Monday, August 20, 2012

Cotton Mather Pummels a Trojan Horse

Here's a selection from Magnalia Christi Americana: Or the Ecclesiastical History of New England (1697), by Cotton Mather; Book VII (pages 12 - 13) [paragraph formatting is mine]:

§13. Reader, Be content that the same Chapter which has related the Controversies that have sometimes disturbed the Churches of New-England about Matters, the Lawfulness whereof has been scrupled, should leap over half an Hundred Years to grasp at another of those Controversies, which as late as the Year 1688, was an Occasion of some further Disturbance: The Affinity, rather than the Chronology of the thing inviting us, in this Place to lodge the History of that Controversie

When the Charter of New-England were taken away, the Gouvernour [Sir Edmund Andros], who with a Treasonable and an arbitrary Commission then Tyrannized over the Colonies, at length drove the New-Englanders to imitate the whole English Nation, in a happy Revolution, on the Eighteenth of April, 1689. And in the Declaration of Grievances, which they published [for] this Revolution, Article VII was this: 
To plunge the poor People everywhere into deeper incapacities, there was one very Comprehensive Abuse given to us: Multitudes of pious and sober Men thro' the land scrupled the Mode of swearing on the Book [by touching it], desiring that they might Swear with an uplifted Hand, agreeable to the ancient Custom of the Colony; and tho' we think we can prove, that the Common Law amongst us (as well as in some other places under the English Crown) does not indulge, but even Command and enjoin the Rite of lifting the Hand in Swearing, yet they that bad this doubt were still put by from serving upon any Juries, and many of them were most unaccountably Fined and Imprisoned. This one Grievance is a Trojan Horse, in the Belly of which'tis not easie to recount how many insufferable Vexations have been contained. . . . 
However [despite the many learned protests lodged against the book-oath] it may be the Christians of New-England are the only ones in the World that ever suffered a Formal Persecution, by Fines and Gaols, for bearing their testimony unto Purity of Worship, in that great Point of Worship, an Oath: And perhaps these Christians bear a part in Finishing the Testimony to be born unto the Laws of our Lord Jesus Christ in the World, by patiently suffering this Persecution, while the Quakers, who refused all Swearing at all, did undergo no such Hardships from the Government. 

Now the Reasons that moved these Confessors hereunto are easily understood. They were of this old Puritan Principle; that all Religious Worship, not Commanded by God, is Forbidden; and that all Symbolical Ceremonies enjoined on Men in Religious Worship, are made parts of it. More closely; they judged that our Swearing ON the Gospel, is a Swearing BY the Gospel, and therefore Idolatrous. [. . .] The Religious Forms of Addressing to God, we say, are to be appointed by none but God himself: Whereas the Elevation of the Hand, has even for Sacred as well as for Civil Uses; and in an Oath particularly, had such unexceptionable Approbation, that the Faithful of New-England chose it, and chose rather to suffer Affliction, than to use a Rite in the Worship of God, which they suspected sinful.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Ray, we could take a show of hands or ask some scholar.

I have found that the Founders are unreadable unless we insert paragraph breaks.

I think they would have but in the paragraph breaks, but paper was really expensive so you just go for it, a paragraph that gets as long as a lion's arm because you just don't want to take the time to take a space or a pause for...


If I want the 21st century reader to actually read the text, I make paragraph breaks and if the text is REALLY important, I'll make the note

[Paragraph breaks mine.]

Often, I just let 'er rip if I really want the Founder to be read and heard.

I'm getting that this post is something about swearing oaths and the "So help me God" thing that you write about because of your work for the atheist agitator Michael Newdow or something and that George Washington didn't really say so help me god when he became president at the inauguration because nobody said they heard them say it until decades later and Washington Irving or somebody said he said it but he really didn't and Michael Newdow even made a video of it wearing a phony tricorn and playing guitar pretty darn well I must say and telling our schoolchildren he didn't say it and besides, the Masonic Bible.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, thanks for the suggestion. Otherwise, excuse me for having ruffled your feathers.

Cotton Mather happens to be reflecting a sense of religious expression with which I am in complete agreement. If you visit any Mormon chapel you'll see that it resembles the unadorned simplicity of New England chapels. Only one innovation shows up -- that's the word EXIT posted over the doorways.

jimmiraybob said...

Only one innovation shows up -- that's the word EXIT posted over the doorways.

And that, of course, is a biggovment conspiracy mandated to deprive the church of its religious liberty.

Or to save lives in case of fire.

But mostly the first thing I said.

Unless there's a fire.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Ray. Exc post.