• Como’s ‘Ultra-Antinomianism’, the fringe extreme and its development

DSCN2991 - CopyFrontispiece of ‘Gospel Treasures’ reprinted in 1657. The text beneath appears to have been written by Matthew Barker, born in Northamptonshire in 1619, an Independent minister and Parliamentarian whilst the image itself is purported to be by Thomas Cross – better known for writing his theological treatises.

Even John Everard admitted that there were those who had gone too far. That presumably implied that he knew of some in London who had. ‘Too far’ obviously did not include his own belief that a mystical vision could elevate the believer above all ordinances or that the Bible was in code. One of those who might well have gone too far was Edward Howse, a Mount member who lost interest in Everard and defected to the unidentified Dr. Lyon and then drifted into a strange hybrid of Familism and mathematics, completely internalising the Divine over the 1640s before briefly becoming rector of Goldhanger, Essex.

DSCN3008 - CopyHowse’s commonplace book suggests that after his disenchantment with Everard and his time following the unidentified ‘Dr Lyons’, he moved towards some variant of open Familism. The letters above were revealed to him in a vision: note ‘H.N.’ at the top of the revealed column.

Everard may also have known about Richard Lane’s (or Leane’s) case in October 1631 (which was connected not only with the issue of perfectism but also with his open admission of premarital sex with his wife-to-be, Joan Wilkinson). Lane’s arguments are anything but imputationist in their outlook. Although young, (he had probably been born in July 1610, christened at St. Giles Cripplegate, a weaver’s son), he was well-informed and plucky, citing copious Biblical references to his tormentors.

And there is a lack of documentary evidence as to what might have been happening in minor groupings. The Essentualists were perhaps the most obscure of factions within the Familist-Antinomian framework in the capital. They seem to have believed that there is “no sin at all but what is brought to pass. God does all of what kind it be.” In the last years of his life Everard seems to have hinted at an idea which would later be enthusiastically adopted by ‘Ranters’: that Christ had to be seen as the author of sin.

But not all Ultra-Antinomianism focused on London. From the surviving documentary evidence another centre seems to have been Bury, Brierley’s wife’s parish and immediately adjacent to the chapelry of Heywood where Towne had been based c. 1639 to 1643. Towne denied any association with this extreme. However, Antinomus Anonymus, a man of limited means using obscure theological sources, argued that the Law was abolished altogether: the Law of Sinai (including the Decalogue) replaced by a new Law of Sion. Josiah Collyer utilised the same wording in his own writings.

Perhaps Como’s categorisation of some forms of Antinomianism as ‘compound’ is actually more instructive. Between 1627 and 1631 all sorts of things had happened. For a start John Eaton died. But the authorities had accidentally engineered something as well. Their crackdown on the likes of Towne and Shaw and the subsequent departure of such characters from the capital had demolished the wall that had previously existed between imputationism and inherentism. Ideas which had previously been Eatonist or Everardian swapped camps as part of a free flow of ideas. This was almost certainly unintentional.