4th January 1644/5. What the Puritans Did for Us.
Dissent in literary tradition goes back to Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale, via vernacular biblical translations which culminated in William Tyndale.
The history of Britain from the middle-ages is that of the union of state and church and the centrality of Catholic religion which struck deep into people’s hearts and psyche.
Reaction came Today in 1644/5 which saw the ‘Ordinance for taking away the Book of Common Prayer’.(1)
It also established and put into execution ‘The Directory for The Publique worship of God’, a Puritan move and anathema to those of more moderate religious persuasion.
Dissent under Puritan influence was a constant theme of a battle between scriptural authority against priesthood and Anglican ordinance between the accession of Elizabeth in 1558 and the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1659.
The Puritans reacted against the 1559 Elizabethan Settlement Prayer Book demanding a conformity to political authority, though many used it alongside other forms of worship. It was only when pressure was exerted that the early Puritans wanted reform.
Initially Puritans were concerned about narrow points of doctrinal criticism and not until Archbishop Parker’s hard-line opponents was ‘Puritan’ used in a derogatory sense.
To a Puritan ‘The [Biblical] Word’ was mediated, analysed, interpreted from a pulpit by Geneva banded, austerely dressed clerics aimed at instructing, persuading and working on people’s hearts and fears, hoping to draw people from the bondage of sin into a state of grace and communion with the saints.(2)
The sermon was the ‘Word’ declaimed in churches rid of all Catholic symbolism and reference, often in simple Wren inspired buildings, and with the growth of non-conformity was to become an austere and repressive religion.
What did the Puritans do for us?: they created a culture of radicalism and dissent against the excesses of the Roman Church.
The result was a Civil War, a democratic approach to religion and politics, where parliament gained a supremacy over and against the Divine Right of monarchy.
It led to the free thinking of the 18thc secular Age of the Enlightenment whose ideals later were in many ways realized through the reforming religious evangelicals wishing to improve the lot of the ‘benighted’ poor.
Later in the same vein came social and suffrage reform and rise of new affiliations to the political Liberal and Labour movements.
(1) Double dating as both January 1st and March 25th began the new year until 1752.
(2) The Bible and Foxes’ Acts of the Monuments and books on conversion experience was the preferred reading.
Ref: Acts and Ordinance of Interregnum 1642-1660 (1911) p 582-607 4 Jan 1644/5.
Ref: academia.edu/ Hot Protestant: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism, Ian Hugh Clary.