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Stillingfleet, Edward
1635-1699

Latitudinarian Bishop of Worcester, 1689-1699, he was an advocate of protestant comprehension in the years following the Restoration, as is reflected in the full title of his Irenicum: A Weapon Salve for the Church's Wounds (1759). This argued for a reconciliation between episcopal and presbyterian forms of church government on the grounds that neither scripture nor apostolic practice presented one single model for universal adoption, though he later modified his position.

Wesley may have read the Irenicum early in the 1740s and had certainly done so by 1756, when he wrote: 'I still believe "the episcopal form of church government to be both scriptural and apostolical" But that it is prescribed in Scripture I do not believe. This opinion, which I once heartily espoused, I have been heartily ashamed of ever since I read Bishop Stillingfleet's Irenicon.' (Letter to James Clark, 3 July 1756) He did not, however, act on this until 1784 when, under the influence of his reading of both Stillingfleet and Lord Peter King, he performed his first ordinations. It was in Stillingfleet that he found the Alexandrian precedent for presbyteral ordination to which Coke appealed in his sermon on the occasion of Asbury's ordination.

The Rev. Edward Stillingfleet (c.1732-1795), perpetual curate of West Bromwich and one of the evangelical clergy to whom Wesley addressed his letter of 19 April 1764, was a great-grandson of the bishop.

Sources

  • Edgar W. Thompson, Wesley: Apostolic Man (1957) pp.17-20 etc.
  • Frank Baker, John Wesley and the Church of England (1970)
  • Oxford DNB

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