Puritanism and the Pursuit of Happiness

Puritanism and the Pursuit of Happiness: The Ministry and Theology of Ralph Venning, c.1621-1674

S. Bryn Roberts
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt7zst45
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  • Book Info
    Puritanism and the Pursuit of Happiness
    Book Description:

    The traditional view of puritans is that they were killjoys - serious, austere, gloomy people who closed theatres and abolished Christmas. This book, based on extensive original research, presents a different view. Focusing on both the writings of the leading Independent divine, Ralph Venning, and also on his pastoral work in the 1640s and 1650s when he was successively chaplain to the Tower of London and vicar of St Olave's, Southwark, the book reveals a much neglected strand of puritan theology. This emphasised the importance of inner happiness and the development of a personal piety which, the author argues, was similar in its nature to medieval mysticism, not that different from the piety promoted by earlier metaphysical preachers, and not at all driven by the predestinarian ideas usually associated with puritans, ideas liable to induce a sense of helplessness and despair. In addition, the book reassesses the role of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where Venning was educated, in shaping puritan thought, discusses Max Weber's ideas about puritanism and capitalism especially in relation to recreation and leisure activities, and demonstrates that Venning's strand of puritanism favoured toleration, moderation and church unity to a much greater degree than is usually associated with puritans. Stephen Bryn Roberts was awarded his doctorate from the University of Aberdeen and has been Adjunct Lecturer in Early Modern Church History at International Christian College, Glasgow since 2011.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-422-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xv)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The association of ‘puritan’ with ‘happiness’ is not made easily or naturally, so deeply ingrained is the stereotype, summarised and promoted by the acerbic H. L. Mencken, that ‘Puritanism’ is ‘the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy’.¹ It is an image that has endured, in one form or another, since the sixteenth century, reinforced by the media; whether it is Edmund Blackadder’s austere – if incongruously dressed – puritan uncle and aunt in the eponymous BBC television series (‘Beer’, 1986); or, with far less tongue-in-cheek, Channel Four’s series,New Worlds(2014). It is an image with a history as long...

  8. 1 Venning’s Early Life (c. 162–43)
    (pp. 12-24)

    With his baptismal record elusive, Venning’s date of birth may be calculated from his age at death in 1674 of fifty-three. We can, however, be more precise as to where he spent his early life. Historians, including such eminent scholars as Patrick Collinson and David Underdown, have noted the importance of local identity and environment in the development of puritanism.¹ However, what constituted one’s sense of identity in the seventeenth century is still a matter of debate: whether loyalties were provincial, national or, even, international – identifying oneself with the elect of Christ’s universal Church.² This complexity is reflected by the...

  9. 2 Venning at Emmanuel College (1643–50)
    (pp. 25-43)

    H. F. Fletcher states that the College in which one studied was the ‘most significant factor in the education of any individual student’, and Emmanuel College gave a distinctive, formative experience to its students in a number of ways.¹ It also played an influential role in the shaping of seventeenth-century England – both Old and New – and alumni contributed to major religious conferences in the seventeenth century, including Hampton Court, the Synod of Dordt and, during Venning’s lifetime, the Westminster Assembly.²

    Emmanuel College had been founded in 1584 by Sir Walter Mildmay (1520/1–89), with Laurence Chaderton as Master (d. 1640)....

  10. 3 Venning and the ‘Puritan Revolution’ (c. 1650–60)
    (pp. 44-65)

    There is some confusion as to when and how Venning was ordained, or even if he was. According to Prince, he had already taken ‘Holy Orders’ from a Bishop, ‘there being in his younger time, no other Ordination allowed or practised in England’.¹ In fact the episcopate had been abolished by Parliament in 1646, although it was not until the summer of 1648 that a Provincial Assembly was established in London, devoting much of its time to the ordination of ministers.² Even then, many graduates sought out former Bishops for ordination and it was still recognised as legitimate in the...

  11. 4 Venning, the Restoration and Dissent (1660–74)
    (pp. 66-78)

    As Evelyn records on 29 May 1660, the King processed in triumph through London accompanied by twenty thousand troops on horse and foot ‘brandishing their swords and shouting with unexpressible joy’.¹ Newton also notes that there had been scenes of ‘wild jubilation’ on 8 May at Charles’ arrival.² The feelings of those watching were no doubt mixed but most, including the godly, were hopeful for change for the better from the political instability after Cromwell’s death. This had been due more to the Army’s unwillingness to support Richard Cromwell’s regime than any lack of ability on his part. Nevertheless, Charles’...

  12. 5 Godliness and the Pursuit of Happiness
    (pp. 79-101)

    As Lindberg has argued, a systematic, goal-directed, programme for sanctification through guidelines for daily living and self-reflection was characteristic of English theology.² For Venning as for Joseph Hall, piety was rooted in the mind, engaged the affections and thereby shaped behaviour.³ This approach to godly living was not distinctive to puritanism but shared with the piety of Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), reflecting a common heritage in Medieval devotion.⁴ Indeed, for puritans, ‘Practical Christianity was the centrepiece of theology, not knowing God as an end in itself.’⁵ This approach is illustrated by Lewis Bayly’sThe Practice of Pietie(c. 1612),...

  13. 6 Happiness in Work and Leisure
    (pp. 102-119)

    As noted by Seaver, it is not easy to define a distinctively, puritan attitude towards work, reflecting the diversity of puritanism itself; although Max Weber famously proposed the development of capitalism from Calvinist thought.¹ More recently, David Zaret has defended Weber’s thesis. He proposed that the principles Weber identified were characteristic of puritan Covenant Theology.² Certainly, Venning reflects the ‘this-worldly’ concern, identified by Zaret, in his guidance to traders, as shall be explored below.³ On the other hand, according to C. J. Sommerville, ‘Anti-Puritans’ demonstrate more concern with behaviour in the workplace than their puritan peers.⁴ Once again, Venning illustrates...

  14. 7 Sin, the Enemy of Happiness
    (pp. 120-152)

    Having considered godliness as a major element in Venning’s theology, we come now to its antithesis, sin. Indeed, an ‘overwhelming awareness’ of sin was characteristic of puritanism, and struggle against the world, flesh and devil central to the puritan experience.² It is certainly a major element in Venning’s theology, yet, pertinently, it also reflects his emphasis upon the pursuit of happiness.

    Venning discusses sin extensively inSin, The Plague of Plagues; Or, Sinful Sin the Worst of Evils(1669).³ His purpose is five-fold, amongst which are the proselytising aims, ‘For admiring the free and rich grace of God’ and for...

  15. 8 Spiritual Growth as the Pursuit of Happiness
    (pp. 153-182)

    For puritans, the godly life was not static but in process: a journey in which the believer progressed in spiritual attainment, represented by the well-known example of Bunyan’sPilgrim’s Progress(1678). However, in contrast with goals proposed by Beeke and Packer, for Venning growth was not a ‘Quest’ for ‘Assurance’ nor ‘Godliness’ as ends in themselves.² Instead, these were means to the goal, which was happiness. Having evaluated the importance of the pursuit of happiness in his thought on godliness and sin, we shall now consider the role it played in his theology of spiritual growth.

    Categorising believers according to...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-185)

    In relation to Venning’s ministry, we have seen that he was zealously committed to the ‘puritan revolution’ during the 1640s and ‘50s, both through preaching and publication; as well as serving as one of the unpopular Triers and Ejectors. His motivation in this was similarly the promotion of godly preaching and of godliness in general. He has been described with good reason as a ‘man of no faction’ in the sense that he worked alongside colleagues of various viewpoints, and sought to encourage a relatively broad unity through mutual love and acceptance – not mere ‘charitable hatred’. However, his ecclesiological sympathies...

  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 186-208)
  18. Index of Names
    (pp. 209-210)
  19. General Index
    (pp. 211-214)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)