Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England

Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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    Confessions of Faith in Early Modern England
    Book Description:

    As seventeenth-century England wrestled with the aftereffects of the Reformation, the personal frequently conflicted with the political. In speeches, political pamphlets, and other works of religious controversy, writers from the reign of James I to that of James II unexpectedly erupt into autobiography. John Milton famously interrupts his arguments against episcopacy with autobiographical accounts of his poetic hopes and dreams, while John Donne's attempts to describe his conversion from Catholicism wind up obscuring rather than explaining. Similar moments appear in the works of Thomas Browne, John Bunyan, and the two King Jameses themselves. These autobiographies are familiar enough that their peculiarities have frequently been overlooked in scholarship, but as Brooke Conti notes, they sit uneasily within their surrounding material as well as within the conventions of confessional literature that preceded them.Confessions of Faith in Early Modern Englandpositions works such as Milton's political tracts, Donne's polemical and devotional prose, Browne'sReligio Medici, and Bunyan'sGrace Abounding to the Chief of Sinnersas products of the era's tense political climate, illuminating how the pressures of public self-declaration and allegiance led to autobiographical writings that often concealed more than they revealed. For these authors, autobiography was less a genre than a device to negotiate competing political, personal, and psychological demands. The complex works Conti explores provide a privileged window into the pressures placed on early modern religious identity, underscoring that it was no simple matter for these authors to tell the truth of their interior life-even to themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0921-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction. Controversy and Autobiography
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1642, engaged in pamphlet warfare over the proper form of church government, John Milton took time out from his vivid renderings of the evils of episcopacy to discuss his literary ambitions. A few months later, in another contribution to the same debate, he again interrupted his work’s political content with an autobiographical excursion—this one occupying nearly a third of his pamphlet’s length and providing his reader with an account of everything from Milton’s morning routines to his youthful dedication to chastity.¹ Milton’s extended self-reflections inReason of Church-Government and An Apology Against a Pamphletare so well known...

    • CHAPTER 1 James VI and I and the Autobiographical Double Bind
      (pp. 21-49)

      Only a few pages intoBasilikon Doron, the handbook of advice he wrote for his son Henry, King James VI of Scotland (the future James I of England) gives the prince directions on a number of devotional matters. After treating the proper method of prayer and the appropriate approach to scripture, he abruptly slides into autobiography and then abruptly slides back out: “As for the par tic u lar poyntes of Religion,” he writes, “I neede not to d[i]late them; I am no hypocrite, follow your Fathers foote-steppes.”¹ Although declining to get bogged down in specific points of doctrine may...

    • CHAPTER 2 Conversion and Confession in Donne’s Prose
      (pp. 50-74)

      If even the king of England seemed unable to declare the truth of his religious experience in a straightforward fashion, it should be no surprise that many of his subjects were similarly cautious or similarly conflicted. The Thirty-Nine Articles and the Oath of Allegiance may have spelled out the essentials of an Englishman’s faith and expected his assent, but under James the English Church forbade the explicit discussion of more divisive points of doctrine, such as predestination.¹ Although preachers were the immediate targets of such edicts, many English men and women seemed to share a sense that the specifics of...

    • CHAPTER 3 Milton and Autobiography in Crisis
      (pp. 77-109)

      Alexander More, whom John Milton vilified in theSecond Defence of the English People,is the first person known to have remarked on the autobiographical passages in Milton’s prose. “In this verySecond Defenceof yourself or the people,” More writes, “as often as you speak for the people your language grows weak, becomes feeble, lies more frigid than Gallic snow; as often as you speak for yourself, which you do oftener than not, the whole thing swells up, ignites, burns.”¹ More may have held a grudge against Milton, but his observations are shrewd: in the four political tracts in...

    • CHAPTER 4 Thomas Browne’s Uneasy Confession of Faith
      (pp. 110-136)

      Thomas Browne’sReligio Mediciinitially seems very different from the fragmentary confessions of faith published by James I, Donne, and Milton. Unlike those works, theReligiowas not published until years after its first composition; its entire subject is explicitly autobiographical; and it does not at first appear to be political or polemical. In the letter to the reader that prefaces theReligio’s 1643 publication, Browne insists upon both the work’s private nature and the tentativeness of its religious conclusions. Lamenting the unauthorized 1642 publication of his work, which forced him to oversee this corrected one, Browne repeatedly mentions how...

    • CHAPTER 5 John Bunyan’s Double Autobiography
      (pp. 139-163)

      At the end ofGrace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,John Bunyan describes his arrest six years earlier for preaching before an illegal assembly. He portrays himself as a man of unshakable resolve, one who submitted to the civil authorities without ever doubting the justice of his cause or the truth of his convictions: “I was made to see,” he writes, “that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must . . . reckon my Self, my Wife, my Children, my health, my enjoyments, and all, as dead to me, and my self as dead to them” (GA§325).¹...

    • CHAPTER 6 James II and the End of the Confession of Faith
      (pp. 164-170)

      Bunyan’s age represents a transitional moment for the confession of faith. By the last decades of the seventeenth century the religious, political, and generic pressures that had served to fuse controversial literature with autobiography seem to have abated. Although religious conflict was far from a thing of the past, its political and professional stakes were different; the relationship between an individual Christian and the institutional church had changed dramatically between the accession of James I and the Restoration. As we have seen, the confessions of faith of James and Donne are intent on proving their authors’ allegiance to the state...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 171-204)
    (pp. 205-218)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 219-222)
    (pp. 223-225)