Puritans

We have come to use the word “Puritan” to mean what should rather be called “rigorist” or “ascetic,” and we tend to assume that the sixteenth-century Puritans were “puritanical” in this sense. Calvin’s rigorist theocracy at Geneva lends colour to the error. But there is no understanding the period of the Reformation in England until we have grasped the fact that the quarrel between the Puritans and the Papists was not primarily a quarrel between rigorism and indulgence, and that, in so far as it was, the rigorism was on the Roman side. [. . .] The idea that a Puritan was a repressed and repressive person would have astonished Sir Thomas More and Luther about equally. [. . .] Puritan theology, so far from being grim and gloomy, seemed to More to err in the direction of fantastic optimism.

- Selected Literary Essays
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