You ask me how I became a madman. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And I have found both freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. The millions of Arabic-speaking peoples familiar with his writings in that language consider him the genius of his age.
But he was a man whose fame and influence spread far beyond the Near East. His poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages. His drawings and paintings have been exhibited in the great capitals of the world and compared by Auguste Rodin to the work of William Blake. In the United States, which he made his home during the last twenty years of his life, he began to write in English.
Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Under the influence of Ramist dialectic, method, memory, and composition theory dovetail not only in the theory of doctrine-use plain style but in the lived experience of the sermon. The incredible uniformity of notes—as produced by ministers either before or after delivery—is remarkably similar to that of notes taken by ministers listening to their colleagues' preaching.
The formulaic structure of the sermon served as a kind of vernacular of Puritan preaching. The structural conventions of university training emphasizing memorization and re-creation of sermons and lectures appear to have informed the notetaking practices of many nonuniversity-trained auditors, as many lay notetakers appear to have learned techniques indirectly.
Even rather divergent notetaking styles among some auditors demonstrate how fully naturalized the elements of university training in plain-style auditing became in New England, as notetakers appear to have picked up recording practices in a community where notes circulated freely and eclectically. Idiosyncratic variations on university notetaking practices constitute an eclectic vernacular of sermon language and structure.
This dissemination of notetaking did not occur merely top-down. Rather, notetaking styles reinscribed but also affected clerical practices and styles. Most concretely, the phenomenon of print sermons based on notes clerical and lay, authorized and unauthorized vividly illustrates the interdependence of ministers and auditors in the creation of sermon literature, as hearers adapted to preachers and preachers to hearers.
The ability to follow the formal structure and core doctrine of a sermon via systematic notetaking was crucial to the lived experience of preaching but also to the preservation and dissemination of sermons in print. For better and for worse, publishing ministers were dependent upon auditors' experience and recording. Whether authorized or unauthorized, print sermons drew upon the notes of minister and lay auditor alike, ultimately reflecting a complexly discursive sermon culture. The practices of sermon composition, delivery, and notetaking illuminate much that the preaching manuals fail to elaborate.
Further understanding of a theory of the plain-style sermon can be found in discussions of scriptural interpretation itself. Gordis makes useful distinctions between Perkins's emphasis on "the centrality of exegesis to sermon theory" and Bernard's focus on "the minister as interpreter and teacher. Returning to Perkins's handy list, we see that the first two directives "To read the text" and "To give the sense and understanding of it" are premised on the primacy of the literal sense of scripture and a faith that, as Bernard puts it, "No Scripture is in itselfe obscure, but that wee want eie-sight to behold what is therein conteined.
The series of negative dictates expressed as prescriptive formula imply something more akin to pro scription. From a theological perspective, the directives of plain-style explication accommodate the strenuous Protestant insistence on the five solas. A commitment to sola fides might be sought by the three closely related principles of solus christus , sola gratia , and soli deo gloria only through Christ, by grace alone, and only for the glory of God, respectively , but sola scriptura suggests a potentially competing logic of salvation.
As James Simpson has observed, sola fides and sola scriptura exist in Protestant thought in uneasy opposition. Which is it that will save you? Is it faith alone, a phenomenon that, after all, is an extratextual, likely passive, and possibly predetermined event? Or is your salvation textual, based on your reading of the Bible, with all the vagaries of its contingent wordiness? Conventional wisdom and scholarly tradition have long privileged a view of the Reformation in which the turn toward vernacular scripture and away from hierarchical church structures empowered Protestants in matters of salvation and selfhood.
The need to distinguish a literal sense in the Bible highlights the concept of scripture as an accommodation for fallen human intellect. We need the scripture because we are fallen; yet, precisely because we are fallen, we need help in understanding scripture. The five solas , then, function as reminders of human debility even as they offer salvation from that fallen state. These premises of debility are at the core of the negative dictates of Puritan writing—the plain style, the literal sense, the formulaic aspects of sermon composition. One might reasonably expect these premises and dictates to restrain literary production—not only in terms of quantity of spoken, written, and printed texts but in terms of what efficacy is expected from those human words.
This expectation is shattered by the excesses of Puritan literary output: The apparent preference for restraint in plain style might begin with the Puritan insistence upon the literal sense. Reiterating the Protestant rejection of the "4. Perkins tells us that the "principall interpreter of the Scripture is the holy Ghost," essentially arguing for a self-explicating text. The problem is, of course, that those "dark places" in scripture are not merely spaces for deeper contemplation but also potential sites of confusion, doubt, controversy, intolerance, and violence.
Sola scriptura , as Simpson points out, is surely as terrifying as it is comforting. In his preface to the New Testament in English, William Tyndale urges the reader to partake but also points out that the vernacular Bible functions like a crucible. The elect are saved by reading, and the reprobates are damned by the same act.
Thus conceived, the vernacular Bible was not a simple self-help book. Many standard dictates associated with Reformation— sola fides , sola scriptura , and literal sense in particular—frustrate in part because they suggest a closed interpretive system. In her extensive treatment of Preaching in the First Half Century of New England History , Babette May Levy refers to "an occasional tendency" on the part of Puritan ministers to argue circularly—to maintain, for example, "that a just God by his very nature has certain attributes, and, having these attributes, is therefore a just God; or that man by his sinful nature fell from grace, and, having fallen, was therefore obviously sinful.
In The Arte of Prophecying , William Perkins offers the reader both the substance and evidence of scripture's gospel truth in a single proof: Within the proof by reason is proof by faith. Perkins concedes that although there exist "verie strong proofes, which show that the [scripture] is the word of God," "there is onlie one, namely the inward testimony of the holy Ghost speaking in the Scripture, and not only telling a man within in [sic] his heart, but also effectually perswading him that these bookes of the Scripture are the word of God.
Then again, Perkins would never expect this or any intellectual syllogism to cause belief. The mistake is to suppose that the various examples of circular reasoning met with in Puritan texts are meant to be convincing on their own. It is the heart, not the intellect, that needs convincing. To the extent that Puritanism is a closed system, its dictates short-circuit a clear theory or an explanation of language. In his study of the grammatical origins of Reformation theology, Brian Cummings points out that "the phrase 'literal truth' is at best a paradox, perhaps an oxymoron.
To say, then, that truth does manifest itself in the contingencies of language flies in the face of theories from the Greeks to the early Christians and on down that make much of the difference between res the thing itself and verba words. Furthermore, one of the obstacles to understanding the effectual working of the sermon is the seeming paradox of its theory and practice: The complicated status of scripture is not a problem that begins with the Puritans.
Perkins was simply continuing the objections raised by Tyndale and other early Reformers against what they saw as the corruption of the scriptural integrity by the human interference of fourfold exegesis. The hermeneutics of the fourfold method may have developed into full scholastic elaboration over centuries, but its roots were planted firmly in the writings of Origen, Augustine, and others who were revered by Protestant Reformers as "primitive" church fathers.
Recognizing what Augustine called the "dark places" in scripture, Origen categorized and promoted figurative readings of problematic passages that had already been in use for generations. Determining whether the literal meaning of a particular passage was governed by common sense served as the primary litmus test for determining if figurative interpretation was warranted. For Jesus to point to a piece of bread and call it his body, for example, was absurd if taken literally, as were competing verses that placed Christ both on earth and in heaven.
In such cases, a more flexible understanding of the letter of the scripture was required.
Throughout the history of the Christian church, simple flexibility in textual reading has been insufficient to stave off violent controversy. The surface absurdity of bread as body, to use the same example, has produced not merely competing interpretations but competing claims for orthodoxy and charges of heresy, as well. According to Mather, Hooker advised young ministers to undertake a long, systematic development of their exegetical prowess, recommending that "at their entrance on their ministry, they would with careful study preach over the whole body of divinity methodically, even in the Amesian method, which would acquaint them with all the more intelligible and agreeable texts of Scripture, and prepare them for a further acquaintance with the more difficult, and furnish them with abilities to preach on whole chapters, and all occasional subjects, which by the providence of God they might be directed unto.
The "Amesian method" here seems to stand for the essential principles required in Puritan preaching but is also aimed at revealing "the more intelligible texts of Scripture. Hooker's advice to the young minister essentially serves as a confession that literalness and absolute clarity presumed under sola scriptura are more complicated than it would first appear. If a less trained minister might be advised not to preach on "dark places," how much darker might the same places be to an untrained reader of scripture? God—or, more specifically, the spirit of the Holy Ghost—might inspire any reader to perfect comprehension, but the ordinary means to correct reading seem to involve quite a bit of human learning.
Perkins continues another long tradition by suggesting a specific syllabus of biblical reading by which the human reader might become enabled to understand more clearly the difficult places in scripture. He instructs the would-be minister to "proceede to the reading of the Scriptures in this order": When all this is done, learne first the dogmaticall bookes of the old Testament, especiallie the Psalmes: Lastly the historicall, but chieflie Genesis.
Paul's Epistle to the Romans and the Gospel of John work as more than lenses through which the Old Testament books can be read as precursors to New Testament revelations. According to Perkins, the "manner of perswading" is that the elect reader, affected by the presence of the Holy Spirit, discerns, approves, and believes "the voyce of Christ speaking in the scriptures" and is finally " as it were sealed with the seale of the Spirit. The reader who encounters Psalms, Isaiah, and Genesis after Romans and John is, in some real way, different from the reader who takes the same five books in canonical and purportedly chronological order.
Reading in such a scenario is experiential as much as it is intellectual, simultaneously an act of reception, interpretation, and arrangement. Reading and hearing scripture require deep intertextual engagement. Perkins's sense of how to open the literal sense of scripture and his sense of reading from Romans back into Genesis suggest a deep commitment to a kind of textual fluidity of revealed Word. Most concretely, this fluidity can be seen in the long sections of The Arte of Prophecying in which Perkins shows how disparate pieces of scripture can be understood in relation to one another. This process of "collation" is in part practical, allowing ministers to reconcile seemingly contradictory passages, to connect different historical or "literal" moments , and, above all, to demonstrate the divine coherence of the biblical canon.
As Gordis has pointed out, collation as a primary technique of sermon composition premised the self-interpretive capacity of scripture while, in practice, the method often pulled passages out of immediate context and made room for the ingress of human invention. Accordingly, "Collation tends to open exegesis outward, provoking disgressive discussions of the collated texts. The deep intertextual logic of collation transcends sermon composition, however, revealing itself in all forms of sermon literature.
Puritan writers perhaps especially the lay writers become adept at collating scriptural texts with biographical incident, contributing to the generic fluidity of sermon literature. We might call this a kind of lived collation. Nor are writers the only ones practicing acts of collation. In the very keeping of notebooks and circulation manuscripts, auditors control and collate their sermon experience. Collation opens up not only textual but material means by which the controlling logic of sermon disseminates across community, genre, and experience. The archive is filled with curious examples of intertextual engagement through scriptural explication that complicate simple notions of authorship, readership, and the plain style, often in the form of notes, annotations, and other manuscript genres.
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The very idiosyncrasy of these material-textual artifacts can be particularly instructive, as divergent instances help us to plot out a kind of topography of possible variations of common practice. Unusual examples of lay notetaking, for example, help delineate typical auditing habits while simultaneously contesting the notion of normative practice. One example of a manuscript artifact that challenges the stability of authorship and genre in New England sermon literature can be seen in a curious handmade book by the otherwise unknown John Templestone.
In the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society, his handmade book of folded paper bears a handwritten title page that proclaims himself as owner and creator John Templestone and a date February 14th, that probably indicates either the inception or the completion of the volume. A hand-drawn border surrounds the text. In fact, this title page is just one of several in the little book. The core of Templestone's handmade volume is a manuscript copy of part of an execution sermon—originally preached by Joshua Moodey in March for the execution of James Morgan.
On the pages before and after a handwritten copy of Moodey's sermon excerpt is a careful transcription of notes on a sermon delivered by John Cotton Jr. Due to the quirks of Templestone's transcription process, the notes on Cotton's sermon literally envelop the Moodey sermon. The resulting artifact produces something of the effect of a Russian doll, with Moodey's text enclosed within Cotton's sermon and bound up by three consecutive title pages—the innermost for the Cotton Jr.
The odd physical configuration of the handmade volume is no doubt a series of negotiations of various practical considerations Templestone's initial interests in preserving particular texts, the relative scarcity of paper, and the difficulty in making handwritten pages run to a predetermined page length , but these resulting idiosyncrasies confound our sense of the separable roles of author, bookmaker, owner, transcriber, and reader.
The Massachusetts Historical Society records originally identified Moodey as the "Author" of the manuscript book, presumably because his was the one contribution that could be traced to a print version and because his text makes up the majority of the leaves. In a later recataloging of the item, Templestone became the "Author," suggesting a bibliographical reassessment by which the materiality of the manuscript appears more important than the connection of that manuscript copy to a print source.
Templestone functions as more than just the material creator of the manuscript, however. He also exerts judgment and discretion in his selection process, implicitly imprinting his own interpretive understanding of the two enclosed texts. The creator of manuscript sermon artifacts acts as an editor or a kind of collaborator alongside the named authors who provide the initial oral or print sermon. Templestone's acts of juxtaposition are also interpretive acts as he physically links the two texts, enfolding them within the single volume.
Templestone's particular choices of what to include and what to exclude require textual, contextual, and material consideration to understand. But the condemned man had also specifically requested that Cotton Mather and Joshua Moodey "address his case in sermons to be delivered on the Sunday preceding his execution.
Inaugurating a popular new genre of Puritan sermon publication, Dunton's execution sermon collection also launched Cotton Mather's print career. Key to the dynamic energy of the print sermon compilation was the weaving together of various genres of spoken and written texts within the volume. Increase Mather's sermon, for example, included the insertion of "a written communication from James Morgan" and ended with Morgan's purported last words at the gallows, "O Lord receive my spirit, I come unto thee O Lord, I come unto thee O Lord, I come, I come, I come. Mather later produced a transcript of his dialogue with Morgan, apparently for personal use or private circulation.
The entire printed collection of execution sermons is, in fact, a patchwork of reported speeches and subjective transcriptions. The single event of Morgan's execution triggers a proliferation of texts—oral during the week of the event , print in Dunton's best-selling sermon compilation , and manuscript thanks to the efforts of Templestone as well as many unnamed recorders along the way.
Templestone's decision to copy out only Moodey's excerpt and not the sermons by the two Mathers requires some conjecture on our part. According to Moodey, the portion of the sermon that he prepares for the first print edition is that section fulfilling two requests from the condemned man himself: That I would take some notice of him in my Sermon, and that I would give [w]arning to those of his Fellow-sinners that had been guilty of the like Evils, lest they also became like Monuments of Divine Justice.
It is entirely possible that vicarious thrill attracts Templestone to Moodey's sermon excerpt, yet portions of the two Mather sermons are just as lurid, if not more so, than Moodey's. As is typical in execution sermons, Moodey explicates the event as a "monument of divine justice," evoking specifics of James Morgan's case but also showing how the particulars are ultimately an emblem of man's fallen state generally.
Moodey inveighs directly against all those in his audience who swear and curse, who are drunkards or break the Sabbath, and those who might harbor their own undiscovered, murderous secrets. Beyond those nameable crimes, however, is the even more recalcitrant case of the ordinary sinner who is unaffected by godly preaching, whose lack of fear of divine judgment implies apostasy despite the evidence of any outward morality or attendance upon ordinary means of preaching.
True to its genre, Moodey's execution sermon strikes the balance between the specific case of the condemned and the inevitable guilt of the ostensibly innocent witness at the gallows. The section of Moodey's sermon directly addressing James Morgan therefore implicates John Templestone, too, just as it implicates any sinner who hears the sermon or reads the words preserved by print, manuscript, or common report. By essentially enveloping the Moodey sermon excerpt within the notes of a sermon by Cotton Jr. Cotton's sermon is not occasioned by a sensational event.
Rather, it is a simple discourse comparing and contrasting man's spiritual journey with a brief allusion to a footrace in Heb.
Cotton's sermon was delivered on a Thursday, a day typically reserved for lecture sermons the systematic coverage of theology and doctrine rather than the pastoral emphasis on personal salvation typical of Sunday preaching. The Cotton sermon does not appear to be composed for a special occasion such as an execution, election, or a fast day but is simply one sermon out of his ordinary course of scriptural explication.
The later selection and transcription of the notes on the sermon, on the other hand, imbues Cotton's ordinary, everyday preaching with the special status of a text that has particularly touched at least one auditor: Accordingly, Cotton's preaching is preserved by a series of private acts of recording, organizing, and duplication. By literally enveloping Moodey's direct address to the murderer James Morgan within the universality of Cotton's sermon, Templestone inscribes both texts with his own subjective experience.
In doing so, he also brings fulfillment to Morgan's original desire that the ordinary sinner should heed the "monuments of divine justice" as preached by Moodey.
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Templestone inscribes his personal response into the meaning of the two sermon texts by creating his own book and authoring the textual relationship between the preaching therein. Templestone leaves further clues to his rationale for putting the two sermons together by his design of their respective title pages.
The border has been drawn so thickly that the chemical makeup of the ink together with the physical pressure of pen against paper has caused the line to eat away the paper. At the open edge of the page, the paper has all but disappeared under Templestone's emphasis of the border. No mere ornamental effect, the thick black line appears to be a deliberate inscription of what would be known as a "mourning border," a design element found almost exclusively on printed funeral sermons of the period.
Although the published collection of sermons on Morgan's execution deals with death, the more precise theme is the applicability of the condemned's fatal sinfulness to any given sinner's spiritual estate. Accordingly, no mourning border appears on the title page of the print version. Templestone attaches the significance of the funeral to the Moodey excerpt, just as he does to the Cotton Jr. As modern readers in the archive, we can only try to reconstruct conjecturally the implication of proliferating mourning borders in Templestone's odd manuscript volume, but the simple design element is the most explicit key to the subjective textual connection between the two enclosed sermons.
To the extent that the genre of the funeral sermon implicates the individual hearer or reader with its universal applicability, Templestone quite literally inscribes the disparate works of Cotton Jr. Perhaps rooted in his own subjective reading of published and preached sermons, Templestone retools the textual meaning of Moodey's execution sermon and Cotton's ordinary Thursday lecture.
This realignment of textual meaning occurs in the material act of creating a book artifact and accordingly adds to the cumulative material textuality of James Morgan's crime and subsequent execution, of the popular sermon collection occasioned by the execution, and of the otherwise ephemeral preaching of John Cotton Jr. It is no wonder that John Templestone's book has too many title pages; the proliferation of covers mirrors the centrifugal potential of communal exegesis in Puritan New England as individual hearers, readers, and writers craft textual meaning according to their lived experience.
Templestone's creation of this complicated little manuscript book is not merely an act of compilation but an authorial act of creation and genre manipulation. In considering Templestone's curious artifact, we are reminded that all books are physical acts of creating meaning, whether in print or manuscript or hybrid form. These physical acts of creating meaning leave traces that are simultaneously stable in their materiality and unstable in their portability, their openness to readerly interpretation and reinscription, their vulnerability to further acts of dissemination. Templestone compiles texts written by others, and in doing so he collates his own lived exegetical perspective with those texts and with the various phenomenal events that occasion them, whether that be the execution of James Morgan or the general need of Cotton's congregation for spiritual instruction on any given Thursday.
The seeming exegetical excess of sermon literature leaves material traces in notes on sermons and in the incredible complexity of print sermon bibliography because of the vagaries of early modern publication generally and because of the local practices of notetaking and manuscript circulation specifically. The material means of disseminating sermon literature were available throughout the gathered communities of New England as the laity heard, recorded, read, and shared the explication of their ministers. Acts of hearing, notetaking, and applying the sermon implicate the auditor in the work of the pulpit.
Conversely, ministers responded to the responsive dissemination of their texts, creating not simply a circular loop from minister through laity and back again, but a discursive interpretive community. The laity's central role in the material preservation of sermon literature made them agents in the formation of texts and textual meaning. The first part of this book offers a challenge to conventional notions of clerical authorship and the traditional bibliographical faith in a singular authenticity of stable printed texts, suggesting the ways in which sermons circulate in print, manuscript, and hybrid forms.
In this respect, my work dovetails with wider trends in book history, especially with regard to the overlap of print, manuscript, and oral culture in early modern England. Close analysis of manuscript sermon notebooks demonstrates the range of techniques by which acts of listening were recorded, preserved, and disseminated by lay auditors, illuminating the way New England Puritan laity shaped the meaning of sermon experience through hearing and recording the pulpit endeavors of the ministers.
Table of Contents: Jeremiah's Scribes
Later chapters turn to core questions of what, precisely, Puritans thought human language could accomplish in the work of redemption. The materiality and contingencies of vernacular translation, proliferating explications of scripture, and the practices of early modern sermon culture provide a background for the theoretical exploration of the relationship between divine and human language. Throughout, the alternately competing and complementary authority of print, manuscript, and oral expression continues to be in conversation, showing ultimately the coherence within textual variation in Puritan literature.
The sermon-ridden literature of Puritan New England develops out of these uniquely discursive material practices in response to linguistic implications of theological belief and lived experience. I begin in Chapter 1 by raising fundamental challenges to the notion of single authorship and sermon literature. Anxiety over unauthorized publication on the part of the ministers and textual authenticity primarily on the part of modern scholars has largely dominated modern approaches to the print sermon.
By first tracing out the erratic peregrinations of sermons into print in light of notetaking, manuscript circulation, and the hybrid materiality of books in the early modern period, I show how determination of textual authenticity is perhaps futile and, ultimately, diversionary. In part, this reconceptualizing of the production of sermon literature as a discursive process confirms existing book history scholarship. My ultimate concern, however, is to reorient the questions we ask of sermons away from content what was said and written by individual ministers and toward the experience of sermon as it circulated through New England communities and beyond.
The sermon did not end in the ephemeral speech act of delivery any more than it became fixed via the printing press. The permeable modes of material transmission oral, print, manuscript give us concrete methods for understanding the sermon as a text of discursive composition and eclectic circulation. Chapter 2 demonstrates approaches to reading and analyzing sermon notes, a genre of writing largely inaccessible both for practical reasons they exist in a handful of archives, cataloged with unpredictable descriptors and through a lack of familiarity even once handwriting is deciphered, the often skeletal records of preaching seem perhaps even less compelling than the more fully fleshed-out print sermons.
My aim, therefore, is not only to make available some illuminating examples of notetaking but to provide a means of comprehending this idiosyncratic genre. The concrete evidence of typical notetaking practices and the more ambiguous traces of subjective responses in the notes both illuminate the aural experience of preaching. Discrete acts of listening recorded in notebooks are more suggestive than definitive, as auditors rarely commented on their immediate reactions to preaching in notes.
Nevertheless, distinctive patterns of auditing notetaking styles emerge across a range of recorders. Accordingly, I suggest three basic tendencies found in notetaking: Lay sermon notebooks are material as well as textual, so I consider the ways in which the physical artifact affects the textual experience of writing and remembering. Although auditor recording styles varied greatly, each notetaker clearly envisioned the material notebook as a unique, personal creation.
Each sermon notebook exists as an autonomous creation by an individual auditor with his or her own idiosyncratic aesthetic, organizational, and textual logic. Each notetaker, that is, clearly authors his or her own aural experience within the larger conventions of sermon culture. With a perceived disparity between the spoken and the written word, on the one hand, and the evident idiosyncrasies of aural experience, on the other, the printed word required special accommodation if it was to retain the vital efficacy and multivalent registers of New England sermon culture.
Chapter 3 outlines common strategies employed to bridge oral, aural, and written permutations of sermon culture. Set within the basic framework of formulaic plain-style sermon rhetoric, strategic imperfections in structure and style conveyed oral spontaneity and aural subjectivity. Accordingly, the reading experience of the print sermon could remain distinctly subjective despite the formulaic aspect of the genre. Moreover, a reconsideration of print sermons—especially unwieldy sermon cycles—in light of sermon aurality suggests ways in which the structural formulae of plain structure can be understood as an expressive form.
Ramist branching structures constantly build outward, apparently disseminating the explication of individual verses. The technique of collation similarly allows exegetes the minister, the auditor, the reader to open the Word associatively. Although the theological and rhetorical premises of plain-style explication of the literal sense suggest a closed system of meaning held in place by the structural technology of the sermon, the experience of the sermon is largely centrifugal, as interpretation and application move out from central text and doctrine.
Especially visible in structural auditors, the capacity of form to regulate and shape centrifugal textual exploration marks the aural and written sermon experience. In manuscript and in print, New England Puritans sometimes seemed to amplify rather than resolve the problematic relationship between the perfection of the divine Word and the contingent fallibility of human words. In Chapter 4, I suggest ways in which the self-conscious treatment of theological-linguistic conundrums allowed human literary endeavor to transcend its own impairment.
The premises of postlapsarian intellect mirror the debility of the postlapsarian soul, so Puritan readers and writers turn the very limitations of their linguistic endeavors to achieve a kind of enabled debility, finding in the gap between divine and human language accommodation for gracious textual engagement. I begin by tracing out the Reformation tradition of vernacular translation and the dictates of sola scriptura that dovetail with Calvinist notions of intellectual depravity.
Characteristic features of Puritan preaching—such as an insistence on literal meanings, excessive explication of minute units of scripture texts, structural disproportion—are simultaneously an admission of human limitation and evidence of enabled capacity. As the individual experienced a sermon whether by speaking, hearing, writing, or reading , he or she could participate in a range of practices such as scriptural collation, figurative reasoning, and even the excessive verbal analysis pejoratively termed "text crumbling" in order to bring contingent, lived meaning in line with unified, doctrinal revelation.
This deep intertextual habit of expression and interpretation constitutes perhaps the most distinctive marker of sermon literature. Conversion narratives forge a discursive relationship between individual lived experience and the doctrinal teachings of the sermon. An examination of conversion accounts in direct relation to preaching suggests that this peculiar style of Puritan life writing might more usefully be considered as a subgenre of sermon literature rather than an anticipation of latter-day autobiography.
Chapter 5 shows that the Puritan laity not only used scripture in the narration of spiritual experience as "prooftext" but also adapted the methods of sermon composition. Through innovative narrative strategies, the laity sought to create persuasive conversion narratives that would not sacrifice the story of the soul to the story of the self. At a basic level, conversion narrative reveals another angle on the lived experience of sermon culture, as individuals narrate the story of their spiritual progress alongside a trajectory of recalled sermon aurality.
At a deeper level, conversion narrative suggests ways in which the habits of exegetical thought developed through attendance upon the ordinary means of sermons across media and across genre.
The Madman: His Parables and Poems (Illustrated)
More than reflecting the efficacy of the pulpit, Puritan conversion narrative adapts the methodology of the sermon in order to narrate the unnarratable. The example of conversion narrative invites us to return once more to the notion of a "sermon-ridden" literature. The universe of sermon literature necessarily expands greatly when we consider the proliferation of preaching via print, orality, and manuscript, while the notion of stable authorship declines in inverse proportion to the widened field of dissemination, especially through lay notetaking.
The logic of literal sense and the methodology of plain-style explication are visible throughout Puritan writing. Literary endeavors are continually informed by the contradictory premise or is it promise?