Insolence or Flatulence?

February 27, 2009

It wasn’t just the wind of the Spirit blowing in Coggeshall in 1594. Thomas Squeere was presented to the church courts for not receiving communion ‘and also for refusing to satisfy the congregation which he offended by a wicked fart committed’. Diocesan records are full of such disciplinary cases showing the challenge that godly ministers faced in the parishes. Coggeshall, Essex, would later be the second pastoral charge of John Owen.

About 700 examples from the court records are described in Christopher Haigh’s The Plain Man’s Pathways to Heaven: Kinds of Christianity in Post-Reformation England (Oxford University Press, 2007), the fruit of years of archival spadework. Haigh organises his book around the characters of Arthur Dent’s classic, Theologus (a preacher), Asunetus (an ignorant man), Philagathus (an honest godly man), and Antilegon (a scoffer). They are joined by the Papist from George Gifford’s Dialogue between a Papist and a Protestant. He uses these as types of the plain men in the pews (or not in the pews as the case may be). Some of these offences were just larking about (e.g. tying a dog to a bell-rope), others more serious (from urinating in the font up to assaults and murder). The offence and its presentment show both disobedience and a concern for obedience and Haigh’s discussion of the dynamics makes interesting reading. He describes the tensions between the godly and ungodly and shows that it was often a particularly divisive individual that proved to be the flashpoint in disputes. Most of the time the routines of everyday communal living worked against segregation and open conflict. People more or less managed to get along.

This book is an entertaining read and illuminates the ways in which people thought about and practised their religion, how the preachers saw the people and the people saw the preachers. It should be read by anyone considering the nature of Puritanism and how the word ‘Puritan’ was used. In his conclusion Haigh also makes an interesting suggestion regarding the factors that came together at the outbreak of civil war.

I am going the colloquium held in his honour at Jesus College, Oxford tomorrow.


Stadhampton in the Snow

February 21, 2009



I took this picture of St. John the Baptist, Stadhampton a couple of weeks ago on the way to an afternoon’s walking in the snow on Watlington Hill. Stadhampton, formerly Stadham, is the village where John Owen was born and where his father Henry was a ‘painful labourer in the vineyard of the Lord’, a minister of sufficient non-conformity to earn the odious name ‘Puritan’. I cannot tell you much about the building. Tried to find out if it would be possible to look around inside and find out more when we had Marty Foord with us but no-one replied to my e-mail. This is about five minutes from my house so I often drive past it.

The New EThOS

February 19, 2009

The digital revolution gathers pace as the British Library’s Electronic Theses Online Service enters its Beta testing phase. Registered users can now search and download theses submitted at many British universities. The collection is growing on a digitize-on-demand basis, with a 10 day wait for new theses to be scanned before they can be downloaded. Oxford and Cambridge won’t play with the other children but there are many good things here. Michael Horton’s thesis on Thomas Goodwin and assurance and Robert Letham’s epic thesis on assurance were just two of the items straight into my basket. This is a great (and overdue) resource. It’s like UMI, but free! Check it out at