The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700

Article excerpt

The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700. Edited by Christopher Durston and Jacqueline Eales. Themes in Focus. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. viii + 332 pp. $45.00 (cloth).

Patrick Collinson is the Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University and a leading scholar of English Puritanism. His name does not appear on the cover of this work, but his influence is evident throughout. He contributed the first essay and is often cited bv the other contributors to this collection. Peter Lake even converts Collison's name to an adjectival form. For Lake a "Collinsonian" depiction of Puritanism is of "a form of voluntary religion and ethical rigorism operating on the personal and interpersonal, the domestic and household levels, to supplement and extend . . . the norms and forms of the national church and the wider society" (p. 156).

As that definition might suggest, the chapters of this collection attempt to define and describe Puritanism in social rather than theological terms. In their introduction, editors Christopher Durston and Jacqueline Eales explain why a social approach is preferable to the theological one taken by such authors as J. F. H. New, J. Sears McGee, Richard Greaves, and Peter White. Durston and Eales argue that theological markers, such as the doctrine of double predestination, are not useful before the mid-1620s because a wide spectrum of Anglicans subscribed to them. It was only when a royal party succeeded in convincing many Anglicans to adopt a high-church Arminian theology that a Reformed theology could be said to be typical of a Puritan remnant. Eales and Durston adopt, therefore, an alternative cultural approach, which they see as consistent with the work of Peter Burke in Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. They apply this approach to Puritanism by identify ing the movement "as grounded in a highly distinctive cast of mind-or to use a more fashionable term, mentalite" (p. 9).

In the subsequent chapters, the contributors to this collection describe this mentalite in a variety of ways. Two of the chapters are rather broad in scope. Patrick Collinson's chapter touches upon Puritan opposition to popular festivals, games, and the theater, and their alternative activities of listening to sermons, psalm-singing, and participation in public fasts. Jacqueline Eales describes the network of educational institutions, printed works, political connections, and individual families with with which Puritans kept alive and expanded their movement during the later Elizabethan and early Stuart years.

Other chapters are more specific in their focus. Peter Lake examines literature of the mutual denunciations by Puritans and their opponents and concludes that the identities of the two groups were "dialectically linked." (p. 165) That is to say; the members of each group made use of the other to distance themselves from unwanted logical consequences of the positions that they held. Ralph Houlbrooke traces the contours of the Puritan ars moriendi, which involved neither Holy Communion nor a full confession to a priest, but did place a premium on submission to God's will. …


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