The Name No One Wanted

The surest way to conjure up images of repression, joylessness, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy is to call something or someone "Puritan." Twentieth-century poet Kenneth Hare wrote, "The Puritan through Life's sweet garden goes/To pluck the thorn and cast away the rose." The Puritans themselves were used to such scorn. From its very first use in early 1560s, "Puritan" was a term of abuse, implying a "holier than thou" attitude on the part of those who were so called—a claim to superior saintliness. The Puritans, at least at first, detested the title. Richard Baxter said, "I am neither as good nor as happy" as the name suggested. They preferred to call themselves "the godly," "the faithful," or "God's elect." But in the sense that this was a movement of people who wanted to purify the church in accordance with Scripture, it was an apt nickname.

Home Is Where the Art Is

Though the Puritans have gained an unaesthetic reputation for banishing paintings and musical instruments from churches, closing theaters, etc., they were not—contrary to popular opinion—hostile to the arts themselves. Puritans associated art in churches with Catholicism, but they bought art for their homes. They objected to theaters, which had become centers of prostitution and dissipation in their day, but they did not necessarily object to dramatic art—John Milton wrote a masque, Comus, for private performance. Oliver Cromwell owned an organ, and he hired an orchestra and held dancing at his daughter's wedding.

What's Love Got to Do with It?

Anglican treatises on marriage listed procreation as the primary purpose of marriage, followed by restraint and remedy of sin, and finally companionship. The Puritans reversed the order, putting mutual ...

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