Historical Statement

 

The Truth is one and the same always. Though ages and generations pass away—one generation goes and another comes; yet the Word, and the Power, and the Spirit of the Living God endures for ever and changes not.
– Margaret Fell Fox,
A Brief Collection of Remarkable Passages Relating to..., 1710

The seventeenth century in England was a time of great political, economic, and religious vitality, ferment, and upheaval. This century saw the English Civil War and the beheading of Charles I (1649), the Puritan Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, and the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II (1660). In religion, it was a period of bitter struggle between the established (Anglican) Church, the remnants of the Roman Catholic Church from which it had separated in 1534, the Puritans, and other Protestant sects. The printing press and newly allowed English translations of the Bible helped intensify this struggle. By the time of George Fox’s birth in 1624, more than a century had passed since the beginning of Luther’s reformation. The Protestant movement had begun in an attempt to instill a new spiritual life into Christianity, but it had often fallen victim to the rigidity it had earlier criticized in the Roman Catholic Church. Friends were not the first to protest that dogmatic belief had replaced living faith and authoritative Scriptures had replaced direct revelation; many religious groups throughout Europe were discontented with established religion and searched for a living faith.

In this violent, seeking world George Fox in 1652 initiated a vigorous spiritual movement, later called the Religious Society of Friends, that stood in protest against a Christianity that many felt had idolized its forms and lost its inner spiritual life. As it grew and took hold, this movement drew into its fellowship many of those already involved in struggles with organized religions: many Seekers and members of the group called Diggers, and others like Elizabeth Hooten, Isaac Penington, and John Lilburne, the leader of the Levellers, who found many of their egalitarian aspirations shared among Friends.