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Making Heretics

Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641

Michael P. Winship
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 340
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7tc4s
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  • Book Info
    Making Heretics
    Book Description:

    Making Hereticsis a major new narrative of the famous Massachusetts disputes of the late 1630s misleadingly labeled the "antinomian controversy" by later historians. Drawing on an unprecedented range of sources, Michael Winship fundamentally recasts these interlocked religious and political struggles as a complex ongoing interaction of personalities and personal agendas and as a succession of short-term events with cumulative results.

    Previously neglected figures like Sir Henry Vane and John Wheelwright assume leading roles in the processes that nearly ended Massachusetts, while more familiar "hot Protestants" like John Cotton and Anne Hutchinson are relocated in larger frameworks. The book features a striking portrayal of the minister Thomas Shepard as an angry heresy-hunting militant, helping to set the volatile terms on which the disputes were conducted and keeping the flames of contention stoked even as he ostensibly attempted to quell them.

    The first book-length treatment in forty years,Making Hereticslocates its story in rich contexts, ranging from ministerial quarrels and negotiations over fine but bitterly contested theological points to the shadowy worlds of orthodox and unorthodox lay piety, and from the transatlantic struggles over the Massachusetts Bay Company's charter to the fraught apocalyptic geopolitics of the Reformation itself. An object study in the ways that puritanism generated, managed, and failed to manage diversity,Making Hereticscarries its account on into England in the 1640s and 1650s and helps explain the differing fortunes of puritanism in the Old and New Worlds.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2495-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-11)

    “ANTINOMIAN CONTROVERSY” is the conventional but relatively modern term for the events this book chronicles. The label is a misleading nineteenth-century simplification that marks the fading of the complexities of seventeenth-century English radical religion in cultural memory.¹ The more the research and writing for this book progressed the less satisfactory it seemed. Historians routinely acknowledge that when hostile contemporaries used a general term to describe the radical religious doctrines being dispersed in Boston, they were far more likely to use “familist,” referring to the heterodox group, the Family of Love, than “antinomian,” meaning to be freed from God’s moral law....

  6. ONE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION IN THE EARLY SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 12-27)

    IN MY mind’s eye, I see Thomas Shepard, twenty-five years old, pale complexioned and lean, mounting the pulpit of the ancient church in Earles Colne, Essex, in 1629 to give his weekly sermon.¹ Some listeners sitting on the benches are hostile to this aggressive, strict preacher, some curious, and others hanging on every word as if their immortal souls depended on it. One of the last has come with bottle of ink, quill, and quire of paper to take notes. Shepard warns his audience that they dare not presume they are going to heaven; they might convince themselves and the...

  7. TWO LIVELY STONES: JOHN COTTON AND ANNE HUTCHINSON
    (pp. 28-43)

    IN THE summer of 1630 in an encampment by the side of the Charles River in Massachusetts, the recently arrived leaders of a small puritan-run joint stock company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, formed a church. They were living in tents and wigwams and their ministers preached under a tree, but the unavoidable lack of material accessories would not have fazed them.ₑ Unlike their most bitter opponents in the Church of England, puritans did not worship God through elaborate ceremony or beautiful images; these were the superstitious dregs of popery. Puritans practiced their religion through obeying God’s ordinances: prayer, meditation, godly...

  8. THREE THE MOST GLORIOUS CHURCH IN THE WORLD: BOSTON, C. 1636
    (pp. 44-63)

    THERE IS a common scholarly assumption that the free grace controversy occurred in large measure because somewhere around 1635 or 1636 the Boston laity collectively plunged into radicalism. They almost all became “antinomians” or “Hutchinsonians.” This explanation, besides accounting for the Boston church’s impressive unity throughout most of the conflict, renders unproblematic, even uninteresting, the controversy itself─puritans were supposed to be opposed to antinomianism. Two extraordinary members the Boston church acquired in late 1635 and early 1636, John Wheelwright, an aggressively unconventional minister, and Henry Vane, a voluntary religious exile from King Charles I’s court, would seem to lend the...

  9. FOUR PRACTICING PURITANISM IN A STRANGE LAND: MASSACHUSETTS, C. 1636
    (pp. 64-82)

    THE UNITY in diversity of the Boston church might have been an impressive example of puritanism’s protean capacity to absorb hot Protestantism’s diversity. By 1636, however, the circumstances of Massachusetts were pushing toward the opposite pole of puritanism, toward a monolithic, actively intolerant, exclusive Christian community. Those circumstances─incipient ministerial factionalism, increasing government intervention in church affairs, and the problems attendant upon transporting old world piety to the new world─helped define the contours of the free grace controversy and increase its capacity to cut deeply and divisively, and they were at play in, around, and as a consequence of the controversy’s...

  10. FIVE SECRET QUARRELS TURN PUBLIC: SUMMER 1636–JANUARY 1637
    (pp. 83-105)

    COTTON MAY have optimistically told Shepard that he and his brethren did not differ, but his assumption was to be sorely tested in the second half of 1636. Doctrinal debates in a wide variety of venues raged among the leaders of the colony and among ordinary laity. Participants in those debates moved uneasily between efforts to restore consensus and stoke contentions, to dampen conflict and amplify it. Some participants genuinely sought common ground. Some, however, had already decided that the differences in Massachusetts were fundamental, and they worked hard to get others to share their conclusion. The debates failed to...

  11. SIX CONVICTING JOHN WHEELWRIGHT: JANUARY–MARCH 1637
    (pp. 106-125)

    THE STORY of the free grace controversy, as it is usually told, runs straightforwardly from the doctrinal clashes of late 1636 to John Wheelwright’s notorious fast-day sermon of January 19, 1637, to his conviction two months later for sedition and contempt as a result of that sermon. Wheelwright in his sermon denounced, or certainly seemed to denounce, the greater part of the ministers and magistrates of Massachusetts as being under a covenant of works and called for spiritual warfare against them. His performance fits in well with the dominant scholarly picture of an aggressive group of “Hutchinsonians” stirring up trouble...

  12. SEVEN ABIMELECH’S FACTION: MARCH–AUGUST 1637
    (pp. 126-148)

    WHEELWRIGHT’S conviction was the single most critical event in shaping the course of the free grace controversy. The anti-Boston party, in its own eyes, had successfully transformed a complex theological dispute into an issue of state authority versus sedition, and any objection to the issue’s being framed that way would only be further evidence of sedition. But their prosecution had not gone smoothly. The charge of heresy, intended to render more plausible the charges of contempt and sedition, had vanished and what was left was the effort to argue that sedition existed when the author of the seditious statements denied...

  13. EIGHT RECLAIMING COTTON: AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 1637
    (pp. 149-165)

    AS VANE’S ship sailed into the Atlantic no one in Massachusetts knew that two Sundays earlier in St. Giles Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, Jenny Geddes had thrown a stool at a minister as he tried to introduce the Laudian prayer book. That Sunday marked the beginning of twelve years of war across the British Isles. Laud and Charles I’s ultimate reward for their ill-conceived meddling with Scottish institutions would be the executioner’s ax, and in the meantime they had far more pressing concerns than New England. “God then rocked three nations,” as Cotton later solipsistically put it, “with shaking dispensations,...

  14. NINE THE NOVEMBER TRIALS: OCTOBER–NOVEMBER 1637
    (pp. 166-187)

    COTTON WAS now reunited with the orthodox party, even if the orthodox party was not entirely reunited with him. In light of his later actions, he probably regarded the controversy as over. He had made his doctrinal peace with his enemies and decided to stay in the colony, and he was willing to acknowledge that the straying sheep in his congregation needed more attention than he had previously given them. It was time for everyone to live and let live. But perceptions about a larger peace in Massachusetts were decidedly mixed. Winthrop, writing for an English audience soon thereafter, claimed...

  15. TEN AN AMERICAN JEZEBEL: NOVEMBER 1637–MARCH 1638
    (pp. 188-210)

    SNOW BLANKETED Massachusetts from early November to late March during the “tedious winter” of 1637–38, while the unexpected twist that the free grace controversy now took deepened the gloom. The trials of November, rather than silencing dissent, managed to finally create the openly militant doctrinal radicals that the Massachusetts authorities had long been hunting, and ministers and magistrates watched with horror as they defiantly aired progressively more shocking heresies. In the process, the consensual mechanisms that had more or less held the Boston church together in its wide diversity broke down. That breakdown led, among other things, to Hutchinson’s...

  16. ELEVEN HOLDING FORTH DARKLY: MARCH 1638–FEBRUARY 1641
    (pp. 211-234)

    IN THE SPRING of 1638, the voluntary and involuntary exiles began departing in sizable numbers. Others probably wondered if they should be accompanying them, and still others probably watched them leave with a wide variety of feelings ranging from sorrow to relief to anger. For both those who stayed and those who left, it was time to start picking up the pieces after two years of violent quarrels and try to start to make sense of what they had just been through. Yet in 1638 the free grace controversy was far from over in Massachusetts. It continued on in complex...

  17. TWELVE GODLY ENDINGS
    (pp. 235-246)

    THE BURR incident ended the free grace controversy as a controversy, as a sustained series of interlocked public events. But the incident hardly ended the controversy’s impact on the lives of the individuals who had generated and sustained it. In some cases it followed them to their graves, in others, it drove them to them. It was carried across the Atlantic into the religious and political tumult of mid-century England, with important consequences.

    Some historians have presented the free grace controversy as ultimately a triumph of sorts for Shepard. Shepard and Hooker’s moralistic and “legal” style of preaching established domination...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 247-312)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 313-322)