Richard Mather of Dorchester

Richard Mather of Dorchester

B. R. Burg
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Richard Mather of Dorchester
    Book Description:

    Mather is a well-known name in the persons of Increase and Cotton Mather. Here for the first time is a biography of the father and grandfather, respectively, of those two great figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

    Richard Mather left few personal records of his life in the form of letters, diaries, or autobiographical writings. In his research, Mr. Burg sought out little used ecclesiastical records in England, pieced together events from inferences and deductions, and analyzed by sociological, psychological, and anthropological methods the life of this seventeenth-century divine. As a result, Mather here emerges from the historical evidence in brief but brilliant flashes, revealing a man with a desperate need to verify his own personal worth and to make valid the way he had chosen to direct his life and to worship his God. Through this study of Richard Mather, Mr. Burg illuminates the struggles of the first generation settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

    Mather was the author of a considerable corpus of unpublished and published writings. Ever seeking to enhance his reputation as a polemicist and biblical exegete, he spent much of his time penning theological treatises that set forth the true faith of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While he was sought out a number of times by his colleagues to defend the religious practices of the new colony to those who had remained in the mother country, the task of writing the major defenses of New England doctrine and polity was entrusted to clerics such as John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and Thomas Shepard -- a situation that continually irritated the Dorchester clergyman.

    Mather's career, although marked by minor victories, was in his own estimation characterized by major defeats. It was on those defeats, affronts, and rejections that Richard Mather built his life. The reconstruction of his experiences -- both in England and in America -- reveals a man of the preindustrial world whose very ordinariness makes his life significant. His biography provides a broader understanding of the ordinary pastors and teachers in seventeenth- century Massachusetts Bay.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6232-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. I. In England
    (pp. 1-20)

    Over three hundred and fifty years ago, in the tiny Lancashire village of Warrington, an unusually conspicuous entry was made in the parish register for the day of September 30, 1591. Inscribed in a hand somewhat larger than the items that precede it and those following, it reads, “Thomas Mather and Margrett Abra[ms] the same.”¹ This brief record of a marriage is one of the few remaining traces of the couple who, on a forgotten day in 1596, became the parents of Richard Mather. The Mather family was not new to Lancashire in the closing decade of the sixteenth century....

  5. II. Settled
    (pp. 21-37)

    If Mather hoped to find peace and accord when he arrived in New England, he must have been sorely disappointed on landing at Boston, for he found there serious disagreement over matters of ecclesiastical doctrine and polity. The difficulties plaguing the colony were not new in 1635 when Mather disembarked from theJames. They had begun almost as soon as the Winthrop fleet dropped anchor in Massachusetts Bay five years earlier. Basic to the unsettled state of the colony was the diametric reversal of position experienced by the nonconformists who had migrated from England. In the mother country they had...

  6. III. Defense of the New England Way
    (pp. 38-64)

    In September and October, as Mather preached and lectured to his new church, a threat to the local religious order was developing which was far more serious than any the colony’s ecclesiastical leaders had yet faced, namely, the crisis over Antinomianism. In brief, the difficulty in Massachusetts Bay had its beginnings when Anne Hutchinson and her family arrived in Boston from their Lincolnshire home in 1634. Exceptionally headstrong and assertive, Hutchinson had brought her family to the Bay Colony so that she could continue to hear the word of God preached by John Cotton, whose church she had attended on...

  7. IV. The New England Preacher
    (pp. 65-86)

    While Mather wrote in defense of Bay Colony churches, not all his time was taken by the demands of ecclesiastical polemics; many hours were spent with his growing family. In the spring of 1637, a fifth son was born to the Mathers, and the father’s pride in the child was surely compounded when the baptism of tiny Eleazer took place in his own church.¹ Within two years a sixth son was born to the minister and his wife. The most recent Mather was also baptized in the father’s church and given the ungainly name of Increase because “of the never-to-be-forgotten...

  8. V. The Cambridge Platform
    (pp. 87-123)

    Of all the difficulties and disappointments Richard Mather faced throughout his years in New England, those of the 1640s were, perhaps, some of the most difficult to bear. In this decade he came to understand that he had not gained the reputation he sought as a leading theological polemicist, and amid his realization of personal failure, the colony’s predominant congregational system, which he had labored assiduously to defend, came under severe attack from local dissenters who received considerable encouragement from Massachusetts Bay’s enemies in England. Mather, as he had done in previous years, defended the colony’s churches against the newest...

  9. VI. The Halfway Covenant
    (pp. 124-157)

    The questions surrounding baptism were not new to Mather when he was first appointed to produce a draft platform of church government in 1646. His concern over eligibility developed during his first years in America as a natural outgrowth of the restrictions on church membership in the colony. By the time Mather arrived in Boston in 1635, church membership had already become exclusive in Massachusetts Bay, but, as he later found, this exclusiveness had created at least one problem serious enough to require the attention of several of the colony’s clerics. John Cotton, Thomas Oliver, and Thomas Leverett had been...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 158-170)

    In the two decades that Mather labored to find a solution to the problem of baptism, he did not neglect his studies or fail to engage in his full round of clerical activities. Early in 1648 he borrowed some ninety books from John Johnson and William Parks of Roxbury. Since they were largely concerned with theology, Mather probably used them extensively in the preparation of his sermons and lectures.¹ Another of his activities during this period was a visit to an Indian village. This was not his first experience with the natives. Earlier, in 1646, he, John Eliot, and John...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-190)
  12. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 191-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-207)