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Models for Reformation: Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

By Jay Rogers
Published March 31, 2008

Cotton Mather was the most famous minister in New England at the close of the 17th century. Toward the middle of the 1600s, the Puritan revival in America began to wane. The social order of Puritan society had begun to degenerate very early in its history because of the lack of a much needed evangelical awakening.

The second generation of Puritans were often unable to claim that they had had the same experience with God as their parents. When the high standard of the law which was embraced by their parents was imposed in turn on their children, it only served to inflame their passions. The result was occurrences in the late 1600s such as the witchcraft hysteria, severe punishments for non-violent crimes such as the stocks, public floggings, hangings, etc.

“By the time Mather undertook his history, Magnalia Christi Americana, the original Puritan community had vanished, leaving behind heirs to its land and fortunes but not to its spirituality…. Everything that Mather wrote can be seen as a call to defend the old order of church authority against the encroachment of an increasingly secular world. As an apologist for the ‘old New England way’ there is no doubt that Mather left himself open to attack, and by the end of the 17th century he had become a scapegoat for the worst in Puritan culture.“1

1 The Norton Anthology of American Literature, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1979. p.4,118.

See also: The Boston Awakening


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