Posts Tagged ‘17th Century’

Sermon Studies: More Possibilities than We Can Imagine

Friday, May 31st, 2013

by David M. Powers

I am grateful to Robert H. Ellison for the useful suggestions raised in his post “On the Discipline of ‘Sermon Studies,’” and I endorse his hopes for more systematic attention to the vast and often undervalued resource which sermons provide. Basing his comments in part on Keith A. Francis’ proposals in The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon, 1689-1901 (2012), Ellison has specified several areas for potential gleanings. It occurs to me there may be additional benefits we can scarcely envision.

Certainly sermons offer a source for accessing the issues, the questions, the flavor of any given point in Christian history. They not only provide snapshots of the character of popular theological discourse at particular moments in the past; they also encompass the observations of community leaders who were charged with addressing a “word from the Lord” to their contemporaries. Depending on how carefully sermons were recorded and preserved, they can offer the possibility of listening in on long-lost community conversations from a variety of times and places. Add imagination, and exploring past sermons can provide a time-warp way to recover an hour spent in a social setting, as if one were seated in the midst of a worshipping congregation, witnessing a community experience from possibly centuries ago. And read with care, through the various lenses Francis proposes, sermons can offer what he calls “detail — depth and contour” (p. 615) which can greatly help us get inside the thought and word patterns of previous eras.

At its best the approach does need to be interdisciplinary. When it comes to the area with which I am most familiar, namely, American Puritan sermons, much careful work is being done by persons in the fields of literature and rhetoric. I think of Lisa M. Gordis’ Opening Scripture: Bible Reading and Interpretive Authority in Puritan New England (2003), and Patricia Roberts-Miller’s Voices in the Wilderness: Public Discourse and the Paradox of Puritan Rhetoric (1999), as well as Meredith M. Neuman’s forthcoming Jeremiah’s Scribes: Creating Sermon Literature in Puritan New England. Each of these offers insightful observations on the dynamics of communication as they apply to sermons and other forms of public discourse in the Puritan world.

I suspect the treasure trove of sermons is even richer than we are probably aware. Although taking every fragmentary note into consideration would be both impossible and unnecessary (Wilberforce’s single word on the back of an envelope may possibly be an exception!), it seems to me that sermon studies runs the risk of privileging printed materials. Scholarly awareness of the contribution of sermons to the Puritan enterprise has evolved significantly since Perry Miller’s The New England Mind (1939), with its heavy reliance on sermons in print. By exploring non-published materials, Harry S. Stout developed a substantially revised understanding in The New England Soul (1986); his study leaves Puritan preachers looking much kinder and more versatile than the stereotypical haranguers of “Jeremiads” we used to assume they were.

I have deciphered and transcribed sermon notes taken in a “short writing” code of his own invention by a teenager in Springfield, Massachusetts. At the time those notes were composed in 1640, Springfield was on the western colonial frontier. John Pynchon, the young man in question, was what Neuman calls an “aural auditor:” he wrote what he heard of the Rev. George Moxon’s preaching.


Click the image to see full size.


It is his notes, with their sporadic phonetic spelling of Moxon’s Yorkshire words and pronunciation and his recording of Moxon’s occasional interpositions, like “Well,..” and “Only, by the way, one thing I forgot,” that make me confident that some recorded sermons offer vivid links to recoverable if not relivable moments. Again, in Sermon Studies imagination as well as analysis plays a part.

But access does remain a very large problem. My question is, will anyone beside me be able to make use of those notes on thirteen mid-seventeenth century sermons? What is the vehicle for making such primary material more widely available, more thoroughly studied, more carefully discussed? Short of a journal dedicated to this discipline, sessions on sermon studies at academic conferences could extend the conversation around this rich resource and the sometimes surprising access sermons provide to the past.

Banned Books Week and an Incident in Boston

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

By David M Powers

The American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” (September 30-October 6) underscores a disturbing recurrent theme in American life — and a trait we clearly share with other parts of the world. While perhaps more notorious and frightening in other countries, the dangers from banning and burning books continue in our own, as we have seen when a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran on September 11, 2010.

The Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts, has one copy — and there are only nine known in the world — of the first book banned and burned on American territory. This significant event occurred in Boston on October 17, 1650. The volume in question is The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption. Its author was William Pynchon (1590-1662), a merchant and magistrate of considerable importance to the puritan venture in New England.

Pynchon was so busy as the colonizing founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, that it is extraordinary that he had time for anything else. But much to everyone’s surprise copies of a theological treatise he wrote arrived in Boston in October 1650. As luck would have it –- or not –- the Massachusetts General Court (the colony’s legislature) was then in session. Even though it is a thin volume, 158 pages of text, the authorities did not need to read it. The Meritorious Price was a book you could tell by its cover: a glance at the title page convinced them that Pynchon’s views were somewhat unorthodox. That, in their judgment, was enough to make it potentially prejudicial to the Bay Colony, especially among those in the British parliament who were already skeptical about the Massachusetts experiment. Pynchon fell victim to the puritan versus puritan struggles which eventually doomed the English republican Commonwealth.

The General Court voted a “protestation” on October 16, 1650, which called for “the said book now brought over be burnt by the executioner… & that in the market place in Boston, on the morrow, immediately after the lecture.” (Mass. Records, III, 215)

As for the aftermath: the book-burning incident had a traumatic impact on Pynchon. Though he tried a conciliatory approach when he conferred about it with three Court-approved clergy, he never attended the Massachusetts legislature again. And while the dramatic public censure of The Meritorious Price reflected badly on Massachusetts, its result at the time was negligible, if not counterproductive. The symbolic execution by burning Pynchon’s book changed nothing. By 1653 Pynchon was back in England, where he wrote several more increasingly wordy volumes, mostly on the same theme. He never changed his mind. He died late in 1662.

Adapted from a posting on Beacon Street Diary

For a more extensive analysis see David M. Powers, “William Pynchon and The Meritorious Price: The Story of the First Book Banned in Boston and the Man Who Wrote It,” Bulletin of the Congregational Library, Spring 2009, pp. 4-13. For more on burning books, see Hans J. Hillerbrand, “On Book Burnings and Book Burners: Reflections on the Power (and Powerlessness) of Ideas,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 74, (2006: 593-614).

The Re-Ordination of Presbyters in the Restoration Church of England

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

by Jonathan Warren

The ecclesiastical settlement of the Restoration Church of England in 1660 produced a crisis of conscience for many of the Puritan or “godly” (as they referred to themselves) ministers who had been ordained in Presbyterian fashion (that is, who were ordained by laying on of hands by presbyters rather than by a bishop) during the Interregnum (1649-1660). A number of these ministers had taken the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, requiring them to “endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy…superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness,” and they felt themselves bound by conscience to oppose rule by Bishops.

However, a number of ministers had never been bound by the oath, and others who had taken the oath found faults within it that excused them from obedience to it. Among these godly ministers who were Presbyterially ordained but amenable to episcopal oversight, a principal (though not the only) remaining reservation concerned the requirement imposed by the Restoration bishops of episcopal ordination or re-ordination.1 Presbyterians believed that the New Testament made no distinction between the office of presbyter and bishop, such that the ministerial power of both was identical, but many acknowledged that there could be degrees of eminence among presbyters, such that one presbyter might rule over the rest, though not in opposition to the rest.2

Those Presbyterians who allowed such a distinction often tended to distinguish between “apostolical” and “apostatical” bishops, or between episcopus praeses (presiding bishop) and episcopus princeps (ruling bishop),3 or – as we might more simply put it – “good” and “bad” bishops. They argued that Reformed Anglican bishops like Edmund Grindal, George Abbott, and James Ussher, who were opposed to grasping and lordly “prelacy” could serve as exemplars for bishops in the Restoration era.4

James Ussher (1581–1656)Wikimedia Commons

Ussher was especially reverenced among these Presbyterians, as he proposed a “primitive” or “reduced” episcopacy “balanced and managed with a due commixtion of presbyters therewith,” rather than prelatical or “popish” bishops who arrogated power to themselves. Ussher’s scheme approximated what many Presbyterians saw as the pattern in the New Testament and early church.5

Many of the Restoration bishops, however, were of what we might anachronistically refer to as a “high church” persuasion (contemporaries thought of them as “Laudians,” so named after the Catholicizing Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, who was a plague to Puritans in the 1630s and was executed in 1645). They saw the office of bishop as part of the apostolic deposit and so necessary to the structure of any legitimate church.6 For these bishops, the right of ordination belonged solely to the bishop, such that presbyterial ordination was per se unlawful and null.

John Gauden (1605-1662)Wikimedia Commons

Among this group of Laudians, which included Brian Duppa, Matthew Wren, John Cosin, William Lucy, and Gilbert Sheldon, among others, there was a resolute insistence that episcopal ordination was not “re-ordination,” but first ordination, because the ordination by presbyters was invalid.7 These bishops, of course, were not the natural conversation partners for the godly, but there were other conciliatory bishops such as Edward Reynolds, John Gauden, and Thomas Sydserff (despite his earlier Laudian convictions, for which he was deposed in 1638), who ultimately insisted upon episcopal ordination, but were willing to allow compromise formulas that attempted to preserve the conscience of Presbyterians. A.G. Matthews notes that Sydserff, the Bishop of Orkney, “required of candidates for ordination no more than a general promise that they would not contravene the discipline of the church.”8

Another formula that was discussed phrased the ordination conditionally: “In a Conference (as I have heard between the Presbyterian and present Bishops, it was proposed for an Accomodation in this case, that an Hypothetical forme might be used, Si non ordinatus sit, &c.9 It was also proposed among at least some of the godly that, regardless of what the Bishop thought, ordination might be thought of as external confirmation or acknowledgement of an internal call by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps as a kind of licensing to practice one’s calling as a minister.10

As a result of these discussions, at least 420 of the clergy ultimately ejected in 1662 were persuaded to be episcopally ordained in the early years of the Restoration.11 It was thus the engagement with these conciliatory bishops that produced difficult soul-searching among the godly.

John Humfrey, who we have already mentioned, was a divine who received episcopal ordination. Humfrey was persuaded by John Piers, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to accept re-ordination, which Humfrey defended in print and for which he received sustained criticism from among the godly. Humfrey argued that reordination could be conceived of as public recognition or licensing of ordination already received, and so merely a solemnization of ordination already received, akin to being married in a church after being married only civilly before.

Richard Alleine, writing anonymously, pointed out that no bishop saw the matter this way. “Let Mr. Humfrey but procure us to be ordained in such a way, as shall only license us to exercise that Ministerial Authority we already have…and then he need not doubt, but we shall most readily and thankfully accept of it.”12 The anonymous I.R. added that the fact that no bishop agreed with Humfrey’s interpretation made his distinction impossible to sustain.13

Humfrey protested that if the bishop allowed the presbyter to voice his understanding that his first ordination was not nullified by episcopal ordination, then the bishop’s intention in the matter was not an issue.14 Humfrey confessed, however, that although he was initially convinced of this argument, he later came to feel uneasy about it: “I confess I did not doubt in the least when I did this, but that my former Ordination was valid, and in the taking this new upon me, I find it is like a double garment put on for the fashion, and experiencedly proves uneasie to be worn.”15

The excruciating difficulty that many of the godly felt in this matter is visible in the fact that Humfrey eventually found he could not live with himself and recanted his re-ordination and was ejected from his living at Frome Selwood in August 1662 following the Act of Uniformity.16 A majority of the godly concluded, moreover, in contrast to Humfrey’s initial decision, that re-ordination meant renunciation of their previous ordination, which would in effect “unchurch” the Reformed churches of Europe, which accepted and practiced Presbyterial ordination. Giles Firmin, for instance, explained that

if it comes to this, that I must renounce my Presbyterial Ordination and be ordained by a Bishop, or I must be silenced, I shall desire grace from the Lord, and resolve to lay down my Ministry, before I will my Ordination: for in being re-ordained by Bishops…I must plainly condemn all Ministers of other Churches, who are ordained only by Presbyters: how abominable is this? To null all other Ministers that have not Episcopal ordination.17

The matter of re-ordination was thus a serious case of conscience for the godly in the early Restoration. By no means were all of them resolutely opposed to government by bishops, and indeed many of them were willing to accept episcopal ordination if bishops were amenable to the terms on which the godly could accept it. It was the constriction of an initially “liberal” position open to the godly at the outset of the Restoration that led to the ejection of so many of the godly after the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

Jonathan Warren is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University. He holds a B.A. from Wake Forest, a J.D. from Georgia State University College of Law, and an M.A. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His dissertation is on the life and writings of Giles Firmin, a seventeenth century Puritan and Dissenter.



[1] See Robert Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649-1662 (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951), 151-3; Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), 230-2. John Spurr has argued that there may have been as many as 2000 Presbyterians who, given certain allowances, would have accepted Episcopal oversight. English Puritanism, 1603-1689 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1998), 130.

[2] The parity between bishops and presbyters was a claim that animated, among other tracts, the reprint of William Prynne’s 1636 The Unbishoping of Timothy and Titus (1661). The scheme of “reduced episcopacy” was advocated by the party of the “Reconcilers,” as Richard Baxter called them. See, e.g. R. Thomas, “The Rise of the Reconcilers,” in The English Presbyterians, eds. C.G. Bolam et al. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968), 46-72.

[3] Giles Firmin, Questions between the Conformist and Non-Conformist (1681), 103-4.

[4] See, e.g. James Ussher, The Reduction of Episcopacie (London, 1656); I.R., A Peaceable Enquiry into that Novel Controversie about Reordination (London, 1661), 5; Giles Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated (1660), 3. Paul Lim, in discussing Richard Baxter, has shown that the godly also used a confessionalized hermeneutic for church history to substantiate this claim: “just as [Baxter] would bifurcate the Anglican bishops between the Grindal and Abbot type in one camp and the Laudians on the other, he did the same with the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries, lest he tarnish all bishops with the same brush. So Baxter extolled “Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Nyssen, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Hillary, Prosper, Fulgentius, &c.” who made a mental inward separation “from the Councils and Communion of the prevailing turbulent sort of the Prelates, to signifie their disowning of their sins.” Here in Baxter’s description, moderate Puritans of his own type found their forebears in the Cappadocians and Augustine. Thus, with the bishops of Cappadocian and Augustinian sensibilities, true piety flourished. Conversely, with the avaricious bishops only in name, “hereticating was in fashion.” Paul Lim, Mystery Unveiled (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 250.

[5] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, 232ff.

[6] See, e.g. Jeremy Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., 15 vols. (London, 1839), vii.77-91, 113-116, 232-235.

[6] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[7] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[8] A.G. Matthews, Calamy Revised (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), lxi.

[9] John Humfrey, A Second Discourse about Reordination (London, 1662), 25; Ian Green, The Re-Establishment of the Church of England 1660-1663 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 130-1, 150-1.

[10] John Humfrey, The Question of Re-Ordination (London, 1661), 81-2.

[11] Matthews, Calamy Revised, lxi.

[12] Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou, 66.

[13] I.R., Peaceable Enquiry, 17-19.

[14] Humfrey, Question of Reordination, 52-55.

[15] Humfrey, Second Discourse, 96.

[16] See the entry on Humfrey by E. Vernon in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[17] Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated, 29; For a comparable conclusion, see Zachary Crofton, A Serious Review of Presbyters Reordination by Bishops (n.d.), 6, cf. 11, 15, 21, 27, 29, 38 and I.R., Peaceable Inquiry, 146. Although couched with exceptions, Richard Baxter also agreed that “re-ordination morally and properly so called, is unlawful: for…it is (or implieth) a lie, viz. that we were not truly dedicated and separated to this office before.” Baxter, A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (London, 1838), i.642.

A Forgotten Legacy

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Lott Carey (1780-1829)

by Eric Michael Washington

Just recently, an editorial assistant at Christianity Today sent me some stories asking for my assessment regarding their “newsworthiness.” I love it when historians get asked to comment on contemporary issues. One of the stories appeared in the October 6, 2010 edition of The article, “Black Christians Largely Absent from U. S. Missionary Force,” focused on the lack of African-Americans in world missions.

This particular issue “lives on my street.” As a historian, my focus is on the history of African-American Baptist missions in Africa during the 19th century and early 20th century. When I embarked upon this study as a doctoral student in the early 2000s I realized that there was an alarming lack of attention on world missions in my home church and in my national convention, the National Baptist Convention USA. The article on affirmed my observations. In stark terms the article states: “According to the 2007 African American Missions Mobilization Manifesto by Columbia International University, blacks make up less than one percent of the total number (118,600) of U. S. missionaries.”

The contemporary lack of attention fails to correspond with a historical lack of attention. As I read general histories of African-American Baptists I found that there had been African-American Baptist missionaries in Liberia, Nigeria, the Congo, and southern Africa during the 19th century and early 20th century. With my concentration fixed on African-American Baptist work in southern Africa, I became familiar with the stories of men and women such as R. A. Jackson, Emma Delaney, and James East. One residual effect of my work, hopefully, will be to spark some sort of revival among African-Americans regarding sending missionaries overseas, especially to Africa.

Just recently I presented a paper at Calvin College, my home institution, on the pioneering Baptist missionary to Africa, Lott Carey. Born into slavery in Virginia around 1780, Carey became a Christian, an ordained minister at First Baptist Church in Richmond, and in 1821 a missionary and colonist representing the Baptist General Convention and the American Colonization Society, respectively.

In the paper, I began by showing how Carey’s influence still rested upon African-American Baptists one hundred years after he began his work in West Africa, Liberia particularly. In the summer of 1920, the monthly organ of the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, the Mission Herald, announced that the third Sunday of January 1921 would be the observance of Lott Carey’s sailing to Africa. From this, it is clear that Lott Carey’s legacy was alive and well. This fails to be the case today.

One can point to a plethora of reasons why African-American churches, in general, and the National Baptist Convention, USA (NBC-USA) in particular has lost a zeal regarding missions to Africa. To be just, the NBC-USA still maintains presence in Liberia and parts of southern Africa;”>With that stated, African-Americans in the 19th century and early 20th century were comparably worse off economically and educationally than in the last 25 years. This is something that is assumed and rightly so. Is there a legitimate excuse for the lack of money that flows to the Foreign Mission Board of the NBC-USA? According to the aforementioned article, the NBC-USA reported that the average church member gives 40 cent to foreign missions work as of 1993. This is simply a neglect on the part of local churches, district associations, and state conventions all of which can funnel monies to the Foreign Mission Board.

Though Lott Carey and his family left for Africa in January 1821, he helped to organize a missionary society in 1815, the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society. By this time, Carey had purchased his freedom by saving his money earned by being “hired out” to work in tobacco warehouse in Richmond. Other members of the Richmond Society were slaves, who offered their “mites” for the hope of sending a missionary to Africa.

This group was concerned that American Baptists overlooked Africa as a potential mission field; their attention was on India and the Far East. A fledgling missionary society composed of primarily poor African-Americans endeavored to send the gospel to their “homeland” even though these Africans were born in America. For such a purpose, the society gave $700 to Carey and his party as the left for Africa. This was no mean accomplishment.

What made the difference then compared to now? Judging from my research, African-Americans both slave and free had a strong belief that the same God that allowed their suffering under the lash of slavery would fulfill his word in Psalm 68:31, “Princes shall come out of Egypt;”>This was evident in Absalom Jones’ famous sermon preached in January 1, 1808. The day and year marked the United States’ termination of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and caused celebration among African-Americans, especially Christians. Jones, an Episcopalian minister who had been part of the group of African-American worshipers that left St. George’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1791 after receiving prejudicial treatment, wrestled with the providential meanings of African slavery and the abolition of the Atlantic Trade. From his Philadelphia pulpit in St. Thomas’ Church, Jones asserted with a hint of caution:

It has always been a mystery, why the impartial Father of the human race should have permitted the transportation of so many millions of our fellow creatures to this country, to endure all the miseries of slavery. Perhaps his design was that a knowledge of the gospel might be acquired by some of their descendants, in order that they might become qualified to be the messengers of it, to the land of their fathers.

These slaves and free African-Americans had a vision of hope that lay beyond freedom for freedom’s sake. They envisioned their freedom in order to engage in Christian service. Carey exemplified this sentiment when he responded to a person who asked him why he desired to become a missionary in Africa. He said, “I am an African, and in this country, however meritorious my conduct, and respectable my character, I cannot receive the credit due to either. I wish to go to a country where I shall be estimated by my merits, and not by my complexion; and I feel bound to labor for my suffering race.” This sentiment seems to be largely missing among African-American Baptists, this connection between themselves and Africa and Africans, alike.

This is an academic problem as well as a church problem. One large question that looms for me is: is there still a type of grassroots Pan-African spirit among African-Americans in general, but among African-American Christians?

A sense of historical and cultural connectedness with Africa and all persons of African descent was key motivating factor that led to African-American missions in Africa. Is there a connection with the seemingly lack of such spirit now and the lack of African-American missionary presence worldwide but also in Africa? These are questions worth exploring.

Middle Ground: Reflections on the Historiography of David D. Hall

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

by E. Brooks Holifield

David Hall, recently retired from the Harvard Divinity School, has done as much as any historian of the past three decades to shape the direction and hone the methodology of both American religious history and the history of the book and of reading. We have much to learn by looking at his career — his career so far — and I would like to examine his style of historical thinking by noting a series of metaphors that began to appear in his books and articles in the 1970s. The metaphors assumed different shadings of meaning, but they exhibit a consistent habit of mind, a way of thinking historically that will influence us for a long time.

The central image is “middle ground,” or the “middle way,” or “middle space,” or “middling spaces.” And it attracts other related metaphors: negotiation, adaptation, appropriation, mediations, mediating contexts, reciprocities, tangled reciprocities. These metaphors, in turn, attract a related set of conceptions: ambivalence, paradox, overlapping contradictions, ambiguity, and dialectic.

Those metaphors and concepts have carried the weight of David Hall’s consistent opposition to binary constructions, sharp polarities between orality and literacy, piety and indifference, tradition and the market, clergy and lay, misogynist patriarchs and insurgent women, literate and illiterate, theocrats and democrats, purity and declension, formality and ecstasy, the people and the elite, dominating and dominated, communal and individualist, local and metropolitan, genteel and common, and European and American.

He has always acknowledged differentiations, but he has also relativized them, situated them in historical settings in which one finds both oppositions and mediations. He has been a critic of “stark extremities” and simple dichotomies. When he has looked at the past, he has found conflicts but also subtle negotiations.

He has written about educated elites, but he has uncovered their intimate linkage to “the people.” He has insisted that we look at both social history and intellectual systems, at both behavior and language, at both the liminal and the ordinary, at both the conserving and the radical, and the ways in which they are entangled with each other.

His position has been hard-earned, grounded in prodigious research in the primary sources and a mastery of the secondary literature that few can equal. When Hall published his study of the New England clergy in 1972 — The Faithful Shepherd — a growing array of colonial social historians were ready to say that the clergy were largely irrelevant to understanding early America, even the New England colonies. And intellectual history and the history of ideas were largely irrelevant to understanding almost everything about the past.

The opponent of choice for the social historians of colonial America was Perry Miller, whom they accused of overstating the power of “elite ideas,” and they published a variety of local studies that ignored religion, and especially religious leaders and their ideas, built a wall between high and popular culture, and accented the vast distance between the collective mentality of folk belief and the rarified and isolated mental world of the literate. Intellectual history seemed “irretrievably displaced by numbers-driven social history.” ["Witchcraft and the Limits of Interpretation," 281] There was always, he wrote later, both conflict and negotiation, and so unpredictability and uncertainty, in the hunt for witches. He urged the necessity for a vision of mediation in the historiography of witch-hunting.

By 1989, when he published Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment, he had become an incisive critic of the Americanization thesis (with its pronounced contrast between Europe and America). He also called into question notions of decline from supposedly pristine orthodoxies and over-precise distinctions between the people and their leaders. And he had found imaginative ways to get inside the heads of ordinary people who lived in both an enchanted universe and a Protestant world.

The 1990s brought a shift of interest in his scholarship in at least four ways: (1) First, he began to publish the results of his research on the history of reading and the book. Second, an assignment to edit one of the volumes of the Yale Edwards edition cast him into the manuscripts of Jonathan Edwards. (3) Third, he moved deeper into social history by exploring the dynamics of the colonial family and of women in New England religion. (4) And fourth, he began to develop his concept of “lived religion” as an alternative to the binary “popular” and “elite.” In all these endeavors, he exemplified a resistance to simple binaries.

In Cultures of Print (1996) and A History of the Book in America, Vol. 1: The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (2000), with Hugh Amory, he emphasized again the ambiguities and overlaps. Had there really been a revolutionary transition from intensive reading in colonial America to extensive reading in the nineteenth century? Did the polarity of domination and resistance really clarify the role of gender in reading? Should we distinguish high and low with as much confidence as we sometimes do? Was there really a vast gulf between local and metropolitan readers? The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World —rich in detail— will be, for our lifetimes and beyond, the classic, comprehensive study of the book in early America.

His work on Edwards led him to look closely at the institutional settings and the family dynamics in the background of Edwards’s ideas about the church. In fact, Hall’s study of the family helped him explain the ways in which the desires of women to protect their children helped define both seventeenth and eighteenth century Puritanism as a continuing “negotiation between extremes,” a multilayered system out of which both clergy and laity selected motifs and symbols that sometimes overlapped and sometimes did not. [“Introduction,” Jonathan Edwards: Ecclesiastical Writings, 82]

Finally, his concept of lived religion — a concept that has deeply influenced recent directions of American religious history — enabled him to look at how religions and cultures embodied overlapping tensions and even contradictions in early America.

The notion of lived religion was an effort to move beyond an undifferentiated notion of popular religion and to see both the continuities and the discontinuities between the religion of the people and official religion. For example, his essay on Samuel Sewall in Worlds of Wonder — a small masterpiece — showed through imaginative detailed reading of the diaries the ways in which this seventeenth-century Puritan layman partook both of Protestant tradition and popular sensibilities in his quest for protection in a frightening world of harsh contrasts and unpredictable forces.

Now, simply to trace a few continuities — a few motifs — in David Hall’s historical writing is to miss, of course, the textured complexity of his work. He has not written history that admits of simply summary. He has immersed himself in the detail — and unearthed both the spoken and the unspoken in early America. He has taken us into the stubborn recalcitrance of a history that is sometimes messy, rarely malleable and submissive to our simplifying categories, and always engaging of our serious attention.