Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Puritan and the Manichee

PURITANISM is a particular form and degree of Protestantism which has specially flourished in England, Scotland, and Wales, but of which there were wide areas throughout the Protestant world, notably in Scandinavia and in Holland. To be a Puritan is almost exactly the same as to be what the old world used to call a Manichaean.  The Puritan and the Manichee have the same attitude towards the universe; their creeds work out to the same moral and social practice. But there is one doctrinal difference between them for, while the Manichee believes in an evil principle which works side by side with, and is equal to, the principle of good in the universe, the Puritan, proceeding from Calvin and, therefore, only admitting one will in the universe, makes both evil and good combine in the same awful God who permits and, in a sense, wills evil and, particularly, the sufferings of man.

There is, then, this difference in doctrine between the two, the old heresy which continually reappears throughout the earlier Christian centuries and the new heresy of the sixteenth century. But, in practice, the effects of the two were just the same, and Puritanism made, of the society which it affected, very much what the Albigenses made of their society in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the Bulgarian heretics made of theirs in an earlier time still.

The sentiment, rather than the conviction, that the material world is evil and, therefore, that all sensual joy is, in essence, evil, lies at the root of Puritanism. Joy in the arts, delight in beauty, and the rest of it, are the Puritan’s object of hatred. He sees them all as rivals to the majesty of God and obstacles which deflect the pure worship of that majesty.

~Hilaire Belloc: in Characters of the Reformation; Ch. 20, Oliver Cromwell.

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