Monday, August 27, 2018

Zac on Puritan Theology

A Brief Investigation of Puritan Theology (Zac Bodine)

Within Puritan theology, worshipers tried to define what it means to be truly and fully human, which required a relationship with the Divine outside of the hierarchical, sacramental, sacerdotal, system of cooperative salvation grounded in canon law, known as the Catholic church. This search produced many great theological works and subsequent movements but not without growing pains and the ugliness of violence from the overflow of internal squabbles all on public display. To understand the Puritan disposition and the ideology of their day – and consequently the ideology of early American life – one must examine their works without eisegesis, allowing the work to speak for itself.
The way to best understand the Puritans is to encounter their expressions of devotion found within their poetry and theology. The Puritans's theology is filtered through the Reformed or Reformation theology, in particular Calvin’s Tulip – known as the five points of Calvinism. “The five points represented by the word [tulip] are: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the Saints” (Grudem, 597).
These theological points can be summarized to mean that man’s nature is bent on destruction and selfishness which needs to be redeemed or redefined to become one who loves both the Divine and humanity and is utterly selfless. God looks upon the evil of the world and chooses men and women who will rise up and bring redemption to it by the sharing of the liberation God has brought to humanity from evil. The people God has recruited are in a sense drafted and therefore cannot ignore God’s demands to be involved in the fight against evil. God will ultimately provide help and hope to allow those he called to join the fight to stay true to the message, endure and truly believe.
“For Reformed theology the fundamental issue is, where does the initiative lie in the divine-human encounter? And the answer given to this question… is that God alone is the initiating party. Those who have been chosen, called, saved, and commissioned then have the privilege and responsibility of responding to this divine initiative in faithfulness and praise” (Maas and O’Donnell, 206-207).
The outward expression of this theology can be found especially in “the writings of…theologians [like] William Perkins, William Ames, and John Owen…particularly in…their teaching on the extent of the death of Christ, the divine sovereignty in providence and election…[and]…reached its zenith in the ministry and writings of Richard Baxter.” (McGrath, 79). Among these theologians and pastors are Puritan poets like Anne Bradstreet who best synthesized these complex and often confusing ideas into simple verse. “My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good; / He in his Bottle put my tears, / My smarting wounds washt in his blood, /And banisht thence my Doubts and fears” (Bradstreet).
This one stanza exemplified the Puritan ethic and understanding of the Divine which emphasized that it is the individual’s responsibility to know God and to respond to him. The church was then not the ends to which salvation was found, nurtured, and sustained, but a means to which the congregants were able to grow and experience God alone, but with others.  This notion radically changed how men and women experienced the Divine, engaged with others within the faith, and practiced their beliefs within the social and political spheres outside of their denominational lines.
As the Puritan poet Edward Taylor would express, “My heart was made thy tinder box. / My ’ffections were thy tinder in’t: /Where fell thy sparks by drops. / Those holy sparks of heavenly fire that came / Did ever catch and often out would flame” (Taylor). The individual believer is the keeper of the Holy flame, not a building, not an institution. God is the only one who can light the fire of passion within the individual. The individual’s responsibility is to maintain the relationship.
This rugged individualism birthed by Reformation theology, nurtured by the Puritan movement, and then eventually expanded by the Pietist movement made its way across the waters of Europe to the land in which we live today, the United States of America. “Puritanism may be described empirically as that point of view, that code of values, carried to New England by the first settlers… the New Englanders established Puritanism – for better or worse – as one of the continuous factors in American life and thought.” (Miller, 1). The better we understand the Puritan’s point of view, by the examination of their poetry and comprehend this code of values by their theology, the better we understand the oddities, complexities, and virtues of a culture far removed, but influential, to our current ways of living.

Bradstreet, Anne. “By Night When Others Soundly Slept by Anne Bradstreet.” Poetry      Foundation, Poetry Foundation,      when-others-soundly-slept.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan Pub.  House, 2000.

Maas, Robin, and Gabriel O'Donnell. Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church.  Abingdon, 1997.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. Blackwell, 2000.

Miller, Perry, editor. The American Puritans, Their Prose and Poetry. Anchor Books: Doubleday            & Co, Inc, 1956.

Taylor, Edward. “The Ebb and Flow by Edward Taylor.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry

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“Puritan Downloads.” Puritan Downloads, Still Waters Revival Books, 2018,

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tara on Court Masques

The Seventeenth-Century Court Masque (Tara Olivero)

A masque is a tradition of court entertainment that became especially prominent during the reigns of the Tudors and Stuarts. It was performed either at court or at a royal or noble residence in order to either honor a particular noble or to glorify the court in general, and the audiences were elite and invitation-only. Action would take place in the middle of the floor of the residence’s main hall, with room for the stage, machinery for the set and special effects, space for the audience, and an elevated seat for the king directly across from the center of the stage. Masques were occasionally used to celebrate state occasions or marriages as well. Reliant on choreography by performers in masks, masques sometimes invited certain audience members to participate as well, especially near the end of the performance. This breaking of the fourth wall “blurs the line between performance and reality, making allegory and symbolism significantly more suggestive” as the audience members become directly involved in the exaltation of the court and monarchy (Hull et. al).

Under Elizabeth I, masques tended to focus on literary conventions of the time such as the inclusion of Petrarchan sonnets and classical references. Masques were also a staple of court entertainment under King James I, who didn’t participate in the masques but attended as an audience member. However, his wife, Anne, participated frequently and commissioned masques for political purposes, especially from Ben Jonson, the most popular court masque writer from 1605 to 1625. This was not only because of the quality of his masques but because of the new advancements he added to the art form.

Whereas masques previous to his time were generally either “wholly literary and dramatic or wholly choreographic and theatrical,” Ben Jonson advanced the masque tradition by combining these two options to create masques that were both spectacular and meaningful. The stage design of court masques played into this, especially once he collaborated with the neoclassical architect Inigo Jones in order to design the sets. The two men eventually disagreed on the importance of spectacle versus the poetry of the text and parted ways. When Charles I took the throne, Jonson’s masques dropped in popularity, most likely because “the Carolinian court seemed to prefer more elaborate masques than the Jacobean court,” although Jones remained popular as a masque designer (Hull et. al). Ben Jonson is also credited with developing the idea of the “anti-masque,” in which comic or grotesque characters are included in the drama as foils to the main characters. This added additional layers of meaning to the story and further elevated the literary art form.

At what is considered the height of the genre’s development, masques included a poetic prologue, one or more anti-masques, the main masque, revels (in which the audience participated in the dancing), and an epilogue, in addition to the costuming and sets. The actual script of the masque might only be a few pages, but the performance of the text plus choreography could take hours. They were also inordinately expensive because the performance of one masque would have to employ the writer, designer, music arranger, professional musicians, and dancing instructors. The lavish costumes were the bulk of the cost, however, as fabrics were disproportionately expensive at the time. The machinery of the sets were often elaborate as well, with revolving sets (called machina versatilis) or sliding sets (scena ductilis) that would move to seamlessly reveal entirely new scenery. Other interesting production elements could include a fly gallery (for aerial ballet and stunts), people who could descend from scenery above, masquers arriving in set pieces on wheels, and more. Lighting resources were also experimented with, with lighting coming from candles, torches, color projected through colored glass bottles, light created by burning camphor in water, light refracted by silver paint on the sets, and more. The budget for most masques in the Jacobean era was around £2,000, which would be the equivalent of roughly $800,000 today (assuming the conversion I used was even close to correct). Since masques were how the monarchy legitimized themselves and enforced their own importance, they had no problem spending the money.

Jonson is credited as the author of at least thirty court masques, most of which were only performed once. The Dyce Collection at the National Art Library (in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum) houses many of his original texts. This is helpful for scholars because the texts of the masques often included the date of the performance, the reason for the masque commission (whether it be for a holiday like Christmas, a marriage, or otherwise), and a list of which aristocrats performed which parts. The texts, which were printed and sold as quartos and also reprinted in folio collections of Jonson’s works, often included detailed notes about the performance elements of the masque that were not evident in the text alone. For example, one note in Hymenai states: “The Song ended, they daunced forth in Paires, and each Paire with a varied and noble grace; to a rare and full Musique of twelve Lutes” (Sillitoe).

Jonson’s first masque performed at Whitehall, The Masque of Blackness, is regarded as being especially important, as is the masque that it was printed with, The Masque of Beauty. Queen Anne performed the main role in The Masque of Blackness, which involved black face on the part of the performers and aristocratic women playing even male roles. More information about his specific masques can be found through the links below.

Butler, Martin. “The Court Masque.” The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson Online.

Hull, Helen, with Meg Pearson and Erin Sadlack. “A Maske Project.” The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.

Sillitoe, Peter. “Ben Jonson and Masquing Culture at the Jacobean Court.” ShaLT Collection Enhancement Report No. 4, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2012.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Clayton Clayton on the Puritans

Puritans (Clayton Wilcox)

Who were the Puritans? The Puritans were a group of English Protestants around the 16th and 17th centuries, who laid the foundation of the English Reformation. They believed that the Church of England, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth, felt as if it was “incomplete.” Therefore, the Puritans sought to simplify and regulates forms of worship. Puritanism was the movement that the Puritans began in order to spread intellectual, religious, and social order into the New England Colonies.
The Puritanism movement sought to completely transform the English nation into a new a way of worship and lifestyle. As a civil war broke out in England, between the Puritans and the Church of England, the Puritans (Pilgrims)  migrated to what would be the New England Colonies in America to begin and spread their new way of worship and life.
            The goal of Puritanism was to form a close, covenant relationship with God. This relationship with God would redeem a person from sin and put them closer to salvation. Salvation would be gained from preachers who would reveal the words and teachings of God.
            Puritanism became more powerful under the rule of Edward the VI after King Henry the VIII separated the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, but then began to fall under the rule of Queen Mary who brought back the Roman Catholic Church; forcing many Puritans into exile to Geneva.
            The overall goal of the Puritan reformation was the not separate itself from the Church of England, but rather to “purify” it to its original state; before the introduction of Catholicism.