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By William Slater

An research of the function of the dinner party as a cultural concentration for the classical world

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Puritan New England was a noble experiment in applied theology. The Puritans in the Wilderness—away from Old World centers of learning, far from great university libraries, threatened daily by the thousand and one hardships and perils of a savage America—were poorly situated for elaborating a theology and disputing its fine points. For such an enterprise John Calvin in Switzerland or William Ames in Holland was much better located. But for testing a theology, for seeing whether Zion could be rebuilt if men abandoned the false foundations of the centuries since Jesus—for this New England offered a rare opportunity.

It included representatives of a wide range of doctrines, from presbyterians, independents, and separatists, through levelers and millenarians. Which of these was at the center of English Puritanism was itself a matter of dispute. Within the English Puritan ranks, therefore, there was much lively debate. It was not only criticism from fellow-Puritans that Cromwell and his men had to face. They well knew that any community they built in England would have to find some place for the dozens of sects—from Quakers through Papists—who had made England their home.

Even the condemned man himself participated actively. We have an eye-witness account of what happened before the execution of the murderer James Morgan at Boston in 1686. ” The two Sabbath sermons, each a full hour in length, were by Cotton Mather and Joshua Moody; the sermon at the gallows by Increase Mather. So large an audience gathered to hear Joshua Moody that when they assembled in the New Church of Boston the gallery cracked, and the people were obliged to move to another hall. All the sermons were passionate and eloquent, calling on the criminal to repent while there was yet time and begging the congregation (that is, the whole community) to profit by this example.

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