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Puritans

Puritans

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Covenant Theology. Covenants were important in the religious communities of the Puritans in early New England. These were solemn and binding agreements which were patterned after the covenants they believed God had made with man. In the Covenant of Works, Adam and Eve agreed to obey Gods will and obtain salvation by their own good works. They broke this covenant and lost Gods favor. Through the Covenant of Redemption, Jesus agreed to take upon himself the guilt of the sins of men and save them from their fate. In the Covenant of Grace, Gods spirit entered those predestined for salvation. God also made covenants with groups of people, such as Abraham and his descendants, to look on them with special favor if they strove to obey his will. The Puritans believed that they were one of these groups and employed covenants throughout their society in entering marriage, creating churches, forming towns, and establishing governments. All of these specific covenants added up to the societys covenant with God, who was quick to punish any infraction.

Congregational Organization. Churches were at the center of Puritan society. Believers settled close together in towns so that they could attend church at least twice a week and gather for prayers and theological discussions in private homes. Living in close proximity also allowed them to scrutinize each others behavior and help everyone to lead the moral lives that would please God. Privacy was a luxury that striving Christians could ill afford. The first order of business in the town was to form a congregation. A few men were selected as pillars because of their probable conversion and virtuous conduct. They agreed to a church covenant and examined other applicants for membership in that covenant. Soon after they arrived the Puritans adopted the practice of admitting to church membership only those who could convince the pillars and the rest of the congregation that they had been saved. They followed a congregational form of government in which the congregation had absolute autonomy in admitting members, governing itself, selecting its leaders, and calling its minister, whose ordination was only valid in that congregation. The minister was the key in any church. He had to be a highly educated person so that he could provide the most accurate explanation of the Bible and how it related to all aspects of life. Humans could only be saved by hearing and understanding the word of God. But the minister also counseled his flock, leading them toward the saving faith that brought conversion and to the good works that characterized both a saved individual and a moral society. Because God spoke to humans only through the Bible, which the minister understood so well, people turned to him for advice on all sorts of matters, even economic and political. Faced with these awesome responsibilities, neighboring ministers met in informal support groups to discuss common problems of doctrine and governance. The decisions of these clerical consociations were not binding on individual congregation, but their suggestions usually were taken. In 1646 ministers and laymen from each church in Massachusetts met in a colonywide synod and issued the Cambridge Platform, which adopted the general tenets of the Westminster Confession of Faith and recommended that synods or consociations continue to meet and advise local churches. It was such a synod in 1662 that officially sanctioned a Half-Way Covenant whereby congregations could choose to baptize the children of non-church members and allow them to be half-way members of the church.

Worship. Puritan churches were simple, plain, square buildings. There were no steeples, stained-glass windows, or ornaments of any kind. Worshipers sat on hard, wooden benches facing the minister, who often stood on a raised platform. Later these benches were sectioned off into squares of family pews with partitions around them. This was designed to cut down on the cold drafts and retain the heat from warm bricks that the family wrapped in cloths and placed on the floor. Pews were assigned by the familys rank in society. Worship services went on all week, but the major services were on Sunday and were lengthy and formal affairs. In each the main feature was the sermon, which usually lasted about two hours and was bracketed by long prayers. The worshipers stood during the prayers and throughout much of the service. Sometimes the congregation would take a lunch break after the morning service and return for another in the afternoon. The singing or chanting of psalms was allowed but with no musical accompaniment. A liner would sing the line, and the congregation would repeat it in whatever tunes individuals chose to follow. Only those who had been saved and were members could take the sacrament of the Lords Supper. There were no formal religious holidays, not even Christmas or Easter. The Bible provided no dates for the birth, death, or resurrection of Christ, and the Puritans believed that the Catholic Church had simply made them up to coincide with the celebrations of pagans whom the church was attempting to draw into the fold. To Puritans this was simply a whitewashing of heathen partying with a Christian hue. There were special days of Thanksgiving when things went well and fast days when they did not. These were called by a minister for local matters or by the ministerial meetings for colonywide concerns.

Family and Society. The family was the cornerstone of the society where the closest scrutiny and continuous religious instruction occurred. Thus people with no family were placed in one. The townsfolk carefully monitored activities within the households to insure that the family maintained the harmony that characterized Gods original creation. If trouble arose, the church elders would intervene, removing children, apprentices, and servants. Government officials were empowered to grant a divorce so that a contentious husband and wife might enter more-pleasing matrimonial covenants, although it rarely happened. A hierarchy existed within a family so that all would know their places, thus avoiding competition and arguments. The husband was at the head and represented the family unit in all public and church affairs; the wife deferred to him and supervised the private household affairs. The husband also was responsible for raising the children in a strict fashion that would suppress their naturally sinful instincts. If any stepped out of their prescribed roles, it was believed that they would be vulnerable to the temptations of Satan. Similar hierarchies in the larger society were expected to promote the same harmony. The most important was the religious hierarchy, with the minister at the top and the church elders below him, followed by the church members; at the bottom were the non-church members. By law everyone had to pay taxes to support the minister, attend church regularly, and conform to Puritan practices and precepts.

Church and State. All government was in the hands of the saints because they alone could understand and follow Gods will. Church membership was required of all adult men who wished to vote and hold political office. Female saints were excluded because they had men to represent their families. Local governance was most important in the lives of the townsfolk and was almost indistinguishable from the town church. Decisions were made in town meetings which adopted the consensus of the community, which they hoped was close to Gods will. The state was formally separated from the church even though they shared the same mission. The colony government was to pass laws to insure that all would walk in the path of righteousness and to punish those who strayed. If the government failed to maintain proper standards, God would punish the whole society. For instance, wage and price controls were established so that one individual could not profit at the expense of others. All of these regulations were based on biblical directives. There was not even a written code of laws until 1641 because it was assumed that the Bible contained all the laws that were necessary. Government officials also directed the establishment of schools. Education was crucial for all Puritans because God revealed himself in the Scriptures, nature, and history, all of which they needed to learn. At the least everyone had to be able to read the Bible. In 1647 the colony government passed the Old Deluder Satan law, instructing towns to establish schools for this purpose. Harvard College was founded in 1636 to educate aspiring ministers.

Variations. Not everyone conformed to the New England orthodoxy. Some could not justify infant baptism, believing that this sacrament should be a seal of the conversion of adults. These Baptists, as they later came to be called, also demanded a complete separation of church and state, and some even suggested that humans had the freedom of will to choose whether or not they would sin. Others advocated the presbyterian position that church membership should be open to all who agreed to live according to Gods commandments rather than only to those who were already saved and that congregations should relinquish some of their authority to higher councils of ministers and elders. In the interests of harmony, such deviants were counseled in love so that they might see the error of their disagreements, and if that failed they were banished from the colony. Roger Williams left Massachusetts Bay in 1636 and founded Rhode Island, where he established the first Baptist church. His colony welcomed people of all religious beliefs and allowed them to follow their consciences without fear of government interference. Such an environment attracted other exiles, such as Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts Bay in 1637 for adhering to a more mystical interpretation of Calvinism. The Society of Friends (Quakers), a more radical offshoot of puritanism, also settled on Rhode Island as a base from which they could fan out to proselytize through New England. The Puritan establishment considered the Friends to be the greatest threat, for they challenged not only its theology but also its society and government.

Decline. The challenges to Puritan control of New England increased after 1660 and exacerbated the internal threats to the cohesion of the society that accompanied a growth in population and economic prosperity. More people settled on isolated farms, away from churches and guardians of morality; merchants and wage workers put their individual needs above the community good; and non-Puritans arrived in greater force, seeking economic opportunity rather than religious cohesion. Fewer people believed they had been saved, and so smaller numbers were joining the church, thus denying their children the chance to be baptized. In desperation, some churches adopted the Half-Way Covenant, in which children of any baptized person could be baptized regardless of whether their parents were church members or not; others adopted the presbyterian position that anyone who led a moral life could become a church member and seek conversion within its fold. Meanwhile, Puritan officials were fighting to retain control of their colonies in the face of English threats to place them all under royal control. James II finally did so, revoking their charters and, in 1686, gathering Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York into the Dominion of New England, ruled by a royal governor who was an Anglican. The Glorious Revolution ended this, but William and Mary did not restore their old charters. Instead Massachusetts Bay received a royal charter, which included Plymouth as well. Connecticut retained her self-government, but it too had to conform to the laws of England. The Puritans had become New Englanders, and their churches became known as Congregational.

Sources

Francis J. Bremer, The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards, revised edition (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1995);

Stephen Foster, Their Solitary Way: The Puritan Social Ethic in the First Century of Settlement in New England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971);

David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgement: Popular Religious Beliefs in Early New England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990);

Carla Pestana, Quakers and Baptists in Colonial Massachusetts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

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puritans

puritans. During the reign of the catholic Mary Tudor (1553–8) many hundreds of English protestants went into exile on the continent, where they experienced forms of worship which were ‘purer’ than those prescribed in the 1552 Prayer Book because they contained virtually no trace of catholicism. Returning to England at the beginning of Elizabeth I's reign, they hoped to create an established church closer to continental models, but the queen insisted on a comprehensive settlement. The Elizabethan church therefore retained a number of ‘impure’ ceremonial practices, which a minority of hard-line clergy refused to accept. They were harried by the government, under the name of ‘puritans’. The conforming majority, both clerical and lay, shared many of their reservations but were willing, albeit reluctantly, to obey the orders of their royal governor. They were helped by the fact that in its theology, if not its practice, the established church was calvinist. This remained the case under James I, despite the failure of the Hampton Court conference, but the accession of Charles I in 1625 brought the high-church arminians to power. By insisting that they alone constituted the true Church of England, and by calling all its low-church adherents puritans, the arminians drove the conforming majority into opposition. This opened the way to the destruction of the established church after the collapse of Charles's rule, but the victorious puritans were divided about how to replace it. The presbyterians wanted a state church similar but not identical to that in Scotland, whereas the independents insisted on autonomy for individual congregations. Matters were complicated by the proliferation of sects demanding freedom to worship as they pleased. Continuing puritan divisions throughout the Interregnum created a backlash which found expression in the re-establishment of the Church of England after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. The legislation known as the Clarendon code imposed severe penalties upon nonconformists, and sporadic persecution of puritans continued until the Glorious Revolution. Only in 1689 did the Toleration Act permit protestant nonconformists to worship freely, but even so they remained officially barred from public life.

Roger Lockyer

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Puritans

Puritans. Those members of the late 16th-cent. church in England who were dissatisfied with the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion. The term was one of abuse coined in the 1560s to describe ‘a hotter sort of Protestant’. These included people who had returned to England after exile under Queen Mary (1553–8), some of whom refused to be bishops, and who held strong views about worship, as well as others who pressed vigorously for the purification of the Church. The term ‘Puritan’ thus describes attitudes to the Church of England which changed through time. In the early 17th cent., the lines separating Puritans and English Protestants became more blurred as they continued, in the main, to worship in the same churches and espouse the same basic theology. The appointment by Charles I of a number of bishops who were Arminian in much of their theology, together with the seeming alliance of court and church in promoting high church practices, alienated many: it raised questions about the episcopate, the liturgy, and the proper way of life for the elect (cf. election), which had largely lain dormant for half a century. Not so by 1642, when these issues figured in the English Civil War, the so-called Puritan Revolution. After the restoration, some Puritans became Separatists, believing in a Congregational form of church government. Several of these Separatist leaders were executed, whilst others were compelled to leave the country (e.g. the Pilgrim Fathers) in order to enjoy religious liberty.

Under the auspices of the Massachusetts Bay Company, Puritans settled in all the new colonies, but especially in New England and Virginia. Until the end of the 17th cent., the strong Puritan sense of holding authority under God (as God's elect) created a kind of ‘holy commonwealth’, with strong religious control.

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Puritans

Puritans British Protestants who were particularly influential during the 16th and 17th centuries. They originated in the reign of Elizabeth I as a faction within the Church of England; their chief aim was to make it a truly Protestant Church, rather than an Anglo-Catholic one. Following the teachings of Calvin, they were initially opposed to Anglicanism because of its preoccupation with what they considered to be ‘Popish’ practice. However, they later demanded the establishment of Presbyterianism. In the 17th century, many of the parliamentary opponents of James I and Charles I were Puritans. Among them were the Pilgrims who emigrated to America. The English Civil War (1642–51) resulted from attempts by Puritan parliamentarians to block Charles I's policies on religious grounds. After the war, the Puritans' reached their in 1653, when Oliver Cromwell established the Protectorate. In 1660, the authority of the Church of England as an Anglican institution was re-established, although 30 years later Presbyterianism was accepted as the state-supported form of Christianity in Scotland. In England, the Puritans lived on as Dissenters. See also Nonconformism

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Puritan

Pu·ri·tan / ˈpyoŏritn/ • n. a member of a group of English Protestants of the late 16th and 17th centuries who regarded the Reformation of the Church of England under Elizabeth as incomplete and sought to simplify and regulate forms of worship. ∎  (puritan) a person with censorious moral beliefs, esp. about pleasure and sex. • adj. of or relating to the Puritans. ∎  (puritan) having or displaying censorious moral beliefs, esp. about pleasure and sex. DERIVATIVES: Pu·ri·tan·ism (also pu·ri·tan·ism) n.

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Puritan

Puritan a member of a group of English Protestants of the late 16th and 17th centuries who regarded the Reformation of the Church under Elizabeth as incomplete and sought to simplify and regulate forms of worship.

Oppressed under James I and Charles I, in particular by Archbishop Laud, many (such as the Pilgrim Fathers) emigrated to the Netherlands and America. The Civil War of the 1640s led to the temporary pre-eminence of Puritanism. Soon, however, the movement fragmented into sects, and the term Puritan began to be less used; after the Restoration such people tended to be called Dissenters or Nonconformists.

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Puritans

PURITANS


The Puritans were members of a religious movement that began in England during the 1500s and lasted into the first half of the 1600s, when it spread to America. Influenced by the teachings of religious reformer John Calvin (15091564), the Puritans were so named because they wanted to purify the Anglican Church (also called the Church of England). They believed that too much power rested with the church hierarchy (its priests, bishops, and cardinals), and that the people (called the laity or lay members) should have more involvement in church matters. Ceremonies should, the Puritans believed, be simplified to stress Bible reading and individual prayer. They defied the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church, believing that each church congregation should control its own affairs through a council (called a presbytery) of lay members. The Puritans also had strong feelings about government. They maintained that people can only be governed by contract (such as a constitution), which limits the power of a ruler.

When King James I (15661625; ruled 16031625) ascended the throne of England in 1603, he was the first ruler of the house (royal family) of Stuart. The Stuart monarchs were Anglican or Catholic, but faced with the challenge of radical Puritanism, they tried to enforce national adherence to the Anglican Church, which stressed the ceremonial and traditional elements of worship. Further, the Stuart kings viewed the Puritan agitators as a threat to their authority.

Persecuted by the throne, groups of Puritans fled England for the New World. One group was granted a corporate charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company (1629). Unlike other such contracts, which provided the framework for establishing colonies in America, this one did not require the stockholders to hold their meetings in England. What is striking about the organization of the Puritan colony is the fact that their organization combined economic, political, and religious levels of meaning. Stockholders who made the voyage across the Atlantic would become voting citizens in their own settlements; the board of directors would form the legislative assembly; and the company president, Puritan leader John Winthrop (15881649) would become the governor. In 1630 the group settled in what is today Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, establishing a Puritan Commonwealth. By 1643, more than 20,000 Puritans had arrived in Massachusetts, in what is called the Great Migration. Puritans also settled Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Virginia during this period.

Puritans founded the Congregational Church. They also established grammar schools and colleges (including Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth) in New England.

See also: Connecticut, Colonies (Corporate), Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia

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Puritan

Puritan Protestant who aimed at further purification of Reformed doctrine and practice. XVI. f. late L. pūritās purity (cf. PURE) + AN.
Hence puritanic, puritanical XVII.

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puritan

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