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.

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2 Responses to “Insolence or Flatulence?”

  1. Chris Says:

    Richard, thanks for the comment on the Conventicle, and for this great review (which has one of the best titles I’ve ever seen atop a blog-post :)).

  2. RS Says:

    Thanks Chris. 🙂


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