Puritanism: from The Puritan Tradition in America, 1620-1730

Puritanism: springs from the idea that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying themselves. (this is a joke)

Suggestion: Keep these ideas in mind while reading the Puritan writers and preparing to write an essay on some issue taken from early American literature’s colonial period.

Progression of Puritan evolution

  1. 1517: Luther tacks up his 95 thesis to initiate Protestant Reformation (or Revolt from the Catholic perspective)
  2. Henry VIII split with Rome in 1534; daughter Elizabeth’s worldly ambitions took precedence over churchly ambitions. She curbed religious extremism in favor of social stability (2)
  3. Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. Must attend CofE services; Henry declaring that he was 'the only supreme head in earth of the Church in England' and that the English crown shall enjoy "all honours, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity".
  4. 1563: 39 Articles of Faith fixed forms of worship; still too Popish/Catholic for some
  5. 1572: Sought Non-conformity bill for Puritans. Parliament provided some support for Puritan goals.
  6. Specific complaints emerging from CofE’s administration:
    • Bishops create too many new clergy of men unqualified to positions not needed (4-5)
    • Book of Common Prayer contrary to God’s word (the Bible)
    • Various popes have corrupted the sacraments (of which there really are only two: baptism and communion/feast of last supper) with increased pomp and finery
  7. Mary reestalished relationship with Rome after Edward's death, which Elizabeth again severed.
  8. Elizabeth rejected admonitions from Puritans and supporters in support of greater religious freedoms for dissenters, jailing Puritan critics despite their widespread public support (4, 10), Parliament did not enact meaningful ecclesiastical reform, resulting in anti-Puritan backlash at official levels: jailings, lost jobs, etc.
  9. James I (former James VI of Scotland) sided with Church as a way to extend his powers (11). He feared giving too much sway to the common man and told Puritans “conform or be harried out of the land” However, he did lend more than a sympathetic ear to Puritan concerns, hoping to put them to rest, resulting in Hampton Court Conference
  10. Puritans wanted it understood that the elect can fall from grace; they wanted greater say in the procedure and paraphernalia of worship, along with church organization and fundamental theology (14)
  11. With ascension of Charles I, and promotion of William Laud to Archbishop of Canterbury (ministerial head of CofE), Puritans were pressed to conform or lose positions. Some did, some played game of cat-and-mouse, others, such as Thomas Shepherd, fled (35).
  12. Brownists (followers of Robert Browne) and other “separatists” settled in NE before the Puritan exodus. These folks were generally more radical dissenters than the Puritans who had hopes of reforming the CofE from within; however, theologically the groups were pretty much cut from the same cloth (40).
  13. Some, such as Pilgrims, came to NE via Holland, which wasn’t the greatest place to be. Bad weather, possible trouble with Catholic Spain, aging population, invasive culture and other concerns bedeviled the Puritan émigrés.  The Pilgrims finally decided it was time to move to NE or let the movement die. Also motivated by desire to spread the gospel (43). Emigrate in 1620.
  14. Mayflower compact a result of a broken commercial contract. Secular participants, landing in NE instead of Virginia, felt no obligation to support the Puritans who were the motivating force behind the particular journey. Settlement was also illegal lacking the proper charter from the crown for where they were.
  15. Most Pilgrims dead within the year. Only 20 able bodied men left of 50 people total

Puritan(ism) defined/described: (largely Calvinist in theology)

  • God has supreme authority over Church and human affairs as expressed in the Bible
  • The private study of the Bible is emphasized
  • A desire to see education and enlightenment for the masses (especially so they could read the Bible for themselves)
  • The priesthood is of all believers: likening the whole body of believers to the priesthood of ancient Israel removes the possibility of a spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy within Christianity. God is equally accessible to all the faithful; no Christians have been set above others in matters of faith or worship.
  • The Pope was an Antichrist (someone/thing that looks good but is inherently evil/opposed to God.
  • Called for simplicity in worship, the exclusion of vestments, images, candles, etc.
  • Some approved of the church hierarchy, but others sought to reform the Episcopal (a single hierarchy terminating at the top with a overall leader, such as the Pope) churches on the Presbyterian model (A bishop is the highest office of the church (there is no Patriarch or Pope over bishops),
    • Bishop and elder (or presbyter) are synonymous terms. Bishop describes the function of the elder (literally, overseer), rather than the maturity of the officer.
      • The function of preaching and the administration of the sacraments is ordinarily entrusted to specially trained elders (known as ministers) in each local congregation, approved for these tasks by a governing assembly (presbytery, or classis), and called by the local congregation.
      • Pastoral care, discipline, leadership and legislation are committed to the care of ruling assemblies of presbyters among whom the ministers and other elders are equal participants.
    • All Christian people together are the priesthood, on behalf of whom the elders are called to serve by the consent of the congregation)
  • Some separatist Puritans were Presbyterian, but most were Congregationalists (embodying the theory that (1) every local church is a full realization in miniature of the entire Church of Jesus Christ; and (2) The Church, while on earth, besides the local church, can only be invisible and ideal.)
  • Most prominent Puritans commit life to God publicly, providing a laundry list of their depravity and the manner in which they have struggled and failed to overcome that depravity. 
  • Often attribute natural events, such as a sickness or death, as either a test from God or an act of Satan hoping to derail them in their quest for salvation (21-22). One such leader, John Winthrop, saw NE as a staging ground for heaven, hence the “citty on the hill” appellation (26).

Calvinism: man is a complete ruin in need of God’s salvation; drastic intervention on God’s part needed to overtake man’s sinful nature

  • Total depravity (or total inability): As a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. People are not by nature inclined to love God with their whole heart, mind, or strength, but rather are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor and to reject the rule of God. Thus, all people by their own faculties are unable to choose to follow God and be saved.
  • Unconditional election: God's choice of those whom he will bring to himself is not based on foreseen virtue, merit, or faith in those people. Rather, it is unconditionally grounded in God's mercy.
  • Limited atonement: The death of Christ actually takes away the penalty of sins of those on whom God has chosen to have mercy. It is "limited" to taking away the sins of the elect, not of all humanity, and it is "definite" and "particular" because atonement is certain for those particular persons. [past sins are specifically remitted; future sins are potentially remitted/remitted in the person (17). ]
  • Irresistible grace (or efficacious grace): The saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith in Christ. [Predestination accompanied by the greatest wisdom, freedom, firmness and immutability Church membership, and in New England, resulting Civil membership, limited to those chosen by God.]
  • Perseverance of the saints: Any person who has once been truly saved from damnation must necessarily persevere and cannot later be condemned. The word saints is used in the sense in which it is used in the Bible to refer to all who are set apart by God. [Sanctification, glorification resulting in eternal happiness, has a beginning, middle, and presumably an end, but not clearly detailed process is provided (19-20). Preachers were noted for their depth of piety, which opened them to scorn, ridicule and criticism when they fell short (20).]

Some Observations on Puritanism

  • For most part, NE puritans no different than OE puritans; they are set apart by their decision to emigrate instead of stay put and clamber for change (xii)
  • Upon their move to America, Puritans changed from a loosely bonded factional movement to a hegemonic faith and administration—sought to assert their views on others (xii)
  • American Puritanism focuses on Congregationalism and the Plymouth separatists were more quasi than wholly separatist (xiii)
  • Conversion and rebirth required adherents to reform their whole lives (xiii)
  • Puritans took lead in best—education—and worst—witchcraft persecution—in the colonies (xiv)
  • Non puritans saw this early experiment in religious reform as either misguided or appalling (xvi), particularly the mixing of church and state roles (xvi)
  • When the puritan movement got out of hand, the backlash resulted in the death of Cromwell’s son, the restoration of Charles II to the throne, end of Congregationalists NE monopoly, franchise being given to non-puritans, by end of 1600’s. Still, most writing on Puritans is laudatory (xvi)
  • Knowledge comes from sermons that have survived, often drafted for special occasions; other documents that have survived, notably less than flattering portrayals of puritans, have colored out notions of them as scofflaws and malcontents and killjoys (xxvi)
  • Puritans settled in West Indies and South as well as NE (xxxii)
  • Rationales for going were often written up with pro/con lists. The pros listed a reason, such as being able to make “better” use of the land than the present inhabitants. The cons would be brief, but thoroughly refuted. IE: the natives were there first, which is not a good thing since we’ll be stealing their land, but since we’ll put it to more productive use, that’s okay. What were viewed as “civil” rights were seen to trump “natural” rights (28-35). Thomas Shepherd was one such person.

Orderly Society

  • With Congregationalists, what is good for the individual is good for society at large (129). “Disorder is the effect of sin” (129)
  • Anglicans sought order in tradition, the church as it more or less always had been. Puritans sought order from and in the Bible. This was God’s intentions versus man’s inventions; society must be remade in a biblical image (129).
  • Society must monitor its members so God doesn’t punish them all for the failings of one or some (130).
  • We were placed by God in our station and to seek to alter that placement was seen as a rebellion against the work of God. God is the author of every lawful calling; all other callings the work of Satan or rebellion. Man’s place in society was seen as analogous to the function of each body part having its place in our life’s functions. Whatever we do must serve the general good and must be done diligently (132).
  • Sloth and negligence violate the social order (134).
  • General calling of all is to be a good Christian, measured by what we do to serve the common good. More particular callings are based on distinctions God made between man and man (each of us) shown by our inward gifts and station of birth (135). This sometimes fostered a dependence on the clergy for their superior knowledge of the Bible and while also leading to excessive introspection (we’ll see this in The Scarlet Letter).
  • There are rich and poor, weak and strong by God’s design. The rich and great need someone to watch over and practice charity on, someone to love, to show mercy to, etc.; the poor are to practice faith, patience, obedience and the like, to their “superiors.” In this respect, each needs the other (139). Justice and mercy requires helping those in distress and all should act out of some sense of the golden rule (140).
  • Pilgrims bound by Christian love with good of the whole placed above the good of the individual. All must be done to serve God and to promote the common good. Others must be put before the selfish-self. God must be obeyed, sin will be punished and God is sanctified by our actions (145).

The above material that lacks a citation was taken and somewhat revised from Wikipedia