History of Religion in the United States

By Clifton E. Olmstead | Go to book overview

1
The European Heritage

THAT COMPLEX AND DIVERSIFIED PHENOMENON KNOWN AS "AMERICAN REligion" is a product of the cultural heritage of Old Europe adapted and molded in the crucible of the American physical environment. The heritage is not only British but European, even Asian; not only of the sixteenth and seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but of twenty-five hundred years. Granted that the institutions of American religion are the immediate offspring of Reformation and Counter-Reformation movements, their roots, nevertheless, lie deeply embedded in the matrix of ancient Palestine, Greece, and Rome. We should, therefore, first turn to the broad cultural setting in which the Judaeo-Christian tradition found nourishment, so that we may more adequately assay the interplay of forces which contributed to the making of the American religious mind.


PRE-REFORMATION CHRISTENDOM

As a religious movement, the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century proposed to return the church to the pristine purity of Apostolic Christianity. It was, however, not unmixed in either its motivation or its goals, being aided and sometimes controlled by multifarious forces antagonistic toward the medieval world view. Thus, while the movement was most certainly religious in its inception and inspired by leaders of

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