The last book by the late, great Patrick Collinson. Due imminently.


God’s Puritan

January 31, 2011

‘Gods Puritan’, claimed Ussher, ‘is hee, that Purifies himself as God is Pure’. This is the only positive use of the term that I can find in the surviving sermons, the word usually being placed in the mouth of the detractor or in the apprehensive thoughts of the double-minded who fear that zeal for good works will attract nicknames. In context, Ussher was speaking of the spotless purity of Christ in his active obedience on our behalf. No charge of sin could be made against him, neither sins of omission nor commission. Christ’s perfect righteousness is that with which one must be clothed to stand before God’s judgement. This is one of many reminders in Ussher’s sermons that one must not rely on one’s own good works for acceptance with God but keep looking to Christ. It is also possible, perhaps, to hear faint reverberations of taunts about Puritan self-righteousness behind this subversion of that odious name.

Yet More Theses Online

January 23, 2011

I stumbled across a very tasty morsel yesterday, a doctoral thesis on the Parliament fast days: Thomas Doumaux, ‘Fast Days and Faction: The Struggle for Reformation, Order, and Unity in England 1558 – c. 1640’. I have only dipped into it having chanced upon it on a Google search for one specific fast day sermon. Looks good.

It is in the Vanderbilt University archive. The only other thesis/dissertation currently on the site that will likely appeal to readers of this blog is Gregory Selmon, ‘John Cotton: The Antinomian Calvinist’. But worth bookmarking the archive and checking it once in a while. Great to have these available without the hassle and expense of going through UMI or the inter-library loans system.

The Distracted Puritane

April 3, 2010

Richard Corbett, later Bishop of Oxford and then Norwich, wrote this poem sometime before 1621. It obviously attacks Puritan non-conformity but there is a none-too-subtle dig at the practical divinity advocated by the likes of William Perkins and Richard Greenham for good measure. The poem was first published in the posthumous Poëtica Stromata (1648), 71-75. There is also a modern edition: The Poems of Richard Corbett, ed. by J. A. W. Bennett and H. R. Trevor-Roper (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 56-59.

Silly but fun.


Am I madd, o noble Festus,

When zeale and godly knowledge

Haue put mee in hope

To deale with the Pope,

As well as the best in the Colledge?

Boldly I preach, hate a Crosse, hate a Surplice,

Miters, Copes, and Rotchets:

Come heare mee pray nine times a day,

And fill your heads with Crotchets.


In the howse of pure Emanuel

I had my Education;

Where my friends surmise

I dazeld mine Eyes,

With the Light of Revelation.

Boldly I preach, &c.


They bound mee like a Bedlam,

They lash’t my foure poore quarters;

Whilst this I endure

Faith makes mee sure

To be One of Foxes Martyrs.

Boldly I preach, &c.


These iniuryes I suffer

Through Anti-Christs perswasions:

Take of this Chaine,

Neither Rome nor Spaine

Can resist my strong invasions.

Boldly I preach, &c.


Of the Beasts ten hornes (God blesse us)

I haue knock’t of three allready:

If they let mee alone,

I’le leaue him none;

But they say I am too heady.

Boldly I preach, &c.


When I sack’d the Seaven-hilld Citty

I mett the great redd Dragon:

I kept him aloofe

With the armour of proofe,

Though here I haue never a rag on.

Boldly I preach, &c.


With a fiery Sword and Targett

There fought I with this monster:

But the sonnes of pride

My zeale deride,

And all my deedes misconster.

Boldly I preach, &c.


I unhorst the whore of Babel

With a Launce of Inspirations:

I made her stinke,

And spill her drinck

In the Cupp of Abominations.

Boldly I preach, &c.


I haue seene two in a Vision,

With a Flying Booke betweene them:

I haue bin in dispaire

Fiue times a yeare,

And cur’d by reading Greenham.

Boldly I preach, &c.


I observ’d in Perkins Tables

The black Lines of Damnation:

Those crooked veines

Soe struck in my braines,

That I fear’d my Reprobation

Boldly I preach, &c.


In the holy tongue of Chanaan

I plac’d my chiefest pleasure:

Till I prickt my foote

With an Hebrew roote,

That I bledd beyond all measure.

Boldly I preach, &c.


I appear’d before the Arch-Bishopp,

And all the high Commission:

I gaue him noe Grace,

But told him to his face

That he favour’d Superstition.

Boldly I preach, hate a Crosse, hate a Surplice,

Miters, Copes, and Rotchets:

Come heare mee pray nine times a day,

And fill your heads with Crotchets.


Pissing on the Wall

February 20, 2010

Cotton Mather wrote:

I was once emptying the Cistern of Nature, and making Water at the Wall. At the same Time, there came a Dog, who did so too, before me. Thought I; “What mean and vile Things are the Children of Men, in this mortal State! How much do our natural Necessities abase us and place us in some regard, on the Level with the very Dogs!” … Accordingly, I resolved, that it should be my ordinary Practice, whenever I step to answer the one or other Necessity of Nature, to make it an Opportunity of shaping in my Mind some noble, divine Thought.

Arthur Dent’s The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven is a great read. It’s colourful and direct. Whilst the dialogue is contrived in places this classic of late Elizabethan Puritan divinity still reads well. It was among the books that Ussher recommended to ordinands.

Among the social evils decried by preacher Theologus is pride in dress. The predictable anxieties about conspicuous consumption, foreign foppery, and chasing of fashions, all made possible by the growing urban economy and international trade, are all there, as is the blurring of boundaries when one dresses above one’s social rank. But the deeper problem is pride. Philagathus, the godly man, joins in and gets hot under the collar as he describes these dedicated followers of fashion:

Yet we see how proud many (especially women) be of such baubles. For when they have spent a good part of the day in tricking and trimming, pricking and pinning, pranking and pouncing, girding and lacing, and braving up themselves in most exquisite manner, then out they come into the streets, with their pedlar’s shop upon their back, and carry their crests very high, taking themselves to be little angels, or at least somewhat more than other women. Whereupon they do so exceedingly swell with pride, that it is to be feared they will burst with it, as they walk in the streets. And truly we may think the very stones in the street, and the beams in the houses do quake, and wonder at their monstrous, intolerable, and excessive pride. For it seemeth that they are altogether a lump of pride, a mass of pride, even altogether made of pride, and nothing else but pride, pride.

Let me just add that men do come under fire too, especially as Theologus discusses the judgement prophesied by Zephaniah on the ‘mincing minions of Jerusalem’. As I said, colourful stuff and some good theology thrown in. You can download it here. You might also want to look out for the Soli Deo Gloria reprint.

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.