Friday, September 18, 2009

The Beginning of Us

We've been studying texts from the Colonial period in American Lit. We have been studying the beginning of us. I wanted to capture my reaction to a few of these works before we steam on towards Enlightenment issues.

The City on a Hill

For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.
- John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, "A Model of Christian Charity," discourse written aboard the Arbella during the voyage to Massachusetts in 1630

The English colonists who ventured across the Atlantic in the early part of the 17th century came in search of more than a New World. They were looking for a New Eden. Separatist and Puritan alike sought a place where they could create a society in harmony with the Word of God. John Winthrop explored the ideal Christian community in "A Model of Christian Charity" (1630). Here are a few passages that stood out to me.

There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: justice and mercy.

There is likewise a double law by which we are regulated in our conversation one towards another in both the former respects: the law of nature and the law of grace, or the moral law and the law of the Gospel ... By the first of these laws man as he was enabled so withal [is] commanded to love his neighbor as himself.

The definition which the Scripture gives us of love is this: "Love is the bond of perfection."

Nothing yields more pleasure and content to the soul than when it finds that which it may love fervently, for to love and live beloved is the soul's paradise...

Here, at the beginning of us, we find a sublime, reciprocal love - "To love and live beloved is the soul's paradise." Surely a society that understands the needs of people in this way must be built to last. A philosophy that encourages selflessness, charity, and simple goodness is so much to be admired. I marvel at both the strength and the innocence of the Puritan experiment in America.

Winthrop understood that this experiment could succeed only so long as each member of the group remained committed to God and one another.

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man.

Over time, the colonists multiplied. They began to raise cattle and to spread out across an increasingly large area. Many became prosperous. Soon, the unity of the body was broken by wealthy, independent minded merchants who were unwilling to make the same sacrifices as their forbears.