THE Puritan who founded Massachusetts has been indicted, tried and convicted as a hypocrite, because he crossed over the ocean to worship God in accordance with his conscience and then denied that privilege to others. Yet really he never professed to be in favor of freedom of religion. He shook the dust of England from his feet to escape heresy and he would not suffer heresy in his own colony.
To the Puritan, tolerance was a hateful thing, "the first-born of all abominations," as an early president of Harvard said. "Liberty of conscience" was "an impiety" to "the simple cobbler of Agawam," that Ipswich propagandist.
Virtually all mankind agreed three centuries ago that there could be only one religion. Any other must be false and ought to be suppressed. For the soul was guarded as zealously in those days as the body is guarded against infection nowadays.
The Puritan did not come to Massachusetts to start a new religion . . . or to let any one else do such a thing. That day and generation could no more imagine two churches side by side than this day and generation can conceive of two conflicting social systems, such as individualism and communism. The 17th century was as intolerant of the one suggestion as the 20th century is of the other.
Just as the Church of England, after it threw off allegiance to the Pope, continued to protest that it still was the "Holy Catholic Church, the one church universal," the Puritan, when he came to Massachusetts, insisted that he had not left the Church. He was only restoring it to its ancient purity.
In that restoration and in all things else, the Puritan took the newly translated Bible for his sole guidance. It was the creed of his Church and the constitution and the law of his State.
Church and State were united in a Bible commonwealth, with the clergy, in effect, the supreme court, the interpreters of the law, and the magistrates the enforcers of it. Since Holy Writ was the only law, a lawyer was ungodly in the eyes of the Puritan. And not one of that despised craft hung out his shingle in Massachusetts in the first 10 years.
Where Church and State were combined, necessarily an offense against the one was sedition against the other. Sinners against the rules and discipline of the Church were punished as criminals by the State.
The life of the colony and of its people, the clothes they should wear, the length of their hair, their labor and pastimes, were all supervised and regulated in accordance with the clergy's interpretation of the Scriptures. Cards and dice were banned. Cooking, making beds, sweeping, shaving, running were forbidden on the Lord's Day, and that woful day began at 3 o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday.
Because Christmas, New Years and other holidays were holy days in the Catholic Church, their observance was prohibited. Even the familiar names of months were discarded, because they had been bestowed by pagan Emperors and by Popes, and numbers were substituted. Since the ministers said that they could find no authority in the Bible for church weddings or church funerals, marriages were performed by civil magistrates, and the dead silently were buried without a sermon, a song or a prayer.
'Twas a ghastly fanaticism that clutched the Puritan, and it all but squeezed out of him the milk of human kindness. A merciless deity have prejudged, foreordained, predestined all mankind, except the elect, to suffer for the sins of the race and to atone for them in an everlasting hell, it was not for mortals to show mercy. The Puritan shut out pity from his heart, as he branded, whipped, pilloried, banished those whom a pitiless God had condemned before they were born.
A fanaticism though it was, Puritanism was yet a faith, and a strong faith. Nothing else breeds strong men like a strong faith. Puritanism was the grindstone on which the New England intellect was sharpened, the forge in which the New England character was tempered.
Having set themselves up as the interpreters of all law, the clergy necessarily had to be educated men. Harvard College, the first within the bounds of the United States, was founded as a training school in Puritan theology only six years after the founding of the colony; and it developed into a seminary of liberalism and revolt.
Having challenged older faiths and creeds, the Puritan must have the printed word to aid him in his propaganda. Within eight years of his coming to Massachusetts, he imported the first press to be set up in this country, and he found it a wild horse that he could not bridle, though even yet his spiritual descendants strive so to do.
Having thrown over the ceremonials and even the music of the church, the Puritan made the sermon from the pulpit the sum of the services. An understanding congregation became a necessity, and he built by the side of his meetinghouse the first common school in America, "to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers."
Having presumed to set up their own judgments against Popes and bishops and to interpret the Bible for themselves, the parsons soon differed in their interpretations. When those doctors of divinity disagreed, the laiety had to chose between them. They, too, differed, and before the Puritan theocracy in Massachusetts was five years old, it was shaken to its foundations by "the dissidence of dissent."
Certain insects are so-called host of certain so-called guest insects that destroy them. Puritanism carried on its back the press, the common school, the college and individual judgment, which challenged and checked and ultimately overthrew its despotic authority.
James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Nov 4, 1927, p. 24