Puritanism (1620 – 1740) Shaping Forces • Textual, geographical, and spiritual • Invention of the printing press – “They were not only, like all Puritans, a self-declared people of the Book. They were a community that invented itself, ex verbo, by the word, and continued to assert that identity through the 17th century, expanding, modifying, and revising it in a progression of sermons, exhortations and declarations, histories and hagiographies, covenants and controversies, statements and restatements of purpose—a stream of rhetorical self-definition unequaled by any other community of its kind.” – Sacvan Bercovitch • Discovery of America • Protestant Reformation Historical Background Two Important New England Settlements: The Plymouth Colony • Flagship Mayflower arrives - 1620 • Leader - William Bradford • Settlers known as Pilgrims and Separatists • "The Mayflower Compact" provides for social, religious, and economic freedom, while still maintaining ties to Great Britain. The Massachusetts Bay Colony • Flagship Arbella arrives - 1630 • Leader - John Winthrop • Settlers are mostly Puritans or Congregational Puritans • "The Arbella Covenant" clearly establishes a religious and theocratic settlement, free of ties to Great Britain. Beliefs Basic Puritan Beliefs – (Tulip) 1. Total Depravity - through Adam and Eve's fall, every person is born sinful - concept of Original Sin 2. Unconditional Election - God "saves" those he wishes - only a few are selected for salvation - concept of predestination (Sanctification is evidence of salvation, but does not cause it) 3. Limited Atonement - Jesus died for the chosen only, not for everyone 4. Irresistible Grace - God's grace is freely given, it cannot be earned or denied. Grace is defined as the saving and transfiguring power of God 5. Perseverance of the saints - those elected by God have full power to interpret the will of God, and to live uprightly. If anyone rejects grace after feeling its power in his life, he will be going against the will of God - something impossible in Puritanism Additional Beliefs Typology: The belief that God's intentions are present in human action and in natural phenomenon. Puritans believed in cyclical or repetitive history; they use "types" - Moses prefigures Jesus, Jonah's patience is reflected in Jesus' ordeal on the cross, and Moses' journey out of Egypt is played out in the Pilgrims' crossing of the Atlantic. Human time is a progression toward the fulfillment of God’s design on earth. History revealed what God approved or condemned. Manifest Destiny: The concept of manifest destiny is as old as the first New England settlements. Without using the words, John Winthrop articulated the concept in his famous sermon, the Arbella Covenant (1630), when he said: " ... for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; ..." Winthrop exhorts his listeners to carry on God's mission and to set a shining example for the rest of the world. From this beginning, the concept has had religious, social, economic, and political consequences. The words manifest destiny were first used by editor John L. O'Sullivan in 1845. Backsliding: The belief that "saved" believers, those with visible signs of grace, can fall into temptation and become sinners. To prevent this, believers were expected not to become smug, do constant soul- searching, be introspective, and pray constantly. Satan was particularly interested in snaring such believers. Conversion Narratives: Puritan churches did not hold that all parish residents should be full church members. A true church, they believed, consisted not of everyone but of the elect. As a test of election, many New England churches began to require applicants for church membership to testify to their personal experience of God in the form of conversion narratives. Classification of Puritans • Larger sense as Christian, in a narrower sense as Protestant, and in a still more specialized sense as Calvinist. • Catholics are chief opponents, but also believed that high church Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and Quakers were wrong in their religious beliefs. • Persecuted other groups and refused to allow the establishment of their churches in Massachusetts Bay until 1665, when at last a Baptist congregation was tolerated---a full thirty-five years after the Puritans came to Boston. Literary influences Strong European influence Also based on pre-conceived European ideals of the new utopia – The American Dream Cannot trace back to “American” roots Native Americans did not contribute to the Puritan style of writing Literary Legacy • The genesis of the American dream • The need for moral justification for private, public, and governmental acts • The Questing for Freedom - personal, political, economic, and social • The Puritan work ethic • Elegiac verse - morbid fascination with death • The city upon the hill - concept of manifest destiny • Suspicion of language - questioning whether language can reveal extraordinary experiences • Self-scrutiny Function of Puritan Writing • To transform a mysterious God - mysterious because he is separate from the world • To make him more relevant to the universe • To glorify God • To have a complete record of the Puritan story – “The voyage to New England was an act of faith, derived from the reading of providential signs in contingent events, and the “simple truth” was therefore nothing less than an account of the significant actions of God’s Chosen People, sent on a divine errand into the wilderness.” – Ruland and Bradbury Style The plain style - Puritan writers turned away from features common to the rhetoric of the day - rhetorical flourishes and learned quotations of the metaphysical style of sermon The plain style was important for interpreting signs (typology) Still contained metaphor • Purpose - there was a strong sense of purpose in Puritan writing • Puritan writing reflected the character and scope of the reading public, which was literate and well-grounded in religion. • Common themes were idealism - both religious and political and pragmaticism - practicality and purpose • Focus on didacticism and piety Popular Genres • Jeremiad - a long literary work in which the author bitterly laments the state of society and its morals, calls for a restoration of purity, and contains a prophecy of society's imminent downfall • Sermons - (see reader for format) • Journals – account of individual lives • Histories – public account of a colony or town – Both histories and journals were scrutinized for signs • Conversion narratives • Devotional works • Captivity narratives – Reinforced the idea that the Puritans were a chosen people entering a wilderness full of “devils” Unpopular Genres • Drama – theater was condemned – “The powers of darkness have a library among us, whereof the poets have been the most numerous as well as the most venomous authors. Most of the modern plays, as well as the romances, and novels and fictions, which are a sort of poem, do belong to the catalogue of this cursed library.” – Cotton Mather – Mather also noted that a Mr. Bedford had collected “near 7000 instances” of pestilential impiety from the plays of the previous 5 years. • Prose – novels were deeply distrusted • Poetry – except for rigorously defined verse Major Authors and Works John Winthrop – “A Model of Christian Charity” Anne Bradstreet - poetry Edward Taylor - poetry Cotton Mather – Magnalia Christi Americana William Bradford – Of Plymouth Plantation Mary Rowlandson – A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson Jonathan Edwards – “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Sources • Bercovitch, Sacvan. “The Puritan Vision of the New World.” The Columbia History of the United States. New York: Columbia UP, 1988. • Ruland, Richard and Bradbury, Martin. From Puritanism to Postmodernism. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
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