The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
Puritans: historical background
 “Puritans”: name given
to 16th century
Protestants within
Church of England.
 Name came from group’s
desire to “purify” the
Anglican church of any
hint of Roman
 Wanted to return church
to practices of early
Christians as
demonstrated in the
Historical background
 In 17th century, many
Puritans emigrated to the
New World seeking to
establish a holy
Commonwealth in New
England: to practice their
faith in a way that would
not draw persecution
from the national Church
of England (Anglican).
Historical background
 They did not come to New
World to found a
commonwealth based on
religious freedom.
 The “freedom” they sought
was to establish a
church/state whose laws
would be derived from
Biblical principles.
 Puritan “Founding Fathers”
came to the New World in
order to establish a
“Utopian” state; the “New
Jerusalem”; the “City on
the Hill”
Historical background
 In 1620 the
Pilgrims founded
Plymouth Colony
(via Holland) in
 In 1630, Puritans
founded the
Massachusetts Bay
Colony in the first
major Puritan
migration to New
Historical background
 The “New Jerusalem”
was built on the premise
of humankind’s
weakness and fallibility.
 Left to their own devices,
people would succumb to
Satan’s temptations
unless the whole
community stood as one
against the Tempter.
Historical background
 Thus, there were few
differences between
church and state laws;
offenses against church
were offenses against
 Puritan Code:
 Waste no time
 Duty and responsibility
before pleasure
 Evil is evil, regardless of
 Man is imperfect
 God has predestined
man’s salvation and grace
 Puritan beliefs
 The Scriptures provide
step-by-step instructions for
church conduct and
 The Bible tells individuals
exactly how to behave
 Human beings are put on
earth to honor God and
follow the calling that God
has set forth for them
 Human nature is evil; only
God’s grace can save people
from eternal damnation
 The community has a
responsibility to punish
sinnners harshly for the
good of their eternal souls
 Forbidden:
 Music in church
 Drama
 Erotic poetry
 Swearing, idleness,
 Christmas and May Day
holidays (they added
three holiday
Thanksgiving, election
day, college
Overview: Puritan Beliefs and Values
Grace, plainness, mission
Absolute sovereignty of God (many were Calvinists: predestination and
“election”: a few are “chosen” to be saved)
Total depravity of mankind
Salvation entirely from God (grace) as opposed to a person’s good works,
morality, intentions
Importance of personal religious experience
Education as the tool to understand and execute God’s will
Bible is indispensable guide to life; literal interpretation of Bible
Value of high moral conduct and hard work (link between Puritanism and
Union of church and state to form holy commonwealth
Duty to direct national affairs according to God’s will as revealed in the Bible
Simple worship services; “plain” style of preaching; emphasis on conversion.
Puritan Beliefs and Values
 Important contributions
 High value on education
(Puritans established
Harvard College; between
1630 and 1690, there
were as many university
graduates in New England
as there were in England).
 Foundation for political
revolution in New World
and England (contributed
to establishment of
English Parliament).
 Social vision with
distinctively Christian
 Value on community and
political service.