Yesterday I had my penultimate Puritan history class and very soon I shall write more on this. At the moment I really only want to direct you to an idea, a 350 year old quote from one I perhaps flatter myself in considering simpatico, but I assure you that it is born from the deepest levels of respect I contain. This week I wrapped up the legacy of Puritanism in the United Kingdom (next week the legacy of Puritanism in America.) My normal format for the class was to discuss one or two Puritans in particular and view the history of the movement through the lens of that person's life. The glaring exception was the week on the Salem Witch Trials.
It felt a little lonely this week. I had the sudden realization that the people I've been surrounding myself with for the past few months are long dead and largely forgotten. Also the legacy of the Puritans in the United Kingdom is not exactly a raging success story. It ends in compromise and about 300 years of soaking toast in milk. In the end I came to the conclusion that the Puritans had some major flaws and some very ugly sides, but they were not by any means the historical villains that a good portion of the modern West likes to paint them. There were many that I love dearly and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to know more about. Richard Sibbes and his loving graciousness. John Bunyan's longsuffering. Thomas Cartwright's revolutionary streak. Gentle old William Perkins. Brilliant Jonathan Edwards. Of course, there were also several I couldn't imagine even sharing a meal with civilly. Many of those were the American branch and, oddly enough, specifically the Mathers.
But I very much appreciated the opportunity to hear different ideas from the mouths of the ones who hold those ideas. I think that is always a profitable and noble endeavor. In fact, I found a wonderful quote by John Milton in my studies. I wanted to take a moment and share it with all of you.
In 1644, John Milton made an impassioned plea for toleration in England through a pamphlet. Milton wrote, "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for not without dust and heat." England was reputed abroad to be the home of liberty on Earth at the time. "I could recount what I have seen and heard in other countries... where I have sat among their learned men, for that honor I had, and been counted happy to be born in such a place of philosophic freedom as they supposed England was, while themselves did nothing but bemoan the servile condition into which learning amongst them was brought; that this was it which had damped the glory of Italian wits, that nothing had been there written now these many years but flattery and fustian. There it was that I found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licencers thought. And though I knew that England then was groaning loudest under the prelatical yoke, nevertheless I took it as a pledge of future happiness that other nations were so persuaded of her liberty. Nor is it for nothing that the grave and frugal Transylvanian sends out yearly from as far as the mountain borders of Russia and beyond Hercynian wilderness, not their youth, but their staid men, to learn our language and our theologic arts."