Tenets of Puritanism

First Two Groups of Immigrants Seeking Religious Freedom

  Separatists Puritans
Position on the Church of England separate purify
Leader William Bradford  
Colony settled    
Year arrived    

Attitudes and Way of Life

Puritanism as a body of theological doctrine and church polity is distinct from “Puritanism” as a set of attitudes and a way of life deriving from that theology. They held the following assumptions.  (1) The imperfection of human nature and all its creations resulted in a flawed society. (2) The world was blemished, but man could make it better. (3) To be Puritan demanded self-discipline, self-trial, and self-denial.  (4) Puritanism was individualistic.  Salvation depended on the individual’s relationship to God, not that of the church or that of his family. (5) The experience of conversion and salvation gave special privileges but demanded special obligations. (6) Puritanism gave an ethical bias that rigid obedience to moral standards was important, because the individual was personally accountable for the consequences of his actions.

Contributions of Puritanism to America

            Many worthy American values are an inherence from Puritan tenets: values such as strong family ties, free public education, and hard work.   An inflexibility in interpreting beliefs, however, led to bigotry and intolerance, the characteristics most often associated with Puritanism by those who have not studied their work as a whole and focus instead on the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, one of the darkest events in our history. Nathaniel Hawthorne, great-grandson of Judge Hathorne, one of the judges ruling in the Salem trials, wrote in his short story “The Snow Image,”  “Such a life was sinister to the intellect and sinister to the heart; especially when one generation had bequeathed its religious gloom and the counterfeit of its religious ardor, to the next; for these characteristics, by being inherited from the example and precept of other human beings, and not from an original and spiritual source, assumed the form both of hypocrisy and exaggeration.”

Strengths of the Faith

1. Right to govern itself

2. Open meetings of stockholders and free men.

3. Democratic organization of the church (Congregationalism); Mayflower Compact set in place rule by the governed for the "civic body politic."

    Theocracy --state and church governed hand in hand

4. Purifying became rigid way of life

5.  Valued education (allotted land for school; emphasized literacy to read the Scriptures, for example the "Old Deluder Satan Act")

6.  Worked "unto the Lord" valuing all professions and calling for  working hard and purposeful "for His glory"  (Puritan Work Ethic)

7.  Created the concept of the American dream

Tenets of Puritanism  (critical to understanding the works during this period of time)

However, the Calvinists believed that all intellectual and imaginative activity was purposeful, to be put to use in finding God and glorifying Him as a result of the following tenets:

The Supremacy of Divine Will: The primary Puritan concept was that of God as absolute will. Therefore, God’s world must be governed by His morality, and worldly experience must be a manifestation of His moral law.

The Depravity of Man: Because Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, man is fallen and naturally depraved.

Election: Man broke his covenant with God in the Garden of Eden, but through the sacrifice of Christ a second covenant was made. However, only a very few would be saved or “elected,” thus benefiting from the new covenant.  According to Puritan belief, only a few would escape damnation.

Free Grace: Those who are of God’s elect are visited by God’s grace, which is freely given and cannot be “won” as a reward by man.   If man could behave in such a way that God was forced to reward him, then man would have control over God, conflicting with the concept of God’s supreme will.

Predestination: If God is Supreme Will, He has supreme knowledge, because all is determined according to His plan.  Therefore, God knows if the individual is predetermined or predestined to ultimately be in heaven or in hell.


Notes from Class Discussion on Puritanism