Puritans

Puritanism

Puritanism, in the 16th and 17th cent., a movement for reform in the Church of England that had a profound influence on the social, political, ethical, and theological ideas of England and America.

Origins

Historically Puritanism began early (c.1560) in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I as a movement for religious reform. The early Puritans felt that the Elizabethan ecclesiastical establishment was too political, too compromising, and too Catholic in its liturgy, vestments, and episcopal hierarchy. Calvinist in theology, they stressed predestination and demanded scriptural warrant for all details of public worship. They believed that the Scriptures did not sanction the setting up of bishops and churches by the state. The aim of the early Puritans such as Thomas Cartwright was to purify the church (hence their name), not to separate from it. However, by 1567 a small group of lay rigorists was discovered meeting secretly in London to worship after the pattern of the service of the church in Geneva.

Branches

Although Puritans believed that if they searched the Scriptures long enough they would eventually agree, they early differed on the nature of the church polity advised in the Bible. The parish was the unit of the Puritan church; the parochial group of church members elected ministers. The main body of Puritans, the Presbyterians (see Presbyterianism), favored a central church government, whereas the separatists, Independents or Congregationalists (see Congregationalism), defined the church as any autonomous congregation of believers, emphasized the point that one could arrive at one's own conclusions in religion, and opposed a national, comprehensive church.

Persecution and Emigration

During the reign of James I, the Presbyterian majority unsuccessfully attempted to impose their ideas on the established English church at the Hampton Court Conference (1604). The result was mutual disaffection and a persecution of the Puritans, particularly by Archbishop William Laud, that brought about Puritan migration to Europe and America (see Mayflower). Those groups that remained in England grew as a political party and rose to their greatest power between 1640 and 1660 as a result of the English civil war; during that period the Independents gained dominance. The great Puritan apologist of this period was John Milton. During the Restoration the Puritans were oppressed under the Clarendon Code (1661–65), which secured the episcopal character of the Established Church and, in effect, cast the Puritans out of the Church of England. From this time they were known as nonconformists.

Influence on American Society

In New England, in the Puritan "Holy Commonwealth," some 35 churches had been formed by 1640. The Puritans in New England maintained the Calvinist distinction between the elect and the damned in their theory of the church, in which membership consisted only of the regenerate minority who publicly confessed their experience of conversion. Ministers had great political influence, and civil authorities exercised a large measure of control over church affairs. The Cambridge Platform (1648) expressed the Puritan position on matters of church government and discipline. To the Puritans, a person by nature was wholly sinful and could achieve good only by severe and unremitting discipline. Hard work was considered a religious duty and emphasis was laid on constant self-examination and self-discipline. Although profanation of the Sabbath day, blasphemy, fornication, drunkenness, playing games of chance, and participation in theatrical performances were penal offenses, the severity of the code of behavior of the early Puritans is often exaggerated.

In 1662 it was made easier for the unregenerate majority to become church members in Massachusetts by the adoption of the Half-Way Covenant. Clerical power was lessened by the expansion of New England and the opening of frontier settlements filled with colonists who were resourceful, secular, and engaged in a struggle to adapt to a difficult environment. In 1692 in Massachusetts a new charter expressed the change from a theocratic to a political, secular state; suffrage was stripped of religious qualifications.

After the 17th cent. the Puritans as a political entity largely disappeared, but Puritan attitudes and ethics continued to exert an influence on American society. They made a virtue of qualities that made for economic success—self-reliance, frugality, industry, and energy—and through them influenced modern social and economic life. Their concern for education was important in the development of the United States, and the idea of congregational democratic church government was carried into the political life of the state as a source of modern democracy. Prominent figures in New England Puritanism include Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, Roger Williams, Increase Mather, and Cotton Mather.

Bibliography

See P. Miller, The New England Mind (2 vol., 1939–53); E. S. Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963); J. E. C. Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (2d ed. 1967); H. C. Porter, Puritanism in Tudor England (1970); C. L. Cohen, God's Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (1986); C. E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety (1986); S. Foster, The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570–1700 (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

English Puritanism from John Hooper to John Milton
Everett H. Emerson.
Duke University Press, 1968
The Puritan Tradition in English Life
John Marlowe.
Cresset Press, 1956
Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century
Christopher Hill.
Secker & Warburg, 1958
Puritanism in the Period of the Great Persecution, 1660- 1688
Gerald R. Cragg.
Cambridge University Press, 1957
Puritanism in America, 1620-1750
Everett Emerson.
Twayne Publishers, 1977
Puritanism in Early America
George M. Waller.
D. C. Heath, 1950
Christianity Comes to the Americas, 1492-1776
Charles H. Lippy; Robert Choquette; Stafford Poole.
Paragon House, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "Puritanism Comes to British America"
God's Plot: Puritan Spirituality in Thomas Shepard's Cambridge
Michael McGiffert.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1994 (Revised edition)
From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660 to 1700
G. R. Cragg.
Cambridge University Press, 1950
The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry
Perry Miller.
Doubleday, 1956
The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England
Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe.
University of North Carolina Press, 1982
Puritanism and Its Discontents
Laura Lunger Knoppers.
University of Delaware Press, 2003
FREE! The Colonising Activities of the English Puritans: The Last Phase of the Elizabethan Struggle with Spain
Arthur Percival Newton.
YaleUniversity Press, 1914
Puritan's Progress: An Informal Account of Certain Puritans & Their Descendants from the American Revolution to the Present Time, Their Manners & Customs, Their Virtues & Vices. Together with Some Possibly Forgotten Episodes in the Development of American Social & Economic Life during the Last One Hundred & Fifty Years
Arthur Train.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1931
FREE! The Heart of the Puritan: Selections from Letters and Journals
Elizabeth Deering Hanscom.
The Macmillan Company, 1917
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