- Puritanism, as it name implies, was a movement dedicated to the purification of the Church of England following the accession of Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603). Elizabeth reversed the move to Roman Catholicism of her sister and predecessor, Mary I (r. 1553-1558). In its place, she articulated a via media between Catholicism and Calvinism, which did not satisfy the most determined Protestants.Puritans fell along a spectrum as to how much they wanted to change the church beyond the Act of Uniformity passed in 1559. Among the issues in question were clerical vestments; the refusal of some clerics to conform to the uniformity Elizabeth demanded introduced the word nonconformity into the ecclesiastical vocabulary. A far greater issue was the organization of the Church of England. Puritans wanted to removed the bishops and establish either a presbyterial or a congregational POLiTY.In England, the Presbyterians were the larger party, but for most Americans, the Congregationalists who moved to New England in the early 17th century became the model of Puritanism.Puritanism first gained some power in the early 1600s; among its accomplishments was the new translation of the Bible popularly termed the King James Version. They became strong enough to overturn King Charles I (r. 1625-1649) and seize control of the political apparatus in the mid-1640s. In 1645, they executed Archbishop of London William Laud (1573-1645) and outlawed episcopacy. The following year, Parliament forbade the use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The 1649 execution of Charles officially ushered in the administration of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) as Lord Protector.in 1646-47, a gathering of Puritan clergy, called together as advisers to Parliament, wrote the Westminster documents, named for the meeting place at Westminster Abbey. The documents included the Westminster Directory of Worship, the Longer and Shorter Catechisms, and the Westminster Confession; these works long remained the defining expression of the British Reformed tradition.Puritanism eventually lost power, and in 1660 the Anglican episcopal hierarchy was put back in place. The Puritan groups survived as dissenting Christian minorities. Their writings, including such classic works as Foxe's Book of Martyrs and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, continued to exert significant influence on British life and culture.Puritanism also remained a stream within the Church of England, though its leaders were less interested in the church's polity than in its spiritual health. They joined Calvinist reformers in seeking a life of moral earnestness, personal piety, and devotion. under Puritan influence, many laymen built lives of self-reliance, frugality, industry, and energy. Such lives invigorated the secular sphere, and created many successful business entrepreneurs. The Puritans also developed a zeal for education; in the United States, they founded what remain some of the country's leading institutions of higher learning.In the United States, the Puritan attachment to congregational self-government has often been seen as a source of modern democracy. In fact the pre-Revolutionary Puritans were an intolerant group, and their congregational system was not so democratic as it might first appear. It was primarily the Baptist strain in New England religious thought that contributed ideals of freedom that led to the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.Today, various churches that trace their roots to the British Presbyterians or the New England Congregationalists identify themselves as the contemporary bearers of the Puritan tradition.See also Reformed/Presbyterian tradition.Further reading:■ Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1975)■ C. Gordon Bolam et al., The English Presbyterians: From Elizabethan Puritanism to Modern Unitarianism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968)■ Patrick Collinson, The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (New York: St. Martin's, 1988)■ Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (Westminster [London]: Dacre Press, 1948)■ Leon Howard, ed., Essays on Puritans and Puritanism (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989)■ Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.