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Puritanism,in the 16th and 17th cent., a movement for reform in the Church of England that had a profound influence on the social, political, ethical, and theological ideas of England and America.
Historically Puritanism began early (c.1560) in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I as a movement for religious reform. The early Puritans felt that the Elizabethan ecclesiastical establishment was too political, too compromising, and too Catholic in its liturgy, vestments, and episcopal hierarchy. Calvinist in theology, they stressed predestinationpredestination,
in theology, doctrine that asserts that God predestines from eternity the salvation of certain souls. So-called double predestination, as in Calvinism, is the added assertion that God also foreordains certain souls to damnation.
..... Click the link for more information. and demanded scriptural warrant for all details of public worship. They believed that the Scriptures did not sanction the setting up of bishops and churches by the state. The aim of the early Puritans such as Thomas Cartwright was to purify the church (hence their name), not to separate from it. However, by 1567 a small group of lay rigorists was discovered meeting secretly in London to worship after the pattern of the service of the church in Geneva.
Although Puritans believed that if they searched the Scriptures long enough they would eventually agree, they early differed on the nature of the church polity advised in the Bible. The parish was the unit of the Puritan church; the parochial group of church members elected ministers. The main body of Puritans, the Presbyterians (see PresbyterianismPresbyterianism,
form of Christian church organization based on administration by a hierarchy of courts composed of clerical and lay presbyters. Holding a position between episcopacy (government by bishops) and Congregationalism (government by local congregation),
..... Click the link for more information. ), favored a central church government, whereas the separatistsseparatists,
in religion, those bodies of Christians who withdrew from the Church of England. They desired freedom from church and civil authority, control of each congregation by its membership, and changes in ritual. In the 16th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. , IndependentsIndependents,
in religion, those bodies of Christians who claim freedom from ecclesiastical and civil authority for their individual churches. They hold that each congregation should have control of its own affairs.
..... Click the link for more information. or Congregationalists (see CongregationalismCongregationalism,
type of Protestant church organization in which each congregation, or local church, has free control of its own affairs. The underlying principle is that each local congregation has as its head Jesus alone and that the relations of the various congregations
..... Click the link for more information. ), defined the church as any autonomous congregation of believers, emphasized the point that one could arrive at one's own conclusions in religion, and opposed a national, comprehensive church.
Persecution and Emigration
During the reign of James I, the Presbyterian majority unsuccessfully attempted to impose their ideas on the established English church at the Hampton Court Conference (1604). The result was mutual disaffection and a persecution of the Puritans, particularly by Archbishop William LaudLaud, William,
1573–1645, archbishop of Canterbury (1633–45). He studied at St. John's College, Oxford, and was ordained a priest in 1601. From the beginning Laud showed his hostility to Puritanism. He became president of St.
..... Click the link for more information. , that brought about Puritan migration to Europe and America (see MayflowerMayflower,
ship that in 1620 brought the Pilgrims from England to New England. She set out from Southampton in company with the Speedwell, the vessel that had borne some of the English separatists from the Netherlands back to England for the momentous voyage.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Those groups that remained in England grew as a political party and rose to their greatest power between 1640 and 1660 as a result of the English civil warEnglish civil war,
1642–48, the conflict between King Charles I of England and a large body of his subjects, generally called the "parliamentarians," that culminated in the defeat and execution of the king and the establishment of a republican commonwealth.
..... Click the link for more information. ; during that period the Independents gained dominance. The great Puritan apologist of this period was John MiltonMilton, John,
1608–74, English poet, b. London, one of the greatest poets of the English language. Early Life and Works
The son of a wealthy scrivener, Milton was educated at St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge.
..... Click the link for more information. . During the Restoration the Puritans were oppressed under the Clarendon Code (1661–65), which secured the episcopal character of the Established Church and, in effect, cast the Puritans out of the Church of England. From this time they were known as nonconformistsnonconformists,
in religion, those who refuse to conform to the requirements (in doctrine or discipline) of an established church. The term is applied especially to Protestant dissenters from the Church of England.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Influence on American Society
In New England, in the Puritan "Holy Commonwealth," some 35 churches had been formed by 1640. The Puritans in New England maintained the Calvinist distinction between the elect and the damned in their theory of the church, in which membership consisted only of the regenerate minority who publicly confessed their experience of conversion. Ministers had great political influence, and civil authorities exercised a large measure of control over church affairs. The Cambridge PlatformCambridge Platform,
declaration of principles of church government and discipline, forming in fact a constitution of the Congregational churches. It was adopted (1648) by a church synod at Cambridge, Mass., and remains the basis of the temporal government of the churches.
..... Click the link for more information. (1648) expressed the Puritan position on matters of church government and discipline. To the Puritans, a person by nature was wholly sinful and could achieve good only by severe and unremitting discipline. Hard work was considered a religious duty and emphasis was laid on constant self-examination and self-discipline. Although profanation of the Sabbath day, blasphemy, fornication, drunkenness, playing games of chance, and participation in theatrical performances were penal offenses, the severity of the code of behavior of the early Puritans is often exaggerated.
In 1662 it was made easier for the unregenerate majority to become church members in Massachusetts by the adoption of the Half-Way CovenantHalf-Way Covenant,
a doctrinal decision of the Congregational churches in New England. The first generation of Congregationalists had decided that only adults with personal experience of conversion were eligible to full membership but that children shared in the covenant of
..... Click the link for more information. . Clerical power was lessened by the expansion of New England and the opening of frontier settlements filled with colonists who were resourceful, secular, and engaged in a struggle to adapt to a difficult environment. In 1692 in Massachusetts a new charter expressed the change from a theocratic to a political, secular state; suffrage was stripped of religious qualifications.
After the 17th cent. the Puritans as a political entity largely disappeared, but Puritan attitudes and ethics continued to exert an influence on American society. They made a virtue of qualities that made for economic success—self-reliance, frugality, industry, and energy—and through them influenced modern social and economic life. Their concern for education was important in the development of the United States, and the idea of congregational democratic church government was carried into the political life of the state as a source of modern democracy. Prominent figures in New England Puritanism include Thomas HookerHooker, Thomas,
1586–1647, Puritan clergyman in the American colonies, chief founder of Hartford, Conn., b. Leicestershire, England. A clergyman, he was ordered to appear before the court of high commission for nonconformist preaching in England and fled (1630) to Holland.
..... Click the link for more information. , John CottonCotton, John,
1584–1652, Puritan clergyman in England and Massachusetts, b. Derbyshire, educated at Cambridge. Imbued with Puritan doctrines, he won many followers during his 20 years as vicar of the rich and influential parish of St. Botolph's Church, Boston, Lincolnshire.
..... Click the link for more information. , Roger WilliamsWilliams, Roger,
c.1603–1683, clergyman, advocate of religious freedom, founder of Rhode Island, b. London. A protégé of Sir Edward Coke, he graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1627 and took Anglican orders.
..... Click the link for more information. , Increase MatherMather, Increase,
1639–1723, American Puritan clergyman, b. Dorchester, Mass.; son of Richard Mather. After graduation (1656) from Harvard, he studied at Trinity College, Dublin (M.A., 1658), and preached in England and Guernsey until the Restoration.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Cotton MatherMather, Cotton
, 1663–1728, American Puritan clergyman and writer, b. Boston, grad. Harvard (B.A., 1678; M.A., 1681); son of Increase Mather and grandson of Richard Mather and of John Cotton.
..... Click the link for more information. .
See P. Miller, The New England Mind (2 vol., 1939–53); E. S. Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963); J. E. C. Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (2d ed. 1967); H. C. Porter, Puritanism in Tudor England (1970); C. L. Cohen, God's Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (1986); C. E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety (1986); S. Foster, The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570–1700 (1991).