from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Puritanism was effective from 16th to 17th century movement in England , Scotland and later in New England , which for a far-reaching reformation of the Church of Evangelical Reformed or Calvinist entered principles. The term "Puritan" was first as a nickname used against so-minded lay and clergy and is derived from their demands for a "purification" (Engl. Purification ) of the Church of " papist ", ie Roman Catholic teachings ago.

Denominationally , Puritanism split up into a number of different denominations , such as Presbyterians , Congregationalists, and others, to which many of today's free churches in English-speaking countries trace their origins. It reached its climax with the victory in the English Civil War and the establishment of a puritanical republic under Oliver Cromwell . After the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, English puritanism as an intellectual and political force soon exhausted itself, but it remained formative, especially in the New England colonies, into the early 18th century.

The term puritanism is occasionally used today as a synonym for “ moralism ” and, especially in American parlance, for something that appears “cold, bloodless, small-minded, self-denying, hypocritical and resentful”.



English Puritanism emerged in the second half of the 16th century. Triggered by the new theological freedom offered by the Reformation in England , he was strongly influenced by the continental impulses of Geneva Calvinism and the Huguenots ; he called for a liturgical and moral renewal of the church. Political demands were also part of the Puritans' program: for example, John Stubbs campaigned in a leaflet to prevent Elizabeth I from marrying the Count of Anjou . Since the Queen was not open to the radicalism of the movement, a fundamental reform of the church and society along the lines of Geneva did not take place. Puritans who were not ready for outward conformity with the Anglican Church were persecuted by laws passed as early as 1593, which later favored the emigration of many Puritans.

Puritanism experienced its heyday in the 17th century. In 1640 Oliver Cromwell became a member of the " Long Parliament " and developed into one of the leaders of the opposition to King Charles I and his absolutist rule. The conflict with the English royal family escalated into the English Civil War . As the leader of the Puritans, Cromwell gained decisive influence during the war. He led the Puritan parliamentary army fighting against the crown, which in the end won, but was responsible for a number of devastations in the country and also for the iconoclasms in English churches. The English king was executed, and Cromwell himself took over rule in England as " lord protector " until his death in 1658. The intolerance of Puritanism in the Cromwell military dictatorship made it hated in large parts of the English population. The monarchy profited from the “reaction” and returned in the form of Charles II after Cromwell's death .

Puritanism was an essential impetus in the emergence of Methodism , as the founders of the Methodist traditions and churches, John Wesley and Charles Wesley, came from a family that was raised by the father ( Samuel Wesley ) and especially by the upbringing of the mother ( Susanna Wesley-Annesley ) was puritanical.

North America

The peasants depicted in the 1930 painting American Gothic are symbols of the puritanical hinterland of the United States

Many Puritans emigrated from England to the British colonies in New England in the later United States in the 17th century . Since in the first decades of the existence of these colonies the population consisted mainly of Puritans, Puritanism also became the dominant religion there. Due to the religious persecution of the Puritans in Europe, some of them tried to build religiously organized settlements in New England according to their ideals. During the crossing, contracts were drawn up and sermons were given that formulated this goal. B. John Winthrops A Model of Christian Charity . However, the first problems emerged relatively quickly, which in turn were also discussed in the medium of the sermon (e.g. Danforth: Errand into the Wilderness ). It is controversial, however, whether the clergy's disappointment was due to the fact that the goal of being a religious model for the world was not achieved because England lost interest in the colony after the Glorious Revolution , or whether it was planned from the outset to focus on the settlement in America.

In the USA, puritanism - according to Max Weber ( The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism ) and, before him, Alexis de Tocqueville ( On Democracy in America (De la démocratie en Amérique)) - is said to have a great influence on the national character have exercised; however, this assumption neglects other currents that were just as important for the settlement of the United States. So was z. B. the first permanent English colony in North America, not in New England, but in Virginia ; economic considerations (agricultural land, tobacco cultivation) were the predominant motivation for settlement here, and Anglicanism remained the state religion until 1786 .

Today is in California's San Diego the Puritan Evangelical Church of America , which represents the original Puritan theology.


The Puritans were strict Calvinists in their teaching who, in addition to the four “solos” of the Reformation, also adhered to the specific Calvinist teachings . They saw humans as completely rejected by nature, believed that only those who were chosen by God were saved ( doctrine of predestination ) and that biblical teaching should be applied uncompromisingly in community and private life.

In the Reformed tradition of Zwingli and Calvin, the Puritans rejected all forms of religious practice that they did not find justified by God's Word in the Bible, and were thus in opposition to the Anglican and Lutheran tradition, which found everything permitted that was not in the Bible was expressly prohibited.

Congregations and presbyteries, whose members were elected by the community and which were completely independent of state and church, established the Puritan Creed in accordance with the wording of the Bible.

Puritans placed great emphasis on personal conversion, personal religious experience, and turning away from what they viewed as secular. A well-known allegory of life point of view, John Bunyan book The Pilgrim's Progress (The pilgrimage) .

The Puritans saw the devil behind all worldly activities. This was also expressed in the sermons, where hellfire was a popular subject. An example is the well-known sermon by Jonathan Edwards "Sinner in the hands of an angry God" ("Sinners in the hands of an angry God").


The Puritans rejected the Anglican prayer books and Christian crosses as well as priestly robes, bishops and image worship. They also dispensed with the usual stone and richly decorated altar in churches and replaced it with a simple wooden table. They also refused to celebrate Christmas . In fact, during Cromwell's time, Christmas celebrations were forbidden by law, not just in England but in Massachusetts as well . It wasn't until 1856 that Christmas became a public holiday in Massachusetts.

Puritans strongly emphasize pious family life with home devotions, strict observance of the Sunday Sabbath, and service to others. A simple, from the work and the diligence embossed of individuals and ethical life was duty. On the other hand, the Puritans were nowhere near as ascetic as they were later portrayed. Both their clothes and their houses were colored. They strictly rejected worldly pleasures such as dancing or drama on Sunday, inns and promiscuity . In marriages with many children, they saw the expression of love in mutual care rather than sex. On the other hand, sex was seen as so important within marriage that a spouse who refused to have intercourse could be punished for it.

In the colonies of New England, the Puritans established various communities according to their own ideas. Here the government should enforce the ethical principles of the Bible.

According to the reformers, all believers should be able to read the Bible on their own. As a result, education took off in the Protestant territories and countries. The Puritans also attached great importance to education: all boys and girls were taught to read and write, first at home and later in public schools. The training of ministers was also very important to the Puritans. To this end, they created Harvard College in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as early as 1636 , just six years after the colony itself was founded. The public school system and compulsory schooling were formative for the New England colonies from the start. In the 18th century, around a dozen other colleges were founded, including Yale (1701). Increase Mather , one of the leading Puritan theologians in New England, expanded the study program to include the natural sciences as Rector of Harvard (1686).

In Massachusetts and Connecticut, the male population between 1640 and 1700 had reading skills between 89 and 95 percent. In the women of these two colonies, a rate of up to 62 percent was assumed for the period from 1681 to 1697.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter depicts the Puritan way of life from the perspective of 19th century Romanticism .

State and society

Puritanism was of crucial importance for the emergence of democracy and religious freedom in the Anglo-American region. Similar to Baptists and Quakers , the Puritans developed the fundamental decisions of the Reformers and put them into practice.

In the Middle Ages, state and church formed a unit. Martin Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms carried out the fundamental separation of the worldly and the spiritual that Calvin adopted. The aim of Calvin's political thinking was to secure the rights of ordinary people. Therefore, he recommended a mix of democracy and aristocracy as the best form of government. In addition, in order to keep its abuse as low as possible, political power should be distributed among several state institutions ( separation of powers ). And finally said to Calvin subordinate political forces like the nobility or the stands, the right and duty, against a tyrannical ruler resistance to make. Puritanism took up these thoughts. In his mind, society was not a collection of individuals, but a kind of organism geared towards a very specific goal. Every man and woman had a duty to fulfill the most important task, namely to assert the will of God in their community. The Puritans believed that this could only happen if they exercised leadership in the state. Since neither Jacob I nor Charles I were prepared to undertake appropriate reforms, and the latter also made measures to make Catholicism the state religion again against the will of the great majority of the English and Scottish population, the civil war in which Oliver Cromwell was supported was inevitable on his independist army, was victorious. The draft constitution of the Independents, Agreement of the People of 1647, strongly emphasized the equality of all people due to democratic tendencies . Although the Puritans in England could not hold on to power, the monarchy and the Anglican state church were restored, so much Puritan thought remained that the Anglican-ruled parliament in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 severely curtailed the monarch's power in his favor, and so on who created English or British democracy.

In the first half of the 17th century, Baptists like John Smyth , Thomas Helwys, and Roger Williams had vehemently called for freedom of belief in pamphlets. They influenced liberal thinkers such as James Harrington , Algernon Sidney , John Milton and John Locke , the most important English state philosophers of this era. They were rooted in or close to Puritanism.

After James I had rejected all of their reform proposals except for the approval of a Bible translation in 1603, some of the Puritans had come to the conviction that they would not be able to realize their ideas of state and society in England. Therefore, from 1620 onwards, tens of thousands emigrated to New England , where they created communities based on their principles. The Plymouth Colony (1620) and Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628) developed political systems in which the government required the consent of the governed. These Puritans believed that democracy was God's will. The congregationalist Thomas Hooker and the Baptist Roger Williams, who came from congregationalism, linked the central human right religious freedom with the democratic form of government developed in Massachusetts in Connecticut and Rhode Island, respectively . This example was followed by a number of Quakers in New Jersey in 1677 and another Quaker, William Penn , in Pennsylvania in 1682. Like Luther, these Protestants established freedom of religion theologically. Since belief is the free work of the Holy Spirit , it cannot be forced. The United States' Declaration of Independence , Constitution, and Bill of Rights continued this tradition. In addition, the American revolutionaries largely drew their political ideas from the liberal ideas of Harrington, Sidney, Milton, Locke, and a few other authors, which had been conveyed to them by the radical Whigs political party .

Science and economy

In 1938, in his book Science, Technology and Society in 17th-Century England, the American sociologist Robert K. Merton developed the Merton thesis named after him, according to which the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries was essentially carried out by English puritans and German pietists was carried. The sociologist Gerhard Lenski came to very similar results in 1958 in a broad empirical study in the Detroit area ( Michigan ). He found a significant difference between Catholics on the one hand and (white) Protestants and Jews on the other hand in terms of their attitude towards economic life and the natural sciences. Protestants and the Jewish minority let themselves be guided by "intellectual autonomy", which is conducive to a career in the natural sciences. In contrast, the intellectual orientation of Catholics is more inclined to "obedience" to the teachings of their church. This is detrimental for scientific professions. Lensky attributed these differences to the Reformation and the reaction of the Catholic Church to it. The Reformation promoted intellectual autonomy , especially among Anabaptists , Puritans, Pietists, Methodists and English Presbyterians , while the Catholic Church increasingly equated this behavior with Protestantism and heresy and therefore demanded obedience to church doctrine from its members. These differences have remained effective to the present.

With regard to attitudes towards economic life, Lenski saw Max Weber's well-known thesis confirmed, according to which there was a positive correlation between "Protestant ethics" and the "spirit of capitalism" in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, Lenski found no traces of "inner-worldly asceticism" among the Protestants. About a hundred years before Weber, John Wesley , one of the founders of the Methodist Church, observed around 1790 that "diligence and frugality", two behaviors that the Methodists shared with the Puritans and other Protestant groups, called "unintended by-product" brought prosperity to these people.


  • William Haller : The Rise of Puritanism, Or, The Way to the New Jerusalem as set forth in Pulpit and Press from Thomas Cartwright to John Lilburne and John Milton, 1570-1643. Columbia University Press, New York 1938; several new editions: as a paperback with Harper & Brothers, New York 1957 (Harper Torchbooks, Vol. 22); 2nd edition, Philadelphia 1984.
  • John Spurr: English Puritanism 1603–1689 . Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke / New York 1998, ISBN 0-333-60189-0 .
North America
  • Perry Miller : Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 1630-1650: A Genetic Study . Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1933.
  • Perry Miller: The New England Mind: From Colony to Province . Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1939.
  • Edmund S. Morgan : Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea. The New York University Press, 1963.
  • Stephen Foster, The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570-1700 . University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1992.
  • Robert Middlekauff : The Mathers: Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals, 1596-1728. University of California Press, Berkeley 1999, ISBN 978-0-520-21930-4 .
  • Heather Miyano Kopelson: Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic. NYU Press, New York 2016, ISBN 978-1-4798-6028-9 .
  • Dominik Nagl: No Part of the Mother Country, but Distinct Dominions - Legal Transfer, State Building and Governance in England, Massachusetts and South Carolina, 1630–1769. LIT, Berlin 2013, p. 175ff. u. 320ff. ISBN 978-3-643-11817-2 . (Review; full text) .

Web links


  1. ^ "Often used as an epithet, or a shorthand way of signifying everything in the culture that is cold, bloodless, small-minded, self-denying, hypocritical, and vengeful" . Judith S. Graham: Puritan Family Life: The Diary of Samuel Sewall . Northeastern University Press, Boston 2000. p. 13
  2. John Wesley: The Methodist. Chapter 1
  3. Perry Miller: Errand into the Wilderness. In: Errand into the Wilderness. Cambridge MA, 1965, pp. 1-15
  4. Bercovitch, Sacvan: "Rhetoric and History in Early New England: The Puritan Errand Reassessed." In: RJ Budd, EM Cady, CL Anderson (Eds.). Toward a New American Literary History. Durham NC, 1980, p. 54-86.
  5. ^ Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities: Christmas Celebration Outlawed.
  6. M. Schmidt, Mather, Increase , in Religion in Past and Present , 3rd Edition, Volume IV, Column 808
  7. ^ Neil Postman. The second explanation. From the 18th to the 21st century. Berlin Verlag, Berlin 1999. p. 107. ISBN 3-8270-0171-4 .
  8. ^ Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States . Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1960, pp. 15-16
  9. ^ Heinrich Bornkamm : Tolerance. In the history of Christianity . In Religion in Past and Present , 3rd edition, Volume VI, Tübingen, 1962, column 937
  10. ^ W. Schweitzer: State . In The Religion Past and Present , 3rd ed., Volume VI, Column 301
  11. Jan Weerda: Calvin . In Evangelisches Soziallexikon , 3rd edition, Stuttgart, 1958, column 210-211
  12. Ernst Wolf: Right of Resistance . In The Religion Past and Present , 3rd edition, Volume VI, column 1687
  13. Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States , pp. 15-16
  14. ^ Karl Heussi : Compendium of Church History . 11th edition, Tübingen, 1956, pp. 380-381
  15. ^ W. Breach of values: Human rights . In Religion Past and Present . 3rd ed., Volume IV, Column 869
  16. Karl Heussi: Compendium of Church History , pp. 383–384
  17. M. Schmidt: England. Church history . In Religion in Past and Present , 3rd ed., Volume II, Columns 476–477
  18. H. Stahl: Baptists . In Religion Past and Present , Volume I, Columns 862–863
  19. ^ Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States , p. 115
  20. ^ G. Müller-Schwefe: Milton, John . In Religion Past and Present , Volume IV, Column 954–955
  21. Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke's Political Thought . Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-521-89057-1 , pp. 13, 15, 115, 116, 191
  22. ^ Karl Heussi: Compendium of Church History , p. 398
  23. M. Schmidt: Pilgrim Fathers . In The Religion Past and Present , 3rd ed., Volume IV, Column 384
  24. Allen Weinstein, David Rubel: The Story of America: Freedom and Crisis from Settlement to Superpower . DK Publishing, New York, NY, 2002, ISBN 0-7894-8903-1 , pp. 56-65
  25. Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States , pp. 16, 65-73
  26. Clifton E. Olmstead: History of Religion in the United States , pp. 74-76, 99-105
  27. ^ Allan Weinstein, David Rubel: The Story of America , p. 58
  28. ^ Heinrich Bornkamm: Tolerance . In Religion Past and Present . 3rd ed., Volume VI, Columns 937-939
  29. ^ Robert Middlekauff: The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Revised and Expanded Edition, Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-516247-9 , pp. 3-6, 49-52, 136
  30. ^ I. Bernard Cohen (ed.), Puritanism and the Rise of Modern Science: the Merton Thesis , Rutgers University Press, 1990, ISBN 0-8135-1530-0
  31. ^ Piotr Sztomka, Robert K. Merton , in George Ritzer (ed.), Blackwell Companion to Major Contemporary Social Theorists , Blackwell Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-4051-0595-X , Google Print
  32. ^ Gerhard Lenski, The Religious Factor: A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life , Revised Edition, Anchor Books Edition, Garden City, NY, 1963, pp. 282–284
  33. Gerhard Lenski, The Religious Factor , pp. 347-348
  34. Gerhard Lenski, The Religious Factor , pp. 350–352