Puritanism in New England American Literature I 9/20/2004 Cecilia H. C. Liu
Who are Puritans? • 1. first began as a taunt or insult applied by traditional Anglicans to those who criticized or wished to "purify" the Church of England. • 2. refers to two distinct groups: "separating" Puritans, such as the Plymouth colonists, who believed that the Church of England was corrupt and that true Christians must separate themselves from it; and non-separating Puritans, such as the colonists who settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who believed in reform but not separation.
Massachusetts colonists • Most Massachusetts colonists were nonseparating Puritans who wished to reform the established church, largely Congregationalists who believed in forming churches through voluntary compacts. The idea of compacts or covenants was central to the Puritans' conception of social, political, and religious organizations.
First three major English settlements on east coast • 1. the Virginia colony at Jamestown (1607) - mainly Church of England (no dissenters) • 2. Plymouth Colony (1620) - Separatist in name • 3. Massachusetts Bay Colony (1630) - Puritan
Puritan Beliefs (I) • The first was their belief in predestination. Puritans believed that belief in Jesus and participation in the sacraments could not alone effect one’s salvation; one cannot choose salvation, for that is the privilege of God alone. All features of salvation are determined by God’s sovereignty, including choosing those who will be saved and those who will receive God’s irresistible grace.
Puritan Beliefs (II) • The Puritans distinguished between "justification," or the gift of God's grace given to the elect, and "sanctification," the holy behavior that supposedly resulted when an individual had been saved; according to The English Literatures of America, "Sanctification is evidence of salvation, but does not cause it" (434). Jehlen, Myra, and Michael Warner, eds. The English Literatures of America, 1500-1800. London:Routledge, 1997.
predestination • For many, the doctrine of predestination answered these pressing inner needs. Its power to comfort and reassure troubled souls arose from its wider message that, beyond preordaining the eternal fates of men and women, God had a plan for all of human history—that every event in the lives of individuals and nations somehow tended toward an ultimate triumph of good over evil, order over disorder, Christ over Satan.
In other words, Calvin (and his many followers among groups like the Puritans) saw human history as an unfolding cosmic drama in which every person had a predestined role to play. True, men and women had no free will, but they had the assurance that their existence—indeed, their every action—was MEANINGFUL and that their strivings and sufferings in the present would ultimately produce a future of perfect peace and security—a kind of heaven on earth.
Covenant of Works • The concept of a covenant or contract between God and his elect pervaded Puritan theology and social relationships. In religious terms, several types of covenants were central to Puritan thought. • Type 1: The Covenant of Works held that God promised Adam and his progeny eternal life if they obeyed moral law. After Adam broke this covenant, God made a new Covenant of Grace with Abraham (Genesis 18-19).
Type 2: Covenant of Grace • This covenant requires an active faith, and, as such, it softens the doctrine of predestination. Although God still chooses the elect, the relationship becomes one of contract in which punishment for sins is a judicially proper response to disobedience. During the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwardslater repudiated Covenant Theology to get back to orthodox Calvinism. Those bound by the covenant considered themselves to be charged with a mission from God.
Type 3: Covenant of Redemption • The Covenant of Redemption was assumed to be preexistent to the Covenant of Grace. It held that Christ, who freely chose to sacrifice himself for fallen man, bound God to accept him as man’s representative. Having accepted this pact, God is then committed to carrying out the Covenant of Grace. According to Perry Miller, "God covenanted with Christ that if he would pay the full price for the redemption of believers, they should be discharged. Christ hath paid the price, God must be unjust, or else he must set thee free from all iniquitie" (New England Mind 406). Miller , Perry. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. 1953. Rpt. Harvard: Harvard UP, 1998.
Churches • The concept of the covenant also provided a practical means of organizing churches. Since the state did not control the church, the Puritans reasoned, there must be an alternate method of of establishing authority. According to Harry S. Stout, "For God's Word to function freely, and for each member to feel an integral part of the church's operations, each congregation must be self-sufficient, containing within itself all the offices and powers necessary for self-regulation. New England's official apologist, John Cotton, termed this form of church government 'Congregational,' meaning that all authority would be located within particular congregations" (The New England Soul 17). • Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
The Great Awakening • What historians call "the first Great Awakening" can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. • One of those who attacked this growing rationality, and who was also one of the principle figures in the Great Awakening was Jonathan Edwards. Edwards has received a bad press for his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” In that sermon he used the image of a spider dangling by a web over a hot fire to describe the human predicament.
The three most famed evangelical preachers of the Great Awakening: • http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/grawaken.htm George Whitefield Jonathan Edwards Gilbert Tennent
All these images are derived from National Humanities Center: 17th and 18th Centuries http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/eighteen.htm
John Eliot, ca. date (unknown artist). Eliot a Puritan minister in 17th -c. Massachusetts, was known as the "Apostle of the Indians.“ Image from www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/.../ ekeyinfo/puritanb.htm
Thomas Smith, Self-Portrait, ca. 1680. Smith, a mariner, painter, and (sources indicate) a Puritan, included this inscription on the white sheet under the skull: Why why should I the World be mindingtherein a World of Evils Finding.Then Farwell World: Farwell thy Jarresthy Joies thy Toies thy Wiles thy WarrsTruth Sounds Retreat: I am not sorye.The Eternall Drawes to him my heartBy Faith (which can thy Force Subvert)To Crowne me (after Grace) with Glory. Image from www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/.../ ekeyinfo/puritanb.htm
Puritan church with pulpit, pews, and, significantly, no altar. Old Ship Meeting House, Hingham, Mass., built in 1681. Image from www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/.../ ekeyinfo/puritanb.htm
References • “Puritanism and Predestination”http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/puritanb.htm http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/grawaken.htm • “American Journeys”–A Map of Virginia http://www.americanjourneys.org/aj-075/summary/index.asp • Images from “National Humanities Center: 17th and 18th Centuries”http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/eighteen.htm • “Puritanism in New England” http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/faculty/campbell/enl310/purdef.htm • “The Great Awakening” http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h620.html http://www.wfu.edu/~matthetl/perspectives/four.html