Abiezer Coppe

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Friday, October 20, 2006


GOD,UNION WITH GOD AND ANTI-FORMALISM
IN THE EARLY WRITINGS
OF ABIEZER COPPE



My intention in this paper is to examine the radical thought of Abiezer Coppe, the leading Seventeenth century Interregnum pamphleteer and preacher. To this end and given the limited scope a term paper admits I will concentrate on elucidating three aspects of his thought- his conception of God, his understanding of the union between God and the creation and his anti-formalism. Integral to the study of anti-formalism will be a consideration of the role of his social, economic and political agenda.

Abiezer Coppe is remembered as perhaps the most extreme and certainly the most flamboyant and idiosyncratic example of that group of revolutionary Interregnum libertarians known to posterity as the "Ranters." It is to be regretted that this derogatory term, applied to this group in early 1650 by conservative Clerics and politicians outraged by their ideas, has endured to this day. In recent years, largely in response to J.C.Davis' controversial work, Fear, Myth and History: The Ranters and the Historians, academic interest in the Ranters has tended to focus on two related questions. Firstly, whether there existed or not in early Commonwealth England an organized group of Radical spiritualists called Ranters, including besides Coppe a hard core phalanx of Clarkson, Coppin, Bauthumley and Foster, along with others such as Robins, Tany, Franklin, Gadbury and Captain Norwood. Secondly, whether or not it is justifiable to conclude that they shared a coherent and consistent body of belief.

Davis contends that evidence does not allow us to speak of the "Ranters" in the terms of the dangerous, anarchic, yet cohesive and significant religious sect that their enemies in Church and State portrayed them to be in publications and sermons of the early 1650's. He maintains that the idea of the Ranters-as-sect was invented in a journalistic campaign undertaken between October 1650 and January 1651 to the purpose of frightening the people into an allegiance to Puritan Orthodoxy. In his view we are entitled to speak only of separate individuals and, in addition, that ideologically we are mistaken if we believe that either a "practical" or a "pantheistic" antinomianism can be discerned as a clear binding doctrine throughout all their writings. Differences of belief and thought distinguish each and no ideological coherence is to be found.

His conclusions in differing ways have been challenged by Mcgregor, Capp, Smith and Gibbons. It is not my intention to contribute to this debate since the purpose of my study, as I say, is the content of the thought of one man, Abiezer Coppe. I will however say that in the light of its challenges a way forward in our consideration of Ranter thought might perhaps be found not in following the path previously taken by scholars such as Hill, Friedmann and Morton, in which from the outset a decision had been taken to uncover a coherent, overarching philosophy from the range of Ranter writings (as if it had already been decided these men belonged together) but rather in considering each individual "Ranter" in his own right; to pursue an approach that might be called atomistic as opposed to holistic. For surely, when the object of our search has become, as an end in itself, the elucidation of the thought of each individual and no longer a broad understanding of "Ranter thought" as such we will be better situated to see just how far or how little, and if so in what ways, the ideas of these men cohere. In addition, we will be able to build on the strides taken by Dr Gibbons, in pointing out links with Winstanley, to uncover hitherto unnoticed intimate connections with "Non-Ranter" authors and so place ourselves in a position to establish broader, more realistic webs and matrices of intellectual sympathy within which to locate these men---- webs and matrices, moreover, unfettered by disrespectful impulses to direct an undue focus on the more "outrageous" aspects of their thought.

Academic study of these men remains in its infancy, having only assumed a true seriousness with the publication in 1970 of A.L.Morton's The World Of The Ranters. That over the centuries each of these men have not attracted a degree of interest anywhere approaching that brought to bear on men such as Winstanley, Lilliburne, Overton and Walwyn is something- on account of the objective political importance and usefulness to liberal agenda's of these latter- that can be understood. If our concern, however, is in a disinterested spirit to understand the extreme radical ideas and aspirations of Interregnum Englishmen it is not something that can any longer be excused. Quite beyond the need to respond to Davis it is surely only appropriate that we accord these men, individually, the attention they deserve. That we today are less instinctively scandalized into a hostile neglect of these men by their sentiments and ideas than our forebears were not only can, but so I hope will, facilitate this.

I have chosen to focus in my study on those writings of Coppe's composed in the period immediately preceding his imprisonment of 1650 and subsequent "recantation"- that period in which I believe we find the clearest, most unequivocal expression of the radical ideas for which he is remembered. These writings are the Preface to John the Divine's Divinity, The preface to Richard Coppin's Divine Teachings, Some Sweet sips of Spiritual Wine, and A Fiery Flying Roll, Parts one and two. There is no doubt that in the Seventeenth century Coppe was considered "mad." It is surely to be regretted, however, that such imprecise, unhelpful and derogatory categorisations are still found to this day, for example in the analyses of Friedmann and Morton. Perhaps it is to be remembered that both Socrates and Jesus, men who fundamentally altered the course of Western Civilisation were thought mad by scholars of their day; though I am not laying claim to an equal significance for Coppe surely this erstwhile habit of branding radical freethinkers mad (in order of course to render them innocuous)- is a tendency that in the name of intellectual disinterestedness, if not conscience, we would do well to overcome. Nevertheless, even if we mean by mad or unbalanced only an acute irrational disorderliness I believe the body of his thought is, although indeed animated by a deep passion and sometimes wild exhuberance and written moreover in a style that is idiosyncratic for the most part and at times simply bizarre, nevertheless coherent, consistent and open to a systematic evaluation. It has to be recognised that Coppe was not a systematic philosopher or theologian. His purpose was to present in as compelling and forceful manner as he could a vision of the Divine Human dynamic. To this end expressivism, passion and poetry take precedence over precision of explication and we should not be too keen to impose our own philosophical categories on him, categories that might obscure his message as much as enlighten it. Nevertheless, this is not to say he was not governed by a clear vision or that we cannot attempt to uncover it.

Regarding his conception of God a number of questions spring to mind. To Coppe is God transcendent and distant, separate and distinct from humanity and the creation or immanent and near at hand; or is he both transcendent and immanent, at one and the same time to be found both outside and within his creation. If he is an immanent God, whether exclusively so or not, by "within" the creation do we mean only, as the Orthodox do, that he speaks to and moves upon his creation in time and space or, more radically, that in a Pantheistic manner he is in fact substantially identical with it. Moreover, does Coppe assert the legitimacy of direct, unmediated relationships with God? If so, does he yet tolerate mediated relationships. If he does assert the legitimacy of unmediated relationships, are such relationships with a God located outside or inside man. If the latter, if God is to be heard as "the inner voice" within, is that divine voice a manifestantion of humanity or some part of it, so that mankind itself is God, or is it only that God takes up residence within and speaks through man? If the latter does Coppe think God speaks through all mankind, or some of it, or only himself; and does God speak through any or all of these always or only some of the time?

We learn much about how he conceived of God from the manner in which he refers to him. Although his most frequent terminology, like so much of his imagery and teachings, is cited directly from Scripture, he makes certain other more idiosyncratic, singular references. In the preface to the first Fiery Flying Roll he boldly asserts that "the sea, the earth......And all things that ever were, are, or shall be visible----are the Grave wherein the King of Glory (the eternall, invisible Almightinesse, hath lain as it were) dead and buried." Apart from the articulation here of some kind of strong Pantheism we note an important distinction in Coppe's thought between the visible and invisible, a distinction and dualism that recurs throughout his writings, along with others, such as Without-Within, Abroad-Home, Outer-Inner, History-Mystery and Flesh and Spirit. Clearly, since God, here, within the creation, is "dead and buried" we should not imagine or suppose that God, as he is in himself, is to be recognised in or his character deduced from visible creations, despite the fact that they contain him. By Coppe rather God is understood as a spirit whom he describes as "invisible glory, eternall Majesty, purity itself, unspotted beauty", a "transcendent, unspeakable, unspotted, beauty", a beauty, moreover, he stresses that "makes all other beauty but meer uglinesse, when set against it. Yea, could you imagine that the quintessence of all visible beauty, should be extracted and made up into one huge beauty, it would appear to be meer deformity to that beauty". Thus as a counterweight to a heavy, stolid, all-encompassing immanence within visible things Coppe upholds an almost gnostic otherness and distance. Repeated references to God's habitation of heaven, of God and of Angels coming down from heaven reinforce, at the very least, God's distinction from the creation. That God is resident both in heaven and the earth is powerfully presented when he sets forth a vision of the impending apocalypse, when God will intervene from above and resurrect from below:

"And Now the Lord is descended from Heaven, with a shout, with the voyce of the Arch-angell, and with the Trump of God....But behold, behold, he is now risen with a witnesse, to save Zion with vengeance, or to confound and plague all things into himself".

God, however, does not only reside in the visible, material things of the Earth, but hell also. We read of Coppe's descent into hell in his account of the dramatic spiritual experience immediately preceding his mission to London. He was thrown, he tells us, into "the belly of hell" and was "among all the Devills in hell, even in their most hideous hew." When there God "a little spark of transcendent, transplendent, unspeakable glory" survived and "sustained it self, triumphing, exulting, and exalting it self above all Fiends." Coppe, in addition, speaks of another "place", a state he visited before hell which, though not as dreadful, still left him "utterly plagued, consumed, damned, rammed, and sunke into nothing." This place, like the visible created order, he associates with God, though in this case the identification is closer and more substantial since he actually calls it "the bowels of the still Eternity (my mothers wombe), out of which I came naked, and whetherto I returned again naked". Here one notes a stronger Pantheism, resonant with Hermetic and occult doctines of the cretaion of all things ex theo. This state, so Coppe understands, people return to, as he did, when utterly shocked and confounded in their reason and religion so that they become, figuratively speaking, "nothing", lost before the face of the void, a place moreover in which one becomes "a little child" in the intimate care of "the mother Eternity, Almightinesse".

Nevertheless, although God is identified in a very fundamental way with his creation the link is not total and seems to be more of empathy and concern than of substance. This brings us to the appreciation of an important understanding of God- his love. On many occassions, and when understood either in his masculine or Feminine form, "Universall Love" is cited as the name of God. In the preface to Coppin's work he states that God is "love, joy, peace, glory, consolation" and is "love, and suffereth long, is kinde, envieth not, vaniteth not it self, is not puffed up, beareth all things, thinketh none evil". Given the strong elements of admonition, warning and judgement in his works and his lengthy meditations in the Rolls on what terrors and disaters are coming on the inhabitants of the Earth and "all Flesh" it is important to stress this characteristic as a counter-measure to such wrath,. In Chapter II of the second Roll he clearly says that all the noble graces that he so despises and vices he abhors in men are to be destroyed so that God "may fill the Earth with universall love, universall peace, and perfect freedome." How he is to do this, we have seen, is to "plague all things into himself" and in this way "Save Zion".
Having considered the nature of God, what then of God's relationship with Coppe? He tells us that "the Word of the Lord came expressly to me, saying write, write, write." We are left in no doubt about his conviction of his own prophetic destiny. In Coppin's Preface he tells us that "I must yet be a Sign and a Wonder in fleshly Israel; and in this I must be...a stumbling stone, and a rock of offence to both houses of Israel. Later in the first Roll he shows us that this commission has been realised; God, he says, has made him a "signe, and a wonder before many... faces". He associates himself with both Ezekiel and Isiaiah and understands himself to follow their example and model of prophecy. Like them he felt he had been authorised to speak "in the Name and Power" of the eternall God". Coppe, differently however, believes that God not only works through him but lives in him. when he met the "most, strange, deformed man" on September 30 1649, so he tells us, his "heart, or the day of the Lord, which burned as an oven in" him, set his "tongue on flame to speak to him". Referring to his love for that man he equates it with "the great God within that chest, or corps..burning hot towards him." Indeed, elsewhere he states explicitly that God, "that excellent Majesty..dwells in the Writer of this Roule", that God "that eternall, immortal, INVISIBLE (indeed) majesty, the only wise God..dwells in this physical form." Without doubt it is the sense of this unique calling that gives him the confidence and energy to embark on his mission and maintain his "strange and lofty carriage towards great ones". In the Rolls for the most part, indeed, Coppe addresses mankind through the medium of God but so portrays it that it is God himself who is the voice and he only the mouthpiece. At no point however, it should be stressed, does he consider himself to be God in the messianic way that did Franklin and Robins, a point further evidenced in the fact that throughout the Prefaces and SW and on numerous occassions in the Rolls he speaks in his own right (although in the Rolls it is indeed difficult at times to distinguish Coppe's voice from God's) .We are left then with the sense then that he was periodically taken over, literally possessed, by an external God who was yet distinct from him but at times could become him in the most intimate possible way short of identification.

However, though not God-in-himself, in his emphasis on his specific calling he draws a line of distinction between his own relationship with God and the relationships with God enjoyed by the rest of humanity. He does not, however, see all humanity in one light. Rather he sees humanity comprising two distinct bodies and communities to which correspond two distinct spiritualities and stances toward God and the world. On the one hand we read of a minority group which he considers to be the only authentically spiritual communion, to which he himself belongs and the nature and cause of which he champions; this group he calls variously the Spirits of just men made perfect, the Church of Christ's Church and the Church of the First born; on the other hand we are presented with a depiction of a group constituting the majority of men whose relationship with God, manner of worship and ethical orientations he is critical of and at times passionately denounces. This community of men is repeatedly associated with carnality and the flesh, by which we should understand Coppe to mean not materiality or sexual licence but on the contrary an incomplete spirituality, one that is sometimes vilely erroneous, hypocritical and twisted.

His central axis and pivot of distinction between these two groups is the degree of immediacy, energy and substantiality of the spiritual life enjoyed. In appealing to his fellow men in Epistsle I of Coppin's Preface he exhorts that they should " Arise out of Flesh, into Spirit; out of Form, into Power; Out of Type, into Truth; out of the Shadow into the Substance; out of the Signe, into the thing Signified." He does not, however, believe that it is only he that already enjoys this spiritual authenticity. In the preface to SW, introducing his central categorisation, he pronounces that "Some Saints are within, and at home, others without, and abroad." He makes it clear in the preamble to Epistle II, moreover, that by the term "Saints" he is generously referring to an extrememly wide array of humanity, to "all the Kings party in England, and beyond sea; and to all that treate with the King", to "all the Saints in the Upper and Lower House", to the Saints in Rome, New England, Amsterdam and London and indeed to "all the Saints (of all sizes, statures, ages, and complexions, kindreds, nations, languages, fellowships, and Families, in all the Earth)." Only Protestant sectarians and those "scattered throughout Pontus, Asia, &c." are denied the title of Saint (instead they are called Strangers), presumably because, unlike amongst these others, he sees no sign of his superior understanding of the Spiritual life in their ranks, because to him they are all wedded to a carnal spirituality. Nevertheless, the fact that his call to arise out of flesh is also addressed to them reveals that he has not excluded them from the possibility of enjoying and obtaining to the substance and power of the Spirit, the "Truth( O the truth, as it is in Jesus!)."

In Epistle I he cogently expounds the distinction he sees throughout the Saints, and indeed throughout all people, between those of the spirit and those of the flesh, between those of the Church of the First born and those of the world. Those that are "at home" are "such as know their union in God, and live upon, and in Him, and not upon any thing below, or beside him." They live "not (now) in the use of the externall Supper, or outward breaking of bread, But upon the Lord (whom they have not now by hearesay) but clearly see, and powerfully feele Him in them." Not only, however, do they have no need of external ordinances, they also have no need of teachers or pastors.; referring to this spiritual communion he says that God "teaches us Himselfe, Leads us Himselfe. Feedeth, and foldeth us with Himselfe, and In Himselfe. And we lye down in Green Pastures." Having received the holy anointing that John writes of in 1 John 2: 28 there is no need "that any man teach" them for they all "abide in him". As a real presence within such people, so we read in Coppins Preface, the glory, peace, light, joy and consolation that is God is "exalted" through a debasement of the self and "lifted up above sorrow, trouble, tribulation, fears, doubts, perplexities, wrath, war, darkness, envy, strife, self-ishness." and above "revenge, malice, unkindnesse, swelling pride" and "evil surmising" in such as way that in them he rides on "prosperously, in glory and renown conquering, and....trampling under his feet, as mire in the street" all of these infirm and ignoble qualities. They are in a very substantial sense spiritually transfigured, having had their "evil eye pickt out" and replaced with a "single eye", being possessed now of a "single ear" that can hear the voice of God, a "soft heart" (their "old stony heart" having been made new), and a "soft head", that is, an intelligence freed from their old carnal "will, knowledge, wisdom and understanding." Despite the fact that to a carnal perception such people may seem in the grip of what Coppe calls the "Lunatick Moode", out of their wits and besides themselves, in them in fact, for their having received the spirit of truth imparting all knowledge (1 John 2: 20-21), "there is no occassion of stumbling", since they "see no evill, thinke no evill, doe no evill" and "know no evill". Everything indeed is "honour that they do."

The rest, however, the majority, the "others", to be found like those "at home" amongst the Saints but who yet constitute the mass of all "Strangers" are those who are not at home and do not have God exalted within them but instead are "abroad, and without: that is....at a distance from God, (in their own apprehensions)." This is because God himself does not dwell in their beings, for they are "Strangers to a powerfull and glorious manifestation of their union with God", that their beings are "one in God, and God one in them." In consequence they "fill their bellies with Husks, the out-sides of Graine", for they cannot "live without Shadows, Signs" and "Representations" and without "vails..Glasses" and "Formes". To their apprehensions the notion that God is united to them and at one with them, that "Christ and they are not twaine, but one" is sheer folly and absurdity, indeed a "Riddle". Indeed, such, in their alienation from God, is the depth of their need for outward forms that the notion of " living upon a pure & naked God, and upon, and in him alone, without the use of externalls" seems to them not only impossible but to threaten with the prospect of annihilation and "death." For them their relationship with God is so dependent upon and so identical with an outward Religious life that without such a formality they cannot imagine it possible to conceive of God at all or sustain any existence before him. So we see then that an unmediated, formless, substantial communion with and union in God, what to them in their carnal existences symbolises nothingness and void, constitutes for the Church of the First born the very reality of a fulfilled, substantial, perfect and glorious existence.

As we have already noted in his appeals to all Saints and the "Strangers" Coppe does not believe the boundaries between these two orders of spiritual life are inexorably fixed or unbridgeable. Indeed those "at home" were themselves not always liberated from a fleshly life of external observance. They too were once captive to it. So he writes, those of this inner Spiritual communion are able to "reape a thousand fold more In their living upon, and in the Living Lord alone" than they did when they saw "him through a vaile." Their "joy, and chear..in the enjoyment of a naked God in them..uncloathed of Flesh and forme" is, he writes, a "thousand fold more" than it was when they saw and knew him otherwise, in and through Signes, vails, Glasses, Formes, Shadows."

There is no doubt either that Coppe believes that God wishes that those as yet "abroad" would cast aside their dependence on forms and embrace the higher life in him:

"The day star is up, rise up my love, my dove, my fair one, and come away. The day star wooeth you, it is the voice of my beloved that saith open to me-I am risen indeed, rise up my love..I would faine shine more gloriously in you, then I did at a distance from you, at Jerusalem without you. I am risen indeed; I (the day star) would faine arise in your hearts and shine there."

Coppe, moreover, sets his analysis of the two orders of spiritual life in the context of a historical progression from a lower and mediated to a higher and unmediated religious life. In the third Epistle of SW he refers to the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33-34 foretelling that time when God will put his Law "in their Inward parts, and write it In their Hearts, And they shall teach No More every man his Neighbour, and every man his Brother, saying, Know the Lord" after which time everyone will know God "from the least of them to the greatest of them." Significantly he makes it quite explicit that the fulfillment of this prophecy has now come. "God, who at Sundry times hath spoke to his people, in divers manners; hath spoken mostly, mediately, and muchly, by man formerly. But now in these last days, he is speaking to his people more purely, gloriously, powerfully, and immediately". Earlier in the Preambular he states: "The knowing of men after the Flesh, and of Christ (himselfe) after the Flesh, out of date", and then adds "Everlasting wisdome is transacting, and doing over those things in Spirit, power, and glory in his Saints, which were in a more literall way done for his people formerly.

Yet it is important to note, however, that he acknowledges that such mediations once had a primary function and therefore implies that he is not hostile to forms and mediations per se. More Concrete evidence of such a tolerating attitude towards forms can be found. For so he affirms "God can speak, & gloriously preach to some through Carols, Anthems, Organs...University men,-- Long gowns, Cloakes, or Cassocks". In his preface to Coppin's Divine Teachings, he goes further and states that "pure Religion" along with "the Lords preaching, praying, singing etc" is "pure precious, excellent, most beautiful and glorious" and states categorically that he would rather have his tongue cut out than speak against this which is "my life and joy". In the first Roll Coppe, in the context of an admonition to Charity, appeals to Christians conventional use of Almanacks to persuade and goad.

Indeed, Coppe on many occassions is even at pains to stress that the embracing of a personal, interior life of faith is by no means necessarilly the correct and right thing to do but is so only if done in the right way and given the appropriate circumstance. Such a circumstance is the iniatiating movement of God himself toward the soul. Coppe urges men to be receptive and open but warns them not to selfishly or "subtilly..creep into the Mystery" of the spiritual inwardness of God "before the Spirit of Life enter into thee", not to precosiously arise into a mere carnal apprehension, the mere "Letter" of the call to inwardness, lest they "runne before the Lord" and so "out-runne" themselves and "runne upon a rock". Coppe warns that "If through the heat of love, mixt with zeale, and weaknesse" someone "shouldest start out of " his "bed naked" into the mere notion of inwardness "I should be very sorry for thee, Fearing thou mightest be starved these cold winter nights." Indeed, in the Rolls, Coppe reserves his most venemous condemnation for such people, the "Spiritual Notionists", Protestant sectarians, Strangers indeed, who in a pretence of scorning carnal ordinances, inspired by the subtle flattering lips of the Holy whore, steal from God (and in so doing grossly falsify and dishonour) the interior spiritual life unfettered of symbol and form- that life which Coppe calls "the Jewel", the "Mystery" and God's "flax".

So it is then that Coppe warns "Arise, but rise not till the Lord awaken thee." Moreover, Coppe confesses that he neither can nor wishes to pull any "out of bed by head and shoulders" into the genuine mode of spiritual life of the Spirits of just men made perfect; nor does he wish to be "arraigned for Burglary". Rather he looks to "the cords of Love" to draw men out; and though he wishes that God himself would do it at once by himself and immediately he yet accepts that if God decides to do it "mediately" by way of Flesh, Form, Type, Shadow, and Signe he is still to be praised for it- "His will be done. His is the Kingdome, the power and the glorie; for ever and ever Amen." For he acknowledges that "That which is here(mostly) spoken, is inside, and mysterie". Those "who hath the mysterie of God opened to" them can plainely reade it but it is "sealed up from the rest".

We should certainly then follow Dr Gibbons in questioning any too simplistic categorisation of Coppe as an anti-formalist. According to Dr Gibbons since Coppe accepts that God can speak through official, formal channels in addition to "Fishers, Publicans, Tanners, Tent-makers, Leathern aprons" he was therefore possessed of a "supreme indifference to such matters."43 My own belief is that in depicting Coppe as what might be called a Super-formalist Dr Gibbons goes too far. Yes, there is an indifference but it is not supreme. After all, Coppe says that God can speak through conventional forms, significantly not that he always does. I believe Coppe's indifference to forms is subject to two conditions; the manifestation in those who practice them of what he understands as the true spirit and presence of God and, more importantly, the conformity of the lives of worshippers to his own moral standards and expectations. If these conditions are fulfilled his stance towards formal religiosity is tolerant; it is when they are not that he is critical.

The first condition is one he clearly sees himself as having fulfilled. It is from the perspective of recognising that Coppe is already inside and at home that we should understand his statement that the Lords "preaching, praying, singing. etc" is his "joy and life". When he prophecies that the time nears when "no Prayer shall be in request but (Our Father)...no psalm sung, but the Lord our Song" we should note that the outworking of that form in worship is to governed by the indwelling spirit of God himself. The difference to note between those of the Church of the First born and those of the fleshly world is that for the former structured, external observances are supplementary to the true life of the spirit, matters in which one takes delight and expresses one's love for God but not matters of primary, foundational importance, whilst for the latter they are necessary and constitute the very heart and substance of faith. It is because this is the case for those "abroad" that he criticises in SW external forms through his appeal that they look to graduate to that richer life of the spirit which is now on offer, a life of the spirit that God will use, through its propagation, to reconcile all things to himself. Yet here in SW all the while Coppe's criticism of forms is noticeably calm, controlled and devoid of a hateful or passionate urgency. His "cautionall hint" that in their graduation they not "out-runne" the Lord only emphasises his restraint.

In the Rolls, however, we see Coppe's criticism of forms levelled in a tone that is quite different and far from restrained. "Give over, give over" so he cries to the Great ones "thy odious, nasty, abominable fasting". Referring to their carnal formality he speaks of a "blinde Religion" and "fleshly holinesse" that "stinks above ground, though it formerly had good favour." He would rather, he states, "heare a mighty Angell(in man) swearing a full-mouthed Oath...then heare a zealous Presbyterian, Independent or spiritual Notionist, pray, preach, or exercise". All "honourable things, as Elderships, Pastorships, Fellowships, Churches, Ordinances, Prayers, &c. Holinesses, Righteousnesses" and "Religions of all sorts, of the highest strains" he warns, are set to be overturned and brought low by God the mighty leveller. In his attack on the things that ARE he includes along with fasting not only "Grace before and after meat" but "Family Duties", and in Chapter VIII of the second Roll sustains a passionate attack on the "external supper", the most central aspect of any outward profession of faith.

Given such an outpouring it is surely unwarranted to strip from our understanding of Coppe any type or degree of antiformalism. Such a venemous outpouring can only be understood, I believe, given his tolerance voiced elsewhere, if we recognise that what I introduced as the second condition or requirement for Coppe's super-formalism, the satisfaction of his his moral demands, has not been fulfilled by these "Great ones." Contrary to what might be imagined, given Coppe's reputation as an "antinomian", it cannot be denied that a high moral tone courses throughout the entirety of his address to the "Great ones". It is, however, transparently clear that Coppe's ethical priorities differ radically from their own. Whereas for the Geat ones and for fleshly church organizations, for the rich and powerful of society, the basis and rationale of judgement lies in the failure to observe the details and precise obligations of Established Religion, of whatever kind that may be, and in any indulgence of the passions in swearing, drink, fornication and theft, for Coppe it lies not in these matters but in two other matters of concern. Firstly, the failure of the weathy and powerful to show compassionate concern for the poor and the criminal, to "warme them, feed them, cloathe them, money them, relieve them" and "take them into" their houses and instead to busy themselves with the accumulation and protection of money and power. Secondly, the very activity of punishment in-itself, of throwing people into prison for disobeying their fleshly ordinances and moral injunctions and the failure to grasp "this one thing. That sinne and transgression is finisht".


The charging of the Great Ones as guilty on both these accounts is the central theme of the Rolls and his attack on their fleshly religiosity must be understood in that context. Coppe denounces these formal embellishments not because he sees the forms of their devotion as in themselves evil but because the power elites of England, ignorant of a true knowledge of God and in a spirit of greed, covetousness, malice, pride and envy, have self-righteously shored themselves up in them. In so doing they have become obsessively distracted and preoccupied by such matters and neglected to attend to the heart of a Christian's duty, concern for his fellow men. "He that hath this worlds goods" so Coppe says "and seeth his brother in want, and shutteth up the bowels of compasssion from him, the love of God dwelleth not in him, his Religion is in vain". He makes it quite explicit who exactly this brother is, "a beggar, a lazar, a cripple, yea a cut-purse, a thief ith' goal". Thinking that the Lord's Supper is an Ecclesiastical rite they have not realised that "The true breaking of bread is from house to house, &c. Neighbours (in singlenesse of heart) saying if I have any bread, &c. it's thine, I will not call it my own, it's common." They have, moreover, sought to impose their particular forms of worship onto others and so made of their formalism an excuse for the active persecution and oppression of whoever has chosen, including of course members of the Church of the First born, not to embrace it as they do:

"Be no longer so horridly, hellishly, impudently, arrogantly, wicked, as to judge what is sinne, what not, what evill, and what not, what blasphemy, and what not."

What is of great importance to Coppe is that the right relationship, as he understands it, be established in Society between the interior concerns of individual spirituality and the external order of Society. He does not question but rather echoes Orthodoxy's granting of a primary, supreme importance to the spiritual "Blood" levelling of the hills of pride and arrogance in man.52 What he insists upon, however, is that "Water" spirituality, the charitable attendion to one's fellow creature, the dictates of the Social conscience as he understands it, the not taking off one's "eyes from thine OWN FLESH", remain central and not be in any way neglected.53 Neglected that is in the way it is by the "Religious" who endeavour to prioritise matters of the individual's relationship with God over concerns for one's brother. To Coppe's understanding it is this false relationship and imbalance that may arise between the Spiritual and Material realms that constitutes "plaguy Holiness" and leads directly to social injustice and tyrrany.

Coppe's conscious, deliberate embracing of "BASE THINGS", dancing, kissing, swearing and Lust itself, is undertaken and advocated so that there might be provoked a great tearing down and confounding of the things "that ARE", the various forms and structures of established society. Yet in this his real target is not these behaviours in them selves (for he is not an anti-formalist in such a simplistic, crude sense) but what lies behind and upholds the rigid enforcing and obligatoriness of them, namely the spiritual whoredom of a not only unnecessarilly repressive but evil puritanical Orthodoxy that in the name of, and through extolling the supreme values of, "fleshly" forms, types and signs has on the one hand enforced a poverty of internal spiritual experience and on the other encouraged external social injustice and a love of money, wealth, possessions and power.




In Conclusion we can review and summarise Coppe's thoughts on God, union with God and anti-formalism. Surely it is right of Morton to speak of Coppe in terms of a "quasi-Pantheism", for it would be stretching Coppe's words to posit a total, entire identity of substance between God and the creation, such that God is not more than his creation and his creation is not anything but God.55 To Coppe God is a transcendent spirit, distinct from the creation, as well as immanent within it. On the other hand, the extent and degree of his immanence should not be denied or limted for God is contained and situated within every part of the creation, not as a voice (which would imply only that he was there in his words and attention) but as a real presence. It is however the case that the nature of his presence or manifestation within the creation is not the same throughout. In the material, inanimate creation at large it is veiled and hidden, dormant, "dead and buried", as it is also in the vast majority of human beings, but in the Church of the First Born, wherever that may be found, it is active and energized, actuating a direct, unmediated and personal union between those people and "The King of Glory" in heaven.

I believe that we can say that it was Coppe's belief and hope that it is the destiny of all things, inanimate, animal and human to eventually attain to such a realised, active union with a God and so be liberated from their as yet passive and dormant union. In this way is God's love for his creation (which of course is really his own love for himself- "the grave" wherein he lies) expressed and in this way is Zion to be saved and all things reconciled to himself. In consequence I believe we can conclude that his theology of God is best understood as what might be termed a dynamic Panentheism. By this I mean two things; firstly that God is both identical with his creation and all things in it and yet that he is also more than it, an uncreated spirit that existed independently and eternally before all created things. Secondly, that God's relationship with the creation (which is as much as to say God the transcendent spirit's relationship with God the creation) is not static, both in the sense that God interracts in an engaged and energetic way with the creation and that the current order of interraction between the transcendent God and the creation is prophesied and destined to change radically. The dormant, inert, "dead and buried" God that constitutes the creation will rise up to be reunited with his "Most Excellent Majesty" in precisely the way that Coppe is at one with God and all those people are, whoever they may be, who comprise the Church of the First Born.

As for those as yet "abroad" from this communion we have seen that they constitute the vast majority of humankind but are not to be identified with any particular social, political, national or racial group except those two groups entirely separated from the genuine life of the Spirit, the Protestant sectarians, the "Spiritual Notionists" and those found throughout "Pontus" and "Asia, &c." Despite the fact that when in the Rolls Coppe accuses and denounces this carnal group he is addressing the rich and the powerful, the various religious and political leaders of society, it would, therefore be a mistake to suppose it is only they who constitute it. After all, in SW and Coppin's Preface, where he analyses the two classes of human being in the most detail, he is not addressing only the Leaders and powerful of society but all Saints and Strangers. Coppe's thought cannot be reduced to a simplistic glorification of the poor and rejected. For although Coppe's sympathy and compassionate concern for the wretched and despised is clear and unambiguous their social and political position in society does not qualify them for membership of his spiritual communion of the blessed. As we have seen, criterea for membership of that are entirely spiritual, the condition in spiritual terms of being not abroad but at home, not without but within and that in one's spirituality one has dispensed with the need for (but not necessarilly the enjoyment of) signs, shadows and types. His difference of attitude towards them must be explained in non-spiritual terms; he is not condemnatory toward them precisely because they have no power and are therefore not in a position to disseminate the negative consequences of their carnal spirituality throughout the world.

Coppe, although he may justifiably be accused of a spiritual elitism, cannot on account of his indiscriminate concern for the poor, the hungry and crimnal (be they either "within" or "without"), be accused of harbouring an attitude of insular isolationism. His outward looking stance, the very opposite of the sectarian exclusivism he despises, is of course further evidenced by the fact that at no point does he state that the divine illumination that he and a few others embody is not available for everyone. On the contrary, we have seen that he appeals even to the Strangers to arise out of flesh into spirit. Moreover, despite his ferocious condemnations of the great ones his anger is throughout balanced by appeal, warning and advice. At no point does he proclaim or revel in the fact that they are irredeemably lost. Nor of course, does he threaten anyone with violence at his own hand. Moreover, although he presents in very graphic terms the threat of God's impending material intervention on behalf of the poor and despised through an external, redistributive, communitarian "water" levelling he yet appeals to the mighty to heed his warning and so stay God's violent hand that the coming reordering of society might come about peacefully and harmoniously through their own consent. Violent, forced cataclysm is not depicted as inevitable. It would only become inevitable if the great ones failed to repent, because what Coppe does hold to be certain is that the social, economic and spiritual transfiguration he envisions will come about. The choice of those he accuses is how this is to be.

Finally, it is important to recognise in the Rolls that despite his condemnations of fasting, formal graces and organized Religions, and his appeals that the Great ones give them up, Coppe is not appealing to the rich and powerful, to Lord Esau, the man of the earth to become Spiritual after his own fashion. In this he differs, like other "Ranters", from other sectarian radicals. There is indeed no doubt that he would have liked them to show an interest in such a development but that they become members of the communion of the spirits of the Just men made perfect is not what he demands. We have seen in SW and from his attacks on the Spiritual Notionists that an early, rushed or forced embracing of an interiority of Worship is hazardous and to be avoided. What he is appealling to them to do is to perform acts of social charity, to recognise that at the heart of the Christian religion they claim to profess lies a charitable imperative to care for the material plight of the poor and the dispossessed His appeal that they give up their formal religion is voiced not as a judgement against the details of that religion in themselves but because that religion is animated by the hypocritical spirit of the Holy whore, the wel-favoured harlot and as such is used as an excuse for and justification of their social cruelties and injustices and their uncharitable obsessions with power, property and wealth. In this Coppe clearly differs from the Seeker position, which objects to current forms of Religion on the more technical grounds of the failure to earn Scriptural sanction or manifest signs of apostolic authorisation. What in Coppe's eyes is God's reason for judgement of the Great ones is not that their religious life is carnal as such but that they perpetrate acts of social and political iniquity. This is why it is that the Spiritual notionists cannot escape his condemnations; their carnal, selfish pretence to unmediated communion with God does not exonerate them since in their actions and use of their power they are no less cruel and miserly than those whose carnal religiosity does not pretend to an unmediated Spiritualism.

Indeed if the material and social works of the Great ones were righteous, following the precepts of James, the indictment laid against their formal practices would be replaced by that type of a mounful meditation, found in SW when Coppe is not on the attack, on how inferior and empty their carnal religion really is when held up against the genuine article- a direct communion with the Eternal almightinesse and with the Spirits of Just men made perfect. But as it is, their cruelty, their greed and malice is such that not only these qualities and the social, poltical injustice they perpetuate but their formal, fleshly ritualism, and in the case of the notionists their carnal spiritualism, is judged and condemned. The only distinction in judgement, though it is an important one, is that their social iniquity is judged as the real culprit- the very substance of evil- whilst the latter is judged for having provided the means to justify it. That Coppe is not hostile to forms per se, indeed, could not be otherwise unless he were to contradict himself and say on the one hand that his type of unmediated spiritual religion were obligatory and necessary and on the other that one should be patient and not rush to embrace it.

This was the third paper submitted for my MA in Seventeenth Century Studies. Of all the most extreme Protestant thinkers of the Interregnum period I found Abiezer Coppe to be the most interesting.

I would say that what attracted me most was how Abiezer Coppe seemed to reflect my own beliefs regarding what might be called 'extreme freedom in Christ'..that sense in which the Christian wants to cling hold to his own experienced relationship with what he understands Christ to be, and not be trodden down and oppressed in his worship and life by the interfering mediations of other people. Such a demand for toleration by other Christians must, however, be allied to a toleration of the life and worship of other Christians; and even a respect for them so long as those other styles of Chritianity are not themselves oppressive. I see this broader toleration in Coppe. Though he bears much disdain for established religion, because of its abuse of the power it holds in society, he recognises, I believe, that its forms are necessary for most Christians, for those who are 'outside' and do not sense readily in their own awareness a direct union with God through Christ.

Another interesting issue that I see surrounding Coppe, and indeed many of the extreme thinkers of this period, concerns the question of the degree to which they foreshadowed but also, to my understanding, improved upon the Marxist and Socialist traditions of the 19th century and beyond. And how they improved upon them consisted in the fact that they hadn't dispensed with a divine, metaphysical dynamic on the one hand, and a factor intimately allied to that - the integrity and significance of the individual on the other. It is a cliche much bandied about that whilst Communism is a perfect model for human society in theory, in practice it cannot work, and has been proved in the 20th century to be impossible to work, because of our flawed and selfish human nature. So it is that we find ourselves in the 20th century with no alternative ideology to oppose the onward march of globalising capital..well, except for a neanderthal and aggressive interpretation of Islam that is.

And yet when I consider the interregnum preachers, the Diggers, Levellers and Ranters and others, I sense that communitarian models of human society might have borne a far greater chance of success, if only Marx had not felt it necessary to exclude and utterly reject the theological in favour of an extreme materialism which should always have been seen as destined to wage a merciless war against the inscape of subjective imaginative experience.

Yet a theistic communism was experimented with during this period in history; it was sad and tragic that nothing much came of it..but this does not mean that in the 'post-post modern world' into which we are heading, and which some envisage will be a new 'theological age', there will not be possible ways by which a new appreciation of the divine in human society might resist the temptations to attach itself to conservative, capitalist models of human alienation on the one hand, or sink to the level of medievalist models of submission to theocratic tyranny on the other. And such ways I believe can draw valuable resources by looking to these visionary political pioneers.

In addition to the extreme individual freedom in Christ, and the visions of communitarian utopia under a loving and benign God, the other key element to Coppe's thought that I loved was his panentheism- his undertanding that God both is, yet is more than and before the created universe. The extreme immanece he attributes to God underpins the kindliness and charity which Coppe's vision extends to all life. For after all, If God is every living being, then one can hardly countenance a theology embracing cruelty to living beings can one?
On the other hand, the strong transcendence and otherness in his view of God protects his standard of God being dragged down to the level of the imagination of any darkened, unilluminated human heart. It also preserves the freedom of God to operate outside the field of the empirically observable, such that God is defended from becoming a slave to science and reductionism. To me, the utter transcendent in God protects God from becoming our prisoner, a symbol to gratify our preconceptions and arrogances- such that his freedom of manoevre to act as our saviour, healer and liberator is defended. In this way God, though identical with the creation, in an identification stronger than the one asserted in the softer immanentisitc interpretations of orthodox doctrine, is also transcendent in a strong way that we do not find in new ageist theologies - theologies which by emphasising too much God's immanence, God's identity only with the created unieverse, leave us bereft of a God able to intervene and heal us, with resources unimaginable by us, from the beyond.

The theodical question remains..if God is able to intervene and heal us, why does he not do so? The answer which I believe Coppe's vision allows for, and which I myself believe, is that God cannot do this, because his hands are tied. Tied by us, or rather tied by God, for we ourselves are God (albeit not all of God). But we are sufficiently God, the embodiment of the immanent dimension of God, as Lords of the creation, to be able, through our spiritual somnambulance and ignorance of our true nature, to make it impossible for co-operation between God Immanent and God Transcendent to be operative.

So for Coppe, so also for me, when God wakes up from below he is united with the unspeakeable beauty and perfection of the divine transcendent, in resurrection.

I have removed the footnotes from my text for aesthetic reasons, but these can be sent to my readers if you ask for them.
There is a missing section after i write "Save Zion". I have no idea why this section is missing or where it is. Apologies. I will look for it and try to replace it.

Many thanks for the help given me by Dr Richard Maber and Brian Gibbons.