Friday, December 25, 2015

Leon Howard, Essays on Puritans and Puritanism

Leon Howard, Essays on Puritans and Puritanism, Univ of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque 1986

Martin Luther began it on Halloween day, 1517, when he posted his theses against indulgences on the door of the university in Wittenberg. (6)

John Wycliffe, had preached most of the doctrines of the sixteenth-century Reformation, led an active protest against the abuses and corruptions of the Church, translated the Bible into English for popular use, and gained a great and rebellious popular following. But Wycliffe had no printing press to spread his English version of the Word and his explications of it and no secular authority to support his reforms. Instead his followers, the Lollards, were put down in one of the bloodiest repressions of rebellion in the history of England, and severe laws were passed against them and kept in force during the sixteenth century. (8)

Two great convictions dominated their minds and fortified their emotions. The first, formalized as the basic Protestant doctrine by Martin Luther, was a belief in “justification by faith alone” … The second, an article of faith rather than a formal doctrine, was a belief in “the sufficiency of the Word”—a conviction that the Word of God contained everything necessary for man’s guidance along the road of salvation. Since this, by implication, denied both the authority and the dogma of the Roman Church, it was obnoxious to Catholicism as the doctrine of justifications by faith was heretical. (11)

Despite all the variations that existed within it, the doctrine of justification by faith alone put the Protestants in direct opposition to the Catholic doctrine of being judged righteous by merit—whether this merit was acquired through mysterious sacramental channels or through obvious works of charity and piety. The Protestant was expected sincerely and earnestly to repent of his sins, not to do penance for them. His faith and hope were supposed to lead to a feeling of love, not to acts of charity. (13)

The belief in personal “election” to salvation, as it came to be called, created no serious problems until the Calvanists began to dwell upon the complementary notions that those who were not of the elect must necessarily be “reprobated” to eternal damnation. But this was to come later, after the publication of the 1559 edition of Calvin’s Institutes. The early years of the Reformation were years of discovery—of man’s new relationship to God through faith and throough the Word—and of zeal in rallying God’s chosen people to the cause of true religion. (14-15)

Some extreme groups, though, maintained that there was no precedent either in the Scriptures or in the primitive churches for infant baptism and held that true baptism involved a spiritual rebirth which was possible only for mature believers and should be performed by total immersion. (17)

The separation of the English church from the church of Rome was not in itself an act of reformation although it placed the new Church of England in the secessionist group and made it subject to strong Protestant influences. (19)

The other development which harmed the Puritan cause, at least for a while, was the appearance of the Martin Marprelate tracts of 1588-89. … supposedly on behalf of an unknown Martin Marprelate, and the first tract was Martin’s “An Epistle to the Terrible Priests”… “proud, popish, presumptuous, profane, paltry, pestilent and pernicious Prelates” as usurpers of authority in the church and defended the “Puritan” system of government set forth by Cartwright, Fenner, and Travers. He was serious in his opinions but maddeningly irreverent in his attitude, (51-2)

This was the “Matthew” Bible, compiled by John Rogers under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew. The disguise was necessary because more than half the text was Tyndale’s, and Tyndale’s was a name which irritated the King because he had opposed the divorces proceedings and set himself apart from the English reformers. Henry had tried to have him kidnapped and brought to England and—though Cromwell had thought well of him—had done nothing to assist him in 1535-36 when he was imprisoned for heresy, strangled at the stake, and burned in Antwerp. (59-60)

…the practice of prophesying—regular gatherings of the clergy…for the purpose of exercising their ability in public explication of biblical texts… was well systemized. There the local ministers formally subscribed to a confession of faith, signed their names in order, and gathered each Saturday at nine in the morning for two hours of public prophesying and one hour of private consultation. Following the order of their signatures, three spoke each morning. The major speaker, beginning and ending with prayer, was allowed forty-five minutes to explicate the text, confute any false interpretations of it that he might know of, and apply it to the comfort of his audience—all under the strict injunction that “he shall not digress, dilate, nor amplify that place of scripture whereof he treateth to any common place, further than the meaning of the said scripture.” Each of the minor speakers was allowed fifteen minutes to supplement the remarks of the first, but with repetition… After the public exercises were brought to an end by the moderator the “learned bretheren” were called together to judge the exposition and “propound their doubts or question,” and the text for the next meeting was read and the names of the speakers publicly announced. (71)

…the Queen was probably suspicious of any religious gatherings, unauthorized by the law, for scriptural discovery…Grindal flatly and boldly refused. Defending preaching on scriptural authority and grounds of policy, he reminded the Queen that she was mortal and that a mightier prince “dwelleth in heaven”. … Elizabeth stripped him of his authority without accepting his offer, but her own personal efforts failed to stop the practice. Even with the willing cooperation of John Aylmer, Bishop of London, who took over many of Grindal’s duties, she could not find deputies capable of suppressing the now frankly Puritan lecturers who were being supported by wealthy laymen, municipal officials, and congregations who selected their own ministers and sometimes purchased the right to do so. Prophesying continued, often with the approval or active support of some bishops… (71-2)


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