This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 New England took no plunge, as England did, from the moral heights of Puritanism into the abyss of Restoration licentiousness. But there was a descent, which, if more gradual, was not on that account less real. Seventeenth-century Puritanism held within itself the germ of its own disintegration.1 Already, by the second generation, under the law of psychological reaction and the exacting material demands of a pioneer community, “the decay of godliness in the land” had become conspicuous, and it seems difficult not to regard Salem witchcraft as the reductio ad absurdum of the extreme religious spirit. The revulsion of feeling that followed that outburst of superstition, the increasing interest in commercial and political questions, the gradual introduction of English rationalistic doctrines, the growing influence of the philosophy of Locke and of the literature of the “classical” school, all these causes, and many others, combined to accelerate the change in spiritual atmosphere, and it was not long before there was prevalent, especially in the neighbourhood of Boston, much of that temper of prose and reason which we habitually associate with the eighteenth century. With this changing mood, “heresies” began to creep into the religious world: Arminianism, Arianism, and other dissolvents of Calvinism. Interest in “morality” began to infringe on interest in theology. A line of increasingly “liberal” ministers occupied prominent Boston pulpits.2 The career of Jonathan Edwards serves, by contrast, to tell the story of what was happening.3 He, if anyone, was fitted to stem the tide of encroaching secular interests. The Great Awakening, that transitory religious revival of the second generation of the eighteenth century which is in many ways the American counterpart of the Methodist movement, was designed to remedy the spiritual deadness of the time. But it merely widened the opening gulf in the religious world. The New Calvinists, as the followers of Edwards were called, went on to develop a theology of their own, while the liberals, constantly in closer touch with English thinking, grew more and more radical, until, as the two schools diverged, the term Unitarian was finally applied to them. Though 1785, the year
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.