The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

went back to the origins of the movement in the 1560's, that it had always been there, though it had been kept down by the long necessity of maintaining a united front against the prelates. But out of this hidden rift in the ranks, some two decades before the Puritans took up arms against King Charles, came the migration of certain adherents of the minority position to New England.

The majority of English Puritans believed that the pure church should be "national"--as was the Church of England --that it should include the entire population, and be made up of geographical parish units, with membership and attendance enforced by the state. But their national church was to be Presbyterian, on the model of Calvin's system in Geneva or the Church of Scotland. They would replace the hierarchy of archbishops, bishops, priests, with a hierarchy of governing bodies, from the national assembly down through the regional classis to the presbytery of the parish church, consisting of the minister and the elders.

The minority were what ultimately came to be called Congregationalists. They held that each church was "particular," being founded on a covenant formally entered into only by those who possessed the will power to confess their faith and to swear to the covenant. These they called the "visible saints." The churches were to be entirely self- governing; there would be no compelling agencies above them, neither bishop nor classis nor synod. The conception of a national church was to be rooted out as being the last stronghold of Antichrist. Each congregation was to choose its own pastor and officers, to administer the rites, accept or excommunicate members, while the masses--if unable to make a profession--would simply have to remain meekly outside. Uniformity of practice and doctrine would be guaranteed by the unanimity of the saints, while the civil authority would keep the unchurched in subjection and prevent the rise among them of any heresy or of any competing ecclesiastical proposals.

The sources of this Congregational philosophy are difficult to locate. The proponents thought it was sufficiently set forth in the New Testament, though Presbyterians could not find it there. We may now perceive, in the perspective

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The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Contents iii
  • Title Page v
  • Foreword ix
  • Chapter One - History 1
  • Chapter Two - State and Society 78
  • Chapter Three - This World and the Next 143
  • Chapter Four - Personal Narrative 225
  • Chapter Five - Poetry 265
  • Chapter Six - Literary and Educational Ideals 320
  • A Brief Bibliography 336
  • Index 341
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