Institutional Individualism: Conversion, Exile and Nostalgia in Puritan
By Michael W. Kaufmann
accepts a narrative according to which the Puritans rebelled against oppressive
This book aims to reopen for examination concepts that have long been accepted, often uncritically, as historical “givens”.
One widely accepted model assumes a pre-existing ideal of individuality based on absolute autonomy or pure unfettered subjectivity. This refuses any contextual claims on the individual. It makes us bobble between extreme institutionalism or extreme individualism (freedom) in any given moment.
But Anne Hutchinson (AH) was a strong Puritan enthusiast. If dissenters are always marginalized, why was Roger Williams (RW) made the governor of his own colony?
P. 3 He uses the term institutional individualism in this book.
Individualism is anachronistic here, but used because he wants us to remember it comes from the Latin “in-dividere” or “not divisible.” Around the middle of the seventeenth century it became something that could be outside of community. Individuals still could not be divided within themselves, but could be divided from the community.
Institutional means the individual must always be defined and qualified by means of relation to some form of institution (administrative or even linguistic or the institution of marriage). It further notes that for Puritans to be separated from a community was not desirable. Rather, it was a sign of being abandoned to ones degenerate self. Excommunication was a punishment, not a sign of liberation from oppression.
Their individualism came from affiliation with institutions.
Folks have looked at the genesis of individualism in Revolutionary times, he wishes to do so for the neglected area of Puritan times.
Laurence Stone’s magisterial
The Family, Sex and Marriage in
Jay Fliegelman of the emergence of individualism during Revolutionary times places emphasis on the freedom of children when they have become rational. If an young adult can break free from parents, then colonists can break from their mother country.
For Puritans submission created an increase in power. For R. W. Emerson’s vision, a decrease. This is due to one age being religious and the other quasi secular.
In Sacvan Bercovitch’s famous The Puritan Origins of the American Self, it is asserted that pious self-denial is, in the end, political self-assertion in disguise. This argument is powerful, yet circular. If denial is assertion. It also presupposes some individual self hidden behind the evidence. It sort of says the Puritans were made by individualism and it made them.
He is also concerned that work on Puritans is always seen to be political. This perverts the way we look at them. It looks from the Puritans to the present (projection) or from the present back (retrojection) or a combination. Projection makes us look for us in them (sexism, racism, capitalism, liberalism). It means that they knew better than us, or we know better than them.
P. 7 It also, especially with religion, comes off as if we know them better than they did. Religion was a cover for genocide, prejudice, materialism, capitalism. Weber’s capitalism argument can be seen in this light.
P. 8 He does not want to fit this work into a narrative about the “rise of individualism” but allow them to have their own strangeness.
As a literary person he has to hold that analogies are not merely rhetorical decoration for an argument, but arguments themselves. To compare a converted soul to a melted stone, instead of a weather vane reveals differences concerning the logic of salvation and personal agency and the permanence of conversion. This approach is aided by the fact that Puritans themselves were so careful about language.
Perry Miller treats all Puritans as the same. The same quotes could come from any number of Puritans. This obscures differences and subtleties. So do all views of “the Puritan mind.” Even John Cotton changes a lot over his prolific career.
John Cotton hit
RW has gotten a better
reputation. He founded
Our knowledge of AH comes
from those who banished her. They have
accepted the court verdict of her as a dangerous renegade subverter. But she followed Cotton to
P. 14 Chapter One will look at the most common analogy evoked to compare the relationship of the family to the individual – the family.
Chapter Two will look at how the relationship to language mediates the individual / institution relationship. This will be done by looking at John Cotton’s (JC) belief that language itself must undergo a conversionbefore any change will be realized in institutions and individuals.
Chapter Four will look at RW’s vision of an individual as oppressed by but still defined by a relation to institutions.
Chapter five looks at emotion and the sense of being lost from the pure ideal. Conversion is looking at what one could become, but also at we have lost nostalgically.
Chapter One – Puritanism and the Family Analogy
-------------------- 1. Affiliation and Individualism ----------------------------------------
P. 15 In 1636 the
This followed Ramist logic that all appeared in complementary and self-reinforcing pairs. Husband and wife, minister and congregation, and God and follower are such pairs. All of these relations require voluntary consent and are contractual and thus imply duties. And if you are in no relationships, you are nobody.
Filiations are relationships within the family. Affiliations are the other forms of social relationships. You move from one to the other. You are born in filiative relationships, but move to affiliative ones.
These terms show how they could at once be patriarchal and deny the patriarchal structure of Catholicism. Submission and domination can be voluntary and free of coercion. Dissent can be to strengthen the institutions to which one binds themselves. Puritans are said to have wanted uncontaminated authority, not personal freedom. They didn’t like weak leaders.
P. 17 Whereas individualism meant before, incapable of being divided (implying a necessary connection says Raymond Williams in Keywords), we now, ironically, define it by its division.
The older sense emphasizes resemblances over differences. The newer emphasizes our differences. We always find out identities in a combination, so the difference is just in emphasis. Do we get our identity from what we share or do not share with others? Puritans emphasized resemblances. Conversion is becoming like God, imitation Christi, walking in a Godly way. Man’s fall was turning away from God, it is falling into what we call the positive attributes of individuals – uniqueness, difference, self-reliance.
------------------------------------ 2. The Family Covenant ---------------------------
Filiation often serves as a model for affiliation; that is, relationships within families provide a basis for describing relationships to other institutions. It can determine the emotional components of such relationships. These relationships, not individualism, were your source of emotion and identity.
P. 20 Family was not seen as a private retreat from society, but as an extension of it. That idea of privacy is a late 17th century invention. The earlier view made submission to the king seem natural. Later it comes to be seen as legalistic like a marriage contract voluntarily joined rather than a divinely or naturally sanction arrangement. The Puritans did civil, not religious, marriage ceremonies.
Robert Filmer in Patriarcha bolstered the idea of King as father. Locke wrote directly against Filmer to break the link between family and state. Locke notes that children must submit involuntarily, but when they get older the filial thing is voluntary. After Locke the family becomes more of what we think of it as today: a collection of free individuals that serve as a private escape from public institutions.
The Puritans are between Filmer and Locke. They say you choose, for example, marriage. But after it is chosen, strict religious guidelines, not a quest for individual autonomy, guide you.
P. 23 Husbands were legally liable for their wife’s transgressions. He failed to properly instruct and care for her. A number of scholars have said this contractual model underlies their rationality. What were natural, divine or emotional become “merely” legal. Logical and psychological reformations do now always coincide, and affections do not evaporate at the tweak of an analogy. Love and allegiance continues. Rebellion and regicide do not necessarily put an end to a desire for or dependence on strong patriarchal authority. Puritan disdain for the Pope’s aesthetic does not mean that they do not have their own.
------------------------- 3. Covenants and conversions ------------------------------
We may be individual sinners, but Grace, God and community will replace our natural origins. Puritan ministers address this in the language of family constantly God the father is evoked a lot, but paternity is not ever certain. Some children do not resemble their fathers. Do you resemble Christ or merely feign it in order to claim your inheritance?
P. 25 You must also show your filial relationship to your new fathers in the church to change your origins from filiation to affiliation. It does not matter if you come from poor stock as we can obtain a better birth. So we go from filiation, to affiliation to re-filiation (with God) and a re-filiation with our church and state fathers. The first step is to cast away your original filiation. Then you must quest for new filiation and affiliation.
This conversion sparks a desire to resemble a timeless ideal (imitation Christi) whereas church reform hinges on a related desire to recover historical ideals. The desire to recover the past often rests on a sense of loss and nostalgia.
You cannot so easily
renounce your maternity. Mom knows who
the dad is and you definitely come from her.
So Cotton refers to the
The religious aesthetic is therefore to be male. No overwhelming smells and sights. Cotton wants these things, but resists. Like a female whore. The Catholic Church is visible like a beast and seduction. It is like an out of control beast. All this requires a masculine control.
Cotton allows female imagery, but it is in the sense of in a marriage where there are limits and boundaries. Ironically, the conversion is described more as overwhelming. Only Grace and god should overwhelm you, not earthly things.
God does motherly chores (ie washing away your sins) but is ultimately chosen, like a father.
------------------- 4. Orphans and Other Lost Souls --------------------------------
The convert has confusion in deciding to replace the known milk of the mother with the unknown gift of the blood of Christ. The believer notices the disappearance of the father only as an afterthought. This confusion and wavering almost robs you of your ability to choose. Ultimately the choice to take the blood of the lamb over the milk of the mother is God’s, not yours. But there is a nostalgia that something better, the milk of mom, has been taken away.
Conversion means losing all that is safe for the promise of a better self. The fear that the old self will come back is real. Another threat is that you emerge reborn with nothing to substantiate yourself again, you become unhinged, lost, cast away and undone. You lose all sense of relatedness. A husband without a wife is not a husband. God is all and you are nothing.
It is like leaving the new world and finding nothing. To be an orphan. One without a sense of God is such an orphan. So one must be lost into something. Here into the institutions of the church structures. A claim is made that Presbyterians convert you to nothing.
Cotton does accept that
you do greatly resemble your real father.
Were he to have really taken this to heart it would have undermined the
logic of conversion. There would be no
change and nothing better. It is this
bleak prospect that Cotton most wants to change,
Chapter Two – John Cotton and the Conversion of Rhetoric
For JC the most important mission of the church was institutional conversion. This involved a move from differences to resemblances. This is beyond words, but in their fallen state, humans need words to mediate these exchanges between God and soul, between institutions and individualism between one individual and another.
Whereas God remains the first cause of salvation, language nevertheless operates as both cause and effect of conversion. Hearing sermons and reading scripture will change the soul, and a changed soul will hear, read, speak , and understand in a new way, with a new language.
Unfortunately language itself exhibits the traits it wants to reform. Metaphor is based both on resemblance and difference. It can never get complete identification. The way God reads and we do is different. There is also, most troubling, a difference between what one thinks and what one says and what one does. Both Cotton and Williams became preoccupied with hypocrites who speak the language of conversion, but aren’t converted.
For these reasons, language itself must be converted before it can convert. To this end he says before institutions come individuals, before individuals comes language.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. Conversion and Language ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Whereas god knows reality and us without mediation, we only see through “glass darkly” ie through language. We can only know what things are like. This was key to discussions of knowledge and language during the renaissance.
P. 39 In the renaissance, this understanding justified poetry. Cotton does not lament the unregenerate state of language. It makes us human. Angels cannot alter their mind or repent. We can.
For Cotton the slowness of language can ultimately be a virtue. It gives us time to grow and change. Language can turn us around. We need a new tongue. Like wine, it causes spiritual intoxication. Words sparkleth upwards. The desire for grace cannot be mediated or expressed by any normal language. A need for a new language comes out of this limitation. Maturity, like a father (no longer a child) fills the gap perpetually. True converts are able to see things they never saw before. Hearing sermons leads to conversion which changes your way of communicating and ultimately your relationship to other people.
This creates institutional problems. How does one know that this new speaking in tongues isn’t just being drunk? He want an language of puritan conversion that can be authenticated and distinguished from Presbyterian conversion.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. Desire, Conversion, and Institutions ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If language is the agent of conversion, then desire is the object of conversion. Desire is converted from being aimed at bad objects to good.
Pg. 43-44 The senses are not necessarily corrupt. Listening to sermons can be sensual. The minister can replace art as the new icons of worship. In his taxonomy of the senses tongue outranks the ear, eye, nose, and skin. What we see may not be our own, but what we taste and say are our own. Taste is a sense where the object enters your body. We feed on Christ. Like food, it is converted into a part of our molecular structure. This is a hungering and thirsting that can never be satiated. The process of getting through the dark glass is continual and addictive. This makes you dependent on the lord, the church, the bible and the ministry.
Desire always exists, but a good institution directs them towards the good end of common goals and common identity.
‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘‘3. Resemblances and Differences``````````````````````````
Resemblance doesn’t mean difference. Metaphors hit many similarities, but there will be differences at the edges. Just because a stick looks different in and out of water does not mean it is not a stick.
Cotton spoke of this in preparing to meet objections to his trying to use conversion narratives. Converts were to tell and elders were to authenticate the conversion and decide whether or to accept the converted to membership. Folks said that puts him in the place of God. Only God can see for real. But we can see though imperfectly to some degree of accuracy.
He blames language. But true integrity is when what one says and is are the same. You are one with Christ and one with yourself. If you say you are converted and yet do not keep the commandments, there is a problem.
Here is a hint of a distinction between the private and public self that wasn’t totally in place at this time and is a crux of our sense of individualism. Bacon says we should be allowed to feign because it gives us a retreat. Bacon’s self is Cotton’s sin. For Cotton the true self should exist in affiliation with, not contradistinction to, institutions.
Performance is, as Cotton notes, though an art. Speech making is performing a role. The Greek word for delivery (as in deliver a speech) is hypocrisis. To be effective a conversion story must have an affective hypocrasis. You must tell the story well.
P. 47 More than Williams, Cotton was willing to admit hypocrites to his church. Better let in hypocrites by accident than to exclude one true convert by stringency.
Especially later Cotton will admit that it is hard to tell the true convert from the faker. It is even hard to tell whether you yourself are being true or a faker. He needs to heal the wound that comes from the gap between word and spirit. The doubting of whether your conversion is true or not can, unfortunately, undermine your confidence in and determination to grow.
``````````````````````` 4. Different Differences `````````````````````````````````````````
P. 49 Differences are important here. There must be a difference between you now and later to have conversion and growth be real. Language does double duty. On the one hand it gets us closer to God and on the other hand, it mediates our relationship with God. We could never really see him or we’d be overwhelmed. Thus we balance resemblances and differences in which we are undone without becoming unraveled. Difference gives us a desire for completion and never allows it.
Difference also allows for hypocrites and two different selves. Like the Greek idea that character is destiny, Cotton says that time will sort out the authentic from the fakers. There is an immediate and a long term conversion.
Pure honest talk should be okay. It is for the immediate conversion, but we are fallen readers and need a library of sermons to keep our long term desires on the straight and narrow (Perhaps the term “straight and focused” would serve our purposes better) and aware of things that should be obvious.
This makes ministers necessary. It also argues for letting the un-saved into the churches.
``````````````````````` 5. Solomon and Universal Fatherly Care ``````````````````````
P. 52 Solomon was Cotton’s ideal leader. Both Solomon and Cotton were strong and led astray by women. His authority comes under fire during the AH trials. He studies Solomon’s mix of mercy and rigor for guidance. At times in his career he found it hard to believe that one person could be both. How to be fatherly?
For Cotton, Solomon achieved this balance via an aesthetic. He, again, is attracted to the luxuries of the Catholic church but afraid of their lack of boundaries. Solomon finds the boundaries via paternal tradition.
Solomon represents the wise leader and the divinely inspired poet, a successful combination of the pleasure of aesthetics and the rigor of authority.
Chapter Three – Roger Williams and the Conversion of Persecution
````````````````````` 1. Critique of Conversion and the Ministry ```````````````````````
Roger Williams (RW) attacked Quaker founder George Fox saying outward appearances don’t show you are converted. His talk also hinted against Cotton’s conversion speech plan. People often pretend out of a desire for self-preservation.
P. 56 He says all are ready to turn back against their conversion like a weathercock. It moves but is not alive. Points in whatever direction the wind blows.
For Cotton, spiritual change serves as the foundation for political reform. For RW shifting political alliances serve as the shaky basis for false spiritual change. Politicians always act to get people to pretend they are converted.
RW says no pretenders allowed in his church. Bacon describes the private self as a respite. RW notes the public nature of the charade.
In the renaissance a comparison of sexual and spiritual was common. We receive passively as Christ does us. We are female and Christ is male. He is to take us by force and save us from our untrue love for another (sin).
RW sees this seduction and rape by God, unlike Cotton, as corruption. Williams doesn’t trust conversion or what folks say about it. So ministers cannot judge conversion. You must pluck out your own eyes when reading. The ministers reading for you promote blindness.
In some churches the minister gives you an interpretation and you accept it to show you are right with him. The confirmation makes the minister think he is doing gods work. It is a mirror dance of deception.
RW says if converted the congregation needs no preaching and if not converted, they shouldn’t be in the church. We should let those who are unconvertible alone. We have no power over them.
````````````````````````` 2. Infallible Witness in Exile ‘’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’
How can RW judge other’s inability to judge? He said that truth and salvation could not be institutionalized. RW says that churches are at their best when they criticize and rail against falseness.
Ironically he was very well placed in the hierarchy of religion. Yet he was never comfortable with authority. He had been rehearsing for banishment his whole life.
Furthermore he does not condemn all authority outright. He says the Quakers care no more for scripture than the Papists. The Pope speaks for all and the Quakers do radical individualism. He tries to locate a space between these two. He tries to find a space in which he can criticize both.
`````````````````````` 3. Persecution as Conversion `````````````````````````````````````
He is against religious persecution but for civil dissent in the name of keeping civic order. He excludes verbal attacks from the sort of persecution that is allowed.
So he can dismiss Jews, Catholics,
Quakers, and Turks as having “false religions”
He still allows Quakers to live in
He still retains the right to persecute. He is like god who tolerates his errant children. He is a tolerater, yet an infallible witness. He says others are going to hell. His is a persecution deferred.
P. 67 In fact, RW acknowledges that people shine brightest when persecuted. This is sort of why he never stops representing himself as persecuted. He likes to surround himself with persecuted folks. He tells the Bay Colony that though they kicked him out he continues to serve them. He constantly emphasizes the trial of his 14 week trek into exile even though he was never out of power. Conversion is persecution and ongoing.
If all were converted, Cotton would be nothing. Similarly, if he accepted a cushy position in the Bay Colony, RW would be nothing.
RW does not persecute because he wants to see himself as persecuted.
Both conversion and persecution depend on differences. Cotton first emphasizes similarity in imitation Christi but becomes increasingly aware of differences. Williams not only objects to the attempt to reduce differences, but wants to enorce them. Saint and sinner are different.
He cannot be tolerant unless he is in the presence of someone who requires forbearance. To this end, he must strongly point out the differences between himself and those who he tolerates.
Cotton sees truth as a positive presence. Williams sees truth as an unobtainable absence. That is how you know it, by its absence. Williams does not declare his principles and if they are attacked he sees himself as persecuted.
```````````````````` 4. Separation of Church and State Reconsidered````````````````````````````
His advocacy of church and state separation derives from his conviction that institutions cannot know the truth. His person speaking truth is outside of politics. The state keeps changing its mind on religion.
He should not be seen as wanting to diminish the power of the church. He wants to preserve the power of both. The state should not have church powers and vice versa. It is ineffectual for them to try to do each other’s roles.
Ministers should not comment on political matters. His fallacy is, perhaps, that these powers can be easily separated. There is a difference between your political self and your real self. Religion has little to do with political effects. He distrusts all we say as hypocritical. The self is only true when alone and needs this space to be free to criticize.
For Cotton joining is a form of critique, it shows values. It rejects other choices.
Chapter Four - The Case of Anne Hutchinson
In the trial
But there is a discontinuity between a church father and a real father so the guidance is not coherent and the analogy fails.
Does the first commandment trump the fifth? Honor God above Father?
P. 76 Winthrop clarifies that he and his fellows of the court are the fathers she must obey.
````````````````````````````````````` 1. Be a Man ``````````````````````````````````````````````
The Church leaders were never consistent. They thought she failed in her role as a woman and she thought they failed as church fathers.
John Cotton admits that her faulty ideas are his fault. He s a bad father. He and the other men failed to take control. They must be men as the women must be women.
A renaissance pamphlet decried men dressing as women on and off the stage. Without difference there shall be no reverence, it notes. Each will fail in their roles. Men get soft.
On manifestation of this
At that time, the term “familist” was used to describe AH and her followers as much as “antinomians”. Familist implied that they had a communal marriage going on and thus violated the family analogy.
Cotton says he thinks AH will be adulterous. TO her husband, the community, him. All men must be like Christ and thus the same in resemblance. The resemblance is busted if someone violates the form.
````````````` 2. Passive Activity: Antinomianism and the Question of Agency ~~~~~~~~~~
All Puritans can be seen as passive (doing God’s will and dependent on his grace) and yet active (trying to lead like AH).
Donne, much earlier, says that our temptation by the active devil comes from a passive soul. We, in fact, cannot resist the devil without the action of God on our behalf. P. 81-82 The desire for God and to be saved by God comes from God. Ultimately our thoughts and actions are not enough for salvation. That too comes from God.
Good works are when God works through you because you are saved, it does NOT force god’s hand. We cannot even tell if we are truly converted and saved.
Arminianism is the false belief that our acts can have an affect. You cannot act on God, god acts on you (this is the correct grammar of conversion).
A turning point, for the
worst, is when AH seems to claim interpretive authority for herself. But she more likely meant that the idea came
to her from God without interpretation. Her
faith in her understanding undermines the elder’s tentative faith in
theirs. Also people were aware that when
people think god is talking directly to them violence is likely to follow (as
Her first question to the elders was “What law have I broken?” The pronoun may point to her passivity in the face of God. It might then imply a lack of active prowess on behalf of the elders. Deep in their hearts they may mistakenly believe they have agency in their salvation.
P. 85 If AH saw herself as different from the rest, she may have felt she had agency and thus could be held culpable for her actions. This would hint at the elders not being among God’s elect.
Ironically, AH always professed extreme dependence on the elders. She was not responsible for her desire for God, nor the form it took, nor its insatiability.
`````````````````````````````````` 3. The Trials```````````````````````````````
AH is searching, in her own words, for the anti-Christ and God allowed her to see who it is; those who do not testify of the New Testament. The ministers were sort of failing to do so and so she took it upon herself. She could then discover the voice of the bible from her own voice.
The passage shows that the ministers did not lead her. They had abandoned their posts. She did not want to abandon the ministers. Her break from false ministers would be debilitating, not liberating.
She learns to hear what
God says/wants/believes and speaks with that voice. Her only agency is to choose God as a
minister (speaking in the terms of the covenant). She followed Cotton to
During the trial they exhume the miscarried babies she had and say they are the same in number as deformed opinions she has. The opinions are thus in and of her womb.
But the woman was said to
be a passive receptacle in birth and males the cause and God the final
cause. The fault for the half-child must
be shared by the males involved.
Monstrous births represent the inversion of conversion. Instead of a new father, the female replaces the male with something unacceptable and illegitimate, effeminate and boundless. The monstrous birth represents a radical difference.
Chapter Five – Institutions and Nostalgia
Perry Miller’s story says that the stable congregation disintegrated due conflict, dissent and secularization. Another version calls the period of stability “hegemony” and says it was subverted by radical AH and RW. But the institutions were just being made as the AH and RW trials were happening. They could not subvert what did not yet exist. The institutions were created to counter any future outbreaks of radical individualism.
P. 93 The institutions do not so much end with declension as begin with it. From the first they seek to re-establish what had never been there, the lost perfect father, perfect church. It is a nostalgic stance.
The anti-Papist, anti-authority stance is in part responsible for the Puritan’s own hegemony. The conversion and leaving fathers is also to blame. Turning away from fathers to fathers that aren’t there creates desire and nostalgia.
Williams wanted so to be back with the perfect pure original church with God at the helm. Much of the apocalyptic talk is a panic at losing the original purity.
```````````````````````````` 1. The Absence of Christ ``````````````````````````````````
The intense conversion is when Christ is present and tells us what we should be like. When he is thought to be absent, the rhetoric switches to a desire for Christ to return. Conversion becomes more and more faith based in order that we might act as if Christ were present. Faith for them was a compensation for absence rather than a celebration of presence.
The conversion from Christ present to absent can be seen in the change of writing in Cotton’s own career.
Cotton became convinced
that Christ had left
Faith is only absolutely necessary when God is absent. Christ’s being there and ready to give salvation is more of a sure thing. Faith is not salvation.
Twenty years later Cotton is saying that Christ is absent to make his presence more desirable and tantalizing. We go from “Seeing” Christ to “enjoying” Christ. He goes to thirst and desire as evidence of Christ’s existence. A reversal of his previous stance.
It is hard to imitate Christ when no one can see him. This under girds the lack of direction AH complains of. The rhetoric of conversion also declines. When Christ is gone, declarations of what happened to you can go awry. Times become perilous.
He laments that the days are gone when folks could follow subtle arguments.
After AH it is unsafe to
use the word revelation. Certainty is
going. Earlier, in
`````````````````````````````` 2. Institutional Structures ```````````````````````````````
Both Cotton and Williams’ plan for church reform are founded on loss and nostalgia. Cotton wishes to retain the intensity of desire and RW to recover the purity and perfection of the 1sst institution of Christ.
All their questions come down to asking what the proper relationship is between individuals and institutions. Is a group of sound believers enough to constitute a sound church? Does a institution have a general existence beyond a particular constitution?
For Williams the proper alignment is not causal but coincidental. The purity of the church and the individuals are distinct. He says pure folks must find a pure church. Cotton says a few good men can cause a big institutional change and these can reform the less-than-perfect. Cotton remains more confident about the possibility of change.
For Williams the Church must protect the purity of Christ and the apostles. It must be, therefore, perfect. Perfect from the start, these here churches do not change. But he doesn’t believe in perfect anything and will not join anything. We cannot know why the preacher preaches or the church meddles in state affairs or why we do what we do. Only God knows.
P. 102 Cotton is impatient with Williams’ over fastidious perfectionism. The demand that all churches be perfect before forming means they will never exist. The churches must strive and help folks change. The church holds the ideal, but will never be perfect.
Of course contact with the unconverted or hypocrites could also threaten the integrity of the church. He loses faith in conversion, but still thinks the institution better than the individuals alone. Thus grace sort of exists in the church itself.
He is not, however, a papist. But he has more faith in them than RW. Cotton is willing, ironically, to tolerate differences and imperfection in the church. Some part will be healthy. RW has no hope for recovering even a semblance of the purity lost.
```````````````````````` 3. History and Conversion ``````````````````````````````
How did the puritans know the past was better? How do they know anything? They always allowed for themselves to be seeing through unregenerate eyes. Cotton explores the tendency to see the past as always having been better. He says that this might be illusion. But that as we get older, we get better at discerning what is good and what is bad. Things seemed simple when we were younger because we were simpler.
Reading history we should be leery of it being presented as more exciting than now, but it should ultimately serve as a means to conversion. But we must do so with converted eyes.
Cotton felt that sins against knowledge were the worst sins one could commit. Consciously doing what you know is wrong is worse than doing it out of ignorance. That is a sin against knowledge.
He notes that he never received consistency in his career as a minister between his knowledge and his actions. His career shows many ideological shifts. He sees each of these changes as a case of seeing the light and throwing off delusions. He was willing to recant because always growing. He spends much of his writing defending himself against charges of inconsistency.
The individual he ultimately presents may not enjoy perfect union with others as it may never accomplish perfect unity within the self. Conversion can never turn all differences into resemblances; at best it provides insight into one’s own imperfection. Nostalgia becomes a longing for the self we will never be.