The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century Paperback – February 27, 2014
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- Item Weight : 1.82 pounds
- Paperback : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1614275882
- ISBN-13 : 978-1614275886
- Product Dimensions : 6.14 x 1.21 x 9.21 inches
- Publisher : Martino Fine Books (February 27, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #290,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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A major theme is the Puritan effort to utilize the large and not always compatible intellectual heritage of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Miller starts with the essentially Augustinian-Calvinist view of an infinitely powerful and mysterious God, a corrupted humanity, and the unmerited gift of Grace. At the same time, the Puritans aimed to avoid the abandonment of reason and drew on a varied intellectual inheritance to produce a rational way of understanding theology and the natural world. He particularly emphasizes the role of the "logic," really a system of classification, of the French scholar Petrus Ramus. In their studies of scripture and attempts to erect a way to understand the world, they constructed an elaborate system that they believed reconstructed divine structure. As Miller demonstrates, this was a not always consistent compound of Calvinism, medieval scholasticism, humanist scholarship, Aristotle, and Plato. With time, some of the contradictions of this system would become problematic but in its time, this was an impressive achievement. The Puritan view of man was a similar effort to unify faith and reason, holding onto the Calvinist view of corrupted humanity and undeserved Grace but also describing ways in which reason and human capacity could participate in salvation.
In the final section of this book, Miller provides a fascinating discussion of the major New England Puritan innovation; Covenant theology. This approach pulled the sting of the remote Calvinist God by binding him in a voluntary contract that allowed some scope for human action. Miller demonstrates how this system developed under the stimulus of other Protestant theological challenges, as well as the specific political circumstances of early 17th century England. There is a particularly interesting following discussion of how the covenant concept was expanded to political and church government covenants, accounting for a number of the unique features of New England life. As with other features of Puritan thought, this one contained some internal contradictions that would have ironic consequences in the future.
While intellectually demanding, this book is a pleasure to read. Miller was not only a remarkably insightful scholar but also a brilliant writer. Among 20th century American historians, no one wrote better.
Puritanism believed fervently in two principles: The human being has the drive to do well, to succeed, precisely, though, through a strict discipline of austerity. Second, the human being has a responsibility to take care of everyone who needs taking care of. In Western terms, interpreted by Max Weber and others, that meant the spirit of capitalism and the vast development of charitable, philanthropic work.
The combination was never easy. While Calvinism was a "comfortable doctrine," Ahlstrom hypothesized, Puritanism was an "uncomfortable way of life." That paradox led to inevitable conflict, yet remarkable achievements, as the story of Puritanism in America so vividly illustrates.
Given this "uncomfortable" challenge,the first New England settlers were fraught with human foibles -- Perry Miller concludes his case -- to which they succumbed, constituting "God's controversy" with those 17th century pioneers. Yet they were driven to see beyond their shortcomings and capture the original vision, namely: that they came to these shores "not to become provincial communities on the edge of civilization but to execute a flanking maneuver in the all-engrossing struggle of the civilized world."
This is quite relevant for an American society that is struggling to define its role as the major Power in the world, as that society seeks again to define its responsibilities to those less fortunate, and as that society seeks to find a basic drive common to all religious traditions that will unite them in purposeful lives.
I'm a playwright who is focused on a story that crosses into the Puritans in their utopian society in Massachusetts.