Thursday, July 1, 2010

Notes on The Mayflower Compact

by Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs

[Friend-of-the-blog Dr. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, author of the new Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners---Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation, sends along a comment on Mark David Hall's most recent installment of his upcoming paper The Influence of the Reformed Tradition on the American Founding:]

Mark David Hall quotes the Mayflower Compact thus: "the Mayflower Compact, committed the people and the rulers to 'the Glory of God, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith.'"

This truncated citation is slightly misleading. The Mayflower Compact, in the section quoted, says, "Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the christian faith and honour of our king & country, a voyage to plant the first Colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, [We whose names are underwritten &c] do by these presents solemnly & mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, Covenant, & Combine ourselves together into a Civil body politic, for our better ordering, & preservation & furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to Enact, Constitute, and frame such just & equal laws, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience..."

I think the truncation overemphasizes the point Mr. Hall wants to make, at the expense of subtlety. The Mayflower Compact represents Separatist thought, not "early Puritan political thought." The religious aspect (Glory of God, Advancement of the Christian Faith) is not a predominantly important part of this civil document, even though the Separatists arose out of the Puritan context in England. There's more of this distinction in my book about the Pilgrims, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners (2009), especially pp. 610-626. The book also points out that the Pilgrims diverged from the dominant Puritan/Calvinist dogmatism, rejecting the idea that credal formulations had somehow overcome the general imperfection of all things human. (That is to say, they agreed with Calvinist formulations while acknowledging that all such credal statements were unavoidably imperfect, an acknowledgment one might like to see shared by some modern Calvinists.)

Jeremy Bangs
The Netherlands


Jonathan Rowe said...

I am going to wait until tomorrow to post the next installment of Dr. Hall's work, which hopefully will generate the most discussion: It's on Locke.

King of Ireland said...

My ancestors were Pilgrims that came over. This is interesting. My ex also had ancestors on the ships. Thus two people who knew each other well had descendants that later married and had a child. I thought he was possibly the only one alive to have Pilgrims on both sides but had a student who had two ancestors from both sides. What are the odds that I and the student meet?

King of Ireland said...

This is real good Jon.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Looking forward to Hall on Locke, via Reformed Theology. Locke fled England for Holland and "the Calvinists" in 1683.


Phil Johnson said...

The Mayflower Compact represents Separatist thought, not "early Puritan political thought."
Which leads up to Jefferson's point regarding the Saxons separating from their mother land to conquer their new land as precedent for the ancestors to separate from their mother land to conquer America.

Mark David Hall said...

There were certainly differences between the separatists and the Puritans who started pouring into America a decade later. However, they all made extensive use of covenants in both civil and ecclesiastical contexts, and I believe all would have agreed that chief end of man is to glorify God (although I understand that some were more pious than others).

I do appreciate the feedback and I certainly want to be subtle. However, I also think broad essays of this nature are useful, and they necessarily require painting with wider strokes. This essay is supposed to be 35 pages long and it is already over 50. This is not an excuse, just a bit of context.

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
King of Ireland said...

Dr. Hall,

Broad brush strokes are needed because most people that comment on this topic, especially those that are engaged in the trench warfare of the culture wars, do not have even an elementary grasp of the theological aspects inherent in this debate.

I have broached many of the topics of this essay on a site that is culture war obessed and was run off by brutal personal attacks over a two month period.

Hope you have your think skin on because what you write here will not be well received in many corners and your much needed broad brush strokes will be painted over with trivial controversies that really matter little to your larger point.

I wish you well.