Puritanism: historical background

Religíones # England. Calvin. Calvinist doctrine. English Bible. Protestant reformers. The Pilgrim progress. Historical and theological writers

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.

The puritan movement strongly emerged in England in a climate of popular untest, between the XVI and XVII centuries, and it was founded on the beliefs of the cult of the Bible and on predestination,(based on the beliefs of predestination, that is to say, the eternal destiny that comes predetermined by the inalterable law of God. Calvin, in his book Institutes of the Christian religion, calls predestination to the eternal law by which He determines what He would like to be for every man. Taking into account that not everybody has been created in the equally conditions, for some eternal life is determined beforehand, and for others, the eternal condemnation).

Puritanism was clearly influenced and even associated with Calvinist doctrine in Geneva, where protestant churchmen as well as intellectual figures as -Thomas Cartwright, a Cambridge reformer who believed in Calvinistic ideal of the church as the city of God, and openly disagreed with reigns by Divine right- found refuge to their political claims and produced that the Geneva Bible became the bible of Elizabethan public, of the New England Pilgrims and of the Scottish Reformation, where John Knox and his followers introduced the English Bible, Presbyterian church government and the doctrine of predestination.

Elizabeth´s succession to the throne, seemed a victory for Protestantism, for the tree preceding reigns had left the morality of the church in great confusion. Puritans then, opposed and demanded the reforms to be eventually carried out. Queen Elizabeth I, realizing society was divided in faith, tried to reform the church, and as head of nation she asserted her control over the church government and declared the independence of the English church, The Protestantism. Catholics, on one hand, wanted to restore the church to its former transcending position, and Protestants, on the other hand, thought that little reformation was not enough. Their aim was to purify English society shaped in a church ruled following Presbyterian principles. Their ideal was uniformity based upon the will of religious people and maintained with the support of a godly civil state.

Yet, they were not permitted to put their ideas into effect until they were summoned by Parliament to the Westminster Assembly. In the meantime, they were allowed within limits to preach and spread gospel to people and to publish books, thanks to the use of the press. The strength of Puritan movement lies in preachers who were churchmen, and preaching was for them the natural conduct of the holy endeavour to popularize the sacred book, for the saving of souls. They appealed to absolute truth in scripture and the inescapable facts of human experience, what proceeded from the word of God. Sermons adapted traditional medieval conventions of popular preaching to the great themes of Puritan doctrine and style of the English Bible, without theological or metaphysical arguments, but in a "simple and plaine" way, and explaining it within its context, to conduct feeling to the doctrine of predestination. These sermons were addressed to country household and market town people. As Puritanism developed, it attracted to the pulpit a large number of idealistic, imaginative, Quixotic dreamers looking for self-expression.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded in the throne by King James VI of Scotland, who became King James I of England. He soon allowed the Authorized Version of the Bible, what meant people could read and interpret what the Holy Spirit on his own. Some deviations from orthodox Puritanism led to the rise of sects. Dissenting minorities, on one hand, put emphasis on the independence of the congregation church from the established church and played the major part in the settlement of New England. Non-conformist, on the other hand, played an important role in the promulgation of democracy and toleration. As far as separatist groups is concerned, they leveled all men to God, and it was the extreme expression of the religious individualism of Puritan doctrine. The notions of universal grace and free will, which the main body of Puritan preachers opposed but which were the natural expression the most important implications of Calvinism, flourished among the sects.

The Anglican King, angry with Protestant reformers, because of their rebellion against the authority of the Church of England (King by Divine Right), warned: "I will make conform themselves or else I will harm them out of the land". Protestant leaders, foreseeing a severe regime against their claims and members, thought of emigrating to Holland, where there was religious freedom. The Scrooby community, formed by Robinson, Brewster and Bradford, established themselves in Amsterdam and Leiden where their lives began to improve as merchants.

As Leiden seemed to involve in a battle, pastor Robinson proposed of starting a journey to the promising New World. In 1620, a small group of Pilgrims departed from Delfshaven to England, Where the Mayflower ship headed for the New World, to Virginia, where colonists had been allowed to settle. Because of the bad weather and some sailing mistakes, Mayflower arrived to Massachussets. There they founded the Plymouth settlement. Brewster, Bradford and other leaders of the Puritan movement gathered and drafted the Mayflower convenant, what is considered by some to be the first written constitution of the United States.

During the Stuart reign of Charles I (1625-1649), there was a severe confrontation between King, Parliament and Puritans. The conflict ended up with the instauration of a kind of Puritan Republic called "Commonwealth", under Crommwell´s dictatorship.

However, Puritan strength and development did not only come from preachers, but also in great measure from literature. Before the great development of movement took writings in fourteenth century were the substance of most of the sermons for the three coming centuries. From this century, the best author was John Milton, who wrote Paradise lost. The poem is his personal confession of his effectual calling from God to be a poet, as the testimony of any spiritual preacher. The image carved in a few lines in Lycidas is the same picture that appears in sonnet, in Latin verse and in revolutionary pamphlet, the picture of Milton making a miltonic poem or sermon. The cause of the Puritan preachers in Milton had enlisted a great literary genius, one who brought the idealism bred by the poetry and philosophy of Renaissance humanism to the support of Puritan revolutionary zeal in church and state.

Thomas Hobbes, another author concerned with religious problems, wrote about a severe government able to deal with anarchism and extremism.

Shortly after Charles II´s Restoration, Bunyan´s sermons were considered to be revolutionary and uprising. He spent his latest days of life fully dedicated to preaching and writing mystic literature works, as The Pilgrim progress among others.

Another extremely influential writer concerned with religious intolerance was Daniel Defoe, who published a great number of articles criticizing the problem. After William's death, Anne promised to support England as much as she could. Puritans started to worry and, Defoe as their speaker published the ironic book The shortest way with the dissenters. Also in Defoe´s Moll Flanders, the main character Mrs. Betty is, in a sense, the product of a Puritan society turned to extremism. In her world, she is the supreme tradeswoman, ready to enter each experience in her record book as profit or loss, being extremely active in marriage affairs. She represents thrift, and good management, but she is also the greedy outlaw.

Among the Scottish writers concerned with Puritanism, we find Patrick Tailfer, Hugh Anderson, and David Douglas as the writers of Narrative (1741), dealing with the recognition of political rights of land-holding colonists.

NEW ENGLAND: HISTORICAL WRITERS.

Now we are going to study the historical writings relating to New England, and produced in New England. In its very first century, in its very first generation. This term " historical " could sound a bit pretentious, because we are talking of the first century of this young country and more over, in those ages, they were not even a country. We use historical to note that they had an historical consciousness; a belief, born with itself, in the large human significance of its task of founding a new order of things in America; an assurance that what it was then doing the future would desire to know about, and for the benefit of the future, the present should keep a record of itself. This kind of history is a contemporaneous one, a historical diarizing. It was a registration of events as they went by or as they yet lived in the memories of the living. It is extraordinary the early development of historical consciousness, and the large number of historical writers that produced in its primal age. Although we can find no less than six important writers who deserve mention as historians, I am going to focus my work only in two of them. William Bradford and John Winthrop, for us, two of the best of them.

William Bradford deserves the pre-eminence of being called the father of American history. He was born in Austerfield, Yorkshire, in 1590. He also was for a long time Governor of New England, thanks to his separatists ideas. He gave his leisure to the composition of a work in which the story of the settlement of New England should be told in a calm, just, and authentic manner. The result was his History of Plymouth Plantation, which was published by his nephew, Nathaniel Morton, after his death. Governor Bradford wrote of events that had passed under his own eye, and that had been shaped by is own hand, having every qualification of a trustworthy narrator. His history is an orderly and lucid work that contains many tokens of its author's appreciation of his contemporary world.

In relating the history of Playmouth Plantation he undertakes to go back to "the very root and rise of the same", and to show its "occasion and inducements"; and he avows his purpose to write "in a plain style, with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things". This plan of course conducts him into an account of the origin of religious dissent in England, and of the lamentable blunders of English churchmen an statesmen in their attempts to beat back that dissent into submission and to throttle its free voice. There is a charm in the simple English and in the quiet pathos of his words as he depicts the sufferings of these persecuted ones. He then proceeds to tell "of their departure into Holland and their troubles thereabout, to finish with the description of their dreamed land". It is also related the conflicts of opinion among the Pilgrims, because of the perils and pains which would involve moving there. "It was answered that all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courage". The language used is a noble specimen of simple, picturesque, and pathetic eloquence: "..., they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean,...".

As the history proceeds year by year, few things are omitted that a noble curiosity could desire to look into, the bright, the sombre side of that primal life; as the real characters of the so called "Pilgrim Fathers", who were not all of the saintly and heroic type as is thought. Also the prevailing trait of its pages is of course grave; but at times this sedateness is relieved by a quaint and pithy emphasis of phrase that amounts almost to humor. But a writer like Bradford is more likely to condescend to a solemn sort of sarcasm than to humor.

In the spring of 1630 a wealthy man, John Winthrop, sailed from the isle of Wight westward. He was the governor of the Massachusetts company and an example not only for a religious man but also for a man of books.

He wrote a little treatise entitled A model of Christian Charity. It is an exposition of the Christian doctrine of unselfishness, and bears specially upon the condition awaiting the colonist in the New World. It is said that only by mutual love and help could they all meet the tasks that lay before them. The text was written to prepare the spirits of himself and his associates for their pioneer life.

During the voyage and during the rest of his life, he recorded every noticeable act in that journal of his which grew to be The History of New England. The style is nor pompous neither grave, because his interest was to tell the truth in plain and honest fashion. The prevailing tone is judicial: he tells the truth squatly, even against himself. The book was written for almost 20 years, from 1630 until a few weeks before he died in 1649. The most interesting about the book is the fact that the scenes of the normal life are placed together with the important facts for the future new nation. There, we can appreciate not only facts: "Billington executed at Playmouth for murdering one", but also the intentions, thoughts and mentality of "the early Americans".

THEOLOGICAL AND RELIGIOUS WRITERS

One of the ways that Puritan movement had been developed was through the religious way. That is, trough the preachers puritans has developed his ideas to the rest of the people. Two of the most important figures in the religious writings were Thomas Shepard and Thomas Hooker.

Tomas Hooker (1586-1647)

His style shows an Elizabethan brashness. Proportion, order and harmony are part of his technique, along with a wonderful sense of rhythmic balance. The very short phrases, when put together to make up one of Hooker´s typically mammoth sentences, give a cumulative effect wholly justifying the Ramist theory that particles, if arranged in their natural order, will form a whole. Elsewhere Hooker balances verbs rather than nouns. A series of independent verbs and participal actions comes to rest again in the verb "to be", which stablishes the correspondence between a common situation and religious truth. No adjectives qualify the force or the balance of either reality.

He has been called by Sacvan Bercovitch "New England's finest first generation stylist".

Like no other New England minister, he respected his audience as potential buyers of God's wares, rather than treating them as hard disobedient hearts. His early success in converting Joan Drake gave him confidence in preparing sinners for grace, throughout his life Hooker refused to detach conversion itself from ordinary experience. He has a winning confidence in the ability of men to reorient their feelings toward Christ, while coming down specially hard on those who don't make the effort.

The ship and the clock, two of Hooker´s favourite images for the soul, satisfy his penchant for making the soul into a Ramist collection of

interacting parts, a little world functioning in the big world. For him order and location in the whole give identity and security, not individual success.

Hooker´s assiduous attention to his audience can be accounted for his sense of part and proportion. He needs conversions to complete the whole, so he speaks to sinners directly. His faith is based in a redeemed community, not personal messages of grace.

Unlike Shepard and Cotton, Hooker does not cast himself as an erotically submissive son. His language expresses a vigorous political order of balanced parts, and he himself was a father to his people in the Father's name. His language vigorously expresses the more fathering

aspects of Puritan conventions. Hooker has the utmost confidence that the Father exists beyond and within the order of human surroundings.

Ironically, Hooker's compelling vision of voluntary natural order guided by the Father's voice quickly disintegrated after his death. His magnificent confidence that fathers and sons could be united in holy communities proves both the force and the transience of wishful thinking in the New England way.

Thomas Shepard

The life of this author indicates ambivalences more directly connected to his passionately loving mother, who died when he was so young. He was the epitome of the New England way, the purest of all the Puritans. He was the man with the truly immaculate soul. Of all the New England preachers before Edwards, Shepard had by far the most closely reasoned and doctrinal emphasis, he was unremittingly legalistic.

His metaphors link man to the filthy natural world, rarely admitting any thing or creature to God's providence. The total separation of what is man's truth and the world's from what is God's is much simpler than Hooker's open acceptance of the natural world as a source of divine analogies. His incessant message is that one cannot embrace the world and Christ at the same time. Shepard throws adjectives of disgust and aggression against "the fruits of a corrupt head, and steams of a dunghill heart". Worms are always biting the hard heart, just as Christ occasionally bites Satan, and Shepard sometimes speaks of hell in images of devouring flames.

Divorce was also Shepard´s intent for his audience; he spoke primarily to that one element in his congregation who refused to make the total divorce that his purer Family Romance required: the hypocrites. Shepard wished to humble in his sermons, he tried to unsettle his hypocrites in every possible way, knowing as he did that the least shred of comfort would keep them from dependence on the purified Father.

Shepard´s style repeats an structure of commands and exhortations ("Take heed... take heed), interlaced with simple statements about the it is. Images of trees cut on earth or flowering in heaven are often linked with Shepard´s pervasive imagery of eating or drinking heavenly fluids. His style reflects his struggle for dependence in the opposition between long, incremental lists of quantities and finitudes, intimating man's sin and God's wrath, and ecstatic oral imagery for God's fullness. While sweetness and sucking are associated with faith, the sinner is made to feel how his fatal solidity separates him from pure union with Christ body.

Finally, it is important to mention that in his sermons, Shepard makes the last phrase a conclusive summing up, a final judgement of God's wrath, its simplicity a dramatic "awakening" from the hydra, headed juggernaut of sin.

MISCELLANEOUS WRITERS

Among all the Puritan writers we have chosen the most important ones, in this way we cannot avoid mentioning two major figures in the field of literature who are really less joined to the church itself, but really concerned with the Puritan faith. One of them is Captain John Smith, who is ,in his very beginning as a writer, a storyteller rather than an authentic writer. The second one is the first poet in the New World, who, in spite of the social situation, is a woman. I am referring to Anne Bradstreet.

Anne Bradstreet was born in England, in 1612. Her father, Thomas Dudley, an austere Puritan, a man of much study and stern will, had settled down, after some military experience, as steward of the estates of the Puritan nobleman, the Earl of Lincoln. It was while he was in that responsible service, that his brilliant young daughter passed some of her girlhood in the earl's castle of Sempringham; and we may not doubt that a mind so eager for knowledge as was hers, made high festival over the various treasures of books that were gathered there. The poet, who, with a scholar's thirst for knowledge, and a poet's sensitiveness to the elegant and the ugly, would have delighted in the antique richness and the mellow beauty of English life.

In 1630 she sailed with her husband, Simon Bradstreet, to New England, where, after a long quest for the perfect house, they finally settled near Andover in 1644. In that noble and inspiring scenery she passed the remainder of her life, dying in 1672 at the age of sixty.

In the year 1650 there was published, in London, a book of poems written by Anne Bradstreet: The Tenth Muse lately sprung up in America. In this first book she renders special homage to the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian and Roman monarchies. The dismantling of the ancient world does not lead her to a reflection about Catholicism, which stands for the contradiction embodied in the poet in her first literary works. However, on the other edge, we find the poem The vanity of all worldly things, which own title reflects what we find once we have read it; the rejection of earthly richness in advantage of a better reward in the eternal life.

In a more radical Puritan way of thinking we find her poem Upon the burning of our house, in which is exposed a conventional Puritan exercise: finding the hand of God behind every apparent disaster. The poem moves back and forth from the human levels to the divine one.

Despite all the formerly mentioned poems we have not got to the best one yet. This brilliant poem deeply shows the quest for the balance between the two worlds, the Puritan aim: living in the world without being of it. Contemplations, so is called the poem, is based in the contemplation, above all, of the natural things, which makes her approach to much more beautiful world than this one. She intends to justify all the human sufferings by comparing mankind difficulties to the ease of a nightingale life finally concluding that human beings will get an eternal life that the bird will not have. The rest of the poem keep on redoubling on itself thus explaining that the natural world is in a certain way direct cause of God so man contemplates nature as the origin of their thoughts of God. A summing up sentence for this way of thinking could be Anne Bradstreet's

If so much excellence abide below

How excellent is he that dwells on high.

The second writer I am going to deal with really deserves being included in the paper since he was the first man who wrote in the New World, such a writer is Captain John Smith who being 27 years old first set foot in Virginia after a long trip shared with a wide range of important people. Among such men we find names like Bartholomew Gosnold, Edward Maria Wingfield and others.

He was a knight-errant, perhaps the last the world saw, and so was his reputation in the old continent. He is not as important for his style, that of a storyteller rather than a perfect narrative one, as he is for being the writer of the first book in New England.

John Smith became somewhat a prolific author; but while nearly all his books have a leading reference to America, only three of them are written during the period of his residence as a colonist in the New World.

A true relation to Virginia, the first book of American literature was written during the first months of colonial settlement, and exposes a precise description of facts and events occurred during that period. It is closer to an epic narration than to a tedious travels book since the author quickly proceeds to relate the arrival in Virginia, the first passages with the Indians, their first civil organization and so on.

One of the most important relates in the book is that of the romantic rescue from a certain dead by Pocahontas once he had been captured by the Indians, who, contrary to what could be thought, treated him better than he could have ever expected. During his staying in the New World he had problems with the supplies he was to be sent and, though he stood it as any Puritan would have done, I mean as a challenge in the earth in order to get the reward of the eternal life; he wrote a letter back to England which is considered as a premonitory symptom of the Declaration of Independence.

Although these are not all the important facts in the Captain's life, they are the more remarkable for the American literature, and though not as important as other writers concerning the Puritan tradition, he can be regarded as the one who established the literary tradition, even when his writings are a succession of facts rather than a book itself.

Anthology.

To My Dear and Loving husband

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me, ye women, if you can.

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

the heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let's so persever,

That when we live no more we may live ever.

Anne Bradstreet.

"A map do the Bay and Rivers, with an annexed Relation of the Countries and Nations that inhabit them"

The temperature of this country doth agree well with English constitutions... The summer is hot as in Spain; the winter cold as in France or England... The winds here variable; but the like thunder and lightning to purify the air; I have seldom either seen or heard in Europe... There is but one entrance by sea into this country, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly bay; eighteen or twenty miles broad... within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers... there are mountains, hills, plains, valley, rivers and brooks all running most pleasantly into a fair bay, compassed, but for the mouth , with fruitful and delightsome land. In the bay and rivers are many isles, both great and small... The mountains are of divers natures; for at the head of the bay the rocks are of a composition like mill-stones, some of marble and so forth. And many pieces of crystal we found, as thrown down by water from those mountains... These waters wash from the rocks such glistering tinctures that the ground in some places seemeth as gilded; where both the rocks and the earth are so splendent to behold that better judgments than ours might have been persuaded they contained more that probabilities. The vesture of the earth in most places doth manisfestly prove the nature of the soil to be lusty and very rich.

John Smith.

Of Plymouth Plantation.

... But to omit other things (that I may be brief), after long beating at the sea they fell with that land which is called Cape Cod; the which being made and certainly known to be it, they were not a little joyful. After some deliberation had amongst themselves and with the master of the ship, they tracked about and resolved to stand for the southward (the wind and weather being fair) to find some place about Hudson's River for their habitation. But after they had sailed that course about half the day, they fell amongst dangerous shoals and roaring breakers, and they were so far entangled therewith as they conceived themselves in great danger; and the wind shrinking upon them withal, they resolved to bear up again for the Cape and thought themselves happy to get out of those dangers before night overtook them, as by God's good providence they did. And the next day they got into the cape harbour where they rode in safety...

Being thus arrived in a good harbour, and brought safe to land, they dell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the form and stable earth, their proper element

William Bradford.

Journal

[June 12, 1630.] About four in the morning we were near our port. We shot off two pieces of ordnance, and sent our skiff to Mr. Peirce his ship (which lay in the harbour, and had bee there [blank] days before). About an hour after, Mr. Allerton came aboard us in a shallop as he was sailing to Pemaquid. As we stood towards the harbour, we saw another shallop coming to us; so we stood in to meet her, and passed through the narrow strait between Baker's Isle and Little Isle, and came to an anchor a little within the islands...

After Mr. Peirce came aboard us, and returned to fetch Mr. Endecott, who came to us about two of the clock, and with him Mr. Skeleton and Capt. Levett. We that were of the assistants, and some other gentlemen, and some of the women, and our captain, returned with them to Nahumkeck, where we supped with a good venison pasty and good beer, and at night we returned to our ship, but some of the women stayed behind.

In the meantime most of our people went on shore upon the land of Cape Ann, which lay every near us, and gathered store of fine strawberries.

An Indian came aboard us and lay there all night...

John Winthrop

A Defence of the Answer.

The infinite and only wise God hath many works to do in the world, and He doth by His singular providence give gifts to His servants and disposeth them to His work as seemeth best to Himself. If the Lord will have some to bear witness by imprisonments, dismembering, etc., we honor them therein; if He will have others instrumental to promote reformation in England, we honor them and rejoice in their holy endeavors, praying for a blessing upon themselves and labors. And what if God will have his church and the kingdom of Christ go up also in these remote parts of the world, that His name may be known to the heathen, or whatsoever other end He hath, and to this end will send forth a company of weak-hearted Christians which dare not stay at home to suffer-why should we not let the Lord alone end rejoice that Christ is preached howsoever and wheresoever? And who can say that this work was not undertaken and carried on with sincere and right ends and in an holy serious manner, by the chief and the body of such undertook the same?...

...What shall we say of the singular providence of God bringing so many shiploads of His people through so many dangers, as upon eagles' wings, with so much safety from year to year? The fatherly care of our God in feeding and clothing so many in a wilderness, giving such healthfulness and great increase of posterity? What shall we say from of a commonwealth erected in a wilderness, and in so few years brought to that state that scarce the like can be seen in any of our English colonies in the richest places of this America after many more years standing? That the Lord hath carried the spirit of so many of His people through all their toilsome labor, wants, difficulties, losses, etc., with such measure of cheerfulness and contentation? But above all we must acknowledge the singular pity an mercies of our God that hath done all this and much more for a people unworthy, so sinful, that by murmurings of many, unfaithfulness in promises, oppressions, and other evils which are found among us, have so dishonored His majesty, exposed His work here to much scandal and obloquy, for which we have cause forever to be ashamed that the Lord should yet own us and rather correct us in mercy that cast us off in displeasure and scatter us in this wilderness, which gives us cause with Micah 7.18 to say: "Who is a God like our God, that pardoneth iniquities, and passeth by the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage; even because He delighteth in mercy?"

Bibliography

* The American Puritan Imagination. Essays in Revaluation. Sacvan Bercovitch. C.U.P. 1974.

*A History of American Literature (1670-1765). Moses Loit Tyler. Collier Books 1962.

*The American Puritans. Their Prose and Poetry. Perry Miller. C.U.P. 1956.

*Britannica Encyclopaedic Dictionary.

Puritanism.

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