Chapter 15: On Church and State

Chapter 15 is all about the Puritan’s view on the relationship between church and state. Our author John Cotton offers up several reasons why he doesn’t think the church should have power in civil service. He does this by offering his letter to an aristocrat who wanted to come to the colony from England, but only if he instantly got put into a position of power within the local government.

Their first point of contention is an important one; the law that the potential magistrate has a problem with is that to be a civil servant in the colony you must be a church member. Cotton responds to that by stating the reasons for the rule, the colony only wants to be ruled by one of their brethren a God fearing church goer. He makes one important distinction in that once someone has a position of office they cannot be removed through church interference (173). Church is to have no impact on civil service, they sort of use it as a check of character.

I hesitate to call these ideas modern, but there is something striking about them. It would be incredibly easy to imagine the Puritans as following a complete merger between church and state, given how religion takes up ALL OTHER ASPECTS of their life. But Cotton’s reasoning for this is sound and insightful for the time period. I guess they had various kings in England to blame for this, but Cotton’s reasoning for separation of church and state is that “There is a strain in a man’s heart that will sometime or other run out of excess, unless the Lord restrain it….It is necessary[,] therefore, that all power that is on earth be limited, church-power or other” (176). Basically a way of saying absolute power corrupts, absolutely. For me this is a shockingly realistic view of people for the Puritans; but then again, as we learned last week, all Puritans seemed to view themselves as awful people desperately hoping for salvation. So the fact that they viewed people with such a negative lens-with original sin and all-is not that surprising when studied.

There were a surprising amount of these when I image searched “separation of church and state.”


Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes

Skip to toolbar