jesus? To Atonement and Salvation? As Moore reviews theological attacks on Quakers as well as their responses, she finds shortcomings all around. “Fox’s theology was, however, obscure,” she concludes. In this early period “the most competent Quaker theologian was James Nayler,” but both he and the accomplished Edward Burrough left many issues unclear. “Here was the difficulty. The Quakers’ intense experience of Christ, or the light of Christ, which led them to blur the distinction between Christ and themselves, was difficult to reconcile with belief in Jesus as a man.”
Curiously, in early Quaker writings, the emphasis is on Christ, rather than Messiah. We do not see the terms used interchangeably, a Greek equivalent for a Jewish ideal. Rather, somehow, an awareness of the Greek philosophical concept of Logos is seen as the source for ruling the covenant community. In its own way, this downplaying of Messiah is telling, although I am not quite sure what to make of this practice. Was this a deliberate attempt to avoid any appearance of discussing a head of state in a period of civil unrest? Yet Friends were not reticent in speaking of God’s Kingdom or of the Lord’s reign or even a Lamb’s War, drawing on the Book of Revelation. Perhaps in emphasizing the Spirit of Christ, Friends framed their own apocalyptic experience; for them, Messiah may have been bound up more with the historical Jesus and three Synoptic Gospels, than with the Logos of the Gospel of John.
Their preference for “Christ” may also reflect a perceived function of a Light-infused ministry. By emphasizing prophetic utterance, Fox assumed a role like Samuel, rather than King David – an independent counselor and critic instead of political or military official. Fox had, after all, turned down an offer of a captaincy in the army in early 1651, rejecting an opportunity to exercise bureaucratic, governmental authority. Some Friends perhaps even envisioned that England might, like early Israel, be governed by prophets serving as judges in a decentralized, egalitarian society. These Quakers may have hoped for rule by the Spirit of Christ rather than a head of state and written law. Considering the lapses in the surviving records, we can only guess at their dreams.
Revisiting the early Quaker movement, we easily overlook both the imprint of highly-charged political currents and the role of Friends in radical social activism, either before or after their convincement to become Quakers. Admittedly, it is difficult for us today to distinguish among the Levelers, Diggers, Fifth Monarchists, Muggletonians, Ranters, and other radical political, social, and religious movements – much less the ways they resembled or differed from Quakers. Yet in the “hat testimony” and use of “thee” in addressing those of higher social status, to cite two examples, Friends resembled Levellers, who advocated “the elimination of monarchy and the House of Lords,” widely expanded voting rights, “legal reforms, greater security for tenant farmers, a ban on military conscription, the abolition of tithes, and the end of the state Church,” as Gywn explains. We typically presuppose that Quakers were persecuted on this front because they expressed a belief that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. We don’t recognize in the hat testimony and use of thee a veiled threat to the livelihood, family, and very life of the person being addressed. No wonder reactions were so severe!
In addition, we typically presume that Friends’ testimonies emerged in one piece from the very beginning, rather than evolving in reaction to rapidly changing, seemingly apocalyptic conditions. As a consequence, we often view early Quakers through lenses applied later – deliberately downplaying their political connections, overlooking related movements, or projecting onto them certain cherished values; this is especially true of the peace testimony, which was not proclaimed until the second decade of George Fox’s public ministry.
When we assume that the peace testimony was always an essential part of the Quaker message, we cloud our appreciation of ways the left-leaning New Model Army influenced the early Quaker movement; we surmise that many Friends leaders had been cashiered out of the army’s ranks because of their newfound pacifist convictions, when that issue may have had nothing to do with their uniting with Friends, but rather the financial constraints facing the government. Moore, in fact, pieces together disturbing evidence to indicate that the historic Quaker 1661 manifesto of pacifism, A Declaration From the Harmless and Innocent People of God, beginning, “that Spirit of Christ by which we were guided, is not changeable, so as to command us from a thing as evil …,” was initially an attempt “to clear themselves from involvement with the Fifth Monarchists.” As Moore observes, “The problems with this statement were, first, that it was distinctly economical with the truth, for it was common knowledge that a number of Quakers had been involved with militias raised in 1659, and, second, that whatever Fox declared, he could not bind all his followers. The issue was by no means closed.”
Admittedly, earlier statements – including Fox’s 1651 rejection of the captaincy in the army – can be viewed as expressions of pacifism, but even there we must take care not to generalize too much. “Fox did not hide his contempt for the Army as the procurer and enforcer of the new regime’s power,” Gwyn remarks.
To remember that Fox often used “Spirit of Christ” as a variant of the “Light … that enlightens everyone who comes into the world,” then, suggests potential political overtones within his theology. The possibility of Friends’ holding other interpretations of the Light or of Christ or of other vital concepts filtering into Quaker understanding from unsuspected sources is worth investigating as we reclaim their teaching in its original fullness.
These conditions have parallels in our own time. During the civil rights movement, Vietnam protests, and a widening curiosity in Eastern religions, for instance, many young adults visited Friends Meeting for our testimonies on racial and sexual equality, pacifism, and social justice or for our group meditation. Yet, for whatever reasons, few stayed among Friends. Moreover, those who did often imported teachings and practices, as a survey of workshops offered at each summer’s Friends General Conference through these decades would demonstrate. One difference, of course, is that there has been no George Fox or Margaret Fell today to draw the current diverse strands into a unified, disciplined body.
Remarkably, though, whatever their individual experiences, the original Friends were eventually drawn into fairly orderly spiritual communities. How much of this may have arisen as an inheritance from the Puritan desire for covenant fellowship and how much as a legacy from Anabaptist bodies (Mennonite) in the Netherlands, by way of former General Baptists in England who joined up with the Quaker movement, remains conjecture. The result, however, was not abstract theology, but concerted action: “Quakers could describe salvation as being in the Covenant of the Light, or as a matter of attending to the light in the conscience, or as having returned to the state of innocence before the Fall, but always, they said, salvation had consequences for conduct,” Moore writes. “Moral perfection in this life was, said Quakers, a possibility, a consequence of the Kingdom of God in believers.”
Our ability to understand just how this came about is very limited, first by the paucity of unfiltered source material before 1652 and second by a major administrative meeting held at the end of December 1654 at Swannington in Leicestershire. Moore observes a number of changes in the organization of the Quaker movement seem to have emerged from this gathering, including “arrangements for vetting proposed publications.” This leaves us with a very limited, and often distorted, window for viewing an astonishing fertile and changing ground of the earliest Quaker movement – especially in its most ecstatic, unrestrained outburst, before its expression turned defensive and increasingly guarded.
Arraying all of these strands – the radical political and social currents of the time, the Quaker resemblance to many of them, the tension between individual experience of the Light and covenant discipline, degrees of identification with Christ that could induce charges of blasphemy, and more – suggests a chaotic and potentially explosive mixture, especially for a rapidly spreading movement. Perhaps it is most remarkable that any of their experience and teaching should continue to our own time, much less invite our participation in continuing it. Yet it does.
Unlike many other denominations, the Society of Friends seems almost obsessed with its unique religious history. In the absence of dogma and creed, Friends have turned instead to previous generations for confirmation of individual religious experiences and actions. Often, this accompanies a painful admission of how much modern bodies of Quakers differ among themselves, with one extreme being those who preserve quietist worship while not just tolerating but also welcoming beliefs from across the religious spectrum, and the other extreme being evangelical Friends whose worship includes pastors and choirs and sermons invoking Jesus as Lord and Savior; many Friends are left suspiciously wondering just what, if anything, one has in common with the other. Here, the differing branches look for shared roots; early Quakers are valued, at one end, for their social activism and its widespread impact, and, at the other end, for their fearless preaching. Whatever their branch, modern Friends have a deep sense of an inexplicable and extraordinary something erupting in those early years, especially from the time young George Fox found refuge in 1647 with the “shattered Baptists” worshipping at Elizabeth Hooten’s house through the enactment of the Toleration Act of 1689. It’s even possible to consider this span as a mythological golden age of Quakerism, at least until one looks more closely at its rapidly shifting and often nearly chaotic conditions. Even so, there is also a pervading sense of loss – that early Friends possessed something so mysterious and powerful they willingly saw their possessions seized, endured years of imprisonment, and even suffered death to uphold it. Jackson I. Cope’s study of “Seventeenth-Century Quaker Style” certainly expresses this sense of awe in terms of the rise and fall of what he views as “incantatory” language.
When we turn to the use of Light and Seed metaphor among early Friends, the exercise reveals an unexpected depth of expression and applications – an alternative definition of Christ and Christianity themselves. No wonder they exclaimed, as Margaret Fell tells of her first time hearing George Fox and how, as he spoke of the Light, “I stood up in my pew, and I wondered at his doctrine, for I had never heard such before. And he went on, and opened the Scriptures,” meaning he elucidated the passages. “This opened me so that it cut me to the heart; and then I saw that clearly we were all wrong. So I sat down in my pew again, and cried bitterly. And I cried in my spirit to the Lord, ‘We are all thieves, we are all thieves, we have taken the Scriptures in words only and know nothing of them in ourselves’” – a confession indirectly citing John 10:1 and 10:10.
In conventional presentations, Quakers often seem to appear nearly whole-cloth in 1652 immediately after George Fox’s revelation atop Pendle Hill along the border between Yorkshire and Lancashire. But closer examinations, such as Rosemary Moore’s, suggest that much had already occurred to the south, in the Midlands, before his vision, preparation would combine with other eruptions in English society, many of them snowballing and colliding into what would erupt into what would become known as Children of Light or First Publishers of Truth, and then as Quakers and the Society of Friends. Indeed, Moore suggests that there were already bodies of Friends in the Midlands before Fox’s arrival. Other preparatory motions are also found in the English north, including teachings about Spirit and Light that would flower in the Quaker movement.
As an American reading this history, I’d held an impression that England of the time was comprised of distinct regions, each one fairly homogenous within itself, and that Friends were engaged in a theological struggle on two fronts: the royalists, with their Roman and Anglo Catholic identity, on one hand, and the Puritan Calvinists, on the other. A more detailed review, however, such as Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down, instead indicates a much more complex and rapidly shifting situation filled with economic, political, and military upheaval. Given the wide range of dialects in England at the time, so that a person from one village might be barely understood in the next shire, we may assume similar wide variations in spiritual practices, including the survival of what would today be considered occult teachings. Peculiar pockets might exist in one parish, unnoticed by the authorities. Even within a movement, the essential defining qualities were evolving, so that what would hold for one year might not fit the next. Individuals, too, might be seen floating from one identity to another, rather than be firmly established within a movement for its duration. Many of these can be seen drawing on much older sources.
One influence can be seen springing from around 1160 in Lyon, France – a region already active with grassroots nonconformists, spurred on by studying Scripture in the vernacular and applying conclusions that often ran counter to established Catholic practice and teaching. Once Peter Waldo came under their influence, he gave up his wealth and began to preach on the street, eventually leading, in turn, to the excommunication of both Waldo and his followers and their banishment from Lyon. Once freed from the constraints of Catholic obedience, their travelling preachers – both men and women – rapidly spread what is now known under a variety of names, including Waldensians and Albigensians, proclaiming the Gospel and serving the marginalized. One of their central teachings was that infant baptism had no validity; instead, to be valid, baptism had to come entirely as an adult decision, reflecting a spiritual rebirth. From the 1230s, the Papal Inquisition brutally hunted down both Waldensian and gnostic Catharism (also known as the Good Men and Women) households, in effect creating an underground church. In 1252, Pope Innocent IV allowed torture to be added to the Inquisition’s arsenal. Despite their near annihilation, Waldensian congregations survived. One branch, in Britain, became known as Lollards, closely aligned to John Wycliffe (1328-1384), whose clandestine translations of the Bible into English ignited lines of dissent that could not be squelched. Despite heavy persecution, Lollard pockets still existed at the time the Quaker movement emerged. One of their strongholds, in fact, was in Leicestershire, where George Fox was born in 1624.
Another stream that claimed kinship with the Waldensians, although through no direct lineage, was the Anabaptists. The name derives from their emphasis on adult baptism, and their rejection of infant baptism. Known today largely as Mennonites and originating principally in Switzerland and the Netherlands, they stood as a third stream in the early Protestant Reformation, and unlike Lutherans or Calvinists, they refused to affiliate as an established state church. As a result, they were severely persecuted by Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist authorities alike. Crucially, for the early Quaker movement, they appeared in England as General Baptists – not to be confused with the Calvinist-infused Particular Baptists, the strand now known widely. Fox’s description of Elizabeth Hooten’s congregation as “shattered” suggests some difference among individuals that could not be reconciled, which in Mennonite discipline would have precluded conducting the annual love feast (communion) and foot washing. Also, the General Baptists recognized and allowed women preachers, a role Hooten performed widely as a Quaker.
In orderings of denominational relationships, the Society of Friends is often placed within the Anabaptist category, as are the Amish, Church of the Brethren, Hutterites, and Shakers. Historically, Friends shared with Mennonites a definition of church as a body of believers, rather than as an institution or a building. (Thus, Quakers “meet” rather than “go to church.”) Membership was based on a personal experience of Christ and the Holy Spirit – a inward encounter of being “convicted” of one’s sins and then “convinced” of the Truth, as early Friends said. Anabaptists generally relied on lay ministry that was essentially non-hierarchial and anti-clerical, with ministers and elders or bishops being recognized for their spiritual abilities within the congregation. As disciples of Christ, members lived “under discipline,” relying on the discernment of the congregation for the daily conduct of their individual lives as guided by and measured against Scripture. Plainness and simplicity, honesty and refusal to swear oaths, personal accountability, separation of church and state, nonconformity to government-affiliated religion and directives, and nonviolence and refusal to bear arms (pacifism) were all earmarks of Anabaptist faith. One crucial departure for Friends after their initial outburst would be the adoption of “birthright” membership, based on the model of Jewish faith as a lineage, with the faith instilled within the family, rather than as an adult turning point.
John Punshon’s Portrait in Grey presents a detailed overview of Anabaptist influences in England prior to the Quaker movement. “What is remarkable about them,” he notes, “is the close similarity between some of the ideas they put forward and the message later preached by the Quakers … a preoccupation with certain themes that certainly antedated, may well have influenced, and arguably even caused, Quakerism to take the course it did among the possible lines of development open to it when the radical log-jam broke in England in the early 1640s.” In these years, Punshon senses vital influences coming from the Netherlands, especially the Waterlander Mennonites. “Many observed the ceremony of foot-washing, following to the letter Christ’s command in John 13:14-15. Many felt uneasy with ceremonies altogether and preferred to sit in silent contemplation.” He notes “further similarities with the Quakers. Congregations had not one pastor but several ministers each – the eldership pattern that latter developed among Friends – and many of the meeting-houses were on the familiar intimate pattern with a raised facing bench.”
Another influence has been suggested through the Familists, or Family of Love, who arrived in England in the 1570s. Early on, they “had been weavers, basket-makers, musicians, bottlemakers, joiners who lived by travelling from place to place,” Christopher Hill observes in The World Turned Upside Down, noting their “tradition that Christ was within every believer,” which predated similar teaching among the Quakers. Hill then offers the Grindletonians in the West Riding of Yorkshire, near Pendle Hill, as the bridge between Familism and Quakerism. “But we hear of such groups only by accident, when they get into trouble,” he remarks, hinting at the difficulty of tracing underground streams through this period. Central to the movement was Roger Brearley, Grindleton’s curate from 1615 to 1622. In 1617 he and his congregation were accused of fifty offenses, including that “a motion arising from the spirit it more to be rested in than the Word itself” and “a man having the spirit may read, pray or preach without any other calling whatsoever,” as well as perfectionism – again, presaging the Quaker message.
Another strand that would shape the eventual appearance of the Society of Friends came through a series of crucial decisions made by the English crown, insulating Britain to a degree from papal and continental control. Between 1307 and 1311, Edward II moved to block the Inquisition from taking root in England, not only protecting the Knights Templar, the intended target, but also preventing the torture of future nonconformists, likely allowing the Lollards to take hold by the 1370s or 1380s. Likewise, in 1351 the English removed the pope’s power to give English benefices to foreigners, in effect reinforcing a distinctly national heritage within the established church and, in a curious way, shifting the power between church and state more in favor of the nation. Close ties, both politically and through blood lines, between the king of France and the pope (several of them, in fact, appointed by the French crown) can also be seen through this period eroding relations between Rome and England. In this light, Henry VIII’s break with the pope in 1534 came less as a question of marital divorce and more as the culmination of political tensions. While the resulting Church of England remained Catholic in liturgy, theology, and practice, it was now under the authority of the Archibishop of Canterbury rather than the Bishop of Rome; the break unleashed large quantities of capital from monastic hands, including lands in the north, stimulating the economy of Britain, especially the textile, merchant, and trade fields.
Hill also notes that Friends historian Hugh Barbour “has pointed out that the Quakers were initially strongest in areas which contributed the popular element to the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1636-7,” an armed uprising in defense of Roman Catholicism. One of their hotbeds, Darlington in Durham, in fact became a Quaker stronghold. The insinuation is that the opposition to the king and the Church of England never evaporated; over the years, those who did not have access to covert celebrations of the Mass might have drifted in other directions, especially if their locales were left without active clergy. The New Model Army, in turn, may have been a new vehicle for their simmering opposition and, through its discussions, a transition to nonconformist faith.
A half-century after the break with Rome, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 under the reign of Elizabeth I further resulted in England’s becoming the most powerful nation on earth. The new freedom to trade widely likely also enhanced English exposure to radical thinking on the continent, as well as instances of taking flight there from controversy and persecution at home (and the other way around).
While Benson Bobrick, in Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired, suggests that British theological conflict with Rome dates back to the Synod of Whitby in 664 – an argument supported by Thomas Cahill’s popular How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe – he sees the events leading from John Wycliffe’s heroic efforts at translation to the eventual legal publication in 1611 of the Authorized Version, or King James Bible, as especially revolutionary. That, in turn, fueled the already simmering conflicts within the Church of England between Anglo-Catholics and Puritan Calvinists and led to the eventual development of Separatists, or Congregationalists as an independent denomination. The Bible was also a factor in the deepening political crises between James’ successor, Charles I with his royalist supporters, and the largely Protestant Parliament he was spurning – a quarrel that led to his dismissal of the “Long” and “Short” Parliaments and ruling for eleven years without legislative counsel.
“Charles and his new archbishop were convinced that unrestricted Bible reading had fueled the popular discontent,” Bobrick observes. “Access to the Scriptures had certainly helped to develop the habit of reading – indeed, it was often by reading biblical passages that children learned their ABCs – while more than two-thirds of the books published in the kingdom from 1480 to 1640 were of a religious character. More than a million Bibles and New Testaments had been published in England by the time of the confrontation between Charles and the Parliament came to a head; and by that time, as a result, men and women had grown accustomed to regarding Scripture as the source of wisdom on all matters, including their worldly estate.” In addition, with “the growth in commercial printing and the ever-widening circulation and production,” Bobrick writes, “books ‘formerly imprisoned in the libraries of monasteries’ were, as one contemporary put it, ‘released from bondage, obtained their enlargement, and freely walked about in the light.’” In effect confirming the objections of Charles and his archbishop, Bobrick remarks, “Once the people were free to interpret the Word of God according to the light of their own understanding, they began to question the authority of their inherited institutions, both religious and secular.” Its usage so widespread, in fact, “Only in England was the Bible in any sense a ‘national possession,’ in that it seemed to exist apart in English as an original work of art.”
In The World Turned Upside Down, Christopher Hill turns his attention away from the struggles of between the king and Parliament and focuses instead on the economic and social conditions afflicting the populace. This was, he notes, a time of mounting class antagonism, “exacerbated by financial hardships of the years from 1620 to 1650 … described economically among the most terrible in English history.” He sees this becoming a time of “masterless men” as a feudal society based on the “bond of loyalty and dependence” between a lord and his servants broke apart. “The necessity to economize led lords to cut down their households; the quest for profit led to eviction of some tenants from their holdings, the buying out of others.” Many more were uprooted as forests were cleared and fields were fenced. “Whatever their numbers such men – servants to nobody – were anomalies, potential dissolvents of the society.” Among them he finds “rogues, vagabonds and beggars, roaming the countryside, sometimes in search of employment, too often mere unemployable rejects of a society in economic transformation, whose population was expanding rapidly.” They “attended no church, belonged to no organized social group.” For them, London was a beacon, “an anonymous refuge” with “a large population, mostly living very near if not below the poverty line, little influenced by religious or political ideology but ready-made material for what began in the later seventeenth century to be called ‘the mob’” – a place where work might be found along the docks, in construction, or as journeymen with no possibility of becoming masters. Another type appears as members of Protestant sects, which were “strongest in the towns … small craftsmen, apprentices, serious-minded men, all could recognize each other as the elect in a godless world.” Hill also describes rural cottagers and squatters on commons, wastes and in forests, “cliff-hanging in semi-legal insecurity.” Another classification Hill identifies is an itinerate trading population, often working with village craftsmen. He notes “these wayfarers, linking heath and forest areas, may have helped to spread radical religious views,” spreading tracts and intelligence on their rounds.
This was, in short, a population in upheaval and fragmentation, its survival tenuous, its conditions varying widely by locale – hardly the image of industrious yeomen working orderly green fields we might anticipate from idyllic photographs of the countryside today, nor a people piously fulfilling compulsory Sunday worship each week in village sanctuaries. It was, rather, a highly volatile mixture in flux, in some ways not unlike much of northern Europe of the time, which was being wracked not only by economic turmoil but devastating religious warfare as well. “In England mobility was taken for granted,” Hill states, and then adds, “A family which can be reconstituted [by genealogists] is by this very fact an untypical family.”
The regional differences played out in other ways, as well. “The heath and woodland areas were often outside the parochial system, or their large parishes were left with only a distant chapelry,” Hill comments, while “forest or pastoral regions, often far from any church, were wide open to radical religious sects – or to witchcraft.” The Calvinists, meanwhile, could not come to agreement on their vision of the church – whether it should be a national institution, assuring conformity of practice, or wholly up to voluntary association comprised as local congregations, supported not by a state-imposed tithe but freewill donations, or perhaps something in-between – while doctrinal interpretations further divided them into Puritan, Scottish Presbyterian, continental Reform, American Pilgrim, or Particular Baptist camps. Covert Roman Catholics, meanwhile, sought to return both the church and the nation to Vatican ordinance.
With so many factors at work – rising toward a flash point or pressing like tectonic plates awaiting an earthquake – the issue was not whether England would erupt, but how. Viewed from this perspective, the Quaker movement may be seen not so much as challenging an existing status quo but rather bounding and rebounding in a fast-moving, churning current, much like a lumber boom careening downstream once a logjam has broken. We may ponder other possible directions or outcomes, as well as what opportunities were lost. The question is what would ignite it.
“A collection of masterless men,” is Hill’s answer, “the most powerful, most politically motivated, but also the shortest lived.” He explains, “There had never been anything like the New Model Army before. Armies were normally conscripted from gaols and the lowest sort of men. Not all New Model soldiers were volunteers, but the officers and most of the cavalry were.” For the first time, officers were selected on merit and ability, rather than societal status. Hill cites speculation “whether the heath and forest lands may not have supplied most of the troops of the Parliamentarian armies in the civil war,” as well as claims the Army was “a more representative cross-section of the people of England than the House of Commons was. Thanks to freedom of organization and discussion the Army became a hothouse of political ideas.” One result, “As time progressed, an increasing number of common soldiers took upon themselves preaching functions. All these preachers had much in common with itinerate mechanic preachers.” Because of the Quaker opposition to war, many modern Friends are puzzled to hear that many of the early Quaker leaders had previously served in the New Model Army.
The New Model Army also defeated the royal army and captured Charles I, leading to his execution in 1649. Remarkably, this came not as a struggle between royal rivals, which would have been the typical case, but as the result of a popular uprising.
In 1645 the crucial battle occurred thirty miles from Fenny Drayton, where “George Fox was twenty-one and must have seen it all.” Punshon explains: “You cannot hide thousands of fighting men, guns, baggage trains, fodder and horses in the Leicestershire countryside.”
Within a decade, the New Model Army would bring all of Britain under one government for the first time – no doubt opening borders to the rapid spread of radical ideas. In the meantime, it was a nation in flux.
A sequence of other radical movements soon surfaced – the Agitators within the New Model Army, Levellers with their calls for the abolition of private property and social class distinctions, Diggers openly settling on controversial land, apocalyptic Seekers withdrawing from all organized religion, Fifth Monarchy Men plotting to overthrow the government by force, Muggletonians, and others – each with a different agenda, even as it blurred at the edges into the others. Hill writes, “There was a great overturning, questioning, revaluing, of everything in England. Old institutions, old beliefs, old values came into question. Men moved easily from one critical group to another, and a Quaker of the early 1650s had far more in common with a Leveller, a Digger or a Ranter than with a modern member of the Society of Friends.”
The Seekers, especially, are often seen as a central element in the rapid growth of the Society of Friends. Disillusioned by what they saw in the various English congregations of the 1640s, perhaps influenced by Familist and Anabaptist teaching, spurred on by radical dialogue within the New Model Army and “bitterly disappointed with the failure of the Army to bring about a democratic society in and after 1647,” as Hill argues, many individuals simply withdrew to wait together, expecting an experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit as a defining quality of worship. About the time that George Fox was coming into fellowship with Elizabeth Hooten, William Erbery (1604-1654) was already being described as “the champion of the Seekers.” Hill details Erbery’s role as a chaplain in the New Model Army and his growing resignation in regard to both government and churches, leading to his being accused of being a Ranter. Douglas Gwyn, in The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism, adds John Saltmarsh to the leading voices of the Seekers and then explains: “Rather than lapse into nihilistic rage, they settled into penitent silence that kept the covenant faith even beyond human understanding. The activism and social responsibility of Puritanism were renounced, and a renewed emphasis was placed on the overwhelming power of God’s grace and the need for human stillness, to sense the Spirit’s motions. Seekers like Saltmarsh wrote of Christ’s coming in the flesh of those who surrender utterly to the divine Presence.” Friends might substitute “Light” for “Christ” in that formulation without losing any of its meaning or instruction; again, I am left wondering whether the Seekers had already crossed over, for all intents and purposes, into Quakerism before George Fox ever came into their circles.
Quakers of the time, however, soon loudly denied any similarity to the Ranters.