Testing the Limits of a 'Catholic Spirit': John Wesley, Methodism, and Catholicism

  • Kelly Yates

Student thesis: Phd


The University of Manchester Kelly Diehl Yates Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Testing the Limits of a ‘Catholic Spirit’: John Wesley, Methodism, and Catholicism 2018 Abstract This thesis is a study of the extent to which John Wesley, as an eighteenth-century evangelical Protestant in a society in which anti-Catholicism was prevalent, was able to put into practice his self-professed ideals of a Catholic Spirit and religious toleration. The central argument of this thesis is that although he articulated principles for religious tolerance and Christian unity in his 1748 sermon, Catholic Spirit, which he aimed at British Protestants, Wesley did not expect these principles to bring about unity between Protestants and Catholics in theology or politics. This thesis analyses the paradox that the Protestant opposition to Wesley accused him of promoting a ‘breeding ground for Popery’, and that he practised Jacobitism, Jesuitism, and Popery whilst at the same time Catholic opponents labelled him anti- Catholic. Central to this study is the consideration of two admonitions for tolerance that Wesley composed in 1748-1749: Catholic Spirit and Letter to a Roman Catholic. This present work takes into account the context of anti-Catholicism in which Wesley lived, critically examining incidents where he encountered opposition that accused him of both Catholicism and anti-Catholicism. Chapter one considers that anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century Britain was a result of several facets of the English Protestant Reformation, evaluates leading endeavours at formulating methods of religious toleration, and analyses these influences on Wesley’s efforts at formulating his method of toleration in his sermon, Catholic Spirit. Chapter two evaluates events that pre-dated Wesley’s writing of Catholic Spirit, when he faced criticism for suspected Jacobitism at Oxford, and encountered opposition from antagonists during the ‘Forty-five’. It is suggested that these events may have influenced the writing of Catholic Spirit. Chapter three argues that Letter to a Roman Catholic was a message to Catholics aimed at deterring them from rioting and allowing Wesley to preach his message of evangelical conversion. Chapter four examines Wesley’s critique of the Moravians for their ‘Jesuit ways’, explores his opponents’ criticisms of his own alleged Jesuitism and Popery, and evaluates whether Wesley responded with a catholic spirit to these accusations. Finally, chapter five investigates Wesley’s alleged involvement in the Gordon Riots. Few works have been written about Wesley’s Catholic Spirit, and even fewer have addressed Wesley and Catholicism. No book-length study has examined Wesley’s Catholic Spirit as it applied to Catholicism in its historical context. Through analysing not only Wesley’s writings, but the works written against him, this thesis will contribute to Wesley studies by providing new insight into Wesley’s interaction with Catholicism.
Date of Award3 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPeter Nockles (Supervisor) & Geordan Hammond (Supervisor)


  • eighteenth century
  • Jesuitism
  • Catholicism
  • Jacobitism
  • Wesley
  • John Wesley
  • Methodism

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