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The Puritans Arrive at Plimouth

MayflowerThe best text we can find in regard to the Thanksgiving season is this perhaps familiar one written by Governor William Bradford in his history, Of Plimouth Plantation. The Puritans, or Pilgrims as they’re often called,  had a very hard time after reaching these shores.  Bradford’s wife Dorothy died while the Mayflower was at anchor in Provincetown Harbor, and by the end of the first winter half the colonists had perished. It was a season of death. William Bradford’s account, though written simply and intended merely as a record, reaches a spare beauty, the same beauty that we find in the Puritans’ plain, sparsely furnished meeting houses and churches.  Here is an excerpt describing their plight as they set foot in this land. The spelling follows the original.

But hear I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amased at this poore peoples presente condition; and so I thinke will the reader too, when he well considera the same. Being thus passed ye vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembred by yt which wente before), they had now no freinds to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure. It is recorded in scripture as a mercie to ye apostle & his shipwraked company, yt the barbarians shewed them no smale kindnes in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they mette with them (as after will appeare) were readier to fill their sids full of arrows then otherwise. And for ye season it was winter, and they that know ye winters of yt cuntrie know them to be sharp & violent, & subjecte to cruell & feirce stormes, deangerous to travill to known places, much more to serch an unknown coast. Besids, what could they see but a hidious & desolate wildernes, full of wild beasts & willd men? and what multituds ther might be of them they knew not. Nether could they, as it were, goe up to ye tope of Pisgah, to vew from this willdernes a more goodly cuntrie to feed their hops; for which way soever they turnd their eys (save upward to ye heavens) they could have litle solace or content in respecte of any outward objects. For sumer being done, all things stand upon them with a wetherbeaten face; and ye whole countrie, full of woods & thickets, represented a wild & savage heiw. If they looked behind them, ther was ye mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a maine barr & goulfe to seperate them from all ye civill parts of ye world.

The painting of the Mayflower that we’ve posted above is an imaginative work by the 19th century painter William Halsall.  The painting is evocative, but wholly inaccurate.  The Mayflower was a frighteningly small ship about half the size of the grand vessel portrayed here.  To get a sense of how small it was, you might visit Plimouth Plantation  in Massachusetts and go aboard the replica of the  Mayflower that rides at anchor there. The image below is the opening page of William Bradford’s Of Plimouth Plantation as written by is own hand. Plimouth Plantation by William BradfordOnce you gain familiarity with the old script, its spelling and its scribal patterns (“ye” is written with the e placed above the y, and the letters I and J are written alike)  you’ll be able to read Plimouth Plantation And first of the occasion and inducements thereunto; the which that I may truly unfould, I must begine at the very roote and rise of the same. The which I shall endevor to manefest in a plaine stile, with singuler regard unto the simple trueth in all things, at least as near as my slender judgmente can attaine the same.

Original Sin, Predestination and Other Cool Concepts

There’s a variety of opinions knocking about at Critical Pages, even when we’re reduced to a solitary person at the computer keyboard. The post about what fruit grew on the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden led to thoughts about the Fall (not the fall season, dummy, the Fall theologians speak of, the Fall of humankind when Adam and Eve ate that amazingly educational fruit, giving rise to Original Sin and other cool concepts.) One of our colleagues said, I’m dying to know how that Tree of Knowledge turns out.  I just can’t see anything good coming of it. And that’s a widely shared view.

But another friend had this to say. In my opinion, the story of Adam and Eve does turn out well. I think it’s about the coming of human consciousness, coming of the ability to parse good and evil, the coming of shame and guilt and mortality, all that, philosophy. The Garden, paradise, is the animal kingdom where birth is painless, and life is not all that stressful, and you don’t have to wear any clothes. To be thrown out of Paradise is to start to have to deal with all the human problems, deal with human questions like why are we here, and why don’t my kids call… And once you are thrown out of paradise, you can’t go back. The ratchet has clicked. Anyway, there’s an angel with a big sword blocking the way to the tree of life.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Interestingly, this is also a widely shared view — well, I mean, shared by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and others of similar character.  The Fall was an immediate disaster, but ultimately it brought about the redemption embodied in Christ. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem. Or, as we say in English: O happy fault (or sin) that merited such and so great a redeemer.  And theologians today, even those writing in English, still refer to this idea as felix culpa, the fortunate fall, the happy sin.

Jonathan Edwards

Johnathan Edwards

In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all says the Puritan rhyme. Indeed, the Puritan concept of predestination asserts that, due to Adam’s sin of disobedience, each and every one of us should be destined to hell. But God, foreseeing this, created his son Jesus to be crucified, his punishment on the cross being a sacrifice to redeem a portion of those destined to hell. And, says the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, if God chooses you to go to heaven, you get there, no matter what you do on earth. Unfortunately, the same doctrine means that if you’re slated for hell, you’ll go there no matter how well you behave.

OK, we’ve gone far enough with this! Let’s get on to something simple,  like national unemployment or how to balance the budget.

More Notes

Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.