Category: Puritanism

Categories: Christianity | 16th Century | 17th Century

Name: Puritanism
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The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th century, and from 1630 to 1660 in the 17th century, including, but not limited to, English Calvinists. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergies shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England. Puritans were blocked from changing the established church from within, and severely restricted in England by laws controlling the practice of religion, but their views were taken by the emigration of congregations to the Netherlands and later New England, and by evangelical clergy to Ireland and later into Wales, and were spread into lay society by preaching and parts of the educational system, particularly certain colleges of the University of Cambridge.

Puritans took distinctive views on clerical dress. They also opposed the Episcopal system after the 1619 conclusions of the Synod of Dort were resisted by English bishops. Puritans felt that the English Reformation was not sufficient, and still believed that the Church of England was tolerant of Catholic Church practices. They formed religious groups advocating a greater “purity” of worship and doctrine. They also desired greater personal and group piety. They largely adopted Sabbatarian views in the 17th century, and were influenced by millennialism. The Puritans adopted a Reformed theology and became in that sense Calvinists. Criticism of Zwingli and Calvin distinguished some Puritan beliefs from orthodox Calvinism.

The early 17th century featured a growth in the English commercial world and emerging parliamentary opposition to the royal prerogative. Presbyterians of the Church of Scotland shared many beliefs with the Puritans. These factors fostered an environment in which the Puritans were able to gain power. As a result of the First English Civil War (1642 – 46), the Puritans became the major political force in England. Some Puritan congregations wanted complete separation from all other Christians. These independent strands of Puritanism became more prominent in the 1640s after supporters in the Westminster Assembly were unable to forge a new English national church. (1)

History of the Puritans

The history of the Puritans can be traced back to the first Vestments Controversy in the reign of Edward VI, the formation of an identifiable Puritan movement in the 1560s and ends in a decline in the mid-18th century. It is a complex evolution, with the situation of the Puritans as a religious group in England changing almost decade by decade, as a consequence both of political shifts in their relationship to the state and the Church of England, and of changing views of Puritans, both clergy and laity. It can not easily be summarized, since the dramatic events of the 1640s, sometimes called the Puritan Revolution, have complex roots, any more than the term "Puritan" can be given a useful and precise definition outside the particular historical context. The Puritan's main purpose was to purify the Church of England and to make England a more religious country. (2)

English Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries who wished to separate from the Church of England and form independent local churches were influential politically under Oliver Cromwell, who was himself a separatist. They were eventually called Congregationalists. The Pilgrims who established the first successful colony in New England were separatists.


  • Cotton Mather, influential New England Puritan minister, portrait by Peter Pelham.

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Person Profiles (2)

bef 01 Mar 1579 Wigmore, Herefordshire, England - bef 06 Nov 1656 photo
abt 1520 Cleator, Cumberland, England - abt 01 Jun 1580 photo

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