Did you know?The Puritan-dominated government in England imposed a ban on Christmas celebrations in 1647. This move was followed by widespread riots in the country. However, the ban ended only in 1660, after the English monarchy was restored under the rule of King Charles II.
Puritanism, at its inception, was only a religious reform movement that developed within the English Protestant Church. They were never intended to be a distinct faith. The Puritans comprised a group of Christian men and women, wishing to abide by the tenets of the Bible, in order to shape their lives in accordance to the will of God. They believed that they were the "chosen people of God", who were responsible for creating a perfect, utopian society, where there would be no scope for discontent or rebellion.
Puritanism was a religious movement in the 16th and 17th centuries, wherein a faction of English Protestants revolted against the teachings of their traditional Church, and set out to purify it off the remnants of the age-old Roman Catholic teachings and practices. One of the most striking features of this movement was that it was largely influenced by men and women, who proclaimed themselves as "godly" or "religious professors". However, they were "hypocrites" for their opponents, who did not believe in their ideology of purifying the sacred teachings of the Church. The name 'Puritans', which was given to them by their opponents, eventually became popular, and went on to become their official identity.
The movement began in 16th century England, when some major groups displayed anti-Roman Catholic sentiments. Because of their conflicting principles with the orthodox Church of England (based on orthodox Roman Catholic teachings), the Puritans had to emigrate to New England, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Wales. They were staunch believers of the Holy Bible, and followed its doctrines as guidelines for leading a pious life. They were also strong believers of Calvinism, which loosely preaches that the consequences of our actions in the mortal world decides the fate of our souls, which could be subjected to either damnation or salvation. Their main principles relied on the ideas of free-will and sanctity of the human soul.
The primary beliefs of the Puritans were based on the 'Doctrines of Grace', probably written by fellow theologians of James Arminius, who incidentally was a follower of Calvinism. Following are the major Puritan beliefs:
Puritanism revolves around a belief that man is made up of two distinct entities, the tangible entity viz., the body, and the intangible entity viz., the soul, both of which need to be purified during a person's lifetime. Adam and Eve committed a blasphemy by consuming the 'forbidden fruit', after which they lost their chastity, and were eventually banished. This event, known as 'The Fall', culminated into a belief that man, owing to his defiled lineage, is inherently corrupted, right from his birth (concept of 'original sin'). It is therefore, his/her duty to redeem the sins by accepting the Grace of God, and to sanctify his/her body and soul.
The belief in unconditional election has been stated in the 'Doctrines of Grace', and states that God, freely and unchangeably, ordains some people to heaven and some to hell. He may also denounce certain individuals, so that the others may attain salvation. The belief also focuses on the concept of 'predestination', which states that all that happens is the will of God, and it is only He who can 'do' or 'not do' things. This doctrine was highly controversial among a lot of theologians because of its 'biased' nature, and was one of the reasons behind the breach between the Puritans and other parallel religious movements.
Limited atonement signifies the fact that Jesus, suitably called the 'Lamb of God', sacrificed his life for his "sheep" or the "chosen" individuals, and not for everyone. It was an act of redemption for the mortal sins, in order to bring about reconciliation between God and the humans. The scriptures state that Jesus sacrificed his life for 'all men', and that God loves 'the whole world', but here, it should be noted that Jesus died for those righteous individuals, who championed His cause. The death of Jesus, thus secured the salvation of those that he died for.
The Puritan beliefs and values were noted for their obsessive religious fixation on the Grace of God. Irresistible grace advocates the fact that His Holy Spirit is sent to change one's heart, and its divine power can render alchemical wonders to one's psyche. There are two ways of enlightenment - external and internal. External enlightenment refers to the preachings spread through the word of mouth, usually through gospels. Internal enlightenment is the inward process of self-realization and healing by His Holy Spirit. If somehow, one contradicts the feeling of His Grace or fails to embrace it into his/her life, then he/she might have to face damnation because of the contemptuous actions.
Most of the Puritan beliefs and values are associated with one another. According to this belief, every 'chosen' individual may freely interpret the will of God in his/her own way, and can mold his/her life according to the interpretation. Apparently, this belief is closely related to the concept of unconditional election. It states that salvation may be achieved solely at God's discretion, and He has already decided to save the ones of His choice. This is their inherited prerogative, which cannot be altered under any circumstance. It should also be noted that even if the 'chosen ones' commit grave sins, their place in the heaven would be secured.
The Puritan beliefs were non-materialistic and overly concerned with the attainment of His Holy Grace. Their emphasis on nurturing one's piety and ethics, clearly portrayed their conviction on eternal damnation as an aftermath of one's religious transgression.
In addition to those stated in the 'Doctrines of Grace', the Puritans had some more beliefs which were shared commonly by all Protestants. They were as under:
The Puritans firmly believed in the notion of history repeating itself, and connected it to the intentions of God. The foundation of this belief is that God's intentions are present in human activities as well as natural phenomena. The limitations of the mortal world are responsible for the humans failing to understand these limitations. The connection between day-to-day happenings and divine intentions is shown by their concept of 'types'. For instance, presence of God's wrath in natural phenomena like floods and earthquakes, or His reward in bountiful harvest, etc., are the interconnections believed to be existent between acts of humans and nature, and divine intentions.
The Puritans believed that every human being could fall into temptation, and commit sins. Even the God's 'chosen' ones were not considered exceptional. It was also believed that sometimes, the temptations may be so unavoidable that firm believers may turn into complete apostates. Believers who could be easily tempted, were always lured by the Satan, so that they could be misled from their religious paths. In order to avoid this, the Puritan believers were expected to pray regularly, and be ever-introspective.
The Puritan notion of 'manifest destiny' refers to their belief in one nation under a single god. When the Puritans crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached New England, their dream was to create a "City upon a Hill", an earthly manifestation of the biblical "Holy City". They believed that this dream was a providential purpose by which their lives were governed. In short, they wanted to create a nation wherein, the supreme power would be held by God himself, and the function of the mortals would be to act in accordance to His will. In later period, however, the doctrine of manifest destiny came to be associated with the idea of expansionist politics.
Puritanism also believes in Satan and other demonic forces. Their clergymen were reportedly involved in exorcist practices, and had also faced various allegations pertaining to witchcraft.
Marriage, for Puritans, was a sanctimonious ritual which resulted in partners entering into a lifetime bonding of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. They forbade premarital/extramarital sex, and vices such as consumption of alcohol. They also supported the view that the holy scriptures should be made accessible to everyone, instead of a handful of people, claiming to be supreme among mortals.
H.L. Mencken, a 20th century social critic, defined 'Puritanism' as "the fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." This sheds light on the image that has been developed of the puritans over the ages. They have been imagined as theocrats and heresy hunters in popular culture, and though these are stereotypes, they are not absolute falsehoods. This probably may have been one of the major reasons why Puritanism never managed to achieve an institutional identity, like most other simultaneous religious movements that took place in the 16th and the 17th centuries, and eventually faded away. Nevertheless, traces of Puritanism can still be witnessed in numerous political ideologies across the globe.