Origins of the puritan concept of despair

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Abstract Origins of the Puritan Concept of Despair Elizabeth Gilliam Brown 2010

This thesis traces the origins of the puritan concept of despair, from its beginnings in the early centuries of the Christian church, through its evolution during the Middle Ages, and ending with its adaptation by the puritan clergy in the late Elizabethan period.

It asks how the

concept of despair was adapted to fit different theological agendas, both Protestant and Catholic.

It traces the

complex dialogue between lay people and clergy as they tried to make sense of this elusive experience.

Origins of the Puritan Concept of Despair A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Yale University in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

by Elizabeth Gilliam Brown

Dissertation Director:

May 2010

Keith Wrightson

UMI Number: 3415003

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p. l

Chapter 1:

The Desert Fathers and the Origins of Despair

p. 12

Chapter 2:

The Cistercians and the Discovery of Despair

p. 29

Chapter 3:

The Hidden Origins of Despair

p- 60

Chapter 4:

England in the Later Middle Ages

p- 99

Chapter 5:

The English Reformation

p. 135

Chapter 6:

The Elizabethan Dilemma

p- 173

Chapter 7:

The Elizabethan Solution

p. 213

Chapter 8:

The Elizabethan Legacy-

p- 248

Conclusion :

p- 274


p. 283


The Problem of Despair:

I was more loathsome in mine own eyes than was a toad, and I thought I was so in God's eyes, too; Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain.

I thought now that

every one had a better heart than I had; I could have changed heart with any body, I thought none but the Devil himself could equalize me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind.

I fell therefore

at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair, for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace, sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God, sure I am given up, to the Devil, and to a reprobate mind.1

This quotation is from John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

It is not unique.

Many other puritans

were gripped by an experience that they called despair: they were convinced that God had condemned them to everlasting damnation, that they could do nothing to escape,


John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners and The Pilgrim's Progress, ed. Roger Sharrock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 29. Grace Abounding was first published in 1666.

2 and that, in Bunyan's case at least, the evil that they saw in themselves confirmed God's judgment on them. The purpose of this thesis is to trace the origins of the puritan experience of despair.

Its history is long and

complex, and goes back to the earlier centuries of the Christian church.

Identifying Despair:

Despair was a complex and enigmatic experience.


we even begin to try to understand it, we need to remember two things. 1)

First, we need to realize that the puritan concept

of despair was very different from the modern concept of despair.

Despair, or desperation, as it was also called,

had a very specific meaning, both in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period.

Taken from the Latin word

desperatio, it was not equivalent to despair in the modern sense of the word.

It did not mean hopelessness in general.

Instead, it meant an overpowering fear of damnation. words of one Jacobean writer:

Desperation is a horrible fear, or trembling of the mind and heart or conscience, conceived through a sense and feeling of God's wrath for sin, with a fear of eternal damnation, without

In the

3 all expectation or hope of pardon or forgiveness thereof... Desperation is an evil through which a man mistrusteth (and) despaireth utterly, and is past all hope of the good will of God, verilythinking that his naughtiness or sins excel the mercies and goodness of God...2

Victims of this syndrome tended to express their fear in highly specific, almost choreographed, ways.

In the eyes of

their contemporaries, their symptoms were predictable and easily recognizable. 2)

On the other hand, we also need to understand the

paradox that, even though despair was a distinctive and easily recognizable syndrome, it was also extremely complex. It could express conventional religious concerns, like the fear of damnation, but could also be used to express a wide range of other griefs, frustrations, and dilemmas, some of them apparently so baffling or shameful that they were seldom expressed in any other way.

The Origins of Despair:

It is sometimes assumed, at least by scholars of the early modern period, that religious despair, the sort of


William Willymat, Physicke to Cure the Most Dangerous Disease of Desperation (London, 1605), p. 2.

4 despair that troubled Bunyan, was a uniquely puritan experience.

Nothing could be further from the truth.


was an inheritance from the Middle Ages, when it was well known and widely discussed.

After the Reformation, it

continued to be widespread among Counter-Reformation Catholics in many regions of Europe. not create despair.

Puritan religion did

Instead, it inherited it, and, as we

shall see, inherited it very reluctantly.

When English

puritans suffered from despair, they were acting out a script that had been written centuries before. This thesis will take the story of despair from its emergence in the twelfth century until its adaptation by puritan writers around 1600.

This approach is in keeping

with general trends in Reformation historiography over the past fifty years.

As is very well known, the leading

scholars in the field, including Heiko Oberman and David Steinmetz, among many others, have taught us to not to treat the medieval and early modern periods as separate fields, but instead to see the continuity from the Middle Ages into the Reformation.3 In other respects, too, this thesis will follow contemporary trends in Reformation and early modern scholarship.


In recent decades, many historians have

For example: Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963); David Steinmetz, Misericordia Dei: the Theology of Johannes von Staupitz in its Late Medieval Setting (Leiden: Brill, 1968).

5 stressed the role of the lay people during the Reformation, and have tried to avoid the emphasis on the clergy that was typical of earlier approaches.

In this thesis, I will try

to show that the puritan notion of despair was not, as has sometimes been argued, imposed by the clergy on a passive laity, but was, instead, partly the product of lay initiative.4 To mention another comparatively recent trend, early modern historians have increasingly tried to trace the interaction between Catholics and Protestants, rather than simply presenting them as polar opposites, as was often the case in traditional Reformation historiography.

In this

thesis, I will suggest that the puritan idea of despair was not only the product of internal developments within the puritan movement, but was also a product of the rivalry between late Elizabethan puritans and their Catholic competitors. Two other historiographical approaches, one fairly recent and the other very old, have encouraged me to appreciate the importance of psychological topics like the problem of despair.


The first approach is the current

One example of this tendency to see the laity at the mercy of the clergy is: John Stachniewski, The Persecutory Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

6 interest in the history of emotion.5

The second approach

dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, and it involves the influence of English puritanism on the pietist movement on the Continent during the seventeenth century, and, in turn, the wide-ranging influence of pietism on German Romanticism and philosophical Idealism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.6

This historiographical tradition is

seldom mentioned by scholars of early modern England, but is very well established on the Continent, especially in


This is a very large and flourishing field. Some examples are: Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: the Making of Modern Identity (Cambridge: Havard University Press, 1989); Thomas Dixon, From Passions to Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2 003) ; Susan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth Century Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); William Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Michael Mascuch, Origins of the Individualist Self (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997). 6

The range of literature on pietism is immense. Two classic studies are: Albrecht Ritschl, Geschichte des Pietismus (Bonn: Marcus, 1880); and Heinrich Heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystik (Leiden: Brill, 1879). For an overview of puritan influence in Germany, see, for example: Peter Damrau, The Reception of English Puritan Literature in Germany (London: Maney, 2006). For a sample of the debate about the literary influence of pietism, see: Hans-Georg Kempner and Hans Schneider, eds., Goethe und der Pietismus (Tubingen: Verlag der Frankeschen Stiftungen, 2001) ,Arthur McCardle, Friedrich Schiller and Swabian Pietism (New York: Lang, 1986); Barry Stephenson, Veneration and Revolt: Herman Hesse and Swabian Pietism (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009).

7 Germany and the Netherlands. implications.

It has far-reaching

In my opinion, this work raises, for example,

the intriguing question of whether the cultural, philosophical and literary legacy of puritanism was ultimately greater in Germany than it was in England.


ambitious questions are outside the scope of this dissertation.

But this academic tradition has helped me to

appreciate the significance of the "introspective turn" that I try to describe in my final chapters.

It is a reminder

that the puritan embrace of the idea of despair at the end of the sixteenth century was part of a much broader and more far-reaching trend.

Previous Discussions of the Problem:

A great deal has been written about the connection between Calvinism and religious despair.

Some of the more

notable contributions on this issue have been from scholars interested in various types of modernity theory. The most famous example, of course, is Max Weber, who argued that many people must have been terrified by Calvinist teachings about predestination: I one of the elect?

"The question, am

must sooner or later have arisen for

every believer and forced all other interests into the background."

By contrast, Michael Walzer argued that the

reverse was true, that Calvinism appealed to people who were

8 already anxious:

"Now it is probably not true that

Calvinism induced anxiety; more likely its effect was to confirm and explain in theological terms perceptions men already had of the dangers of the world and of the self".7 Other approaches to the problem of religious despair reflected a mid-twentieth century fascination with the concept of anxiety, driven by the work of Freud, Sartre, Tillich and many others, and epitomized in Auden's famous 1947 poem, "The Age of Anxiety".8 inspired by this trend.

Many historians were

An especially influential example

was E. R. Dodds's Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, about the later Roman empire.9

Early modern historians

were quick to point out that there was plenty of anxiety in their own period as well.

William Bouwsma, for example,

argued that "Europeans of the fourteenth century, and for


Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958), p. 110. Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), p. 308. For a helpful overview of the Weber thesis, see: Hartmut Lehman and Gunther Roth, eds., Weber's Protestant Ethic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).


The poem was so much in vogue that it inspired Leonard Bernstein's "Age of Anxiety" Symphony in 1949, and a few years later the "Age of Anxiety" ballet, choreographed by Jerome Robbins and starring Tanaquil LeClercq.


E. R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).

9 some time thereafter, were thus profoundly anxious, and at the same time frightened by almost every aspect of experience".

Bouwsma believed that this anxiety was mainly

a reaction to the ambiguities and challenges posed by the advent of modernity.

Jean Delumeau, by contrast, blamed the

misguided teachings of the Church, writing that "no civilization has ever attached as much importance to guilt and shame as did the Western world from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries."10 The work of Weber, Walzer, Bouwsma, and Delumeau represents a creative effort to reinterpret the problems of fear and religious despair in terms of modern intellectual preoccupations, and especially in terms of modernity theory. It offers many valuable insights. two reasons for caution.

I would, however, note

The first is that despair, as this

thesis will argue, was not a product of the early modern period or of Calvinism.

Its origins go back to the Middle

Ages and earlier.

The second is a less obvious, but equally

important, point.

These scholars tend to assume that we can

identify the causes of religious despair, but I would be confident of no such thing.

Instead, I will try to argue in

this thesis that despair was a complex syndrome, and that,


William Bouwsma, "Anxiety and the Formation of Early Modern Culture", in Barbara Malament, ed., After the Reformation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980), pp. 222, 231. Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear: the Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, trans. Eric Nicholson (New York: St Martins Press, 1990), p. 3.

10 while we may guess some of its causes, we can never be sure that we can identify all of them.

Despair was, by its very

nature, deeply and essentially elusive.

It seems unwise to

base any theory about the coming of modernity on such an enigmatic phenomenon.

The Term "Puritan":

Since the 1970s, the use of the term "puritan" has been widely criticized, often by historians of revisionist leanings, and term "godly" has been suggested as a substitute, partly on the grounds that it was often used by the puritans themselves. I avoid the term godly for very specific reasons. Modern historians use it to describe people who favored a certain kind of religion, but puritan writers most often used it in a very different way:

to describe people who had

been born again, who had experienced an authentic conversion.11 11

For example, in 1582, Thomas Wilcox wrote: "faith is so greatly tossed with diverse doubtings that the minds of the godly are seldom quiet, or, at least, do not always enjoy a peaceable state." (A Profitable and Comfortable Letter for Afflicted Consciences (London, 1582), p. 96.) A few years later, William Perkins wrote: "temptation is an illusion which the devil casteth into the hearts of godly men as when he saith, Thou art not justified; thou hast not faith; thou must certainly be condemned for thy sins." (Works (Cambridge, 1605), p. 93.) In 1648, William Bridge wrote: "as godly men shall never be condemned for their sins, so their

11 The difference may seem trivial. the puritans themselves.

But it was crucial to

Many, possibly most, of them were

unsure whether they were converted, or godly, people.


subject of this thesis is, in fact, puritans who worried that they were not godly people.

It would be impossible to

write about the problem while using godly as a synonym for puritan.

In that case, the subject of this thesis would be

godly people who worried that they were not godly.

In other

words, to substitute "godly" for "puritan" would introduce hopeless confusion into this thesis.


This thesis is about the origins of the puritan syndrome of despair.

It will try to trace its evolution

from the early days of the Church. idea of its complexity.

It will try to give some

It will ask how much, over the

centuries, it reflected theological concerns, and how much it reflected other, often very elusive pressures or obsessions.

And it will try to give some sense of the

complex dialogue between lay people and clergy as they tried to come to terms with this enigmatic experience.

sins shall never part them and God." (A Lifting Up for the Downcast, (164 8; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1961), p. 70.) In other words, each of these authors equated the godly with people who had true faith.



As far as the history of despair is concerned, it is essential to understand two things.

First, despair - that

is, religious despair involving an obsessive fear of damnation - existed many centuries before the Reformation. Secondly, despair was not as old as Christianity itself. In other words, it was not, as Weber and others have suggested, the product of Calvinism.

Nor was it the

inevitable result of the rise of Christianity. Instead, its origins can be traced to the early years of Christian monasticism, in the Egyptian and Syrian deserts of the fourth and fifth centuries.

The Desert Fathers

created a psychological tradition that lasted, with the inevitable changes and reinterpretations, throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period.

We cannot understand

the puritan experience of despair without looking at the world of the Desert Fathers. Early Church:

I would argue that no cases of despair

(at least in the sense that it was understood by the puritans) can be found in the Bible, either in the Old or New Testaments.

Many sections of the Bible, composed in

very different periods, tell about people who felt abandoned by God.

It is a common theme of the psalms, as in the

famous words of psalm 22: forsaken me?"

"my God, my God, why hast thou

And the prophetic books often raised the

question of whether God had forsaken Israel.

But nowhere

13 did the Bible describe the classic puritan dilemma of devout people who believed that they were predestined to damnation. Job felt that God had betrayed him, but he did not worry that he was going to hell.

There was no Biblical equivalent

to John Bunyan. Nor is there any evidence that the early Church, during the three centuries before Constantine, envisioned anything resembling the classic puritan syndrome of despair.


agenda of the pre-Nicene Fathers was shaped by the Church's struggle for survival:

the need to define Christian

orthodoxy and to rally the Church during times of persecution.

The Fathers never seem to have imagined the

classic puritan dilemma:

of faithful Christians who feared

that they would be damned no matter how hard they tried to please God.

Instead, the Fathers tended robustly to assume

that, if Christians remained loyal to the Church, then God would be loyal to them. The Rise of Monasticism:

Persecution ended in 312,

with the conversion of Constantine, and, within decades, Christianity became the Empire's official religion.


Constantine, the heroes of the Church had been the martyrs. Now, for some Christians, the heroes of the Church were the monks, who had, since the late third century, been forming communities, most significantly in the deserts of Egypt and Syria.

14 These early monks were innovators in many ways, and were partly responsible for founding what could be called the Christian tradition of interiority, of self-examination. It represented a striking change from the pre-Nicene Fathers, who, whatever their varied opinions, had showed little interest in tracing the complexities of the human heart-.-

The monks, by contrast, helped to found an

introspective tradition that lasted through the Middle Ages and up to the present. Monastic psychology revolved around the idea of spiritual warfare, the constant battle between God and Satan.

This battle raged throughout the cosmos, but, for

the monks, its most urgent battlefield was within the human mind.

They believed that no thoughts were neutral.

came either from God or from the devil.


But it was not

always easy to distinguish messages of God from messages of the devil, because the devil was an arch deceiver, whose temptations often seemed innocent at first.

For this

reason, devout believers were urged to watch their hearts with the utmost care. This new psychology was an innovation, but it drew on two, well-established strands in ancient culture.

The first

was the widespread belief, common among Jews, Christians and pagans alike, in demonic spirits.12 12

The second was the

For the pre-Christian origins of Christian demonology: Roger Caillois, "Les Demons de Midi", Revue de l'histoire des religions 115 (1937), pp. 142-173, and 116 (1937), pp. 54-83,

15 emphasis of various philosophical sects, like the Stoics or the neo-Platonists, on the importance of examining and managing one's own soul.

The monks integrated these two

familiar strands of ancient thought into their own agenda, and created a psychological tradition that remained powerful throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. Acedia:

The new monastic psychology had many facets,

but its chief contribution to the history of despair revolves around a concept called acedia, which would gradually, during the early Middle Ages, help to produce the idea of despair.13 It is important to understand that this concept, of acedia, was developed partly to explain a common dilemma of the early monastic movement.

The monks came to the desert

communities looking for spiritual enlightenment, but, after the initial excitement had worn off, they often became bored and disillusioned.

Large numbers dropped out and went home.

Some monastic writers responded to this challenge with a psychological approach.

They described the first, ominous

142-18 6; Jean Danielou, "Les demons de l'air dans la 'Vie d'Antoine'", in Antonius Magnus Eremita, ed. Basil Steidle (Rome: Orbis Catholicus, 1956), pp. 136-147. 13

Much has been written about acedia. A good introduction to recent scholarship is: Andrew Crislip, "The Sin of Sloth or the Illness of Demons? The Demon of Acedia in Early Christian Monasticism", Harvard Theological Review 98 (2005), pp. 143-169.

16 symptoms of acedia, and they suggested therapeutic strategies for coping with them. They believed that the first sign of trouble was often a sense of boredom.

Late in the fourth century, Evagrius of

Pontus wrote that the devil "depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind's eye the toll of the ascetic struggle."14

A generation later, John

Cassian described how the monk "often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness, and makes him idle and useless for every spiritual work."15 This sense of inertia often turned into something more dangerous:

There is, too, another still more objectionable sort of dejection, which produces in the guilty soul no amendment of life or correction of faults, but the most desperate despair:

which did not

make Cain repent after the murder of his brother, 14

Evagrius of Pontus, The Praktikos 12, trans, and ed., John Eudes Bamberger (Spencer, Mass.: Cistercian Publications, 1970), pp. 18-19.


John Cassian, Institutes X:2 in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, second series, vol. XI: Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian, trans. Edgar Gibson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 267.

17 or Judas, after the betrayal, hasten to relieve himself by making amends, but drove him to hang himself in despair.16

When they reached this point, many monks became desperate; some tried to kill themselves; others simply returned to the world. Monastic writers developed various antidotes against acedia, which often involved regaining, in one way or another, a lost sense of energy and momentum.

They noticed,

for example, that manual work could keep acedia under control, and they told stories about people who overcame acedia by braiding palm leaves, or by weaving and unweaving the same basket over and over again. Monastic teachers also tried to re-energize their discouraged followers by telling them that their sense of lassitude was an illusion, and that, contrary to appearances, acedia was actually a sign of progress.


old monk, who had endured many temptations, said that acedia "is there every time that one begins something new."


nun Syncletica, a pioneer of the monastic life, was reported to have said:

"In the beginning there are a great many

John Cassian, Institutes IX;9, p. 265.

18 battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy."17 The theory of acedia was, then, a response to a specific situation: monasteries.

the high attrition rate of the early

It reflected specifically Near Eastern

beliefs, such as the conviction that the desert was infested by demons.

It was very different from the later, medieval

syndrome of despair:

acedia revolved around the fear of

losing a monastic vocation, while despair would revolve around the fear of damnation.

But acedia was, as we shall

see, the template on which the medieval experience of despair was based. Three Worried Monks:

Some letters of advice have

survived from this period, and they allow us to see the sort of advice that some anxious monks actually received.


reveal therapeutic approaches that would continue to be used for centuries, in the medieval West and after the Reformation. The most famous and influential of these letters involves a Syrian youth named Stagyrius, who, some time around 380, became a monk, much against the wishes of his wealthy father.

Soon afterwards, Stagyrius had a mysterious

crisis, possibly involving epileptic seizures.


(London: p. 193.

He fell down

Savings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward Mowbrays, 1975), Poemen 149, p. 158; Syncletica 1,

19 in the monastery church, and writhed uncontrollably on the floor.

Afterwards, he felt tainted and condemned, afraid

that God had forsaken him.

He was worried, too, that his

father, when he learned about his crisis, would use his political influence to close the monastery.

He began to

think about suicide. John Chrysostom, the great preacher and writer of Antioch, heard about Stagyrius's troubles, and sent him an encouraging letter.

He urged him not to be ashamed:


devil reserved his worst temptations for those who served God most faithfully.

This, he argued, was why the devil had

tempted Stagyrius just after he had entered the monastery. The crisis was not a mark of shame, but a mark of distinction.

God allowed his favorite servants - people

like Abraham, Moses, and Paul - to be tempted, in order to prepare them for heaven. John also invoked a very old and familiar medical the theory of melancholy.18


According to Galen and

other medical writers, an excess of melancholy humor could provoke a sense of gloom.

John argued that, although the

devil does not create these humors, he does his best to take advantage of them. 18

Just as a thief prefers to enter a house

Other early Christian writers accepted the idea of melancholy as taught by Galen and other medical writers. See, for example: Jerome, Select Letters of St Jerome 125, Loeb Classical Library (1932), p. 427. For other references to mental illness, see: Origen, De Oratione 5, PG 11, col 432; Basil of Caesarea, De Legendis Libris Gentilium 8, PG 31, col. 589.

20 covered with the blackness of night, so does the devil prefer to enter a human heart covered with the blackness of melancholy.19

This, John believed, is exactly what had

happened to Stagyrius.

The devil had taken advantage of his

humors to drive him to despair. The overall thrust of John's arguments was that neither Stagyrius nor the monastic life was to blame. with two other culprits.

One was spiritual:

temptations of the devil. melancholy humors.

The fault lay the

The other was medical:

This double explanation had a long

future, and would become a workhorse of religious psychology during the Middle Ages and the Reformation. Barsanuphius:

Barsanuphius was an Egyptian monk, who

moved to Gaza, and became famous for his ability to comfort the distressed.

Many of his letters, dating from the early

sixth century, have survived.

They were mainly written for

monks worried about different kinds of temptations:


lust, and blasphemous thoughts. Andrew, for example, was an old man who tended to worry about things:

whether his arthritis had been sent by

demons, or whether his chronic indigestion would prevent him from fasting properly. and terrifying idea:

One day Andrew was struck by a new he believed that God had, for some

incomprehensible reason, utterly rejected him.


He did not,

John Chrysostom, Oratio Adhortatoria ad Stagirium, PG 47, cols. 423-493.

21 like medieval Christians in similar situations, dwell upon the torments awaiting him in hell. that he felt rejected now.

It was enough for him

He believed that he was hateful

in the sight of God and that his years of prayer and fasting had been in vain. Barsanuphius wrote him a sympathetic letter.

There was

nothing unusual about these experiences, he explained.


had always allowed his most faithful servants to be tempted:

Abraham, Job, and even Christ himself.

God had

not forsaken them, and he would not forsake Andrew.


should Andrew worry that his life of prayer seemed stagnant.

Even now, as he worried, his heart was being

purified by his struggles with temptation.

His troubles had

been sent to prepare him, in his old age, for the eternal joys of heaven.20 John Chrysostom and Barsanuphius followed a double strategy.

First, they tried to discredit the power of

troubling thoughts by blaming them on the devil or on melancholy humors.

Secondly, they tried to bolster the

self-confidence of Stagyrius and Andrew by reassuring them that God's favorite servants had endured similar temptations.

This double strategy would have a long life,

and would remain standard for centuries.

It often appears

in puritan literature. 20

Barsanuphe et Jean de Gaza 72-123, trans. Lucien Regnault, Philippe LeMaire, and Bernard Outtier (Abbaye St Pierre de Solesmes, 1971), pp. 72-109.

22 John Moschus:

A final story dates from the early-

seventh century, shortly before the Islamic conquests swept through the world of the Desert Fathers.

It tells about a

monk, who, in the grip of sadness, asked an elder:

"What am

I to do; for I am assailed by doubts which say to me: became a monk in vain; you shall not be saved?'" replied:


The elder

"You know, brother, even if we cannot enter the

promised land, it is better for our bones to fall in the wilderness than for us to turn back to Egypt."21 At first sight, this seems to be a story in the old monastic tradition.

The monk was afraid that he could not

fulfill his vocation; the elder urged him to persevere, as the Hebrews persevered on their long desert journey to the promised land.

But a second glance reveals a theme which is

absent or merely implied in earlier monastic literature. Earlier monks had been afraid that they would yield to temptation or abandon their struggle.

This monk, by

contrast, was afraid that he would be damned.

It is a

portentous story, because, in the western Church, the syndrome of acedia would eventually be transformed by the


John Moschus, The Spiritual Meadow (Pratum Spirituale) 208, trans. John Wortley (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1992), p. 187.

23 fear of hell.

How and why this happened is the subject of

the next chapter.22 These stories of acedia may seem to have nothing to do with the puritan experience of despair.

The early monks

were not obsessed with predestination; they did not believe in anything resembling the puritan doctrine of conversion. Yet, as has been noted before, their idea of acedia was the template on which the puritan experience of despair was based. The Early Middle Ages in the Latin West:

So far this

chapter has concentrated on ideas developed in the Middle East, and for good reason.

Christianity originated in the

eastern, Greek-speaking half of the Roman empire, and for several centuries was stronger there than in the Latinspeaking West.

Monasticism, too, originated in the eastern

Empire, and so did the syndrome of acedia, before it spread to the west, where by the 420s, John Cassian was writing about acedia for a Latin-speaking audience. The rest of this chapter, and the ones that follow, will be about the development of religious despair in what became the Catholic West and not in what became the Orthodox East.

This development is not easy to trace.

In the West,

from the fifth through the tenth centuries, the history of


For a discussion about what salvation meant to the Desert Fathers, see: John Wortley, "What the Desert Fathers Meant by 'Being Saved'", Zeitschrift fur Antikes Christentum 12 (2008), pp. 286-307.

24 the problem of despair is elusive - so elusive, in fact, that it is hard to know whether despair, as a living experience, existed at all during this period. The search is made more difficult by fluctuations in terminology, which was rarely stable or precise.


during the early Middle Ages, the term acedia shifted to mean laziness or sloth, but this was only the general pattern, since different writers used acedia in very different ways.

Other terms for mental distress, such as

tristitia or sadness, were equally elusive. Gregory the Great, writing at the end of the sixth century, was the first major western writer to discuss monastic spirituality imaginatively, independently, and at length.

In his Moralia on Job, enormously influential among

western monks throughout the Middle Ages, he argued that temptation tended to follow a certain pattern.

"Converts" -

meaning new monks and nuns but also lay people who had recently chosen an ascetic way of life - usually enjoyed "the most peaceful tranquillity".23

But this was often

followed by a period of turmoil and self-doubt:


"when he is

"Conversi ... ad tranquillitatem pacatissimam". Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job XXIV:XI:29, ed. Marc Adriaen, Corpus Christian©rum, series Latina (Turnholt: Brepols, 1985), vol. 3, p. 1208.

25 touched by a sudden storm of temptation, he suspects that he is scorned by God, and lost."24 It is uncertain what Gregory meant by these words.


he mean that these anxious people were afraid of damnation? Or that they were simply afraid of failing to fulfill their ascetic vocation?

It is hard to know.

After Gregory, the evidence becomes sparse, at least in western Europe.

Literary output dropped, of course, over

the next few centuries; but so, apparently, did interest in the introspective sides of religion.

Until the twelfth

century there would be no other writer in the western Church who discussed, in similar detail, the problems of religious psychology.

During the next six hundred years, Gregory was

widely read and often quoted, but as a religious psychologist he had no successors. During the early Middle Ages many western monks had some knowledge of the Desert Fathers and their psychological lore.

The Rule of St Benedict required monks to read

patristic classics like the Lives of the Fathers and John Cassian's Conferences.

There are many references to acedia

and related problems in the 142 volumes of the Patrologia


"... dum subita temptationis procella tangitur, despectum se Deo et perditum suspicetur." Moralia XXIV:XI:29.

26 Latina that run from Gregory the Great to Bernard of Clairvaux.25 At first glance, it might seem that tracing these references should allow us to follow the development of the ideas of acedia and despair. case.

Unfortunately, this is not the

Most of these references are paraphrases of, or

quotations from, patristic writings, and it is hard to understand exactly what they meant to the writers who quoted them, often without offering much commentary of their own. Early medieval authors may have mentioned these subjects because they were interested in them.

But they may also

have mentioned them out of convention or out of respect for those earlier writers, who, like John Cassian, had written at a time when these problems really had been of pressing interest.26

For example, Alcuin, the great Carolingian


The Patroloqia Latina, though not exhaustive, contains a high proportion of the religious literature produced by the western Church from the sixth through the eleventh centuries. For the early medieval and Carolingian periods: Cummianus, De Mensura Poenitientiarum Liber 10, PL 87, col. 993; Alcuin, De Virtutibus et Vitiis Liber 32-33, PL 101, col. 635; Halitgarius, Liber Poenitentialis 10-11, PL 105, cols. 664-5; Jonas of Orleans, De Institutione Laicali Libri Tres 6, PL 106, col. 24 6; Hrabanus Maurus, De Ecclesiastica Disciplina 3, PL 112, cols. 1250-3. For the twelfth century: Hugh of St Victor, De Fructibus Carnis et Spiritus 7, PL 176, cols. 10001001; Alan of Lille, Summa de Arte Predicatoria 7, PL 210, cols. 125-8. 26

See the comments of R. W. Southern: "The Lives of the Desert Fathers, and the record of their sayings as reported by Cassian, were in every monastic library. Their use in public reading was laid down in the Rule. They were familiar to every monk. Their influence on literature, however, appears to have been very slight, at least in the tenth and eleventh

27 scholar, included sadness, or tristitia, in his list of deadly sins.

But Alcuin's description of tristitia is very

much like a famous passage by John Cassian on acedia, which was quoted in the previous chapter.

And when Alcuin's

pupil, Hrabanus Maurus, wrote about sadness, he copied this passage from Cassian almost verbatim.

In other words, there

is little doubt that early medieval monks had access to patristic teachings on acedia, but it is hard to know what these teachings meant to them.27 This is not because they lacked an inner life.

On the

contrary, their writings often revealed an intense emotional life, often involving a sense of repentance or a heart-felt contemplation of the death of Christ.28

But they did not

immerse themselves in the constant, anxious examination of their motives that can often be seen in the writings of the Desert Fathers or of the later Middle Ages. All this would change, and change very rapidly, in the twelfth century, when the syndrome of despair emerged from

centuries." (Saint Anselm and His Biographer Cambridge University Press, 1963), p. 327.)



Alcuin, De Virtutibus et Vitiis Liber 33, PL 101, col 635; John Cassian, Conferences IX: 9, p. 265; Hrabanus (or Rhabanus) Maurus, De Ecclesiastica Disciplina 3, PL 112, cols. 1250-3. 28

See, for example: Celia Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Michael Driscoll, Alcuin et la penitence a 1' epoque carolingienne (Miinster: Aschendorff, 1999) .

28 obscurity, in the context of a powerful religious movement. The next chapter will try to make sense of how this happened.


The real turning point in the history of despair is not the Reformation, but the twelfth century.

The syndrome of

despair first emerged, as a recognizable concept, in the twelfth century, among the early Cistercians; and it did not change very much, in its essential outlines, for the next six hundred years.

The Rise of Introspection and the Emergence of Despair:

The late eleventh and the twelfth centuries represent a psychological turning point in the history of western Europe:

a revived interest in emotion and individual


A generation ago, certain medievalists

proclaimed that this represented the discovery of the individual, and, while this claim has been challenged, there can be little doubt that the twelfth century represented some kind of turning point.29 29

In secular literature, this

John Benton, "Individualism and Conformity in Medieval Western Europe", and "Consciousness of Self and Perceptions of Individuality" in Culture, Power, and Personality in Medieval France, ed. Thomas Bisson (London: Hambleton Press, 1991), pp. 313-326, 327-56; Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual (London: SPCK, 1972); Richard Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953); Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, ed. , L'individu au moven age (Paris: Aubier, 2005); Robert Hanning, The Individual in Twelfth Century Romance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); Aaron Gurevich, The Origins of European Individualism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995). But see also: Caroline Bynum, "Did the Twelfth Century Discover the Individual?", Journal of Ecclesiastical History 31 (1980), pp. 1-17.

30 trend was often expressed through the flowering of chivalric romance.

In religious literature, it was expressed through

the emergence of a more intense and emotional piety.

It was

accompanied by a greater sense of personal guilt and responsibility, which eventually led to, among other things, the decision of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 to make auricular confession mandatory once a year for every adult Christian. During the ninth and tenth centuries, monastic style had tended to be corporate and impersonal: "not a flight into desert places undertaken by individuals under the stress of a strong conviction... (but) the expression of the corporate religious ideals and needs of a whole community".30 changed.

By the twelfth century, the times had

There was a revival of interest in the Desert

Fathers and their inward-looking piety.

Writers like

William of St Thierry, (who, as we shall see, wrote an early description of problem of despair), hoped that their example would bring "to western darkness and Gallic cold the light of the East and that ancient fervor of Egypt..."31 30


The Making of the Middle Ages, p. 161.

"... orientale lumen et antiquum ilium Eyptium fervorem tenebris occiduis et gallicanis frigoribus". William of St Thierry, Un traite de la vie solitaire: Epistola ad Fratres de Monte-Dei 7, ed. M. M. Davy (Paris: Vrin, 1940), p. 70. On western contacts with eastern monks during the tenth and eleventh centuries, see J. M. McNulty and Bernard Hamilton, "'Orientale Lumen' and 'Magistra Latinitas': Greek Influences on Western Monasticism (900-1100)", in Le

31 Inspired by the Desert Fathers, devout people swarmed into forests, formed little communities of hermits, or created new religious orders, such as the Cistercians.

Like the

Desert Fathers, they often were interested in biography, emotion, and self-examination. Two Anxious Monks:

The stories of two monks

illustrate this psychological revolution.

Both men

struggled with fear, and tried hard to make sense of their experiences.

Their crises were not exactly the same as

despair in its classic form, the form it would take from the twelfth century onwards, but they came very close to it. Otloh:

The first was Otloh, born in Freising, in

southern Germany, around the year 1010.

His life is among

the few autobiographical works to survive from the eleventh century. When he was about twenty years old, he decided, without the approval of his family, to become a monk. decision based on fear:

he saw himself as a sinner in

desperate need of salvation. no peace.

Yet in the monastery he found

He was troubled by sexual desire.

of his love for classical writers. monastic routine:

It was a

He was ashamed

He adjusted badly to

at night he was awakened by phantom

millenaire du Mont Athos (Chevetogne, 1963), vol. 1, pp. 181216; Jean LeClercq, "Les relations entre le monachisme oriental et le monachisme occidental dans le haut moyen age" in Le millenaire du Mont Athos, (Chevetogne, 1964), vol. 2, pp. 49-80; J. M. Sansterre, Les moines qrecs et orientaux a Rome aux epogues byzantine et carolingienne (Brussels, Palais des academies, 1980).

32 bells, and could not get back to sleep.

He questioned the

truth of the Christian faith, and "doubted whether there was any truth or profit in the holy scriptures or even if omnipotent God actually existed."32 Eventually he was healed by reading about the Desert Fathers, who had also been tormented by lust and by blasphemous doubts.

From their example, he learned to think

that his troublesome thoughts were not signs of spiritual failure.

Instead, they were temptations; and temptations,

in one form or another, were the common experience of everyone who tried to follow God. Otloh may not have suffered from despair in the strictest sense of the word, because he apparently was not afraid that he would be damned.

But he edged close to it,

with his guilt, confusion, and skeptical thoughts, which would become familiar themes in many narratives of despair written by later authors. Rupert of Deutz:

Rupert of Deutz was born two

generations after Otloh, around 1075, near the city of Liege.

When he was a child, his parents placed him in a

Benedictine monastery.

Around the age of twenty-five, he

became worried about his salvation.

His troubles began on a

deceptively hopeful note, when he kissed a wooden crucifix,


"in ista autem omni dubitatione et mentis caecitate circumseptus, si aut ulla in Scripturis sacris Veritas sit ac profectus, aut si Deus omnipotens constet prorsus dubitavi." Otloh, Libellus de Suis Tentationibus 1, PL 146, col. 32.

33 and thought he saw it come alive, beholding "on the cross the living Son of Man".33

But the vision did not return,

and Rupert soon felt abandoned by God.

He began to skip his

private prayers. Soon afterwards he had two mysterious dreams.


he dreamed that he tried to enter a church where monks were singing the 51st and 27th psalms, but the devil barred his way, and would not allow him to join them. terror.

He awoke in

A day or so later, he had a second dream.

he came to a crowded church. saying Mass.


A white-haired bishop was

Besides the altar were standing three men, of

great dignity, two of them old and venerable, and the third a youth who gazed at Rupert with the look of a brother.


was only later that Rupert realized that they were the Trinity.

Devils surrounded and jostled Rupert, but Jesus,

in the form of the brotherly youth, stepped forward and set him free.

Then the three members of the Trinity lifted

Rupert into the air as he lay on a great open book. Suddenly Rupert awoke, and realized that he was lying naked on the floor of his own abbey-church.

For the next few

years, Rupert had more dreams and premonitions, but Christ continued to intervene, as a protector and a friend, and, eventually, Rupert became free from his secret terrors.


"... vidi ipsum vigilans in cruce viventem Filium hominis." Rupert of Deutz, De Gloria et Honore Filii Hominis Super Mattheum XII, ed. Hrabanus Haacke, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis (Turnholt: Brepols, 1979), p. 369.

34 Perhaps the most significant thing about this experience is that Rupert, a very prolific writer, did not write about it until the last years of his life.

As John

van Engen pointed out, he "related this experience more than twenty years after the event", mainly in response to bitter criticism by Norbert of Xanten, founder of a new order, and representative of a new, more introspective piety. was an old-fashioned man:


the "various states of mystical

encounter receive little treatment in his commentaries, quite unlike what is found in a whole host of Cistercian, Carthusian, and other twelfth-century devotional writers". He had avoided "describing or reflecting inner states of being".

Yet now, in his old age, he felt that he needed to

validate his authority by describing his own experiences.34 The stories of Otloh and Rupert suggest how two strands in monastic life - the growing tendency to introspection, and the revival of interest in the Desert Fathers - could contribute to the rise of despair as a syndrome.


case, especially, came close to despair in its classic form, in other words, the form which it took from the twelfth through the eighteenth centuries.

His crisis occurred

around 1100 or a little later, but he did not write about it until the 1120's, many years after it had happened.


John van Engen, Rupert of Deutz (Berkeley: of California Press, 1983), pp. 345, 50.



35 soon afterwards, as we shall see in the next section, the early Cistercians would discover despair for themselves.

The Cistercians and the Discovery of Despair:

If any group can be given credit (or blame) for formulating despair in its classic form, it is the early Cistercians.

If the drift towards introspection was a long-

term cause of the emergence of despair, then the birth of the Cistercian order may have been its catalyst, its shortterm cause. The order began in the little abbey of Citeaux.

It was

founded by a small group of men, eager for renewal, towards the end of the eleventh century, but it struggled until 1113 when an young knight, later known as Bernard of Clairvaux, joined it, together with four of his brothers and twentyseven of his friends.

He was a charismatic leader, who

inspired tremendous enthusiasm, and the order quickly spread through Europe. The order was different, not only because of Bernard's dynamic leadership, but also because its members tended to join the movement as grown men, rather than as children, which had been a common practice before.

These men often

entered the order with fully formed personalities and intense concerns:

"a monk began his quest for salvation in

the secular world, where he oscillated between fear of

36 divine judgement and hope for divine mercy, but the quest continued in the monastery."35 Four enigmatic allusions:

The early Cistercians were

among the first writers to recognize the syndrome of despair. happened.

Four cryptic passages suggest how this may have They suggest that despair came into focus as a

recognizable concept very slowly and very gradually.


also suggest that despair must be seen in the context of the intense, emotional fervor that accompanied the early years of the movement. 1) In a sermon of 1139, Bernard mentioned a certain temptation, which he called, in a reference to the 121st psalm, "the terror of the night" - a mysterious malaise that was most likely, in his opinion, to attack people new to the monastic life.

"This affliction", he explained, "is not so

much temptation itself as the fear arising from it".


victims "suffer more from the fear of pain to come than from present grief".

In fact, "fear itself constitutes the


This meaning of this passage is


Martha Newman, The Boundaries of Charity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 35. 36

Bernard of Clairvaux, Lenten Sermons on the Psalm "He Who Dwells" 6:1-2, trans. Marie-Bernard Said (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981), p. 144. For other enigmatic allusions to despair and temptation in other writers in Bernard's milieu, see: Baldwin of Ford, Spiritual Tractates IX:1,3: "On the Beatitudes in the Gospel", trans. David Bell (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1986) vol. 2, pp. 16, 53; Guerric of Igny, Liturgical Sermons 22:6, "The First Sermon for St Benedict", trans, monks of St Bernard Abbey

37 uncertain.

Why were these monks so frightened?

The phrase,

"the fear of pain to come", implies that they were afraid that they would be damned, but the passage falls very short of making this explicit. 2)

A similar enigmatic passage can be found in the

writings of William of St Thierry, a friend of Bernard, and (as we have already seen) an enthusiastic admirer of the Desert Fathers.

In the Golden Letter, written in the

1140's, he described the temptations of certain, unidentified monks:

... because of the greatness not only of their faith but also of their love, they so much hate whatever seems to be against faith that if they are tempted or tried by any little thing, whether through the spirit of blasphemy or the sensations of the flesh, or even by hearing or touching something, they think that the goodness of their conscience within them has been totally destroyed and they miserably lament if they were reprobates concerning the faith.37 (Spencer, Mass.: Cistercian Publications, 1971), vol. 2, p. 8; William of St Thierry, The Mirror of Faith 13, trans. Thomas Davis (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1979), pp. 35-6. 37

"Prae magnitudine quippe non solum fidei, sed etiam amoris, exosum adeo habent quicquid esse videtur contra fidem, ut si vel ad modicum, seu ex spiritu blasphemiae, seu ex ipso sensu carnis super hoc adtemptati vel pulsati, quasi ex solo

38 These comments are just as ambiguous as Bernard's.


are two ways to interpret the crucial phrase "reprobates concerning the faith".

It might have meant that the monks

were afraid that they would be damned.

Or it might simply

have meant that they were afraid of faltering in their vocation.38 3) Two stories suggest that Bernard's fiery preaching helped to precipitate some of these crises.

Some time in

the 1140's, William of St Thierry wrote a biography of Bernard.

He described how, when Bernard preached to his

followers early in his career, not long after 1115, "his words sowed seeds of despair in the hearts of the weaker brethren..."

When Bernard heard about this, he accused

himself "of being too thorough in demanding perfection of his simple brethren when he in his own eyes he was nowhere near perfection".

But, soon afterwards, he had a vision of

a mysterious boy who told him to say whatever came into his

auditu vel attactu, lesam omnino in se ipsis estiment conscientiae pietatem et miserabiliter defleant semetipsos quasi reprobatus cicra fidem." Epistola ad Fratres de MonteDei 2, p. 66. The text has had a complicated history, but this passage is generally believed to have been written by William. 38

It is especially difficult to assess the meaning of the phrase since it is a quote from the Bible, rather than Bernard's own words. As the editor indicates, the phrase "reprobi circum fidei" is also used in the Latin version of I Timothy 3:8: "homines corrupti mente, reprobi circa fidem": "men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith."

39 mind, because "it would not be Bernard who spoke but the Holy Spirit speaking in him".39 4)

A similar story about Bernard's preaching is found

in the Exordium Magnum Cisterciense, a collection of tales compiled by Konrad of Eberbach, in the late twelfth century, probably at the abbey of Clairvaux.

Bernard had died long

before, in 1153, but, at Clairvaux, Konrad would have met elderly monks who still remembered him. Konrad told how Bernard once preached a sermon at Clairvaux about the vileness of sin.

Several monks were

overwhelmed with "terror of the tremendous judgements of God".40

Although they listened to him in silence, Bernard

could tell in his spirit that they were deeply disturbed and had "almost fallen into the abyss of despair".41


with a spirit of fraternal charity, he said, to the amazement of everyone who heard him:

What is it that so disturbs your consciences, brothers?

However heinous or innumerable your


William of St Thierry, St Bernard of Clairvaux, trans. Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker (London: Mowbray, 1960), pp. 48-49. 40

"terrorem tremendi iudicii Dei...". Konrad of Eberbach, Exordium Magnum Cisterciense 11:5, ed. Bruno Griesser (Rome: Editiones Cistercienses, 1961), p. 101. 41

"... fere in barathrum Exordium Magnum 11:5, p. 101.



40 crimes, have they made you forget God's inexhaustible bowels of compassion?

In truth,

I tell you, if that son of perdition, Judas, who sold and betrayed the Lord, were sitting in this school of Christ, and were incorporated into this order, he could find forgiveness through repentance.42

When these words of consolation were spoken, all the monks even those who had been stricken by fear - glorified God, as they breathed in the hope of divine grace. This story has the same theme as the one told by William of St Thierry.

Both writers agreed that Bernard's

preaching caused some monks at Clairvaux to fall into despair, and that he was inspired by the Spirit of God. So far we have looked at four passages about the early years of the Cistercian movement. picture.

They paint a consistent

They suggest that, in Bernard's circle, some monks

were gripped by terrible fear, that a few of them lost hope of their salvation, and that this was recognized as a specific syndrome, by the name of despair. 42

"Quid est, quod sic in conscientiis vestris turbamini, fratres mei? Utquid enormitatem et numerositatem criminum vestrorum sic intuemini, ut inexhausta viscera miserationum Domini obliviscamini? In veritate dico vobis, quia, si filius perditionis Judas, qui vendidit et tradidit Dominum, in hac schola Christi sederet et huic ordini incorporatus esset, per paenitentiam veniam consequeretur." Exordium Magnum 11:5, p. 101.

41 But perhaps the most significant thing about these passages is that they are always brief and often vague. They mention despair only in passing; they do not describe its symptoms in detail; and they suggest that it did not receive much attention. These passages represent a specific time.

The early

Cistercians lived in an atmosphere of electric intensity; the sort of intensity that has often accompanied the early years of religious movements, like the first Franciscans, the first Quakers, and many others.

It was a time of

explosive growth for the Cistercian order, and seemingly endless possibilities. In this atmosphere, of so much energy and so much hope, despair probably did not seem very important or very daunting.

As we have seen, Bernard told his monks that even

Judas could have been saved if he had been part of their movement.

Only later, in a more sober generation, would

Cistercians start to think about despair as a chronic problem. The Second Generation and the Codification of Despair: Bernard died in 1153, and the early fervor began to ebb. This section will look at some stories dating from the second generation of the movement.

These stories no longer

reflected the amazing energy of the early years.


they present despair as an enduring problem, and they tend

42 to link it, as it would remain linked for the rest of the Middle Ages, to the idea of temptation. The Liber Visionum et Miraculorum was a collection of edifying tales compiled by a Cistercian, John of Clairvaux, some time between 1171 and 1179, about twenty years after Bernard's death in 1155.

It is impossible to date most of

these stories, but some took place in recent memory, while others involved people who had died many years before.43 Three of these stories involve cases of despair. stories themselves are fairly straightforward:


they are all

about religious men who became afraid that they would be damned.

The most revealing passages in these stories are

John's editorial comments, which show how the Cistercians struggled to make sense of these crises. 1) The first describes a lay brother44 in Normandy who refused to go to confession or to take communion. community prayed for him, and he recovered.


Afterwards, he

explained that he had been so troubled by evil spirits that


For example, John mentions Bishop Hugh of Grenoble, who died in 1132. 44

Lay brothers, who usually came from modest backgrounds, performed manual or menial work, and were not required to attend as many services as regular, or choir, monks.

43 he had not been able to heed their words.

But now the

demons were gone .45 This episode puzzled the community.

When the prior

first learned about it, he summoned the other monks to get their advice, and complained to them that it was something new.

None of them had heard or seen anything like it.46

His comment is important. happened.

We do not know when this incident

But still we can draw a more general conclusion:

writing in the 1170's, John implied that despair was a fairly recent development, something that had emerged within the past few decades. 2)

A second story involved a dying monk, who was so

convinced of his damnation that he refused to make his confession or to take communion. heartbroken about his despair.

The other monks were They took the cross off the

altar, and carried it to the dying man's cell, where they unveiled it, and persuaded him to kiss the five wounds of Christ.

By this act, the demon of despair was put to

flight.47 45

Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:13, fol. 141r. I would like to thank Brian McGuire for bringing this work to my attention. Professor McGuire has discussed this manuscript in "A Lost Clairvaux Exemplum Found: The Liber Visionum and Miraculorum compiled under Prior John of Clairvaux", Analecta Cisterciensia 36 (1983), pp. 26-62. 46

Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:13, fol. 141r.


Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:12, fol. 139v.

44 3)

A third story involves a canon at a church near

Clairvaux. illness.

Several monks visited him during his final Although he had led a pious life, he believed that

he would be damned, and he insisted that he could see demons in his room waiting to drag him to hell.

The monks remained

with him, and after a while, the demons turned to each other, and muttered that there was nothing for them here. And then they vanished. John interrupted his narrative with a significant comment:

that this despair was a temptation.

This meant

that despair was no longer a freakish anomaly, but was now identified with one of the most familiar concepts in monastic tradition.48 John insisted that we should never lose hope for pious people who were attacked by the spirit of infidelity, or doubt, or despair, or blasphemy.49

He had known several

good men who had endured these temptations:

the abbot of

Foigny, the infirmarian of Clairvaux, the abbot Baldwin of Reigny, and Bishop Hugh of Grenoble.50 48

Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:14, fol. 143r.


Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:15, fol. 143r.


The abbot of Foigny is identified as "Dominus G.", and is presumably not the same person as Rainald, abbot of Foigny, who received letters from St Bernard, which indicate that Rainald was exhausted both by his own anxieties and also by the strain of encouraging some anxious monks in his community. (The Letters of St Bernard, trans. Bruno Scott James (London: Burns and Oates, 1953), pp. 106-108.)

45 In another important comment, John added that this pattern was something new:

"res insolita".

He had heard

about it from eye-witnesses, not from books; he had never read anything about it except in a certain collation in the Lives of the Fathers.

When dealing with such cases,

spiritual counsellors could not rely on traditional wisdom. Instead, they should follow the example of Bernard, who learned not from reading but from the anointing of the Holy Spirit what he should say to one of his disciples.51 John's comments tell us that the Cistercians believed that the syndrome of despair was something new. testimony should be taken seriously.


The early Cistercians

were sophisticated men, at the heart of the reform movement, and well-informed about the contemporary religious scene. If they thought that despair was something new, then it probably was. All the same, we cannot be sure.

Despair may have been

an old syndrome that had existed, perhaps obscurely, for centuries.

In this case, it was revived, rather than

created, by the Cistercians.

But, whether they revived it

or discovered it, the Cistercians' contribution was crucial. They defined it, and gave it a place in the standard lore of religious psychology.


Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:14, fol. 145r.

46 Judging from John's stories, the Cistercians were puzzled by the syndrome.

They recognized it as a distinct

problem, but they were frustrated because they could not find much about it in monastic literature.

John's comments

suggest that they eventually resolved this confusion by defining despair as a temptation. step.

This was an important

As we shall see later in this chapter, this equation,

of despair and temptation, would become common in the later Middle Ages, and helped to make the syndrome more comprehensible and manageable. The Cistercian discovery of despair followed two classic stages in religious history, from revival to routine.

In the early years of the movement, occasional

cases of despair cropped up among its members.


episodes have often occurred within charismatic movements, like the Great Awakening, in their early years.

But, as

often happens during revivals, these cases existed in the penumbra of intense fervor, and did not receive much attention.

Only in the second generation of the Cistercian

movement was recognized as a chronic problem, and defined as a temptation.

The Later Middle Ages:

After the early thirteenth century, the status of despair apparently changed very little for almost three

47 hundred years, until the Reformation.

The clergy had

developed ways of making sense of it, and of trying to cope with it.

The problem became widespread and well known.


idea of despair was no longer limited to the small, fervent elite of the reforming movement, but was familiar to devout lay people.

This section will offer a brief overview of the

late medieval syndrome of despair, using

a few examples

taken both from works of advice and from biographies. Advice about Despair:

By the mid-thirteenth century,

certain writers had developed what might be called a therapeutic approach to despair.

They tended to see it as a

disease of the soul, a problem that could be cured, or at least managed, by sound advice.

This evolution reflected

wider developments within the Church.

The Cistercian order

had played a crucial role in the discovery of despair, but now the initiative had shifted to the new preaching orders, especially the Franciscans and the Dominicans.

They are

probably best remembered today as preachers and philosophers, but they also took seriously their role as confessors and spiritual guides.

They tended to see despair

as a temptation, a disease of the soul, and they worked hard to find ways of curing it. James of Milan:

One sign of this psychological

revolution was the proliferation of advice books and confessors' manuals.

One influential handbook was the

Stimulus Amoris, written late in the thirteenth century by a

48 Franciscan friar, James of Milan.52

He discussed a range

of problems, including the tendency of some devout people to become obsessed with predestination.

James believed that

these thoughts were temptations from the devil, and he told his readers to ignore them.

If there creep into thine (thoughts) heart of predestination, or else of the contrary, that thou art none of those that shall be safe, thou mayest answer to the fiend that tempteth thee, and say thus: "What so it be of me, it is certain that thou art damned.

But though I be damned

with thee, and leave my Lord after this life, certes I shall strive with all my mights for to serve him and for to have him in this present life, as mickle I may.53

He urged his anxious readers to trust in God's mercy:


hide me in the holes of his wounds", in other words, the


Most modern scholars attribute it to James of Milan, but during the Middle Ages it was often credited to the great Franciscan theologian, Bonaventura, and this probably accounts for some of its popularity. 53

The Goad of Love, ed. Clare Kirchberger, (London: Faber, 1952) , p. 178. This is a Middle English translation of the Stimulus Amoris. See also: Howard Kane, introduction to The Prickynge of Love, (Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1983), vol. 1, pp. xxii-xxiii.

49 five wounds of Christ, and to seek the help of Mary, "ordained to be God's Mother for sinners, and therefore I shall ask of her that she shall get me of her son forgiveness. "54 Jean Gerson:

Jean Gerson was among the most

celebrated theologians of the later Middle Ages, long remembered as the "Doctor of Consolation" or, as Luther put it, "the only one who wrote about spiritual temptation". After the Reformation, he was admired by Protestants; in 1673, Richard Baxter praised "old Gerson" as a writer who "had the spirit of God".55 Several short treatises, traditionally attributed to Gerson, discuss the problem of blasphemy.

The author noted

that many people complained that blasphemous thoughts were drifting through their minds, and wondered whether this proved that their hearts were evil and corrupt. his readers not to blame themselves:

He urged

these thoughts came

from the devil, not from their own hearts.



The Goad of Love, p. 179.

Quoted in D. Catherine Brown, Pastor and Laity in the Theology of Jean Gerson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 93. Richard Baxter, preface to James Janeway, Invisibilities, Realities Demonstrated in the Holy Life of Mr. John Janewav (London, 1673), f ol. A7-A7v. See also: Brian McGuire, Jean Gerson and the Last Medieval Reformation (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

50 Sometimes, these nervous people became convinced that they would be damned.

In these cases, the devil often used

the doctrine of predestination to torment them:


times the Enemy makes a person ask whether he is predestined to be saved or damned, so that he staggers into mad hope or into despair."56

But these people were well advised not to

speculate on such matters, but instead to trust God's mercy and fear his justice. James of Milan and Jean Gerson are two examples of an approach that was common during the late Middle Ages, and into the early modern period. puritan clergy.

It would often be used by the

Its aim was to reassure victims of despair,

and its message was that they should ignore the devil and put their trust in God. Biography and the Versatility of Despair:

Despair was

sometimes a theme in the biographies of saintly people. Three examples suggest that despair was well known, and widely feared, and that it could be used as a versatile symbol, to illustrate several different agendas.


"Aucunefoys l'ennemi fait a la personne enquerir s'elle est ordonnee de Dieu a estre sauue ou dampnee, adfin qu'il la face trabucier en fole esperance ou en desesperation." Jean Gerson, Traite des Diverses Tentations de 1'Ennemi, in Oeuvres Completes, ed. Pantaleon Glorieux (Paris: Desclee, 1966), vol. 7, p. 355. See also: De Remediis Contra Pusillanimitatem in vol. 10, (Paris: Desclee, 1973) pp. 374-398, and De Remediis Contra Tentationes, in vol. 9, (Paris: Desclee, 1973), pp. 518-524.

51 Marie of Oignies was born to a middle-class family, in Nivelles, now in southern Belgium, around the year 1177. She became the pioneer of a movement:

of women, nicknamed

beguines, often from non-aristocratic backgrounds, who did not join convents, but instead lived an ascetic life at home or in small informal groups.57 A sympathetic French cleric, Jacques de Vitry, wrote Marie's biography soon after her death in 1213.

He was a

militant defender of the Church, and had recently become famous for his preaching against the Albigensians.

In 1216,

he would become bishop of the crusader stronghold of Acre. In 122 9, he would be made a cardinal by his friend Pope Gregory IX.

He was a tough, practical man, who wrote

Marie's life for practical reasons; he "intended the vita as a weapon in the anti-Albigensian cause ... by means of a portrait of this fervently pious lay woman of unquestionable orthodoxy".58

He emphasized her miracles, especially her

ability to defeat the most dangerous demon of all:



Walter Simons, Cities of Ladies: Beguine Communities in the Medieval Low Countries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2 003). 58

John Coakley, Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and their Male Collaborators (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), p. 70.

52 spirit of blasphemy and despair".59

Plainly, for Jacques,

despair was a high profile syndrome. One miracle involved a Cistercian nun: timid, humble virgin"60

"a simple,

whose heart the devil had filled

with blasphemous thoughts, which she was too ashamed to reveal to anyone.

She became afraid that she "had lost her

faith", and would be damned.61

As the demon gained more

control over her, he "vomited many blasphemous words from her mouth".

She no longer prayed, or attended Mass.

tried to kill herself.62


Some other nuns took her to

Marie, who prayed and fasted for her for forty days.

At the

end of this time, the demon left the nun, and "vomited up all his intestines, miserably carrying his entrails around


"spiritum blasphemiae et desperationis". Jacques de Vitry, Vita Mariae Oiqniacensis, in Acta Sanctorum (Paris, 1867), June, vol. 5, p. 561.


"Cumque simplicem illam virginem, timoratum, et humilem cognovisset; ut earn per pusillanimitatem et inordinatum timorem in desperationem dejiceret, blasphemiis et immundis cogitationibus innocentem virgunculam aggressus est." Vita Mariae, p. 554. For a monk healed from despair, see Vita Mariae, p. 561. 61

"... credebat se fidem amisisse. . . " , Vita Mariae,

554. 62

"... multa verba blasphemiae per os eius diabolus evomebat...", Vita Mariae, p. 554.


53 his neck".

Marie banished him to the depths of hell, and

the nun recovered completely from her ordeal.63 Marie died in 1213, but her admirers believed that she continued to work miracles.

A few years after her death,

Jacques went to Rome, where he met Hugo, bishop of Ostia, "a man very worthy for every kind of holiness".64

Hugo, who

became Pope Gregory IX in 122 7, is now best remembered as the.friend of St Francis and the implacable enemy of Frederick II.

One day, he told Jacques a terrible secret:

A spirit of blasphemy troubles my soul so badly and overwhelms it with waves of various temptations. Almost every day I am driven to despair.

I only

get a chance to catch my breath, and very little in fact of that, when I sit with my brother cardinals in the consistory on official business...65


"... quasi visceribus evomitis, omnia interiora suasuper collum suum miserabiliter deportare. . . " , Vita Mariae, p. 554. 64

"...viro utique in omne sanctitate dignissimo...", Thomas de Cantimpre, Vita Mariae Oigniacensis, Supplementum, Acta Sanctorum (Paris, 1867), June, vol. 5, p. 577. 65

"... spiritus blasphemiae adeo animam vexat, et variis tentationum fluctibus obruit, et usque in desperationem quotidie fere detrudor: in hoc solo respiramen accipio, et hoc tamen minimum, ut dum cum Fratribus Cardinalibus in consisterio ad causas debitas sedeo...", Supplementum, p. 577.

54 Hugo was afraid that the strain would leave him "totallytorn from the holy faith".66

This is an astonishing story.

Hugo's arch-enemy, the emperor Frederick II, is often regarded as a forerunner of modern skepticism, but it seems that Hugo himself was almost driven mad by blasphemous thoughts. Jacques listened sympathetically, and tried to help. He mentioned to Hugo "those things which seemed to be apt and suitable for such temptations".67

But soon he decided

that Hugo needed more than advice; he needed a miracle.


told Hugo that in Flanders he had once known a woman, Marie of Oignies, who had "obtained from God a special grace of expelling blasphemous spirits".68

He offered Hugo her

biography and her relic: "her finger encased in a little silver box which always hangs from my neck",69 which had saved him several times from shipwrecks.


"... a statu Supplementurn, p. 577. 67




dejiciar. .. ",

"... ea quae in huiusmodi tentationibus congrua esse videbantur...", Supplementum, p. 578.

apta et


"... a Domino obtinuerat gratiam in effugandis blasphemiae spiritibus specialem ...", Supplementum, p. 578. 69

"Est... digitus eius argenteo locello reconditus, assidue mihi suspensus ad collum...", Supplementum, p. 578. For the use of relics in Marie's circle, see Sharon Farmer, "Low Country Ascetics and Oriental Luxury", in Rachel Fulton and Bruce Holsinger, eds., History in the Comic Mode (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 205-222.

55 Hugo read Marie's biography, which brought him "wonderful hope and peace".70 even more.

But her relic helped him

One day, as he was kneeling alone in prayer, he

was overwhelmed by a flood of temptations.

He "immediately

rose up from the ground and seized the finger of the handmaid of Christ in his pious hands".71

The spirit of

blasphemy vanished, and never troubled him again. Marie was not unique.

During the generation that

followed her, the Low Countries produced many other women visionaries and miracle-workers, like Lutgard of Aywieres and Juliana of Mont Cornillon, who defeated the demons of despair.

Their stories show that awareness of despair, and

the claim to cure it, had extended well beyond the circle of the Cistercians, into a world where women and lay people were full participants. Beatrice of Nazareth, born near Louvain around 1200, came from the same region as Marie of Oignies, and spent her life as a Cistercian nun.72 70

Her fascinating biography

"...miram spem et ... quietem...", Supplementum, p.



"... statim surgens a terra, digitum Ancillae Christi piis in manibus apprehendit", Supplementum, p. 578. 72

Beatrice took her name from a Cistercian convent called Nazareth, near Antwerp. For more about her background, see: Roger de Ganck, Beatrice of Nazareth in Her Context (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1991). Her life is discussed in Amy Hollywood, "Acute Melancholia", Harvard Theological Review 99 (2006), pp. 381-406; Amy Hollywood,

56 illustrates the complexity of despair, including one theme that would be common in puritan literature and another that would be common in Counter-Reformation literature. As a young woman, she endured a three year crisis. followed a common, two-stage pattern. bewildering variety of temptations:


It began with a skeptical thoughts,

sexual desire, and fantasies about unspecified "great crimes, which she had never ... experienced, or even conceived, or thought possible".

Later, when the crisis was

well advanced, Beatrice started to worry that she would be damned.

She was "constrained by great fear, and thought

that she was on the point of falling".

She "almost

despaired of God's mercy."73 Beatrice was well versed in the Bible and in monastic classics like The Lives of the Fathers and Gregory the Great's Moralia.

She remembered that Anthony, the father of

monasticism in fourth century Egypt, had taught that only the humble could overcome temptation, and so she devoted herself to menial tasks.

She tried to counter each

temptation with an appropriate verse from the scriptures.

"Inside Out: Beatrice of Nazareth and Her Hagiographer", in Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Catherine Mooney (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), pp. 78-98. 73

The Life of Beatrice of Nazareth, ed. and trans. Roger De Ganck (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1991), pp. 160, 161, 163.

57 She "daily opposed to the devil's temptations the fact that the loving Lord had created her to his own image and likeness, and that he does not will the death of a sinner but that he be converted and live."74

This section of her

biography is as studded with Bible verses as John Bunyan's autobiography, Grace Abounding, each verse a bulwark against a different temptation. The turning point of her ordeal came one evening when she solemnly resolved that she would love God forever even if he decided to condemn her to hell.

Later that night,

after she went to bed, "she was caught up beyond herself and saw in ecstasy of mind - the eyes of the mind, not of the flesh - the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of the power of God, prepared to help her, leaning over mercifully toward her to raise her up, console, and snatch her from the attacks of the opposing powers."75 Beatrice resolved her crisis through her decision to love God even if he sent her to hell.

This ideal, of a

completely unselfish love of God, had a complex history.


was common in medieval Muslim, especially Sufi circles, and would also be a common theme among Counter-Reformation Catholics.

It represented one classic way of resolving the


Life of Beatrice, pp. 163, 169.


Life of Beatrice, p. 179.

58 problem of despair, although, as we shall see, it was a way almost never taken by puritans. Henry Suso was born in 1295 to a minor noble family in Constance, and entered a Dominican friary while still in his teens.

He dutifully served his order as a writer, prior,

and preacher until his death in 1366, but he is best known for his mystical experiences. According to his autobiography, his struggle with despair began when he was about forty. the common, two-stage pattern.

His crisis followed

For years, he questioned the

truth of the Christian religion, and struggled with a pervasive sense of sadness "as though a mountain were weighing down his heart".

Eventually, he became convinced

that he "would be damned forever, no matter how good his actions or how much penance he performed."

After many

years, he found peace of mind by talking to another Dominican, a certain Meister Eckhart, who was presumably the famous and controversial theologian.

Unfortunately Suso did

not tell us what advice he received.76 After his recovery from despair, Suso was visited by large numbers of people seeking his advice.

Some were

afraid, just as he had been, that they would be damned.


man, who had travelled from a foreign country to get Suso's advice, reported:

"Recently I despaired of God, and was so

Suso 1:21, pp. 104, 105.

59 despondent, that I wanted to save myself from additional suffering by taking my life physically and spiritually." Just as he was about to plunge into "raging water", he heard "a voice above me saying, "Stop, stop! so shamefully!

Go find a Dominican!"

Don't kill yourself Suso gave him some

advice, although the narrative does not explain what it was, and the man never fell into despair again.77 Conclusion:

Despair was identified by the twelfth

century Cistercians, a spiritual elite at the heart of the reform movement.

Awareness of despair rapidly spread, and,

within a few generations it seems to have been widely discussed by women and by devout lay people.


guides were trained to counsel people who suffered from despair, and it was mentioned in the biographies of famous people.

It was no longer an esoteric problem.

As these

biographies show, the syndrome had become more codified, but the experiences connected with it had also taken on an unparalleled richness and human density.


Suso 11:39, p. 158. For more about these episodes, see: Jeffrey Hamburger, "Medieval Self-Fashioning", in Christ Among the Medieval Dominicans, ed. Kent Emery and Joseph Wawrykow (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), p. 449.



The simplest, most obvious explanation for the emergence of despair relies on its monastic background.


idea of despair drew on the tradition of acedia, which had been preserved in monastic circles since the time of the Desert Fathers, but it also reflected the culture of the early Cistercians:

their emotional piety and their emphasis

on the danger of hell. Yet, if we look more closely, the problem of despair becomes more complex.

As we saw in the previous chapter,

the sources leave no doubt that despair was handled within the bounds of orthodoxy.

It could be explained by

traditional doctrines such as temptation.

But this chapter

will argue that there was another side of despair: tradition.

a shadow

While despair did not directly challenge

orthodoxy, it did provide an outlet for unorthodox or illicit thoughts.

It involved ideas of doom and compulsion,

and it seems to have drawn on strands outside Christian theology.

This was true in the Middle Ages, and it would

remain true in the early modern period. This chapter will explore this shadow tradition during the Middle Ages.

It will concentrate on the High Middle

Ages, but will also look at evidence from other periods. will be arranged by topic, as it searches for any evidence that can shed light on this mysterious side of despair.


61 It is important to understand that the people discussed in this chapters were loyal Catholics.

They did not want to

challenge the teachings of the Church.

We are used to

thinking in terms of contrasts:

between orthodoxy and

heresy, or between popular and elite religion.

But the

people in this chapter do not fit into these categories. Instead, they were orthodox, sometimes highly educated believers who were troubled by strange and unsettling thoughts.

Two Writers:

This section discusses stories by two writers: of Harvengt and Caesarius of Heisterbach.


They represent a

distinct contrast to the stories told by John of Clairvaux, which were discussed in the last chapter.

John defined

despair as a temptation, which meant that it was both understandable and curable.

In contrast, Philip and

Caesarius described it, in an almost archaic manner, as a form of dire enchantment. John's stories are important because they represent what became the standard, official interpretation of despair during the later Middle Ages. But Philip and Caesarius's stories are equally revealing because they offer a window into the shadow side of despair and its mysterious origins. To modern readers, their stories may seem primitive and

62 superstitious, but both Philip and Caesarius were educated men and prolific writers.

Their stories suggest how

strongly archaic ideas of mystery and enchantment could be felt even in the heart of the clerical establishment. Philip of Harvengt:

Late in the twelfth century, a

Premonstratensian canon, Philip of Harvengt, told a story that illustrates the more enigmatic side of despair.


story took place in 1170, in the time of John of Clairvaux, but Philip offered a darker and stranger picture of despair. He told the story in honor of St Amand, a seventh century missionary, who had, on his own initiative, preached to warlike people on several borders of the Christian world: Basques, Slavs, and Frisians.

By the twelfth century,

Amand's missionary work was largely forgotten, but he was venerated as a healer, and his cult brought fame and wealth to the abbey of St Amand, in Flanders, which owned his relics. Philip's story began in 1170, near the town of Lisieux, in Normandy, where a certain woman, perhaps a fortuneteller, or simply a beggar who offered gossip in return for alms, warned a noblewoman that her husband had fallen in love with somebody else.

The noblewoman became distraught

and tried to kill herself, once by hanging herself and once by throwing herself into a river. time.

She was rescued each

63 Her husband did his best.

He insisted - sincerely, or

so the narrative implies - that he loved no other woman, and gently tried to calm his wife, begging her to abandon the delusions of the devil.

She answered:

"Allow me to go to

hell with the devil, to whom I am predestinated and given."78

From this point on, the narrative changes

course, and is not about the woman's suspicions of her husband, but instead about her conviction that she was destined for hell. This abrupt change of direction may seem peculiar, but it is, in fact, significant.

It follows a classic two-stage

pattern, common in narratives of despair during both the Middle Ages and the early modern period.

The first stage of

these narratives was highly variable, and could take the form of many different types of emotional malaise.


second stage, by contrast, was usually more predictable and stereotyped, and tended to focus on the fear of damnation. The noblewoman's family took her to the shrine of St Amand, where some wise monks tried to reassure her.

But she

told them that there was no hope for her, and that she would soon be burning in the sulfuric fires of hell.

Afraid that

she would kill herself, they asked servants to watch her. But one night the servants fell asleep.


She hanged herself,

"... sinite me ire in internum cum diabolo, cui praedestinata et data sum." Philip de Harvengt, De Miraculis S. Amandi, PL 203, col. 1291.

64 and was discovered lifeless and rigid, with blood dripping from her mouth. The monks laid her body on the floor, and prayed to St Amand with groans and tears.

They were shocked that his

shrine had been polluted by such a tragic and horrible act. After a few hours, some nuns noticed that the woman was gently breathing, and during the next two days she slowly regained life and consciousness.

She thanked God for having

saved her, through the merits of St Amand, from the snares of the devil. Philip told this story to glorify God and St Amand, and not to explore the woman's state of mind. questions unanswered.

He left many

He did not explain why the woman

first became obsessed with her husband's infidelity, and then changed course to become obsessed with her own damnation.

Nor did he tell us anything about the woman's

character or previous actions, except for her willingness to consult the mysterious tale-bearer. For Philip, the story was primarily a contest of spiritual forces.

The woman had fallen under the power of

the devil, but she was saved because the power of God was stronger than the power of evil.

That was the moral of the

story. In this sense, Philip's story was very much like the stories of John of Clairvaux, which were discussed in the previous section.

But there is a crucial difference.


65 of Clairvaux insisted that despair was a temptation, an interpretation which made it comprehensible, and which placed it squarely in traditional monastic piety.


by contrast, portrayed it as a form of enchantment: mysterious and implacable.

Compared to John, Philip may

seem, at first sight, simply a teller of superstitious tales, but he was, in fact, a sophisticated writer, trained in philosophy, and, despite a bitter quarrel with Bernard of Clairvaux, very much part of the reform movements of his times.

It is significant that such a knowledgeable writer

could present despair as something almost magical and incomprehensible. Caesarius of Heisterbach:

The most revealing stories

about the shadow side of despair were written by a German Cistercian named Caesarius of Heisterbach, who compiled a collection of stories, The Dialogue on Miracles, in the years 1219 to 1223.

To us, his stories may seem like fairy

tales, but Caesarius, educated at the cathedral school in Cologne, was a respected teacher and writer, and the Dialogue was widely read.79


F. Wagner, "Studien zu Caesarius von Heisterbach" Analecta Cisterciensia 29 (1973), pp. 79-95; Brian McGuire, "Written Sources and Cistercian Inspiration in Caesarius of Heisterbach", Analecta Cisterciensia 35 (1979), pp. 227-282; Brian McGuire, "Friends and Tales in the Cloister: Oral Sources in Caesarius of Heisterbach's Dialogus Miraculorum", Analecta Cisterciensia 36 (1980), pp. 167-247.

66 In several ways, his collection is like the one gathered by John of Clairvaux, fifty years before, in the 1170s.

Both authors told stories about their own times,

many taken from eye-witnesses, and many involving their fellow Cistercians. well.

But there were important differences as

Caesarius wrote seventy years after Bernard's death,

and, unlike John, he could not have known men who remembered the early days of the movement, with its exhilarating sense of almost limitless possibilities.

There were fewer

miracles in Caesarius's stories, and fewer happy endings. Some drift into what might be called folklore:

a man

haunted by the ghost of a toad, a bearskin that calmed a storm, and a woman who gave birth to a snake. Caesarius told three stories about despair.

1) One

involved a Cistercian lay-brother, who three years ago "by some incomprehensible judgment of God, ... grew so melancholy and cast down, that he became completely obsessed with the fear of his sins, and altogether despairing of eternal life."

He had "lost all hope of salvation".80

other monks were baffled.


The lay-brother was an elderly

man who, during his many years at the monastery, had been well liked, and respected for his strict observance of monastic rule.

Caesarius himself had known him, and had

never noticed anything wrong with him.


The Dialogue on Miracles IV:41, vol. 1, p. 239.

67 When the other monks asked him why he had fallen into despair, he simply declared:

"I cannot say my prayers as I

used, and so I am afraid of hell." with him.

They tried to reason

They quoted the Bible, and they told him pious

stories of notorious sinners whose crimes had been forgiven.

But "by no authority of scripture could he be

lifted up, by no examples restored to hope of pardon; though it is believed that he had never been a great sinner."


monks put him in their infirmary, and gave him medical treatment, probably the purges and bleedings usually prescribed for melancholy.

But one morning he told his

prior that he could no longer fight against God, and he drowned himself in a fish-pond.81 2)

A second story had occurred only "a few months

ago". An elderly nun "was so much troubled by the vice of sadness, and so much harassed by the spirit of blasphemy, doubt and distrust that she fell into despair."

She began

to doubt "all those articles of faith that she had believed from infancy, and which it was her bounden duty to accept." The other nuns were puzzled.

She had entered the convent as

a child, and had always been "chaste, devout, scrupulous and punctual".


In fact, the prioress of a neighboring convent

The Dialogue on Miracles IV: 41, vol. 1, pp. 239, 240. This story was repeated in later medieval collections of exempla. See, for example, An Alphabet of Tales CCLXIII, ed. Mary MacLeod Banks, EETS o. s. 126 (London, 1904), p. 182.

68 told Caesarius that the elderly nun's students were better trained than anyone else's.82 The other nuns tried to argue with her, but she insisted that she would be damned. "I am reprobate," she said, "I am one of those appointed to eternal ruin".83 was warned:


"My sister, unless you come back to your senses

from this unbelief, I cannot allow you, after death, to be buried in consecrated ground."84

Soon afterwards, she

tried to drown herself in the Moselle, which flowed outside her convent, but an alert passer-by took a second look at what seemed to be a dog floundering in the river, and rescued her.

The other nuns asked her why she had tried to

kill herself.

She answered that she was terrified by the

warning about burying her in unconsecrated ground:


than be buried in the open field like a beast, I thought it would be better to be carried down the river."85


Dialogue on Miracles, IV:40, pp. 237-8.


Dialogue on Miracles IV:40, p. 238. In the Latin original, her words were: "Ego sum de reprobis, de illis scilicet, qui damnandi sunt." (Dialogus Miraculorum, vol. I, p. 209.) Caesarius described another episode of skepticism: a hermitess who, under the influence of melancholy humors, doubted the existence of God and of the soul. (Dialogue on Miracles IV:39, pp. 235-6.) 84

Dialogue on Miracles IV:40, p. 238. Dialogue on Miracles IV:40, p. 23 8.

69 3)

The third story involved Caesarius's abbot, who

went on an official journey, accompanied by several other monks.

One night, they stopped at an inn.

The innkeeper

joined them for dinner, and sat beside a monk named Henry. After dinner Henry took the abbot aside, and asked him what he thought of the innkeeper.

The abbot replied that he

knew him well, and that he was a good and religious man. Henry answered:

Believe me, he is in a bad state.

He has just

had a vision from hell.

We are not told how Henry learned this, whether by intuition or from the inn-keeper himself; nor are we told if Henry or his abbot tried to speak to the innkeeper about this sinister state of affairs.

But the next morning the abbot

found himself, without understanding the reason why, repeating over and over again the prayer:

"0 Lord, grant me

a good end. "86 Later he learned that the innkeeper had drowned himself that night.

After dinner, he had gone to a nearby river,

taken off his clothes, and jumped in the water, but the river was too shallow for drowning. place.

He went to a deeper

A sentinel from a nearby castle saw him, and warned

him that the water was too cold for a swim.

But the

Dialogue on Miracles XI:61, vol. 2, p. 2 85.

70 innkeeper threw himself into the river, and this time he was trapped in the mud and drowned. The phrase "a vision from hell" is mysterious.


vision drove the innkeeper to suicide, and so it presumablyhad little resemblance to the journeys to hell that were an important feature of early medieval literature, and that reached their literary apex in Dante's Divine Comedy.


those journeys, travellers observed hell but seldom felt that they were condemned to it.

The innkeeper's vision from

hell was clearly different. It is instructive to compare Caesarius with John of Clairvaux, whose three stories were discussed in the last chapter.

John defined despair as a temptation, which placed

it in the familiar context of monastic piety.

It was a

dangerous temptation, but, like all temptations, it could be resisted through prayer and through the power of brotherly love. Caesarius, by contrast, portrayed it as a mysterious and implacable force, which defied understanding.


chapter headings indicate that he formally defined despair as a sin, but there is little in his actual narratives to confirm this.

On the contrary, he stated that the lay

brother, the nun, and the innkeeper were good and pious people. despair.

He offered no explanation why they fell into Nor did he offer any hope of a cure.


anxious monks received sound advice and loving care from

71 their communities.

So did Caesarius's lay-brother and nun.

But, unlike John's monks, they were not healed. they drowned themselves.


Despair, as Caesarius described

it, was an irresistible current. Both John and Caesarius were Cistercians, but John wrote in the 1170s, when Bernard was still a living memory. Caesarius, by contrast, wrote around 122 0, almost seventy years after Bernard's death, when the order had lost much of its original fervor.

He could not have known men who

remembered Bernard's preaching, and the exhilarating hope that all things were possible in a new community.


Caesarius was more sensitive to what I have called the shadow tradition of despair. It was a bleak and enigmatic tradition that drew upon sources that were far removed from the official orthodoxies of the Church.

The next section

will look at one possible source of this tradition.

The Hour Has Come:

Caesarius's stories are full of enigmas. despair strike so unpredictably?

Why did

Caesarius emphasized that

the lay brother, the nun, and the innkeeper were devout, well-meaning people.

He did not explain why they were

stricken with despair. driven to suicide. choice.

Neither did he explain why they were

It was, on the face of it, an irrational

If they believed that they would be damned, then

72 what did they gain by suicide?

It would only hasten them to

hell. This section will look at three stories, ranging from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries.

They were all told

by clerics, but they reflect themes far removed from Christian orthodoxy.

They all contain the same sinister

phrase, and they all shed light on Caesarius's sense of fatal compulsion. These stories do not conclusively prove anything about the origins of religious despair.

But they suggest

something about the subterranean cultural traditions that may have influenced its development. 1)

The first story appears in a Merovingian biography

of Desiderius, a seventh century bishop of Limoges.

One day

he was sitting by the side of a river, when he heard some voices say, "The hour has come, the man has not come! hour has come, the man has not come!"87


The voices came

from no human source, and bystanders wondered what this meant. Desiderius was afraid that the sinister voices meant that somebody was doomed.

He told his attendants to see if

anyone was trying to ford the river.

They noticed a

horseman, carrying letters to his master, the Count Maurinus. 87

When Desiderius urged the horseman to stop, he

"Hora venit, homo non venit; Hora venit, homo non venit." Vita Sancti Desiderii 18, ed. Br. Krusch (Turnholt: Brepol, 1957) p. 3 64.

73 grew angry and impatient.

Then Desiderius told his servants

to offer the horseman a little wine to make him calm.


horseman refused, but finally agreed to drink a glass of water.

As soon as he had swallowed it, he fell to the

ground dead. 2)

Water had claimed its victim.88

A second story was told by Peter Damian, the

eleventh century theologian, now perhaps best remembered as an advocate for reform, a friend of the future Gregory VII, and a vitriolic critic of homosexuals and married clergy. His story concerned a certain monk travelling in the retinue of a bishop.

The group reached a river, and stopped

for a rest before they tried to ford it.

Suddenly they

heard a voice, coming from the river itself, and saying: "The hour has come; the man has not come."89

The monk

leapt on his horse, and spurred it towards the river as fast 88

Another early medieval story also involves a murderous river spirit. In the sixth century, Gregory of Tours told the story of a poor woodcutter who had sheltered a travelling priest for the night, and had been given in return a piece of blessed bread. The man ate all but a few crumbs. The next morning, the woodcutter needed to cross a river, and drove his oxen and wagon on a bridge built over some boats. As he stood in the middle of the bridge, he heard two voices speaking to each other. The first said, "Drown him, drown him." The second said, "... this man is fortified by the bread of the priest; I am unable therefore to harm him." (Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors 30, trans. Ray van Dam (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988), pp. 4445.) Gregory also told stories about murderous demons who infested the Loire near Tours, but were defeated by St Martin. 89

"Hora venit, homo non venit." Peter Damian, De Variis Miraculis 8, PL 145, col. 582. The narrative does not tell where or when the incident happened.

74 as he could go.

The bishop's retainers, after a tremendous

struggle, were able to force him to a halt.

All this time,

he shouted at them:

Let me go!

Let me go!

forces me on. delayed.

The command of the king

It is not a matter which can be

The mystery of the king insists on it.

Inevitable necessity commands me.90

Eventually the group forded the river, and found lodgings for the night.

There, while everyone else was asleep, the

monk drowned himself, by wedging his head into a large jar of water.

As in the previous story, water had managed to

gain its victim. The monk's companions were stunned.

He had been a

devout man, and they could not understand why he had suddenly destroyed himself.

But they believed that, because

of his piety, his soul would be saved even though his body had perished. 3)

A third story appears in the works of the writer

and diplomat Gervase of Tilbury.

His Otia Imperialia was

written around 1210 for his patron, the ill-fated emperor Otto IV, about ten years before the appearance of 90

"Quiescite, quaeso, dimitte me, recedite, quia iussio regis urget. Non est res, quae deferri possit in posterum. Mysterium regis instat, inevitablilis necessitas imperat." De Variis Miraculis, col. 582.

75 Caesarius's stories. world:

Gervase explored the marvels of the

wolfmen, horse-headed men, and magical fountains.

In one chapter he described enormous water-snakes who devoured human beings, and water-spirits who kidnapped women in order that they might nurse infant water-spirits in elaborate underwater mansions.

He also remembered that, not

long ago, on the banks of the Rhone, a voice was heard to say continuously for three days: the man has not come."91

"The hour has come, and

On the afternoon of the third

day, a young horseman suddenly appeared, and galloped into the river, and was swallowed up without a trace.

Then the

mysterious voice became silent.92 These three stories, dating from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries, all tell the same tale:

of men who

were compelled to drown themselves after a voice from a 91

"In his ergo locis profundis affirmant draco saepissime de nocte lucida in specie humana videri; unde paucis annis exactis, vox ex ipso Rhodani profundo exiens, per continuum triduum publice audiebatur in loco extra portam civitatis, quam praediximus, quasi specie hominis per ripam discurrente: 'Hora paeteriit, et homo non venit.' Die igitur tertia circa horam nonam, cum acrius hominis ilia species vocem memoratam exaggerat, festino cursu juvenis quidam ad ripam veniens totus imbibitur, et ita vox ilia de caetero audita non fuit." Gervaise of Tilbury, Otia Imperialia 85 (Hanover: Rumpler, 1856), pp. 38-39. 92

A story in a fifteenth century collection may also reflect a distant belief in malignant water spirits. A canon dreamed that he was soon to die. He tried to cheer himself up with a horseback ride, but he was thrown from his horse into the Rhine and drowned. (The Facetiae of the Mensa Philosphica: 207, ed. and trans. Thomas Dunn, (St Louis: Washington University Studies, 1934), p. 52) .

76 river announced:

"the hour has come; the man has not come".

This theme remained widespread as late as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when peasants throughout Europe told similar stories, using the identical words: come; the-man-has-not-come."93

"the hour-has-

It was a tradition with

enormous stamina. Is there any resemblance between these stories and the stories told by Caesarius of Heisterbach?

Both sets of

stories are about a mysterious compulsion, irresistible and incomprehensible. will.

Its victims did not act of their own free

Instead, they were manipulated by a power determined

to destroy them, whether it was despair, or malignant water spirits. The first "hour-has-come" story dates from the seventh century, but the stories may reflect an even older tradition.

The pre-Christian people of north-west Europe,

both Celtic and Germanic, often left human sacrifices in lakes and rivers.

The "hour-has-come" stories may trace

some of their origins to a time when lakes and rivers were thought to be hungry for human victims.


For "the hour-has-come, the-man-has-not-come" stories, see: Robert Wildhaber, " ADie Stunde is da, aber der Mann nicht': Ein Europaisches Sagenmotiv", Rheinisches Jahrbuch fur Volkskunde 9 (1958), pp. 65-88. The article mentions nineteenth and twentieth century examples collected by folklorists in many parts of Europe, but only one pre-modern example, from Gervase of Tilbury. It does not mention the Desiderius or Peter Damian stories.

77 The survival of pre-Christian beliefs is not surprising.

As Jacques Le Goff has argued, this period saw

a resurgence of pre-Christian folklore.94

We can

reasonably assume that the hour-has-come tradition was onlyone of many archaic traditions that remained in circulation. This is not to say that Caesarius's notion of despair evolved out of pre-Christian concepts of water spirits. That would be too stark and simple a formulation.


Caesarius's notion of despair may have been partially shaped, if not created, by pre-Christian ideas of doom and enchantment. This archaic legacy helps us to understand some of the more cryptic aspects of what would become the medieval interpretation of despair. sense of doom:

It helps to explain the strong

why early victims of despair were often

driven by a sense of compulsion; and why they often tried to kill themselves.

Their urge to suicide makes little sense

in terms of Christian theology.

But it makes sense in terms

of the hour-has-come stories, which taught that some people are selected, for no obvious reason, to be sacrificed at the command of mysterious and implacable voices.


Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Aldershot, 1990); Jacques Le Goff, "The Marvelous in the Medieval West", in The Medieval Imagination, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 27-44.

78 It also helps us to understand the sense of incongruity that is so obvious in Caesarius's stories.

As he saw it,

there was no reason why the inn-keeper, the elderly nun, or the lay-brother should have tried to drown themselves. were pious people leading stable lives. to this in the hour-has-come stories.


There is a parallel

The mysterious voices

chose their victims for reasons that were apparent to no human being. Finally, the influence of archaic traditions helps us to understand a broader question:

why the clergy, both

during the Middle Ages and after the Reformation, found despair so difficult to control.

Despair was not only a

response to Christian theology; it was also a conduit for a shadow world of forbidden emotions and ancient traditions of doom.

The Problem of Predestination:

"I am reprobate," said the elderly nun in Caesarius's story, "I am one of those appointed to eternal ruin".


years earlier, Philip of Harvengt's unhappy noblewoman had exclaimed that she was predestined - "praedestinata" - to the devil.95 95

Dialogue on Miracles IV:40, p. 238. In the Latin original, her words were: "Ego sum de reprobis, de illis scilicet, qui damnandi sunt." (Dialogus Miraculorum, vol. I, p. 209.) "... sinite me ire in internum cum diabolo, cui praedestinata et data sum." Philip de Harvengt, De Miraculis

79 What do comments like these mean?

It is widely assumed

that, at least in puritan circles, there was a link between predestination and despair.

(A later chapter will argue

that the importance of this link has been exaggerated.)


there a similar link in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? Any discussion of the psychological effects of a belief in predestination must begin with Augustine, who, towards the end of his life in the 420s, gave the doctrine of predestination its classic form.

His teachings were

controversial, and were attacked on many grounds.


reported that one of his critics suggested that his doctrines could drive people to hopelessness: "by preaching predestination, more despair than encouragement is given to those who hear it".96

Augustine brushed this argument

aside in one sentence: predestination did not teach people to abandon hope, but simply taught them to place their hope where it belonged:

in God rather than in themselves.

Apparently he thought that this was not an important objection, and did not want to waste his time on it.


S. Amandi, PL 203, col. 1291. 96

Augustine, De Dono Perseverantiae 46, trans. Sister Mary Alphonsine Lesousky (Washington: Catholic University Press of America, 1956), p. 181.

80 opponents seem to have thought the same; they attacked his theory of predestination mainly on other grounds. Augustine was a contemporary of the Desert Fathers, but it is doubtful if many of them, living in the eastern, Greek-speaking half of the Empire, followed the controversy.97

In the vast literature about acedia, there

seem to be no allusions to monks who brooded about predestination. It was Gregory the Great, writing late in the sixth century, who gave predestination a place in monastic piety in the West.

He often spoke of the elect in his Moralia on

Job, which was so influential throughout the Middle Ages. Like many other monastic writers who followed him, Gregory emphasized predestination-to-salvation more than predestination-to-damnation.

He mentioned the elect mainly

in order to encourage his devout readers.

He wrote, for

example, that the elect must expect to suffer in this world: "nobody enters into this life of the elect who has not endured the attacks of this enemy."98

But they are already

united spiritually to Christ, who shares in their suffering


One of the few who may have done so was John Cassian, who was living in Gaul at the time, and who transmitted many monastic texts to the Latin world. 98

"Nullus in hac uita electorum uenit qui non huius hostis aduersa sustinuit." Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 111:17/32, vol. 1, p. 135.

81 with them, "for it is he who endures daily everything which his elect suffer at the hands of the reprobate."99 In the early, pre-scholastic Middle Ages, the doctrine of election was used mostly in an unsystematic way.


monastic theologians settled into a comfortable semiPelagianism.

Many others do not seem to have thought very

hard about the doctrine.

They seldom mentioned it, and,

when they did, it was often for the same reason as Gregory the Great, to reassure monks that they would persevere in their vocation. There was an important exception:

a monk named

Gottschalk, born around 803, the son of a count from the recently converted region of Saxony.

When he was still a

child, his parents gave him, together with some family land, to the great monastery of Fulda.

It was a common

arrangement for younger sons of noble families, but, when he was twenty-one, Gottschalk left Fulda, and infuriated his abbot by demanding the land his parents had donated.


abbot refused. Gottschalk spent the rest of his life as a rebel.


denounced monastic customs, such as the dedication of children like himself to monasteries, and he revived, in all its rigor, the Augustinian theology of double predestination: 99

the idea that some people were predestined

"Ipse quippe cotidie patitur omne quod a reprobis eius electi lacerantur." Moralia in Job 111:19/35, vol. 1, p. 137.

82 to salvation, and others were predestined to damnation. Gottschalk won many followers, and was able to find refuge with sympathetic noblemen on the barbarian frontier. The resulting controversy divided the Church.


sides ransacked the works of Augustine and other patristic writers.

Hrabanus Maurus, once Gottschalk's abbot and now

his bitter critic, wrote: "this sect has driven many people into desperation so that they say, 'why is it necessary for me to labor for my salvation and eternal life, because if I do good, and am not predestinated to eternal life, it profits me nothing...'"100

One of Gottschalk's defenders,

Lupus of Ferrieres, countered that people who fell into despair had only themselves to blame.

They should have

sinned less and trusted God more:

They turn to an affection of the heart; that is, they delight in evil with insatiable love, ... and they drown themselves in a chasm of desperation because of their irrevocable impiety... Why does someone despair of the possibility of returning when he has life, when he ought to trust all the more strongly in the goodness

100 „ E t ^ a m j1-j_nc m u itos in desperationem suimet haec secta perduxit ut dicant: quid mihi necesse est pro salute mea et vita aeterna laborare, quia si bonum fecero et predestinatus ad vitam non sum, nihil mihi prodest..." in "EpistolaVI: ad Heberardum Comitem", PL 112, col. 1554. The name can be spelled Hrabanus, Rhabanus, or Rabanus.

83 of God, that he might live and at length reform himself?101

Some historians have argued that Gottschalk himself wondered whether he had been predestined to damnation.102

He once


I, who have been fettered by mighty shackles, bound in chains destined for flames which wreak vengeance and punishment and are filled with every kind of torment, shall certainly sing of Your glory at all times, if you deign to call me from the threshold of death. . .103

These are forceful and, in Gottschalk's case, moving quotations, but it is not certain how much they reveal. 101

"Hoc eorum est qui transeunt in affectum cordis, hoc est, qui malum amore insatiablili diligunt, et in eo durare obstinantissima intentione decreverunt, et in desperationis barathrum irrevocabili se impietate merserunt... Cur se regressum habere dum hie vivit desperat, cum potius de bonitate Dei praesumere debeat, quod ideo vivat ut semetipsum tandem aliquando corrigat?". Lupus of Ferrieres, Liber De Tribus Ouaestionibus, PL 119, col. 640. 102

David Ganz, "The Debate on Predestination", in Charles the Bald: Court and Kingdom, ed. Margaret Gibson and Janet Nelson, 2nd edition (Aldershot, 1990), p. 288. 103

"O My Guardian", in Peter Godman, trans, and ed., Poetry of the Carolinctian Renaissance (London: Duckworth, 1985), pp. 244-245.

84 Lupus and Hrabanus Maurus were more interested in winning a debate than in presenting a dispassionate analysis of religious psychopathology.

They were also borrowing heavily

from earlier writers, especially Augustine and his critics. Even Gottschalk's moving poem is based on an earlier model. In other words, these quotations indicate only that certain writers argued that predestination could cause anxiety; they do not prove that this anxiety actually existed or what form it would have taken. After Gottschalk, predestination receded into the background.

From the tenth through the thirteenth

centuries, monastic writers rarely discussed the psychological effects of predestination, and when they did bother to discuss the doctrine, they were usually unsystematic, preferring occasional references to organized analysis.

Following the example of Gregory the Great, they

were much more likely to emphasize predestination to salvation than predestination to damnation. Some early Cistercians, like William of St Thierry and Bernard, occasionally discussed predestination.104


they seldom dwelt on the question of God's willingness to condemn sinners.


They were more likely to discuss

William of St Thierry, Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans 8:33, trans. John Baptist Hasbrouck (Kalamazoo, 1980), p. 177; Bernard of Clairvaux, Treatises III: On Grace and Free Choice, trans. Conrad Greenia (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1977) .

85 predestination in terms of religious psychology, such as the role of free will, or in terms of speculative questions, such as whether God had predestined Satan to evil or Adam and Eve to sin.

There is very little in this literature

that seems likely to have provoked any reader to become obsessed with the doctrine. To sum up, religious writers of the West, from Augustine to Bernard, sometimes discussed the subject of predestination, but, in most cases, they were not preoccupied by it.

Generations afterwards, during the later

Middle Ages and the Reformation, many theologians would be absorbed by the problem, and would discuss it freely and frequently.

But this was not the case in the twelfth

century. For this reason, we cannot assume that the emergence of despair in the twelfth century was a response to the doctrine of predestination.

When we read, for example, that

Philip's unhappy noblewoman thought that she was "predestinata" to hell, we cannot assume that her sense of doom reflects contemporary theological discussions of predestination.

Instead, we should consider the

possibility, raised in the previous section, that predestination could be a metaphor for a sense of doom and compulsion whose origins lie partly outside the mainstream of Christian theology.

86 Blasphemy, Skepticism and Despair:

We have seen how a tradition of doom merged with the theology of predestination.

A similar thing happened in the

case of the compulsion to blasphemy.

There was, in fact, a

long-established link between blasphemy and a sense of doom and despair.

It was already obvious in the age of the

Desert Fathers105; and it continued throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period. Blasphemous thoughts often occurred at the early stages of a crisis.

Many devout people were first troubled by

blasphemous thoughts, and only later, after struggling with them for some time, started to worry about their possible damnation. In other words, blasphemous thoughts seem to have been more often the cause, rather than the effect, of despair. The connection was well established in Cistercian literature.

As early as the 1140s, William of St Thierry

observed that monks could be lured into a crisis by "the spirit of blasphemy".

In the 1170s, John of Clairvaux

described the plight of "those who are attacked by the



Barsanuphe et Jean de Gaze:

Correspondance 22 9, pp.

87 spirit of infidelity, or doubt, or despair, or blasphemy".106

He cited four clerics, all prominent in the

reforming movement, who had found it almost impossible to believe in the Christian faith:

The abbot of Foigny, for example, began to doubt everything, and left the monastery, but his monks brought him back.

The infirmarian of Clairvaux

had been plagued by doubt for years, but he eventually overcame them.

So, too, had Baldwin, the abbot of

Reigny, a daughter-house of Clairvaux.

And Bishop

Hugh of Grenoble had been tormented daily by blasphemous thoughts.107

Almost fifty years later, Caesarius of Heisterbach also raised the problem of blasphemy, in his story of the nun who began to doubt "all those articles of faith that she had

106 "Quod nullatenus desperandum est de his qui infidelitatis vel dubietatis seu diffidentiae aut blasphemiae spiritu impugnatur." Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:15, fol. 143r. 107

Liber Visionum et Miraculorum 4:15, f ol. 143r. John's comments about Hugh are confirmed in Hugh's biography, which states that from 1080 to his death in 1132 he endured temptations, because the devil "by tricks worthy of the Serpent (i. e., the devil) suggested blasphemous thoughts, either about God himself or about the things pertaining to God." ("... suggerebat viperea machinatione blasphemiam, scilicet ut de Deo vel de his quae ad Deum pertinet..." (Guigo, Vita S. Huqonis 11:6, PL 153, col. 767.)

88 believed from infancy," and, as a result, lost confidence in her salvation, and tried to drown herself.108 In other words, blasphemy and despair were so closely linked that we cannot understand despair unless we also understand the meaning of blasphemy.

Yet, unfortunately,

few writers were willing to describe blasphemous thoughts. We know that they mattered but we do not know what form they took, because they were so rarely described.

They sometimes

seem to have involved skeptical thoughts, or sexual fantasies about religion, or a sense of anger and rebellion against God.

But they apparently could take many other

forms as well. This seems to have varied from one period to another. The very sparse evidence suggests, for example, that the early Cistercians were especially prone to skeptical thoughts, and that the puritans were more likely to be angry at God.

But this is only conjecture.

Both medieval and

early modern writers hesitated to describe blasphemous thoughts in any detail. Herbert of Bosham is an exception to this rule, a rare example of a writer willing to describe his blasphemous thoughts.

He had been an aide and avid supporter of Thomas

Becket, whose biography he wrote around 1185, about fifteen 108

Caesarius also described another episode of skepticism: a woman hermit who, under the influence of melancholy humors, doubted the existence of God and of the soul. (Dialogue on Miracles IV:39, pp. 235-6.)

89 years after Becket's death.

Becket had already been

canonized, but Herbert was anxious to refute every possible criticism of his hero.

At one point in the biography, he

paused to rebut the rumor that Becket had been accustomed to say Mass too quickly and, by implication, too irreverently. Herbert insisted that speed was not a sign of impiety. Instead, it helped to fend off blasphemous thoughts. Then, in a bizarre digression, he explained that he had often been troubled by such thoughts, and described them, writing in an inchoate, almost stream-of-consciousness style.

He had wondered whether the Jews were right.

if Jesus had not been God incarnate?


What if he had been a

false Messiah?

What, therefore, if the Church believed that the Lord was thus incarnate, but he had, however, not yet been incarnate?109

He was plainly terrified by the power of Jewish objections to Christianity, and he doubted whether he could remain loyal to his faith.

He tried to counter these thoughts with

the argument that the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist

109 "Quid igitur si ecclesia crederet Dominum sic incarnatum, et tamen necdum incarnatus fuit?". Herbert of Bosham, Vita Sancti Thomae, in Materials for the Study of Thomas Becket, ed. James Craigie Robertson (London: Longman, 1877), vol. 3, p. 213.

90 was purer, or at least tidier, than the sacrifices practiced by the ancient Jews before the destruction of the Temple. The blood of many animals, from doves to goats, had flowed from its altars.

He tried to persuade himself that it would

have been a messy, hideous sight. But he could not rid himself of his strange thoughts. He was troubled by sinister dreams and daydreams.


night, he thought he saw the consecrated host "in the chalice turn and whirl here and there, as if in continuous and very rapid motion..."110

He confided his troubles to

Becket, who reassured him, but this did not put his temptations to rest. into his mind: fluid".111

Unwelcome thoughts continued to crowd

"wandering, pointless, fluctuating,

He could not control them.

He thought that his mind was infiltrated by blasphemous ideas, just as the mind of Judas had been infiltrated by the thought of betraying Christ.

The implication was that he,

like Judas, would be damned.

He was tempted during Mass,

while Judas had been tempted during the Last Supper, which was, of course, the original Mass, commemorated at every liturgy.


"visa est mei hostia, hac et iliac in calice, quasi in moto continuo et citissimo circumagere se et circumferre", Vita Sancti Thomae, p. 215. 111

"... cogitationes vagas, vanas, fluidas...", Vita Sancti Thomae, p. 216.



91 We know that many people moved from blasphemy to despair.

Herbert's narrative is among the few, either in

the later Middle Ages or in the early modern period, that give us a glimpse of how this transition, from blasphemy to despair, could happen.

His blasphemous thoughts trapped him

between two contradictory fears.

If the Christians were

right, then he had angered God by doubting Christ.

If the

Jews were right, then he had angered God by worshipping Christ.

Caught between the competing claims of two

religions, he became haunted by the images of the bloody altar and the whirling eucharistic host - images that, of course, assaulted each religion's sense of the sacred. Herbert's temptations reflected his exceptional learning.

A brilliant Biblical scholar, the "best Hebraist

of his century", he was familiar with contemporary Jewish thought.112

Presumably this was one reason why he wondered

if Jews, rather than Christians, had the right religion.113 Yet Herbert was not alone in his engagement with another religion.

During the High Middle Ages, many

theologians - Jewish, Muslim, and Christian - engaged in 112

(Oxford: 113

Beryl Smalley, The Becket Conflict and the Schools Blackwell, 1973), p. 59.

Dangerous though it was, a few Christians converted to Judaism. (N. Golb, "Notes on the Conversion of European Christians to Judaism in the Eleventh Century", Journal of Jewish Studies 16 (1965), pp. 69-74; W. Giese, "In Iudaismum lapsum est" : Jiidische Proselytenmacherei im friihen und hohen Mittelalter", Historisches Jahrbuch 88 (1968), pp. 407-418.)

92 inter-faith debate.

Some well known examples, on the

Christian side, are Abelard's Dialogus inter Philosophum, Iudaeum, et Christianum, Gilbert Crispin's Disputatio Iudei et Christiani, and Thomas Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles. These writers intended to defend their own religion, but their arguments may have encouraged some of their followers to think of religion as an intellectual system that could be weighed and analyzed, rather than simply practiced and accepted as the self-evident will of God. Such thoughts could be troubling to Muslims and Jews, as well as to Christians.

In the closing years of the

eleventh century, for example, the great Muslim theologian Al-Ghazzali entered upon a long period of doubt and searching after he "noticed how easily the children of Christians become Christians, and the children of Moslems embrace Islam. . . "114

It was years before he recovered his

equilibrium, after finally abandoning the authority of reason for the authority of faith and of a direct experience of God. Almost a hundred years after Herbert wrote his narrative, some English Jews recorded a tragedy that was the mirror image of Herbert's temptations.


It involved R. Yom-

The Confessions of Al Ghazzali, trans. Claud Field, (Lahore: Ashraf, 1981), p. 14. To his own doubts he countered the saying traditionally attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: "Every child has in him the germ of Islam, then his parents make him Jew, Christian, or Zoroaster".

93 Tov, the pious son of a well known London family.

The day

before the Jewish festival of Pentecost, he stunned his kinsmen by hanging himself from his clothes rack.


father, horrified by his sacrilegious death, refused to weep for him, and allowed only "slaves and rustics" to attend his burial in a communal grave.

That night, Yom-Tov appeared to

his father and his friends in a dream, and told them that he had "come to a great light". had been driven to suicide. Christianity.

He explained to them why he He had felt helplessly drawn to

A mysterious cross, actually a demon in the

form of a cross, appeared to him, and he feared that he could not escape its power.

And so he had decided to take

his life rather than abandon his faith.115 The stories of Herbert and Yom-Tov bring the experience of blasphemy fearfully to life.

Each was afraid that he

would apostatize, and was haunted by sinister symbols:


whirling eucharistic host, the bloody altar, and the demonic cross.

We can understand why the two men felt that they

were losing control of their minds. Both Herbert and Yom-Tov were tempted to embrace an alien religion.

Contemporary comments hint, rather

obliquely, that some other people may have been tempted, 115

Ephraim Kupper, "A Contribution to the Chronicles of the Family of R. Moses Ben Yom-Tov, 'The Noble' of London", Tarbiz 40 (1971), pp. 385-7; M. J. L. Sachs, ed. , Perushei Rabbenu Elivahu miLondres Ufesaqav (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kuk, 1957). See also Jean-Claude Schmitt, La conversion d'Hermann le juif (Paris: Seuil, 2003).

94 more simply, to question religion in any form.

John of

Clairvaux, as we have seen, reported that the abbot of Foigny was tempted to "doubt everything".

Caesarius of

Heisterbach reported that the elderly nun doubted everything she had been taught to believe. It may be no coincidence that such cases occurred as a wave of speculative thought was slowly spreading throughout Europe.

Bernard of Clairvaux disapproved of this trend.


relentlessly pursued the philosopher Abelard, a leading exponent of this way of thinking, and helped to engineer his condemnation for heresy in 1140.

In a letter to the pope,

Bernard complained that Abelard taught, among other things, that Christ had not been incarnate, and was not part of the Trinity.116 Bernard's accusations were probably unfair, but that is not the point.

He encouraged his fellow Cistercians to

believe that some of the greatest minds of their time doubted the essential tenets of Christianity.

This may have

had the unintended effect of encouraging some of his more suggestible followers to wonder if these heretics were right, or at least to become disturbed by or obsessed with heretical ideas.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the

earliest Cistercian references to despair date from the 1130's and the 1140's, when the controversy with Abelard 116


Capitula Haeresum Petri Abelardi, PL 182, cols 1049-

95 reached its climax.

Real philosophical doubt coincided, in

the same span of time, with the self-searching spirituality of the early Cistercians. Blasphemy and skepticism were shadow traditions. Religious writers mentioned them often, and urgently; and so we can assume that they were considered serious problems. We do not know what they meant, since writers usually refused to describe them. revealing.

But even this silence is

It confirms that blasphemous thoughts were

considered dangerous, powerful, and likely to happen. Herbert's case is not representative. his generation were Hebrew scholars. revealing.

Few clerics of

But it is still

The idea of blasphemy allowed him to express

forbidden ideas.

He could not have openly stated that he

wondered whether Judaism was right, and that Christianity was wrong.

But he could state that he had been tempted by

the devil to think so. In later chapters, we will look at puritan cases of blasphemy and skepticism.

They could take many forms,

though it is hard to know exactly which, since the puritans were as cautious as their medieval predecessors about describing the thoughts that haunted them.

But these

puritan narratives tell us enough to reveal that some puritans wondered whether Christianity was really the true religion, just as Herbert of Bosham had centuries earlier. They also tell us that, for many other puritans, blasphemy

96 seems to have taken another form, of blind rage against God, for his cruel strokes of fate and for his relentless ethical demands.

For others, blasphemy seemed to have been linked

to more personal anxieties, phobias or obsessions.

But the

common theme, in both the Middle Ages and in puritan times, is that blasphemy was a conduit for thoughts that were officially unthinkable, that were the shadow side of orthodoxy.


This chapter has argued that there were two sides to despair:

an orthodox religious tradition, and a shadow

tradition. 1) the religious tradition: was born in monastic circles.

The syndrome of despair

It traced its origins to the

Desert Fathers' notion of acedia.

It emerged, in its

classic form, among the Cistercians in the twelfth century. It was firmly linked to orthodox Christian theology, especially to the themes of temptation and spiritual warfare. 2) the shadow tradition:

But the syndrome of despair

was also shaped by a second tradition, best defined as a shadow tradition, because its origins are mysterious and its existence was barely acknowledged.

This shadow tradition

97 expressed itself through some standard Christian ideas, including a fear of blasphemy and an invocation of predestination, but it also seems to have drawn on other sources.

The existence of this shadow tradition helps to

explain why despair was so difficult to understand and to cure. The shadow tradition had roughly three components.


first component was the underside of contemporary religion. It represented ideas that haunted some devout people - Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians - but were difficult to express in orthodox terms.

These people might have feared

that their own religion was untrue, or that all religions were untrue, or that God sometimes betrayed the people who trusted and obeyed him.

These thoughts cannot be confused

with the comfortable skepticism of many post-Enlightenment Europeans.

On the contrary, these thoughts were often

accompanied by a sense of terror and confusion. The second component is more elusive and personal.


narratives hint that some victims of despair were driven by their own fantasies, griefs, or obsessions.

One example is

Philip of Harvengt's noblewoman, who became irrationally convinced that her husband had been unfaithful.

As we will

see in later chapters, these obsessions were highly personal and could take many forms, including envy, suspicion, or the anguish of bereavement.

98 The third component drew on archaic traditions.


included the fear that God, or some mysterious spirits, demanded the sacrifice of human life. grimmer side of Christian theology:

They could invoke the a fear of being

abandoned by God, and of being condemned to destruction. But the roots of these elusive traditions may also have gone back to the pre-Christian past. In other words, despair had a double character. could be about the fear of damnation.


But it also could be

about fears that were more forbidden, or more idiosyncratic, or more archaic.

In many cases, these two sides of despair

were present in the same crisis.

For example, the

noblewoman described by Philip of Harvengt was suspicious of her husband, but she also was afraid that she would go to hell.

As we shall see, this double character of despair

would continue into the later Middle Ages and the early modern period.

Many people combined the fear of hell with

other, more obscure and more mysterious types of fear. causes of despair would remain very complex and very personal.



Compared to most other regions of western Europe, English Catholicism, in the later Middle Ages, was, in many ways, relatively orderly and stable.

It produced few

celebrity preachers, like Vincent Ferrer or Bernardino of Siena, and few visionary women, like Catherine of Siena or Bridget of Sweden.

Its bishops tended to be bureaucrats.

Its monastic houses were relatively sparse, compared to France, the Low Countries or even Bohemia.

Its most

significant heretics, the Lollards, were more manageable than the explosive movements, like the Albigensians or the Hussites, which sometimes erupted on the Continent. English writers took a cautious approach to the problem of despair.

They tended to follow the standard late

medieval models, developed on the Continent.

They did not

strike out on their own.

But they did discuss the problem

of despair fairly often.

In other words, English

Protestantism emerged out of a world where the problem of despair was part of the religious landscape, and, as we shall see, this has significant implications for our understanding of the early English Protestant understanding of despair. When early modern historians have looked at the Church in pre-Reformation England, they have tended to emphasize the corporate side of religion, in confraternities or

100 parishes.117

Medievalists, by contrast, have often

emphasized other sides of late medieval English religion, and literary historians, especially, have paid much attention to the hermits, recluses, and mystical writers like Richard Rolle and Walter Hilton, who created informal but creative networks of piety.

These were not absolutely

unlike the informal networks of piety that, a century or two later, would draw godly puritans together.118

This chapter

will tend to concentrate on this subculture of pious networks within the late medieval Church, because it produced much of the evidence about the syndrome of despair in late medieval England.

The Problem of Predestination:

To a foreign observer, it might have seemed that the one of the more striking, more original sides of the English Church was to be found at the universities, especially Oxford, which, during the fourteenth century, produced some 117

For example: Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); Christopher Haigh, English Reformations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); J. J. Scarisbrick, The Reformation and the English People (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984). 118

For friendship and patronage networks, see: Ann Warren, Anchorites and Their Patrons in Medieval England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985); Jonathan Hughes, Pastors and Visionaries: Religion and Secular Life in Late Medieval Yorkshire (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1988).

101 brilliant and controversial theologians, like William of Ockham and Bradwardine. English theologians tended to be attracted to difficult themes, including predestination, and their fascination with this enigmatic doctrine was well known at the time.


joked about it in the Canterbury Tales, where he merrilysuggested that divine providence was responsible for the rooster Chauntecleer's near fatal encounter with Russell the fox.

But what God forwot (foreknew) must needs be After the opinion of certain clerks. Witness on him that any perfect clerk is, That in school is great altercation In this matter, and great disputation, And hath been of a hundred thousand men.119

Chaucer was right; there truly was a "great disputation" about predestination, even if not quite a "hundred thousand men" were involved. This raises the question of whether this debate had any psychological ramifications, and whether it did anything to encourage the growth of despair.


Certainly, there was such

Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Nun's Priest's Tale", in The Canterbury Tales, in The Complete Works (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1933), p. 243.

102 a connection more than two hundred years later, in the age of William Perkins, when predestination and despair were very firmly linked.

But English theologians of the

fourteenth century apparently made few connections between the doctrine of predestination and the problem of despair. Robert Holcot, a Dominican who died in 1349, briefly raised it, in a grim allusion to a hypothetical figure named Sortes:

Moreover, if God could reveal an event in the future, for one reason or another.

It could

be postulated that Sortes really is going to be damned, and that therefore God could reveal this to Sortes.

Once that happened, it could

be argued that Sortes might fall into despair, because he was bound to believe God, and therefore God would be the cause of his despair, and would thus be the cause of sin.120

120 "Praeterea, si Deus posset revelare propositionem de futuro, qua ratione unam, et aliam. Ponatur igitur quod in rei veritate Sortes sit damnandus, ergo Deus potest hos revelare Sorti. Quo facto, argyuitur quod desperatur, quia tenetur credere Deo; ergo Deus erit auctor istius desperationis et sic erit auctor peccati." Robert Holcot, Seeing the Future Clearly: In Ouator Libros Sententiarum, eds. Paul Streveler and Katherine Tachau (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1995), quaestio 2, liber 2, p. • 136.

103 He also raised the questions of whether, under such circumstances, the Church ought to pray for Sortes and whether Sortes ought to pray for himself.121

But Holcot

was interested in philosophical, not in pastoral, problems, and he did not pursue the psychological implications of the story. Other English theologians showed an equal lack of interest in these implications.

For example, in his massive

work on predestination, De Causa Dei, Thomas Bradwardine, the great theologian who died, like Holcot, of the plague in 1349, devoted only a little attention to the psychological side-effects of the doctrine.122 This debate on predestination is fascinating; it attracted much attention.

Some of its chief protagonists,

like Bradwardine, would be remembered and admired by the puritans.

But there is little evidence that it affected the

actual experience of despair in late medieval England.


Holcot, Quodlibet III, quaestio 8, p. 105; In Quator Libros Sententiarum, quaestio 2, liber 2, p. 137. 122

Only a few passages refer to the problem of despair. (De Causa Dei Adversus Pelagium (London, 1618), 1:1, pp. 2021, 1:31, p. 281.) Bradwardine briefly referred to the question of whether preaching about predestination provoked despair, basing his short discussion on a passage from Augustine's De Dono Perseverentiae (2:34).

104 Devotional Literature:

If we want to know what the English clergy thought about despair, we need to turn to devotional guides, instead of works of speculative theology.

These guides often

reflect the "therapeutic" tradition of James of Milan.


suggest that many English clerics interpreted the syndrome of despair in much the same way as their counterparts on the Continent. despair.

Their chief concern was to manage and cure They did not try to develop new theories about it.

William Flete:

In the mid-fourteenth century, William

Flete wrote what became a standard manual on the problem of despair.

He was an English Augustinian who abandoned a

promising academic career in Oxford, and emigrated to Italy, where he became a friend and confidant of Catherine of Siena.

His book on despair was apparently written during

the 1350's, soon before he left England.

This work follows

standard teachings on despair, but it still has some interest, thanks to Flete's sensitive treatment of the problem.123


Almost fifty medieval manuscripts of the work have survived in England alone. Edmund Colledge and Noel Chadwick, introduction to "Remedies Against Temptations: The Third English Version of William Flete", Archivio Italiano per la Storia della Pieta, (1968), p. 203. See also: Benedict Hackett, William Flete, O. S.A., and Catherine of Siena (Villanova: Augustinian Press, 1992).

105 According to Flete, many people were troubled by "desperations and dreads of salvation".

Like Caesarius of

Heisterbach and James of Milan, he noticed that some of them were tormented by "deep imaginations of predestination".


also noticed that others were afraid that they had "sinned in the Holy Ghost..", in other words, that they had committed the mysterious, unpardonable sin described in Matthew 12:31. obsession.

Flete was eager to discourage this

He argued that almost nobody had ever committed

the unpardonable sin, which he defined as a determined and persistent refusal to repent, and he insisted that, because of its very nature, anyone who worried about it could not possibly have committed it.

This argument would remain

standard for at least three hundred years.124 Like many religious writers since the time of John Chrysostom, Flete believed that the devil took advantage of medical problems, tempting his victims according to their natural temperaments for "it is well known that sickness falleth to a man after the disposition of his complexion..."

Melancholy people were especially

vulnerable, because when the devil "findeth a man full of humors of melancholy, he tempteth him most with ghostly

Remedies Against Temptations", pp. 235-6, 224.

106 (i. e., spiritual) temptations."

This, too, was an argument

that would remain standard for centuries.125 Flete's dominant concern, throughout his tract, was to reassure his readers that despair could be cured in one way or another.

To illustrate this point, he told the story of

a man who had been tempted to despair, a soldier named John Homeleis.

He had been a sinful man, although Flete does not

say exactly what form his sins had taken.

After many years,

he gave up his vices, but he could not believe that God would forgive him. eating nor drinking.

For forty days, he brooded, neither He almost wasted away from hunger.

But God, who is rich in mercy, would not forsake him. One day, John walked in a wood, and met a stranger, who was, unknown to him, an angel in disguise.

The stranger greeted

him courteously, and asked him what was troubling him, "for thou seemest a man full of heaviness and sorrow. "126 John would not answer him.


Again the stranger urged him to

speak, because "a man should always in discomfort and heaviness discover his heart to some creature that might


"Remedies Against Temptations", p. 224. Other medieval clergy also gave medical advice to victims of despair. Gerard Groote, the founder of the Brethren of the Common Life, urged an anxious Carthusian "not to go to bed with cold feet, not to hold the head too low, to work: not to worry and not to have scruples about the impure images which the devil sends." (R. R. Post, The Modern Devotion (Leiden Brill, 1968), p. 62.) "Remedies Against Temptations", p. 236.

107 ease him."127

But still John would not reply.

He was

afraid that once the stranger learned about his problems, he would say something that would destroy the little hope he had left. Finally the stranger said:

Since thou wilt not tell me this grievance, I shall tell it (to) thee.

Thou art in despair of thy

salvation, but trust fully thou shalt be saved, for the mercy of God is so great that it surpasseth all his works and surmounteth all sins.128

But John answered that, if God was merciful, he was also righteous, and that a righteous God could not forgive his sins. The stranger told him many stories about God's mercy to notorious sinners, but John was too discouraged to listen. Then the angel took up another line of argument:

Oh, that thou art hard of belief; but wilt thou have an open showing that thou shalt be saved... I have here these dice that I will throw, and thou


"Remedies Against Temptations", p. 236,


"Remedies Against Temptations", p. 236,

108 shalt throw, and who so hath the most on these dice, securely he shall be saved.129

Then the angel threw his dice.

Each one landed with six on

top, which made John laugh, because he knew that he could not possibly throw more than the angel.

But, when he threw

the dice himself, "by God's might every dice clave atwain (i. e., divided in two), and on each dice was six, and so he had the double that the angel had."130 While John marvelled at his amazing luck, the angel disappeared into thin air.

At last, John understood that he

had been speaking to an angel.

Now he was able to believe

in God's mercy, and he spent the rest of his life in peace. This story was a classic exemplum, the sort of vivid parable which medieval preachers used to grab the attention of their audience.

Three hundred years later, puritan

writers would tell a very similar story about an anxious woman called Mary Honywood. Flete's book was unusually moving and sensitive, but it also conformed to standard teachings about despair. Apparently these teachings remained well known in England until the Reformation.


"Remedies Against Temptations", p. 236.


"Remedies Against Temptations", p. 237.

109 Chastising of God's Children:

Books were first printed

in England in 1475, and during the next fifty years religious books formed almost half the printers' output.131

Many were devotional books, which discussed

psychological problems like temptation and despair.132 Some of these books were old favorites, which had circulated in manuscript for decades, and were now reissued by printers who believed that there was still a market for them.


Chastising of God's Children, for example, was written some


"A survey of the books published in English up to 1557 cannot to fail to note the predominating position held by works of a religious and devotional nature. Caxton, de Worde, Pynson and Berthelet were all publishers of such works on a large scale - about 4 0% of the output of de Worde and Pynson, and at least 45% of that of Caxton and Berthelet was of this kind." H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers, 1475 to 1557 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 65. See also Pierre Janelle, L'Angleterre Catholigue a la veille du schisme (Paris: Beauchesne, 1935), pp. 13-15. 132

Anon, The Book of Divers Godly Matters (London, 1491) ; anon, The Chastysyng of Goddes Children (London, 1492) ; Walter Hilton, Scala Perfectionis (London, 1494, 1519, 1525, 1536); anon, The XII Profytes of Tribulation (London, 1499, 1530); A. Chertsey, trans. The Craft to Live Well and Die Well (London, 1505); anon, Ars Moriendi (London, 1497, 1506); anon, Remedy Avenst Temptacyons (London, 1508, 1519, 1525); anon, The Book of Comfort Agaynste All Tribulaycons (London, 1510); anon, The Rote or Myrour of Consolacyon (London, 1511); anon, The Deyenge Creature (London, 1514); anon, The Dyetary of Ghostly Helthe (London, 1520, 1527); William Bonde, The Pvlgrymage of Perfection (London, 1526),The Directory of Conscience (London, 1527) ,- A Devote Treatyse for Them That Ben Tymorouse (London, 1534) ; anon, The Complaint of the Soul (London, 1532) ; anon, The Boke of a Ghostly Fader (London, n. d . ) .

110 time between 1382 and 1408, by an anonymous English cleric.133

Judging from the number of surviving

manuscripts, it was one of the more popular devotional tracts of late medieval England.

In 14 92, Wynkyn de Worde

decided to publish a printed version. Two chapters were written for people who wondered whether God has predestined them to damnation.

They were

borrowed heavily from James of Milan, and they gave traditional advice. Anxious readers were urged to stop thinking about their anxieties, and instead to pray, fast, and do good works.

They were urged to concentrate, when

they said their prayers, on expressing their own love for God, rather than wondering whether God loved them.

Thus with busyness and virtuous living and devout prayer shall ye withstand and overcome this temptation and travailing of the imagination and thinking of predestination and prescience of God.

The author warned them to not to conceal their fears:

For there falleth no man nor woman in mischief but such that go forth and will not show their heart to no man. 133

Joyce Bazire and Eric Colledge, eds. , The Chastising of God's Children (Oxford: Blackwell, 1957), p. 11.

Ill Instead, they should discuss the problem with someone else, their confessor, if he were a wise and understanding man, or other "ghostly livers", - that is, other devout people.134 Then the author turned to the prickly subject of predestination.

He hesitated, he explains, because "of

which matter I dread sore to write for these terms have other sentence (i. e., meaning) in Latin than I can show in English.."135

In the rambling discussion that followed, he

encouraged his readers not to worry.

He told them that God

did not so much predestine people to damnation as foresee that certain people, of their own volition, would choose to rebel against him and be damned. Walter Hilton:

Another old favorite was the Scale of

Perfection, written late in the fourteenth century by Walter Hilton, an Augustinian canon, and printed in 1494, 1519, 1525, and 1536.

Composed as a guide for a woman who had

taken religious vows, it remained a much-read introduction to the contemplative life until the Reformation, numbering both Margery Kempe and Margaret Beaufort among its readers.136 134

It was mainly about contemplative prayer, but

The Chastising of God's Children, pp. 160, 155.


The Chastising of God's Children, p. 156. Unlike much of the book, this section was not borrowed from James of Milan. 136

Thomas Bestul, "Walter Hilton", in Approaching Medieval English Anchoritic and Mystical Texts, Dee Dyas, Valerie Edden, and Roger Ellis, eds. (Woodbridge: Brewer,

112 it also included a chapter about temptation:

"... doubting

of the faith, or of the sacrament of God's Body, also of despair or of blasphemy in our Lord or any of His Saints. . . ,|137 As Hilton saw it, the devil used these temptations to discourage prayer.

The important thing was to ignore them:

"for the feeling of these temptations fouls the soul no more than if he heard a hound bark or felt a flea bite."


the author of The Chastising of God's Children, Hilton encouraged his readers to find a wise advisor:

"to show

their hearts to some wise man in the beginning before they be rooted in the heart, and that they leave their own wit and follow the counsel of him. . . "138 The printers revived another old book: Ayenst the Troubles of Temptacyons.

The Remedy

According to the

anonymous author, the devil "tempted many of the servants of God to desperation and dread of salvation".139

This could

2005), p. 93. 137

Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection, ed. Evelyn Underhill (London: Watkins, 1923), p. 85. Hilton, who died in 1396, was first a canon lawyer and then an Augustinian canon. 138


The Scale of Perfection, p. 87.

The Remedy Ayenst the Troubles of Temptacyons (London, 1519), fol. C2 . Other editions were printed in 1508 and 1525. Its author and original date are unknown. It was often, probably incorrectly, attributed to Richard Rolle, an influential English mystical writer of the fourteenth

113 take different forms:

some feared that they would be damned

for making incomplete or insincere confessions; others worried that, after a lifetime of piety, they would falter on their deathbeds, and so be damned at the end.

The author

advised them not to be ashamed of their temptations.


devil had tempted them precisely because they were friends of God. These writers were in the same therapeutic tradition as Continental authors like James of Milan and Jean Gerson. They described familiar symptoms, and offered tried-and-true advice:

to find a perceptive advisor, to ignore frightening

thoughts, and to concentrate on God's love.

Their comments

were not especially original, but they leave no doubt that despair, as an idea, was part of the lingua franca of the English church in the late Middle Ages.

Its existence was

taken for granted.

Biographical Literature:

Late medieval England produced few autobiographies. One rare example was written by Margery Kempe, the wife of a merchant in King's Lynn, and an aspiring mystic.

As her

autobiography makes clear, she tried to emulate the great


114 women visionaries, especially Bridget of Sweden and Dorothea of Prussia, who played such a prominent role on the Continent.

But England was not fertile ground for this sort

of activity; it had produced few charismatic mystics; and many of Margery's relatives and neighbors were skeptical of her claims. Some time around 1425, she dictated her autobiography to a sympathetic cleric.

She remembered that as a young

wife, in the 1390's, she had been worried about a certain sin, unidentified in her autobiography.

At confession, she

had been too ashamed to mention it to her brusque priest, but later she became terrified that she would be damned for having failed to confess it.

Twice, while in labor during

the difficult birth of her first child, she sent for the priest in order to confess this sin, but each time she felt too ashamed to mention it. Soon after the baby was born, she was overcome by fear:

... for dread she had of damnation on the to side, and his (i. e., the priest's) sharp reproving on the other, this creature went out of her mind, and was wonderly vexed and labored with spirits for half year...

She saw demons "devils opening their mouths all inflamed with burning lowes (flames) of fire, as they should a

115 swallowed her in, sometime ramping at her, sometime threatening her, sometime pulling her, and hauling her both night and day..."

The demons told her to join them:


"bade her she should forsake her Christendom, her faith, and deny her God, his Mother, and all the saints in heaven, her good works and all good virtues, her father, her mother, and all her friends."140 She became convinced that she was a traitor to God, that her secret allegiance had always been with Satan.


the demons urged her to kill herself and to join them in hell, she wondered if they were right:

"she would a

foredone (killed) herself many a time at their stirrings, and a been damned with them in hell, and into witness thereof she bit her own hand so violently that it was seen all her life after."141 One day, Margery saw a vision of Christ "in likeness of a man, most seemly, most beauteous, and most amiable that


Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. Hope Emily Allen and Sanford Brown Meech, Early English Text Society, o. s., vol. 212 (London, 1940), p. 7. Various scholars have suggested various medical explanations for Margery's crisis. For example Clarissa Atkinson believes it was a case of post-partum depression. (Clarissa Atkinson, Mystic and Pilgrim (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983).) For an overview of these theories, see Richard Lawes, "The Madness of Margery Kempe"in The Medieval Mystical Tradition: England, Ireland, and Wales, Exeter Symposium, vol 1, ed. Marion Glasscoe (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 147-167. Lawes believes that Margery suffered from epilepsy. 1

The Book of Margery Kempe, p. 8.

116 ever might be seen with man's eye, clad in a mantle of purple silk, sitting upon her bedside, looking upon her with so blessed a cheer that she was strengthened in all her spirits, (and he) said to her these words: 'Daughter, whyhast thou forsaken me, and I forsook never thee?'"142 From that instant, Margery was well again.

She asked

her husband for the keys to their buttery, and began to supervise her household again.

Never again did she doubt

her salvation. It is hard to know how representative Margery's crisis may have been.

There are frequent references to despair

among contemporary religious writers, and so it is entirely possible that many other people had similar experiences. the other hand, Margery was not a conventional person.

On For

most of her life, she struggled, with little success, to be recognized as a visionary.

Well versed in mystical

literature, she would have known that other visionaries had overcome despair, and she may have included this episode in her autobiography because she thought that it would strengthen her claim to be taken seriously.

The Book of Margery Kempe, p. 8.

117 England on the Verge of the Reformation:

Thus, as we can see, the problem of despair was well established in England during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

But was it prevalent during the final decades

before the Reformation?

Were the first English Protestants

born into a world where despair was already well known? This section will look at works written mainly in the reign of Henry VIII in order to understand whether despair was a topic of interest in the final years of Catholic England.

Devotional Literature:

English printers continued to publish traditional devotional literature into the 1530's.

Henry VIII became

king in 150 9; he broke with the Papacy between 152 9 and 1534; he dissolved English monasticism between 1536 and 1540.

A quick glance at the Short-Title Catalogue shows

that, during the twenty-seven years between 1509 and 1536, between Henry's accession and the dissolution of the monasteries, at least ten books were printed - and this is not an exhaustive list - containing traditional material on the problem of religious despair:

Walter Hilton, Scala

Perfectionis (1519, 1525, 1536); anon., The XII Profvtes of Tribulation (1530); anon., Remedy Avenst Temptations (1517, 1519); anon., The Book of Comfort Agaynste All Tribulayeions

118 (1510); anon., The Rote or Myrour of Consolacyon (1511); anon., The Deyenge Creature (1514); anon., The Dyetary of Ghostly Helthe (1520, 1527); William Bonde, The Pylgrymage of Perfection (1526), A Devote Treatyse (1534); anon., The Complaint of the Soul (1532) .143 William Bonde:

Some of these books were reprints of

old authors, but others were by contemporary authors. William Bonde belonged to the Bridgettine community at Syon, which had strong connections to the humanist movement. of his colleagues were friends of Erasmus.


Bonde himself

was a learned man, a former fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge.144

But, when he published The Directory of

Conscience in 1527, he drew on traditional lore.

The book

was almost entirely taken from earlier sources.145 Like some earlier writers, including William Flete, Bonde blamed despair on two things: the temptations of the devil. traditional.

melancholy humors and

His remedies were

He advised anxious readers to pray, to


Ten books may not seem like a great deal, but the Short-Title Catalogue lists an average of about thirty a year for most of this period. 144

David Knowles, The Religious Orders in England: The Tudor Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), pp. 212-5; James McConica, English Humanists and Reformation Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 123-4. 145

It was republished in 1535 under a different title: A Devote Treatyse for Them That Ben Tymorouse.

119 meditate, to invoke the name of Jesus, and not to wonder whether they had been predestined to salvation:

"for if

thou despair or decree thine own damnation, thou usurpest the design and most secret sentence of God."

Like earlier

writers, Bonde wanted his readers not to confront their anxieties, but to ignore them.146 He was invariably sympathetic and encouraging.


reminded his readers that even the greatest saints had been tempted, and he noted that temptations have their uses. They keep us from becoming too proud, and, if we overcome them, they confirm our hopes of salvation:

"and that is a

good motion of infidelity by the occasion of the which man may obtain clear faith and quick faith in things concerning his salvation."147 A Dialogue of Comfort:

A much more illustrious writer,

at the very center of the humanist movement, was also content to draw on traditional lore.

In April 1534, Sir

Thomas More was imprisoned in the Tower of London for refusing to recognize the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn. In July 1535, he was executed.

During these last fifteen

months of his life, imprisoned and facing death, he wrote several treatises on faith and temptation.


A Devote Treatvse, p. 24.


A Devote Treatvse, p. 11.

120 The most famous is A Dialogue of Comfort.

It was

ostensibly a conversation between two Hungarian noblemen, mourning their country's recent conquest by the Turks. did not mention More's own troubles.


Instead, it was a

rambling survey of human misery in its varied forms. Among these miseries was religious despair.

There is

no evidence that it troubled More during his last months of life.

He left a clear account of the thoughts that

tormented him:

he was afraid of death, and spent hours

imagining his execution; he was hurt by the inability of his family and friends to understand why he had defied the king.

But he never, apparently, doubted his salvation.

And, so, it suggests something about the place of religious despair in the late medieval mind that More gave it so much attention in his last writings. It should be noted in passing that More was not the only eminent humanist who mentioned despair.

His friend,

Erasmus, had no taste for the morbid or introspective, and despised much traditional monastic piety.

But even he

discussed the subject in his famous introduction to the Christian life, the Enchiridion, offering some words of encouragement to those who fear that they have been "rejected by divine mercy".148


Enchiridion 18, trans. Raymond Himelick (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963), p. 163.

121 More's comments on this subject were traditional.149 Like William Flete and William Bonde, he believed that the devil tempted people according to their temperaments.


with "dull melancholious humors" were most susceptible to religious anxiety.

In a passage that recalled Caesarius of

Heisterbach, he noted that this anxiety was often precipitated by blasphemous thoughts.

First, the devil

introduced a "horrible thought" into the minds of his victims.

Then the devil, using their "humor, and thereby

their natural inclination to fear for his instrument", persuaded them that they had lost God's favor.

And so they

fell "into despair of grace, weening that God hath given them over forever."

They were, More explained, mistaken:

they did not realize that their blasphemous thoughts were temptations, rather than sins, and that God did not hold them accountable for them.150 Some of these people were drawn to suicide. often struck them suddenly:

The idea

they might pick up a knife to

do a household chore, and then suddenly feel an urge to stab themselves.

Exhausted by temptation, some of these

unfortunate people eventually did kill themselves; "some of them have not cast it off without great difficulty and some 149


For More's dependence on Flete, see Hackett p. 119.

Sir Thomas More, A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, ed. Louis Martz and Frank Manley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), p. 150.

122 could never in their life be rid thereof, but have after in conclusion done it indeed".151 For such temptations, More had a double remedy.


as two forces kept them in bondage, namely the devil and their own melancholy humors, so did they need two types of counsellors: the soul."

"physicians for the body and physicians for Tempted people needed medical practitioners to

rid the body of its melancholy humors by diet, medicine, and purges.

But they also needed spiritual guides:

to "be

shriven and seek of a good spiritual physician the sure health of his soul."

In other words, More believed that

recovery from despair depended on getting good advice, whether medical or religious.152 More was an extraordinary man, but his comments about despair were entirely traditional and conventional.


Bonde, he took the therapeutic approach to despair that had become well established during the later Middle Ages.


comments show that this approach still commanded respect among some English intellectuals, even with advanced humanist views, at the verge of the Reformation. Thomas Watson:

During the reign of Mary, from 1553 to

1558, the English Catholic community enjoyed a brief respite.

Thomas Watson, consecrated bishop of Winchester in


A Dialogue of Comfort, p. 151.


A Dialogue of Comfort, pp. 150, 152.

123 1557, was among the most learned of the Marian bishops.


a youth, he had been a classical scholar, admired by Ascham for his command of Greek meter; but, as a bishop, he was anxious to instruct his people in the essentials of Catholic doctrine. In the summer of 1558, he published Hoisome and Catholyke Doctryne, a brief introduction to the faith. Watson was plainly interested in concentrating on basic doctrines, and he did not dwell on the introspective side of religion. despair.

But he still included some comments about The devil "moveth and doth all that he can to

bring desperation into our minds."

The devil "cometh near,

and doth suggest the thoughts of despair, making us heavier than any sand or lead".

The devil "doth move a man to

despair of obtaining, for this end, that he might cut off all hope of goodness, which is the anchor of our health, the foundation of our life, the guide of our journey. . . "153 Watson's comments on despair were brief and conventional. But the important thing is that he made them at all in his short introduction to the Catholic faith.

He clearly

thought that despair was important enough to justify a few words of warning. The Hoisome and Catholyke Doctryne was printed twice, in 1558, and in February of 1559, three months after the


Thomas Watson, Holsome (London, 1558), fols. 43, 37.




124 accession of Elizabeth, and shortly before Watson's arrest and confinement to prison, where he would spend the rest of his life.

This second printing was perhaps the last

publication by a Catholic who had been recognized by his government as a bishop of the English Church.

It is a

tribute to the persistence of the idea of despair that it was granted a chapter in this swan song of Catholic England.


Biographical Literature:

As we have seen, despair was a living idea among Catholic writers at the time of the Reformation. Biographical evidence suggests that despair, as described by Bonde and More, was also a living experience among some English Catholics during the 153 0's, at the time of the Henrician Reformation.

There are several cases of despair

in the literature of martyrdom and suppression that emerged from the destruction of the monasteries and the break with Rome. Sir Thomas More:

One involved a citizen of Winchester,

who, during the 1520's and 30's, was troubled by "the gravest temptations to despair".154 154

His friends prayed for

Thomas Stapleton, The Life and Illustrious Martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, trans. Philip Hallett (New York, 1966), p. 66. Stapleton's biography was first published in 1588, many years after More's death. But Stapleton was well acquainted with More's family and has a reputation for reliability. See James McConica, "The Recusant Reputation of Thomas More" in Richard Sylvester, ed. , Essential Articles for

125 him, and gave him advice, but failed to cure him.


someone introduced him to Sir Thomas More, who also prayed for him and gave him advice, though exactly what advice the narrative does not say.

The citizen recovered after this

meeting, and remained well as long as he kept in touch with More. When More was imprisoned in 1534, the citizen's temptations returned, even worse than before.

When he

learned that More was condemned to death, he became desperate. any cost.

He went up to London, determined to see him at He knew that he could not visit More in the

Tower, but he hoped at least to speak a few words to him as he was led to his execution.

On that day "he burst though

the guards, and cried out with a loud voice, 'Do you remember me, Sir Thomas?

Help me, I beg you: for that

temptation has returned to me and I cannot get rid of it.'" More answered:


I recognize you perfectly.

Go and pray

for me, and I will pray earnestly for you.'"

The citizen

went away, and was never again troubled by his temptations.155 This is a striking and a moving story.


about it (the citizen's desperation, and More's willingness,

the Study of Thomas More (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon, 1977), pp. 136-149. Life of More, pp. 66. 67.

126 at the very foot of the scaffold, to consider another man's troubles) suggests that More was a remarkable man who made an extraordinary impression on some of his contemporaries. But the story also tells us something about what was considered normal religious behavior.

To Stapleton, the

citizen's temptations were painful enough, but nothing unusual; he did not pause to explain them.

He apparently

assumed that his readers had heard of similar cases before. It was the cure, and not the disease, that, in his opinion, deserved attention. The London Carthusians:

In earlier and happier years,

More, like many others, had admired the learning and fervor of the Carthusian community in London.

In the first decades

of the sixteenth century, it had enjoyed royal patronage, and attracted "a remarkable flow of ardent and distinguished recruits."156

But many of its members were tormented by

religious anxiety.

Perhaps the problem was equally common

in other monasteries, or perhaps this anxiety was the price that the Carthusians paid for their exceptional fervor. is impossible to know.


Of all the English monasteries of

its time, it is apparently the only one which has left

Knowles, Religious Orders: Tudor England, p. 224.

127 documents revealing the inner life of its members in any detail.157 During the first three decades of the sixteenth century, when their community still enjoyed security and immense prestige, several London Carthusians were obsessed with temptation, apostasy, and combat with Satan.158


monk, tempted to leave the monastic life, saw a crucifix turn its back on him. been beaten by devils.

Several others believed that they had The saintly prior was once found

bleeding on the floor, with his cell in complete disorder, after a night (he later explained) of literally battling with demons.

As the monks themselves were well aware, these

experiences were firmly rooted in ancient monastic traditions about temptation.

Similar stories had been told

about the Desert Fathers. The community attracted men of remarkable talent and character.

One of them was William Exmew.

In 1534 he was

twenty-eight years old, "distinguished in family, acute in mind, accomplished in Latin and Greek, zealous in religion -


This is Maurice Chauncy's Historia Aliquot Martyrum, first published in 1550. Chauncy was a former member of the community. 158

The narrative is vague about dates, but most of these incidents seem to have occurred before Henry began to align himself with the Reformation in 1529.

128 there was nobody like him throughout our Province" . 159 His fellow monks made him first their vicar, and then their procurator, or treasurer.

The prior asked him to be his own

confessor. Exmew had received a humanist education at the newly founded Christ's College, Cambridge. ancient fears.

But he had some

Because of his official duties, he was

expected to leave the evening services early.

One night,

probably some time in 1534, as he was leaving the chapel, he was suddenly struck with dread.

In that moment, he had

seen, in his routine exit, an image of himself walking away from God. traitor.

He began to consider himself a potential He saw in himself a sinister resemblance to Judas:

just as he was treasurer to his community, so had Judas been treasurer to the apostles.

He wondered if he would be

damned, like Judas, for betraying his God. Exmew's anxieties, that he would turn into another Judas, go back to the early days of monasticism. also have reflected current political tensions.

They may In 1534,

the London Carthusians had reluctantly sworn an oath


"... genere praeclarus, ingenio acutus, graeco latinoque sermone non mediocriter insignis, religionis magnus zelator strenuusque cultor Dei, nee inventus esset quis similis illi per omnes Domus nostrae Provinciae..." Maurice Chauncy, Historia Al iguot Martyrum Anqlorum (Montreuil-sur-Mer, 1888), p. 77. In 1534, a knowledge of Greek was still a rarity in England. See also: Maurice Chauncy, Historia Aliquot Martyrum, ed. John Clark, (Salzburg: Institut fur Anglistik, 2007).

129 recognizing the King's marriage to Anne Boleyn - the oath that Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher had been executed for refusing.

Their acquiescence might have caused

them to worry about their own capacity for betrayal. Exmew himself need not have worried.

In May 1535,

within a year after this crisis, he, together with two other monks, was arrested for refusing to swear a new oath, that Henry VIII was Supreme Head of the Church. were hanged, drawn and quartered.

On June 19 they

There is no evidence that

Exmew ever wavered at any time during his imprisonment, trial, and execution. Exmew's political dilemma was new.

It would have been

inconceivable even ten years before when the Carthusians enjoyed favor from the highest circles.

But his temptations

were traditional. Thomas Baschurch:

Seven months after Exmew's death, in

January 17, 153 6, Archbishop Cranmer wrote to King Henry about a case of suspected treason.

In the village of

Chevening in Kent, some people happened to open a book in their parish church, and there they found the following inscription:

"Rex tanquam Tyrannus opprimit populum suum":

Like a tyrant, the king oppresses his people.


doubted that the king in question was Henry himself, and that the inscription constituted treason. A recent statute underlined this very point.


centuries, treason had been considered a matter of deeds

130 instead of words.

But in 1534 Henry had expanded the

definition of treason to include those who "slanderously or maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the King our sovereign should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel, or usurper of the crown...."160

Thus, the writer of the inscription faced

possible execution, especially since he had chosen the word "tyrant", which was specifically mentioned in the new statute. It did not take long to discover the writer. Thomas Baschurch, the parish priest.

He was

He could not plead

that he was a simple man, unaware of the implications of his words.

He was a university graduate, and had served as

secretary to Cranmer's predecessor, Archbishop Warham, who had opposed, though slowly and ineffectively, the break with Rome. Still, Cranmer pleaded mercy for Baschurch - and Cranmer was a cautious man who by no means interceded for all people accused of treason, even if they were innocent, and had been his own patrons and allies.

But, in this case,

he explained to Henry, there were extenuating circumstances.

Since April 1533, Baschurch had fallen "into

despair, and thereby into a sickness, so that he was in peril of death." 160

He had recovered from his physical

Statutes of the Realm, vol. 3, p. 509. repealed under Mary.

The act was

131 sickness, but "of his despair he never yet recovered, but saith he is assured that he shall be perpetually damned." Cranmer's chaplains and other learned men had tried to reason with him, but "no man can bring him in other opinion, but that he, like Esau, was created unto damnation."


this period, he had tried to kill himself many times. His condition, Cranmer explained, had deteriorated around Christmas, after a local priest had cheated him of twenty nobles worth of money.

On December 29, he nearly

managed to hang himself with his own tippet, and he "said to certain persons the same day, as soon as high mass was done, he would proclaim your grace a traitor, which nevertheless he did not."

More recently, he had almost killed himself

with a pen-knife. When his treasonable inscription was discovered, someone told Baschurch that he supposed the king "would pardon his offence, considering what case he was in". Baschurch was not relieved.


He "in a rage said, 'If I

cannot be rid this way, I shall be rid another way.'"


was apparently trying to get himself executed, as a form of suicide.

If he could not get executed for treason, then he

would manage to die some other way. Cranmer knew better than to instruct Henry on matters of treason.

He did not explicitly ask him to overlook

Baschurch's behavior.

He simply concluded with the words:

132 Now I have declared unto your grace as well the fact, as the state and condition of the said Thomas Baschurche, that your grace may order him after your most gracious pleasure, whereof I beseech your grace that I may be ascertained by this bearer my chaplain.

It seems, in fact, that Henry was persuaded.

There is no

evidence that Baschurch was put on trial, and he seems to have enjoyed his lucrative benefices until his death, which occurred soon enough. by 1538.

The records indicate that he was dead

They do not give the cause of death.

He may have

finally managed to kill himself.161 Baschurch's story is intriguing for many reasons.


its significance for this chapter lies in Cranmer's reaction to his behavior.

Cranmer did not see anything exotic about

Baschurch's problems.

He felt no need to describe or

explain his symptoms.

He assumed that Henry would

understand when he told him that Baschurch had compared


A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of the University of Oxford to A. D. 1500, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. 26. The Works of Thomas Cramner, ed. John Edmund Cox, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), pp. 319, 320.

133 himself to Esau.162

It was, apparently, the sort of

problem that they had both heard about before. This section has described three very different people, in very different circumstances. thread in all three stories.

But there is a common

All of them suggest that

despair was a well known problem.

Thomas More knew about

it; and so did Cramner; and so did Henry VIII.

The first

English Protestants emerged from a world where the syndrome of despair was a familiar idea.


Several points come to mind about the tradition of despair in late medieval England.

1) Most important, it was

a familiar tradition, discussed in well known devotional books, and known to such diverse people as More, Cranmer, and Henry VIII. 2) It was a derivative tradition.

Where the problem of

despair was concerned, English writers seemed happy to

162 There is a parallel case. In 153 9, royal agents discovered that Nicholas Hinton, a Carthusian from the recently dissolved priory of Hinton, had maintained that Henry was not the true head of the Church. He escaped serious punishment when a local nobleman explained that he was "out of his mind". (Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. James Gairdner (London: Longman Green, 1894), vol. XIV, part 1, pp. 54, 518.)

134 follow Continental models.

There was no distinctly English

approach to the problem. 3) It was a stable tradition, which apparently had changed little during the three hundred years before the Reformation. 4) It was a therapeutic tradition.

By the early

thirteenth century, devotional writers had defined it as a temptation, which meant that it could, like all other temptations, be overcome by faith and prayer.


developed a repertoire of advice for people struggling with despair, and it seems that this advice was sometimes helpful. In other words, late medieval England was a place was the problem of despair was widely recognized, and where the clergy

(especially in the preaching orders) were trained to

give advice about it.

In the next chapter, we will see how

this background affected early English Protestant attitudes to the syndrome of despair.



After the Reformation, the Protestant clergy in England wrote very little about the problem of despair.

But some

Protestant lay people continued to struggle with despair, and prodded the clergy to discuss it.

This chapter, which

covers the English Reformation up to 1558, is about the subtle tug-of-war between the clergy and those who insisted on seeking their advice. This tug-of-war does not fit into traditional models of popular religion in conflict with clerical hegemony. Instead, it shows how certain orthodox and well-informed lay people engaged in a dialogue with their clerical advisors. Naturally, these lay people were in no way representative of the general population.

They were a

select group, zealous Protestants at a time when English Protestantism was very far from being safely established as the national religion.

Some came from wealthy and

influential families, which gave them clout at a time when the clergy needed powerful allies.

But all were committed

to the movement, and this commitment made them valuable to the beleaguered Protestant clergy.

Hence, there was a close

relationship between the two parties.

136 1.

Two Options:

Luther and Calvin:

This chapter begins with a brief look at the Continental Reformers, and specifically at Luther and Calvin.

This is not to say that they were the only, or

chief, Continental theologians to influence English Protestantism.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

But their writings illustrate, with special clarity, the two options most often taken by Protestant theologians when confronted with the problem of despair.

The first,

represented by Luther, was to draw on the late medieval, therapeutic approach to despair.

The second, represented by

Calvin, was to ignore the problem altogether. Luther had, in fact, struggled with despair for most of his life.

As a young Augustinian monk, he had wondered if

his sins could ever be forgiven.

He hated and feared

Christ, who seemed like a judge determined to send him to hell. Luther developed his seminal, Protestant doctrines in response to his fears of damnation. did not eliminate his doubts.

But his new theology

For the rest of his life, as

he freely admitted, he was sometimes afraid that he would be damned.

He did not think that this reflected badly on his

own theology; instead, he considered it a inevitable part of the Christian life.

He maintained that the gospel offered,

"the free gift of freedom from the Law, from sin, from

137 death, and from the wrath of God, for the sake of Christ."163

But, on the other hand, he also believed that

Satan constantly tempted the elect with "multifarious anxieties" .164 In his conversations with his students, or in the letters he wrote to anxious friends, Luther discussed the problem more openly.

His approach, in these private

discussions, tended to be more traditional than his comments in his published works.

He cited much the same advice that

he himself had received during his years as a monk.

In some

conversations in 1542, over twenty years after his final break with Rome, he quoted the very traditional words of Johann von Staupitz, his confessor when he had been an Augustinian monk:

This is the way in which Staupitz comforted me when the devil was similarly vexing me:

'Why did you

trouble yourself with those speculations of yours? Accept the wounds of Christ, and contemplate the blood which poured forth from his most holy body


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians: 1535, Chapters 5-6, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol. 27 of Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan et al. (St Louis: Concordia, 1964), p. 50. 164

Martin Luther, Selected Psalms: II, trans. Paul Bretscher, vol. 13 of Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan et al. (St Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 112.

138 for our sins...' v

This was traditional counsel; the Franciscan writer, James of Milan, had offered similar advice in the early thirteenth century.166

During the same conversation, Luther quoted an

anecdote from the Lives of the Fathers, and also told a centuries-old story about a worthy nun, who, when tempted by Satan to believe that she was predestined to damnation, vanquished him by simply declaring, "I am a Christian".167 Luther recommended pre-Reformation authors to his friends.

In 1532 he advised Jonas von Stockhausen, a

nobleman obsessed with fears of damnation, to read Gerson's De Cognitionibus Blasphemis.

On the same day, he also sent

a hasty note to Frau von Stockhausen, warning that her husband might commit suicide, and urging her to keep his mind off morbid thoughts:

"there is no harm in your reading

or telling him stories, news, and curiosities, even if some of them are idle talk and gossip or fables about Turks, Tartars, and the like...."

This advice - to divert the

attention of melancholy people away from their obsessions -

165 iy[artin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. and trans. Theodore Tappert (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955), p. 134. 166

Goad of Love, p. 179.


Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 134.

139 had been common, as we have seen, in both religious and medical writings for centuries.168 In his letters to anxious people, Luther often relied on the therapeutic approach to despair, as it had been practiced in the later Middle Ages.

In the early 1530's, he

wrote several letters to Jerome Weller, a young theologian, and to Jerome's brother Matthias and sister Barbara. three were afraid that they would be damned. reminded them that they were not alone.



He told Barbara

that he himself had been "brought to the brink of eternal death" by similar thoughts.

He insisted that their fears

came from the devil, and should be ignored for that reason. As he wrote to Matthias, "if you are convinced that such thoughts come from the devil, you have already gained the victory."

He urged the Wellers to counter temptations by

thinking of something else, no matter how trivial. Jerome Weller:

He told

"whenever the devil pesters you with these

thoughts, at once seek out the company of men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment." He advised Matthias Weller, an amateur organist, to sing or play the organ whenever he was assaulted by thoughts of despair.169 168

Letters of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 90-91. For Luther's use of Gerson, see Walter Dress, "Gerson und Luther", Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte 52 (1933), pp. 122-161. 169

Letters of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 115, 97, 85-86.

140 Luther's comments were very traditional. illustrate one Protestant option:


to acknowledge that

despair existed, and to draw on late medieval ways of coping with it. Calvin took a different approach.

He, too,

acknowledged that the elect were constantly tempted:

Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.

On the other

hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief.170

But that was as far as he went.

He did not, either in his

letters or in his published writings, offer advice, as Luther did, about controlling despair by traditional therapeutic techniques. Calvin was not a natural psychologist, like Luther.


had not belonged, like Luther, to a monastic order, where he


John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (III: 11:17), trans. Ford Lewis Battles, (Philadelphia, 1960), vol. 2, p. 562. See also his remarks in his commentary on Jeremiah: "When faith is weak, that part of the soul is empty, which admits despair . . . the faithful are not free from despair, for it enters into their souls; but that there is yet no reason why they should indulge despair, but on the contrary they should firmly resist it..." (Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, trans. John Owen, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1950), vol. 5, p. 403.)

141 would have been exposed to traditional religious psychology, but had instead, as a young man, immersed himself in Stoic literature.

In his letters, he often showed a warm concern

for his followers, but little readiness to explore the complexities of their psychological dilemmas.

In this

respect, he was very different from the Jesuits, who often tried to win support from influential lay people through their skill as counsellors and psychologists.171 Calvin was probably sparing with such advice because he thought that it was unnecessary.

The elect might be tempted

from time to time, but ultimately their temptations would be overcome through their union with Christ:

... that condemnation which we of ourselves deserve has been swallowed up by the salvation which is in Christ...

Christ is not only outside us but

dwells within us... with a wonderful communion, day by day, he grows more and more into one body 171

John Calvin, Opera, eds. Wilhelm Baum et al. (Brunswick, 1871-79), vols. 10-20. Many of his more personal and intimate letters were written to M. and Mme. de Falais, Mme. de Cany, Mme. de Rothelin, and Mme. de Coligny. For two different views of Calvin as a spiritual advisor, see Charmarie Blaisdell, "Calvin's and Loyola's Letters to Women: Politics and Spiritual Counsel in the Sixteenth Century", in Calviniana, ed. Robert Schnucker (Kirksville, Sixteenth Century Journal Publications, 1988), pp. 235-254; and JeanDaniel Benoit, Calvin: Directeur d'ames (Strasbourg: Oberlin, 1947) . See also: David Foxgrover, "Self-Examination in John Calvin and William Ames", in W. Fred Graham, ed. , Later Calvinism: International Perspectives (Kirksville: Sixteenth Century Journal Publications, 1994), pp. 451-69.

142 with us, until he becomes completely one with us.172

Calvin's comments about the believer's "wonderful communion" with Christ were not mere platitudes.

It is obvious from

many passages, in his sermons, commentaries, and Institutes, that he thought that believers enjoyed a living experience of God.

He assumed that this experience would enable them

to overcome their doubts and weaknesses.

I would suggest

that this approach could be called, for lack of a better word, a kergymatic approach to despair, because it was based upon Calvin's understanding of the gospel or, as it was called in the original Greek, the kervgma. Many medieval spiritual directors, like James of Milan, also urged anxious people to find peace through an awareness of the love of God, but they saw nothing wrong in supplementing this awareness with various therapeutic techniques.

Calvin, by contrast, saw no.such need.

In his

opinion, the proclamation of Christ's love was the important thing. The specter that haunted Calvin was not despair, but apostasy.

Many of his followers lived under threat of

persecution, and some lapsed back into Catholicism, thereby, Calvin believed, both ruining their own hopes of salvation and also endangering the progress of Reformed religion as a

Institutes (111:11:24), vol. 1, pp. 570-1.

143 whole.

Compared to such dangers, the self-doubt of anxious

Protestants may have seemed trivial and self-indulgent. The impact of this bias against introspection can be seen in the case of a Breton pastor named Birgan, who wrote a letter to Calvin some time around the year 1560. (Unfortunately, Calvin's reply to Birgan does not seem to have survived.) to damnation.

Birgan was afraid that he was predestined As he struggled with his fears, a horrible

thought came to his mind:

"Because you have scrutinized

against all rights and reason the eternal design of the Almighty, you have sinned against the Holy Spirit."173


other words, he wondered whether his anxious attempts to become certain of his election were, in themselves, the unforgivable sin, which made his damnation sure.

No doubt,

Birgan's anxieties reflected his own nervous personality, but they would have been possible only in a religious culture which viewed self-examination with suspicion. Luther and Calvin illustrate two different options. Luther integrated medieval religious psychology, with its various aids for anxious souls, into his new theology. Calvin, on the other hand, emphasized the liberating power of the gospel.

As we shall see, English Protestant writers

would waver between these two approaches.

Benoit, p. 236.

144 2.

The Medieval Legacy and Early English Protestants:

In the writings of the first generation of English Protestants, there are a few references to the problem of despair.

These references are scattered and unsystematic.

This section will look at four such references, all dating from the reign of Edward VI.

They suggest that some English

Reformers were aware of the problem, but they also suggest that, on the whole, they wrote very little about it.


may simply have felt that, as leaders of a small and beleaguered movement, they had more urgent topics to address.

Until the reign of Elizabeth, English Protestant

writers tended to concentrate on a limited number of topics, driven by the need to define core Protestant doctrines, like justification by faith, or to defend themselves from Catholic criticism. A exception to this rule was the anonymous writer who published in 1548 A Godlye and Wholesome Preservative Against Desperation.

He was probably Luke Shepherd, who

was, unlike most Reformation writers, not a clergyman, but a physician and the author of several satirical poems.174


For more about Shepherd, see: Janice Devereux, ed. , An edition of Luke Shepherd's Satires (Temper Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2001); Janice Devereux, "A Case for Luke Shepherd as a Source for John Foxe", in David Loades, ed., John Foxe in Historical Perspective (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 84-93; John King, English Reformation Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).

145 This may be significant.

During this period, interest in

the problem of despair seems to have been kept alive mainly by lay people. Both the title and the format of this tract were traditional.

The title included the word "desperation", the

standard late medieval synonym for despair.

The tract was

about the problem of despair, with special emphasis on death-bed despair, a staple topic in late medieval devotional manuals.

Probably Shepherd considered his book a

replacement for traditional tracts on the ars moriendi or the art of dying. He warned that sometimes "the devil goeth about to cause us to despair of our election:

whether we be of the

number of them that are appointed to eternal life or no..." In the medieval tradition, he urged anxious readers to ignore the devil:

in any ways let us not be too bold in coping with him, let us not enter disputation against him (for he is too subtle and expert for us)...

But he finished the sentence with advice that reflected the Reformation's emphasis on the power of the scriptures:

but say shortly him unto him, Away Satan... for it is written, thou shalt not tempt the

146 Lord thy God.

The phrase is a reference to the temptation of Christ, as described in Luke 4:8 and Matthew 4:7. Believers might be tempted, Shepherd argued, but the gospel, as revealed in the Bible, offered them sure hope of salvation:

he which believeth in Christ, which faithfully acknowledgeth Christ, to be his sanctification, justice, redemption, and satisfaction, cannot be damned, but is assured of everlasting life.175

Shepherd was unusual in writing an entire tract about the problem.

Several other Protestant writers also

mentioned despair, but only in passing.

For example, Bishop

John Hooper briefly mentioned that he had known true Christians who had lost all hope of salvation:

I have known in many good men and many good women this trouble and heaviness of the spirit for the time, as though God had clean hidden himself from the afflicted person, and had clean forsaken


Luke Shepherd, attr., A Godly and Wholesome Preservative Against Desperation (n. p., 1548?), fols. Div verso, Dv.

147 him.176

Hooper argued that this was normal, even a mark of election. God had always allowed true believers to be tempted by fear of damnation:

God is contented that his chosen people shall suffer and bear the burden and heaviness of temptation and fear of everlasting pain, as Adam did first in paradise, David many times, Job and others; yea, Christ, himself...177

Such temptations, he argued, were the result of man's fallen nature.

Believers would not be free from them until they

joined God in heaven.

In his acceptance of despair as a

perennial problem, Hooper was closer to Luther than to Calvin, but perhaps the most important thing about his comments is that they were very brief.

He obviously felt

that other problems were more important.


John Hooper, Expositions of Psalms XXIII, LXII, LXXIII, and LXXVII, in Later Writings, ed. Charles Nevinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1853), p. 220. 177

Expositions of Psalms, p. 33 7. For more of Hooper's thoughts on the subject, see Expositions of Psalms, pp. 22 0222, and chapter XVIII, "On Desperation", in his A Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments of Almighty God", in Early Writings of John Hooper, ed. Samuel Carr (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1843), pp. 422-426.

148 This passage was written around 1550.

Hooper did not

explain whether he had known these people before or after the Reformation, or whether they were Catholic or Protestant.

He could easily have known them during his days

as a Cistercian monk at a priory in Cleeve, where he would have had ample opportunity to learn traditional monastic lore about spiritual despair. Another bishop, Hugh Latimer, had clearly learned about despair from Catholic and monastic books.

In 1552, Latimer

used a story from the Golden Legend, a thirteenth century collection of lives of the saints, to illustrate his discussion of the problems of temptation and despair.178 In the same year he quoted the great patristic collection of monastic biographies, the Lives of the Fathers:

We read in a book which is entitled Vitae Patrum, "The Lives of the Fathers" - in that same book we read that there was once a great holy man ... worthy to be taken up in heaven:

now that man had

many disciples, and at a time he fell sick; and in his sickness he fell in a great agony of conscience.179 178

Sermons of Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), pp. 435-6. 179

Sermons and Remains of Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845), p. 73.

149 As we have already seen, Luther also quoted a story from the Lives of the Fathers to illustrate the problem of despair. This is hardly surprising.

The Lives had remained a

monastic staple up to the time of the Reformation. There were similar comments in A Dialogue Between the Christian Knight and Satan, written some time between 154 9 and 1553 by Thomas Becon, a prolific Protestant writer.


the preface, Becon noted that he had "read in the holy scriptures of God, and authentic histories, of divers holy men which have been grievously vexed and turmoiled in their consciences, and almost ready to fall into the bottomless pit of desperation...."

He did not identify these

"authentic histories", but he was probably referring to lives of medieval saints or of the Desert Fathers. He had also met people who suffered from despair in real life:

And I myself before few years did know certain men of an honest conversation and approved judgement .... which were so turmoiled and tossed with the the raging and cruel waves of desperation, that scarcely there remained any hope of salvation in their breasts...

150 He did not identify these people, and it is impossible to know whether they were Protestant or Catholic.180 The passages quoted in this section show that some early English Protestant writers knew about the syndrome of despair.

But the most significant thing about these

quotations is that there were so few of them.


Hooper, and Latimer mentioned the topic only in passing. Only Luke Shepherd, a layman, bothered to discuss the problem in depth.

In other words, the Protestant clergy

spent little time on the subject. This does not mean that they were indifferent to the problem.

But they probably felt that, as leaders of a

beleaguered movement, they had more urgent tasks:

to define

their theology, to defend themselves from their Catholic critics, and to win the allegiance of powerful patrons.

Two Tragic Stories:

John Randall and Sir James Hales:

This section is about two notorious stories, which both involve cases of religious despair among early English Protestants.

These stories, famous though they are, tell us

almost nothing about the actual experience of despair among early English Protestants. But they do, at least, reveal

i8o Thomas Becon, Catechism With Other Pieces, ed. John Ayre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), pp. 622-3.

151 something about contemporary perceptions of the idea of despair. John Randall:

The first story appeared in John Foxe's

Acts and Monuments, first published in 1563, but it describes events that happened a generation before, some time in the early 1530s.

John Randall was a "young scholar"

at Cambridge, about twenty years old, and a Protestant sympathizer.

One day he was "found hanged with his own

girdle within the study, in such sort and manner that he had his face looking upon his Bible, and his finger pointing to a place of Scripture, where predestination was treated of. "181 His friends suspected that he had been murdered by someone, possibly his Catholic tutor, who had wanted to discredit the Protestant faith "that it should seem that the poor young man through fear of predestination was driven to despair; that other young men being feared through his example should be kept back from the study of the Scriptures as a thing most perilous."182 It is hard to make sense of this story.

Foxe described

himself as a kinsman of young Randall, but even he seems to 181

Acts and Monuments, vol. 4 (London: Seeley and Burnside, 1837), pp. 604, 694. Foxe places the episode "about the year 1531", but Cambridge records state that Randall received his B. A. in 1534. (John Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1924), p. 418 .) 182

Acts and Monuments, vol. 4, p. 694.

152 have been uncertain about the story's basic outlines.


was unsure about its date, and he admitted that he did not know whether the young man had been murdered or had committed suicide. Randall died in the early 1530s, but the story does not seem to have appeared in print until the publication of Acts and Monuments in 1563.

During the intervening thirty years,

it may have changed a great deal in the telling.

For this

reason, it is uncertain whether its references to predestination reflect the theological preoccupations of the 1530s or of the 1560s. Does the story prove that Protestant teachings about predestination generated religious despair?

Probably not.

As we have already seen, the connection between despair and predestination predated the Reformation, and can be traced back to the early thirteenth century.

If John Randall

really was anxious about predestination, then his anxiety may have reflected late medieval, rather than specifically Protestant, concerns. It should also be remembered that predestination was not a major theme among English Protestants in the early 1530s, when Randall died.

But it was a much more prominent

topic in 1563, just before Calvin's death, when the story finally found its way into print.

In all likelihood, the

story evolved over the years, and it may reflect the preoccupations of the 1560's as much as those of the 1530's.

153 Sir James Hales:

Twenty years later, another tragedy

also combined death and religious despair.

Sir James Hales

had held several important positions, both as a courtier and as judge during the reigns of Henry and Edward.

He was a

zealous Protestant, who had, during the rule of King Edward, played a major role in suppressing Catholicism.

He was

arrested for heresy within a few months of Mary's accession. Because Hales had persecuted Catholics, Mary's government hoped to score a propaganda victory by persuading him to recant.

During his imprisonment, he was visited by

prominent Catholic clerics, who tried to argue him out of his Protestant opinions.

After six months, Hales agreed to

renounce the Protestant faith. Catholic victory.

It seemed like a wonderful

But, a day later, to the consternation of

his jailers, he tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself with his penknife.

He was released from prison, but he

remained distraught, and he drowned himself four months later in a pond near his country home. Both sides tried to turn his suicide to their advantage.

Protestants used him as a warning to fellow-

believers who were wavering under persecution.

It was

better to be executed than to apostatize and be abandoned by God.

Bishop Hooper, who was in prison himself, and would

eventually be burned at the stake, angrily wrote:

It is no marvel therefore to see men that forsake

154 the truth of God to be vexed with evil spirits, and many times to kill themselves.183

Catholics, of course, had a different point of view.


one day after Hales's first suicide attempt, Bishop Gardiner put the blame on the unnerving psychological effects of Protestantism:

that it was a religion that brought men to despair and murdering of themselves, falsely accusing the truth of God's word, that comforteth and most preserveth weak consciences from heaviness and desperation. . .184

Gardiner's comments suggest much, but prove little.

It is

tempting, perhaps, for modern readers, with Weber in the


Later Writings of Bishop Hooper, ed. Charles Nevinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852), p. 77. 184

Later Writings of Hooper, p. 377. There are other stories about Protestants who committed or attempted suicide because they had saved their lives by making concessions to the Catholic Church. See, for example: "The Reminiscences of John Louth", in Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, ed. John Gough Nichols, Camden Society, o. s. vol. 77 (London, 1859), pp. 30-32. See also the letters written to Agnes Glascock after she had fallen into despair because her husband had forced her to attend mass. (Acts and Monuments, vol. 8, (London, 1839) pp. 193-6) . There is an analogous case in Luther's letters: Letters: II, trans. Gottfried Krodel, vol. 49 of Luther's Works (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), pp. 181-182.

155 back of their minds, to assume that Protestantism introduced a new note of anxiety into the hearts of its converts.


religious despair was already familiar in this world. Gardiner did not claim otherwise. religious despair was anything new.

He did not argue that He accused Protestants

of fostering despair in the same spirit that he accused them of promoting treason or fornication - and not even the most vigorous Catholic apologist would have claimed that treason and fornication were invented by the Reformation. What do these two stories tell us?

They do not prove

that Protestant teachings generated religious despair, nor do they give us any real insights into the mental states of Randall and Hales; but they do suggest that despair was a familiar, and emotionally charged, concept.

Because of this

familiarity, both Catholic and Protestant polemicists invoked it to defend their own faith and to disparage the faith of their enemies. If we want to understand what despair meant to English Protestants, we have to turn to other sources.

We should

look at writings that were produced, not to caricature the ideas of theological opponents, but instead to guide fellow believers.

156 5)

John Bradford and The Culture of Friendship:

As we have seen, the English Reformers were not eager to discuss the problem of religious despair, at least in their public writings.

They were more ready to mention it

in their private writings, like the letters later preserved in Foxe's Acts and Monuments.

There they discussed the

subject much more freely, and there we can glimpse more clearly the pressures that influenced them. These letters suggest that interest in despair, as a syndrome, was kept alive primarily by devout lay people, and not by the clergy.

Some of them persistently demanded

counsel, and their wishes carried weight, partly because the clergy needed lay support, but also partly because the clergy were often bound to devout lay people by close friendship.

In fact, the Protestant interpretation of

despair is intelligible only in context of this culture of friendship. Bradford and his friends:

John Bradford published

little, and served as a clergyman for only a few years, from 1550 until his death at the stake in 1555.

But he was one

of the best remembered of the Marian martyrs, thanks mainly to John Foxe, who published his letters in the Acts and Monuments.

These letters reveal an intense, sensitive man

with a gift for friendship.

157 Bradford was an outspoken defender of predestination.185

In an important treatise, written in

prison shortly before his death, he wrote that:

"Faith of

God's election ... is of all things which God requireth of us, not only the most principal, but also the whole sum. . . .186

It is typical of Bradford that this treatise

was addressed not to another theologian, but to Joyce Hales, a young married woman who was perhaps his closest friend. For Bradford, the doctrine of predestination was inseparable from the experience of friendship. Many of his friends wondered if they were among the elect.

He was invariably eager to reassure them, even at

the expense of theological consistency. noted:

As R. T. Kendall

"Bradford had a pastoral concern that transcends his

defence of predestinarian theology".187 In his treatise on election, Bradford had stated that, while Christians could be certain of their own election, they could not be certain of the election of anyone else.


For more about Bradford's theology, see: William Clebsch, England's Earliest Protestants (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964); Carl Trueman, Luther's Legacy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). 186

John Bradford, The Writings, ed. Aubrey Townsend (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1848), p. 307. 187

R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 43.

15E As for who be the elect and who be not, because it is God's privilege to know who be his, God's people are not curious in others:

but, as in

themselves they feel "the earnest' of the Lord, and have God's Spirit in possession by faith ... so do they judge of others by their works, and not further do they enter with God's office.188

This seems clear enough, but it was written in exactly the year that Bradford was, in apparent inconsistency with this statement, vigorously assuring several friends that he had no doubts whatever that they were among the elect. Among them was Joyce Hales's sister, Mary Honywood, a young woman who was deeply worried about her salvation. Bradford tried several arguments with her.

For example, he

simply asserted that she was among the elect:

For above all things, of this I would have you to be most assured, that you are beloved of God, that you are his dear child, and shall be evermore through Christ.189

He also advised her to trust in God: 188

Bradford, Writings, p. 328


Writings, p. 132.


In the mean season hang on hope of his fatherly goodness, and surely you shall never be ashamed.190

He advised her to stir up her own faith, through prayer and reading the Bible:

I exhort you, my good sister, diligently to labor, as by continual reading and meditation of God's holy word, so as by earnest prayer and other godly exercises to maintain and increase the same...191

He added that these "godly exercises" would soon produce good works that would be proof of her salvation:

that, by feeling of God's gracious Spirit working in you such good fruits as witnesses of your faith, you may grow in strength thereof and certainty of God's favor and good-will toward you.192


Writings, p. 99.


Writings, p. 132. This is similar to the advice in medieval tracts like the Chastising of God's Children. Writings, p. 132.

160 This advice did not resolve Mary Honywood's doubts.


decades to come, she continued to worry that she would be damned.

But she was grateful to Bradford all the same.


was among the crowd that gathered, at four o'clock in the morning, on July 1, 1555, to watch his execution.


years later, she still remembered the details, grim and incongruous, of that day.

There was a vast, silent crowd -

the largest, people said, ever gathered to witness a burning.

In the crush of people, her shoes were torn off

and lost, and, after Bradford was dead, she walked barefoot for several miles before she could find a cobbler.193 Joyce Hales was the daughter-in-law of the unfortunate Sir James Hales, and, unlike him, an unwavering Protestant. She was perhaps the closest friend, male or female, that Bradford had.

His surviving letters to her were written

when he was in prison, and when she herself expected to be arrested.

They are marked by an intense sense of shared

purpose and experience.

If he have chosen you - as doubtless, dear heart, he hath done in Christ, for in you I have seen his earnest, and before me and to me you could not deny it, I know both where and when - if, I say, he have chosen 193

Thomas Fuller, The Worthies of England 1662), p. 86, after p. 368.


161 you, as most certainly he hath, then neither can you nor . . . shall you ever perish.194

Bradford believed that Joyce Hales was among the elect, not so much because he knew about her virtuous character, but because they had shared a common experience of faith and suffering. What he told his friends was not necessarily what he was willing to tell the public.

He discussed predestination

with another Protestant woman, Margery Coke, who was worried about her salvation, and then he warned her:

This I speak to you, good sister, now as a sick woman in the Lord, to use it as sick folks' meat: if otherwise, your blood will light on your own head.

Not that I

think so of you - God forbid, I take you as a dear sister in the Lord - but lest any man should read these letters, and they be taken not so as I mean, and to the godly plainly write.195


John Bradford, Writings, ed. Aubrey Townsend (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1853), vol. 2, p. 113. Writings, p. 102

162 The phrase "to the godly plainly write" is significant. Bradford did not want to discuss the arcana of predestination with the ignorant, who might misunderstand it, or with his Catholic opponents, who might use it against him.

It was a doctrine that could only be understood by

those who shared a common religious experience. Another one of Bradford's friends was John Careless, a weaver imprisoned for heresy.

He longed for martyrdom but,

like many other prisoners, died instead of a fever. very much like Bradford himself:

He was

a sensitive man whose

faith, at least during his years in prison, was reflected in his acute sense of friendship.

To John Philpot, a fellow

prisoner and his "most dear and faithful loving friend", he wrote:

Blessed be the time that ever I came into the King's Bench, to be joined in love and fellowship with such dear children of the Lord.196


John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, ed. Stephen Reed Cattley, vol. 8 (London: Seeley and Burnside, 1839), p. 173. Typically, Careless began the letter with the following quotations from Ecclesiasticus: "A faithful friend is a strong defense; whoso findeth such a one, findeth a treasure.. ." (vol. 8, p. 171.) Philpot had been archdeacon of Winchester during the reign of Edward, and was burned in December 1555.

163 In a farewell letter, written shortly before Bradford was burned, Careless wrote that God himself had told him to assure Bradford of his salvation:

I do hear faithfully and truly the Lord's message unto his dear servant, his singularly beloved and elect child John Bradford.


Bradford, thou man so specially beloved of God I pronounce and testify unto thee... that all thy sins... be fully and freely pardoned, released and forgiven thee, by the mercy of God in Jesus Christ thine only Lord and sweet Savior, in whom thou dost undoubtedly believe . . .197

For Careless, the doctrine of election was inseparable from a sense of mutual recognition among friends. After some months in prison, Careless began to wonder whether he himself was one of the elect.

Philpot tried to

encourage him:


Acts and Monuments, vol. 8, p. 175. In another letter, he declared that his peace of mind depended on Bradford "whose faithful comfortable counsel the Lord hath not only made a strong fortress to defend me in all dangers and distress, but also whose godly example and life the Lord hath used for a line to lead me by, to keep me from falling into many perilous pits..." (Bradford, Writings, vol. 2, p. 355.)

164 Do you now perceive the manifest tokens of your election? first, your vocation to the gospel, and after your vocation the manifest gifts of your condition, with godliness which believeth and yieldeth to the authority of the scriptures and is zealous for the same?198

The passage illustrates the connection between friendship and the assurance of salvation.

Philpot did not

specifically claim the ability to discern whether other people were among the elect.

But, at the same time he could

not believe that his own friend, who had shared with him so many experiences both of fear and piety, was not a true believer. John Knox and Mrs Bowes:

So far this section has

discussed people in the circle of John Bradford.


despair is also a theme - in fact, almost the only theme in the many letters John Knox wrote to his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Bowes.

She was born into an old Yorkshire gentry

family, and, as a middle-aged woman, defied her husband by becoming an uncompromising Protestant.

After the accession

of Queen Mary, she went into exile with her daughter Margery, who shared her faith.


John Bradford, The Examinations and Writings, ed. Robert Eden (Cambridge* Cambridge University Press, 1842), p. 230.

165 She was obsessed with the fear that she was predestined to damnation.

It is generally assumed that her anxieties

were caused by Protestant doctrine.

But she was born in

1505; she had grown up among devout and well informed Catholics; and she apparently did not become a Protestant until she was about forty.

Several of her relatives left

bequests to the Carthusians of Mount Grace.199


community had close ties with the Yorkshire gentry, and produced several renowned spiritual guides, like Richard Methley, who died in 1509, and John Norton, who died in 1522.

It also had an important collection of manuscripts by

mystical writers, including Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, whose struggle with despair was discussed in the last chapter.

Given this background, it is likely that Mrs Bowes

was well versed in the traditions of late medieval piety, and was probably familiar with its teachings on despair. Knox tried every possible line of argument.


he urged her to remember the mercy of God, but more often he resorted to various forms of what would come to be called the practical syllogism: sign of salvation.


the idea that good works were a

He told her that he could discern signs

In 1483, Christopher Conyers left a bequest to Mount Grace. (Testamenta Eboracensia 3, Surtees Society 45 (Durham, 1865), p. 289.) In 1500, Jane Lady Strangways left bequests both to Mount Grace in general and also specifically to Richard Methley. (Testamenta Eboracensia 4, Surtees Society 53 (Durham, 1869), pp. 188-9.) In 1531, Sir William Bulmer left a small bequest to every monk at Mount Grace. (Testamenta Eboracensia 5, Surtees Society 79 (Durham, 1884), p. 307.)

166 of grace in her character.

When she felt especially-

discouraged, he wrote that her anxieties themselves were proof of her salvation:

And therefore despair not, for your troubles be the infallible signs of your election in Christ's blood. . .200

And on another occasion:

I have more signs of your election than presently I can commit to write.201

But none of Knox's arguments were effective.

Mrs Bowes

apparently worried about predestination for the rest of her life. John Glover and Joyce Lewes:

Religious despair was a

major concern for another little group of friends.


lived in Warwickshire, at some distance from the intellectual centers of English Protestantism, but, through


John Knox, Works, ed. David Laing, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1854), p. 377. It might be objected that Knox was a Scots, rather than an English, writer, but he spent most of Edward's reign in England, and was offered the bishopric of Rochester. Mrs. Bowes, of course, was an Englishwoman. 201

Knox, Works, vol. 3, p. 369. written in 1553.

Both letters were

167 ties of marriage and friendship, they were linked to several major figures of the new religion.202

Their spiritual

leader was John Glover, a pious layman who had converted to Protestantism some time in the reign of Henry VIII.

He was

a rich man, who had turned over most of his inheritance to his younger brothers so that he could devote himself to a life of prayer and study.

At first, he enjoyed a "wondrous

sweet feeling of Christ's heavenly kingdom".

But, then, his

initial joy began to fade, and he wondered whether this was a sign that God was forsaking him.

He decided that he "had

sinned verily against the Holy Ghost:

even so much, that if

he had been in the deepest pit of hell, he could almost have despaired no more of his salvation." For five years he lived in a state of almost unbearable tension, barely able to eat or sleep.

During this period,

Foxe happened to meet him, "whom partly by his talk, partly by mine own eyes saw, to be so worn and consumed by the space of five years, that neither almost any brooking of meat, quietness of sleep, pleasure of life, yea, and almost no kind of senses was left in him."


John Glover's brother married a niece of Latimer. Augustine Bernhers was acquainted with the Glovers. (John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, vol. 7, (London, 1838), p. 398; Susan Wabuda, "Shunamites and Nurses of the English Reformation: the Activities of Mary Glover, Niece of Hugh Latimer", in W. J. Sheils and Diana Wood, eds., Women in the Church (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), pp. 335-344.)

168 Eventually Glover regained his peace of mind, although Foxe did not know how or why.

His ordeal left his faith

stronger than ever, "being like one placed in heaven already and dead in this world...." It was in this state of mind that he converted several neighbors and relatives to Protestantism.203 One of them was Joyce Lewes. initially a frivolous person:

Foxe describes her as

a "gentlewoman born

... delicately brought up in the pleasures of the world having delight in gay foolishness".

Born into the Curzon

family, she came from a well-established gentry background. According to Foxe, she took little interest in religion until the Marian persecutions.

Then, moved by sympathy for

the martyrs, she "began to wax weary of the world, thoroughly sorrowful for her sins, being inflamed with the love of God..."

Around this time she became Glover's

disciple. As the persecutions intensified, Glover persuaded her to stop attending Mass.

This drew her to the attention of

the authorities, and she was arrested and sentenced to death for heresy.

She may, quite reasonably, have assumed that

her social background would protect her, since women of her class were virtually never executed for heresy during the reign of Mary.

Her friends believed that she could have

Acts and Monuments, vol. 7, pp. 385, 384, 386.

169 escaped if her husband, afraid of losing the money he had bonded for her, had not, "like a murderer of his own wife", taken her to the bishop for interrogation. After she learned of her condemnation, Joyce told her friends:

"When I behold the amiable countenance of Christ,

my dear Savior, the uglisome face of death doth not greatly trouble me."

She "reasoned most comfortably out of God's

word, of God's election and reprobation."

It is uncertain

what comfort she could have derived from the doctrine of reprobation.

But the doctrine of election would have

assured her that, having received true faith, she would keep it to the end.

She did not need to worry that she would

falter at her execution. Her friends were allowed to stay with her the night before her death, and "all that night she was wonderfully cheerful and merry ... spending the time in prayer, reading, and talking with then that were purposely come unto her, to comfort her with the word of God."

But, in the middle of

the night, Satan, "who never sleepeth, especially when death is at hand," began to ask her "how she could tell that she was chosen to eternal life, and that Christ had died for her:

I grant that he died:

but that he dieth for thee how

canst thou tell?"204 204

Satan's argument is interesting in light of the development of Reformed theology. By the late sixteenth century, most Reformed theologians taught that Christ died for the elect alone, but scholars disagree as to whether Calvin and his contemporaries taught that Christ died for the elect

170 Her friends tried to encourage her. standard arguments. Christ.

They used the

First, they spoke of the mercy of

Then, they resorted to the practical syllogism:

they had seen with their own eyes, they told her, that she had the virtues of a true Christian.

Towards dawn, after

several hours of intense conversation, Joyce was finally convinced by their arguments:

"by these and like

persuasions, and especially by the comfortable promises of Christ, brought out of the Scriptures." At nine o'clock that morning, she went to her death, convinced of her salvation. supported by her friends.

To the very end, she was They accompanied her to the

stake, although informers were there, writing down their names.205

When the executioners offered her drink, she

toasted her fellow believers: "I drink to all them that unfeignedly love the gospel of Jesus Christ..." When she was tied to the stake, "she showed such a cheerfulness that it passed man's reason, being so well-colored in the face, and being so patient." this final moment, her friends tried to help her.

Even at They had

bribed the under-sheriff to place beside the stake a bag of

or for all mankind. 205

Foxe reported that, some days after Joyce's execution, a group of her friends, mainly women, were brought before the bishop for having kissed or encouraged her at the stake.

171 gunpowder, "by the which she was suddenly dispatched out of this miserable world".206


Early English Protestants were a close-knit community, a network of friends and allies, bound, in many cases, not only by common purpose but also by intense personal loyalties to each other.

Protestant clergy developed their

approach to despair and to predestination in response to people who were not simply co-religionists but were, in many cases, close friends. Judging from the surviving letters and narratives, it was not the clergy who drew the problem of despair to the attention of the laity, but the other way around.

It was

Mary Honywood who raised the problem with John Bradford, and Elizabeth Bowes who raised it with John Knox.

As we will

see in the next chapter, this pattern continued into Elizabethan times, and had a major impact on the development of puritan religion. 206

Acts and Monuments, pp. 401, 402, 403, 404, 405. There are similar stories about other martyrs who doubted their salvation: Thomas Hudson (Acts and Monuments, vol. 8, p. 465), and Thomas Bilney (Latimer, Sermons p. 222). John Glover's brother, Robert, was burned for heresy. While in prison, he felt himself "desolate of all spiritual consolation", although he does not seem to have been afraid of being damned. On the morning of his execution, however, he was "mightily replenished with God' s holy comfort and heavenly joys". (Acts and Monuments, vol. 7, p. 3 98.)

172 There remains of course the question of why Protestant lay people were worried about the subject.

An obvious

answer would be that they had been unsettled by the Protestant doctrines of predestination.

But, as we have

seen, the early Protestants had grown up in a Catholic world, where pious people were already worried about predestination, and where religious despair was already a familiar pattern.

Mary Honywood and Elizabeth Bowes were

contemporaries of Thomas Baschurch, William Eskew, and the anonymous citizen of Winchester - devout Catholics all of them, and tormented by despair. It is possible that the anxieties of people like Honywood and Bowes were created or aggravated by Protestant doctrine.

But it is also possible that these anxieties

reflect much older patterns of thought and feeling, which had been well-established long before the Reformation.




The previous chapter described a dialogue between clergy and laity.

The Protestant clergy in the reigns of

Edward and Mary tended to downplay the psychological, introspective side of religion, while, by contrast, some lay people wanted more discussion of despair and related problems. In this chapter, and the next one, we will see how this dialogue led to the development of a more introspective and psychological approach to religion.

The evidence gives us a

fascinating glimpse into the hidden influence of the laity, and it allows us to overhear the clergy as they debated with each other about the direction their religion should take.

Historioqraphical Traditions:

Three, very different, historiographical traditions shed some light on this problem. 1)

Especially since the publication in 1967 of Patrick

Collinson's classic Elizabethan Puritan Movement, many historians have concentrated on the efforts by some Elizabethan puritans to purge the English Church of the remnants of Catholicism and to impose a presbyterian form of church government.

The problem has been widely debated, but

there is general agreement that the puritan or "godly" faction failed to win Elizabeth's support, and gradually

174 lost political influence, especially after Whitgift became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1584. Collinson noted "the paradox that the miscarriage of further reformation coincided with the birth of the great age of puritan religious experience", and added that "the temporary exhaustion of old controversies by the puritans and their opponents - not to speak of the exhaustion of the literate religious public - brought the essential matter of salvation to the forefront".207

In other words, Collinson

believed that the collapse of the campaign for further reformation led, by reaction, to a turn to the more inward side of religion.

There is much to recommend this argument,

but, in this chapter, I will take a slightly different approach, and will suggest that the campaign itself also contributed to the development of a more inward-looking religion. In other words, this chapter will argue that, because of their weakness at court, the puritan clergy became increasingly dependent on lay support.208

Towards the end


Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967), pp. 433, 434. See also: Christopher Hill's comment about the turn to an "individual pietism", in Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Seeker and Warburg, 1964), pp. 502-506. 208

For more about dependence on lay support see, for _ example: Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement; Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982) ; J. T. Cliffe, The Puritan Gentry (London: Routledge, 1984) .

175 of the century, the tastes of educated lay people became more inward-looking, partly in response to changes in secular literature and partly because of the influence of Counter-Reformation literature.

This, in turn, led some

leading puritan clergy to develop a more introspective piety, in response to the changing tastes of their supporters. 2)

Another historiographical tradition is little

discussed by British historians, but it has been prominent on the Continent, especially among Dutch and German historians, since the middle of the nineteenth century. This tradition is concerned with the "Second Reformation" of the late sixteenth century and with the birth of Pietism. To such historians, the late Elizabethan puritan turn to a more introspective religion is a matter of critical importance.

They emphasize the profound influence that

Perkins and some of his English contemporaries had on the transformation of international Calvinism in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, above all in Germany and the Netherlands.

They do not see the puritan

turn to introspection as a default position, but instead as a creative breakthrough with profound and long-lasting implications.

In their opinion, the late Elizabethan

puritans like Perkins or Greenham were the fathers of Pietism, which was a powerful force in Netherlands, German

176 and Scandinavian Protestantism for almost three centuries.209 Pietism was a powerful movement in itself, but its influence stretched far beyond the Pietist movement, especially in Germany.

It has long been argued that

Pietism, whether directly or indirectly, was the father of the romantic movement in German literature, and the Idealist school in German philosophy.

It had cultural and

intellectual implications that extended far beyond religion. German scholars still debate its influence on such towering figures as Kant, Hegel, Goethe and Schiller.

In other

words, the turn to introspection described in this chapter may seem like a secondary development in terms of British political history, but it looks far more significant when viewed from a broader European perspective. 3) A third historiographical tradition has been described as a betrayal theory.

For much of the twentieth

century, it has been the fashion for some theological


For example: Joel Beeke, Assurance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (New York: Lang, 1991); F. Ernest Stoeffler, The Rise of Evangelical Pietism (Leiden: Brill, 1965); Wilhelm Goeters, Die Vorbereitung des Pietismus in der Reformierten Kirche der Niederlande (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1911); Heinrich Heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus und der Mystik in der Reformierten Kirche (Leiden: Brill, 1879); T. Brienen, K. Exalto, et al., De Nadere Reformatie ('s-Gravenhage: Boekcentrum, 1986); W. J. op't Hof, Engelse Pietistische Geschriften in het Nederlands (Rotterdam: Lindenberg, 1987); August Lang, Puritanismus and Pietismus (Neukirchen: Buchhandlung des Erziehungsvereins, 1941).

177 writers to accuse second and third generation Calvinists of misreading Calvin.210 that:

For example, R. T. Kendall writes

"Perkins's assessment of Calvin's doctrine of

implicit faith further shows that he does not understand Calvin".211

Most of these scholars, Kendall included, have

been driven by the need to claim Calvin's support for their own theological opinions.

They tend to be writing more as

theologians, anxious to advance their own agendas, than as historians trying to present a dispassionate history of the development of Reformed doctrine.

The arguments of the

betrayal theorists have been vigorously rebutted by serious Reformation scholars like Richard Muller, and have lost some influence in recent years. This chapter will address this controversy only indirectly.

It will argue that there were some changes in

emphasis during the late Elizabethan period, though it will not grapple with the controversial question of whether this means a break with, or betrayal, of Calvin's essential 210

For example: R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979); Basil Hall, "Calvin Against the Calvinists", in John Calvin: A Collection of Distinguished Essays, ed. Gervase Duffield (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), pp. 19-37; Wilhelm Niesel, Theology of Calvin, trans. Harold Knight (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956); Brian Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969) . For a critique of this position, see: Richard Muller, After Calvin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2 003). 211

Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism, p. 66. are many similar passages in the book.


178 theology.

Perhaps more important, it will try to make the

point that theological change must be understood in terms of its broader cultural context.

The "betrayal theorists",

like Kendall, tend simply to argue that later Reformed theologians misunderstood Calvin.

They do not, by and

large, address the question of what cultural and intellectual forces might have encouraged them to do so. This chapter and the one that follows will try to place an evolution in English Reformed thought in a wider cultural and political context.

Some Early Elizabethans:


Many early Elizabethan puritans liked to think of themselves as the heirs of Latimer, Bradford, and other Protestant leaders during the reigns of Edward and Mary. When they dealt with the problem of religious despair, many of them used the Edwardian twofold approach.

In public,

they insisted that the word of God could defeat the temptations of the devil.

But, in their private letters,

they took a different approach, and offered detailed psychological advice to anxious lay people. William Fulke:

One example of their public position is

a sermon preached in 1574 by William Fulke, then a militant presbyterian.

He was aware of the problem of despair.


had noticed that some godly people doubted their salvation,

179 and "through infirmity and weakness of faith, ... think that they are out of the favor of God".

He urged them to take

heart from the example of the Canaanite woman, described in the fifteenth chapter of Matthew. he seemed to ignore her.

When she spoke to Jesus,

But she did not lose hope.

Instead, explained Fulke, she continued to trust Jesus because of her faith in the word of God:

.... Upon these and such like general promises of God, contained in the Old Testament, her faith was builded and founded so steadfastly that no storm of temptation was able to overthrow.

He urged his audience to follow her example.

Let us therefore make much of the general promises of God, let us willingly embrace them, diligently weigh them, and daily remember them.

The Bible, he insisted, was the fortress that would protect every believer from the temptations of the devil.212


William Fulke, A Comfortable Sermon of Faith (London, 1574), fol. B4v, CI. Fulke misrepresents the original passage, in Matthew 15, which never mentions the woman's faith in the Bible.

180 Thomas Cartwright:

But private letters revealed, as

they had during the reigns of Edward and Mary, a different world, where some faithful Protestant lay people were obsessed by fears of damnation, and where sympathetic clergymen tried to reassure them.

Thomas Cartwright, for

example, was a leading presbyterian theologian, forced to flee England in 1573.

During his years of exile, he kept in

touch with his English well-wishers.

Among them was Mrs

D. B., a young woman who had, in some unspecified ways, helped him and his colleagues. that she was in trouble.

In 1576, Cartwright learned

She had endured certain "great

afflictions", and she had come to doubt her salvation, losing "all sight of the grace and goodness of God".213 Cartwright wrote an encouraging letter. that she was one of the elect:

He insisted

"Dear sister, you are the

Lord's redeemed, you have cost the son of God too dear to be cast away..." salvation:

Her godly character was evidence of her

God "hath also bestowed on you so many of his

graces of faith, love, and patience and manifold victories of Satan".

In due time, God would free her from temptation:

After your long winter, wait assuredly for the Lord's spring, wherein our Savior Jesus


Thomas Cartwright, Cartwrightiana, ed. Albert Peel and Leland Carlson (London: Allen and Unwin, 1951), pp. 106, 107.

181 Christ, as it is in Solomon's song, will take you by the hand, & walk with you into the fields to see pleasant greens, to smell the sweet flowers, and to hear the melody of the little birds.214

This affectionate letter was very much in the tradition of John Bradford; it reflected a sincere sense of friendship. But it also reflected Cartwright's need, as an exiled dissident, to maintain close ties with his supporters.215 Edward Dering:

This sense of empathy is also typical

of the letters of Edward Dering. and well-connected.

He was learned, clever,

In his youth, he had been expected to

have a brilliant career in the Church.

In 1570, he was

asked to preach before Elizabeth, often a prelude to promotion, but he amazed his audience, and enraged the Queen, by denouncing her for stifling reform:

"you sit

still and are careless" while "all these whoredoms are committed".216

The sermon ruined his chances of

advancement, but made him a hero to the puritan movement.


Cartwrightiana, p. 107.


For more about Cartwright's ties with his lay supporters, see: A. F. Scott Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1925), pp. 153-4, 303-4, 345-6. 216

Edward Dering, A Sermon Preached Before the Queen's Majesty (London, 1570), fol. E4v.

182 During the last six years of his life, from 1570 to 1576, he seems to have concentrated on comforting troubled souls.

This may reflect his failing health, since he was

slowly dying of tuberculosis, but it also anticipated a trend that would become common among later Elizabethan puritans:

a turn from political agitation to pastoral

counselling. After his death, his admirers published some of his letters.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, one of his

correspondents turned out to be Mary Honywood.

Twenty years

before, as we have seen in the previous chapter, she had been obsessed with the fear of damnation, and John Bradford had written her long, reassuring letters from his prison cell.

Bradford's letters, printed in Foxe's Acts and

Monuments, became models of pastoral care, but they failed to resolve her fears.

For decades, she continued to look

for advice from sympathetic clergy. Among them was Dering.

He gave her much the same

advice that Bradford had given her over twenty years before.

He urged her not to worry.

Her restlessness was

itself a sign that she was one of the elect.

And blessed are you (good Mistress Honywood) and God hath visited you in an acceptable time, whose heart he hath touched with fear, and whose afflictions he hath filled with hunger and thirst,

183 that you should mourn for the redemption that is in Christ, and be pleased with nothing but the grace of his countenance.217

In spite of his efforts, Dering failed to bring her peace of mind, and she continued to doubt her salvation for many years. This, then, was the situation in the 1560's and 1570's:

in public, puritan clergymen insisted that the

truth was enough to liberate believers from uncertainty and fear; in private, by contrast, they often struggled to reassure their anxious followers.


The Drive Toward Introspection:

This situation might have lasted for decades if the puritan clergy had enjoyed the favor of the Queen.


without her support, they depended on influential lay people, and this forced them to be attentive to the changing tastes of the devout, well-informed people who were their core supporters.

By the 1570s and the 1580s, some puritan

clergy began to wonder if a more introspective piety would strengthen their appeal to lay patrons.


Edward Dering, Certaine Godly and Verie Comfortable Letters (London, 1578), fol. B4v.

184 It is important to realize that these clergy did not belong to one particular clique within the puritan movement. They had very different careers and opinions. Elizabethan puritans, in this period, were not united. Some, like Laurence Chaderton and William Whitaker, preferred to work within the Church.218 Field, attacked the hierarchy.

Others, like John

Still others, like William

Cartwright, cannot be easily pigeon-holed, and could be classified as radicals at one phase in their lives and moderates in another.

But the new, introspective piety was

strong among all types of reformers. As we shall see, William Perkins and Richard Greenham were fathers of the new inward-looking piety.


distanced themselves from the tactics of the radical reformers.

If we look at the careers of these moderates

alone, we might suppose that the new piety was a rejection of the radical strategy and a retreat to a private world of personal religion.

But radicals, like John Field, also

played a crucial role in the development of this piety.


we look at the careers of these radicals alone, we might wonder whether they developed this new approach to get lay support for their ambitious programs. too simple. 218

Both conclusions are

If we want to understand the new piety, we must

Peter Lake has described both Chaderton and Whitaker as "moderate puritans" in his Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

185 remember that it was the work of radicals and moderates alike. Some puritan clergy, both radical and moderate, believed that their political dilemma was also a pastoral dilemma.

England had been exposed to Protestant doctrine

since the 1520's; it had become officially a Protestant country soon after Elizabeth's accession in 1558.


Protestant theology had not created the widespread spiritual revival that many had expected. out in 158 8:

As William Perkins pointed

"most men nowadays are secure and cold in the

profession of the gospel, though they have plentiful preaching of it."219 This was very much a pastoral problem:

many clergymen

worried about "secure and cold" Protestants in their parishes, and wondered whether these people had any hope of eternal salvation. But this pastoral problem was also a political problem.

The puritan movement depended on the support of

God-fearing lay people, ranging from magnates like the Earl of Huntingdon to ordinary people like the sixty angry women who cornered Edmund Grindal, then Bishop of London, after he had placed a militant clergyman under house arrest.220




William Perkins, Works (Cambridge, 1605), p. 489.

Patrick Collinson, Jonathan Cape, 1979), p. 177.




186 this reason, the puritan clergy had a double motive, both pastoral and political, for making their religion more attractive and compelling to lay people. Lawrence Chaderton:

The sermons of the puritan clergy

suggest how this concern gradually drew them towards a more inward-looking type of religion, in the hopes of rekindling lay enthusiasm.

Laurence Chaderton, for example, was master

of Emmanuel College for thirty-eight years and the tutor of William Perkins.

He has been described by Peter Lake as a

"moderate puritan" who tried to coexist with the ecclesiastical establishment.221 In 1578, he preached a sermon warning that many Protestants were over confident of their salvation.

the most part of Protestants are altogether secure, and careless, touching the obedience of faith, rather presuming in the pride of their hearts of the mercies of God for their salvation, then by humble and trembling hearts to work, ratify, and confirm unto


Moderate Puritans, pp. 25-54. For more about Chaderton, see: David Hoyle, Reformation and Religious Identity in Cambridge (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2007); H. C. Porter, Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958).

187 their own consciences the certainty of their election.222

They were presuming on the mercy of God, and could easily be damned in the end. Chaderton had a cure for their coldness of heart.


needed to search their own hearts for signs of grace.

Let us ... also examine every one his own estate and condition, that we may see whether we do truly stand in the grace of God or no.223

This, he believed, was the only way that they could learn whether or not they had truly found salvation.


classical Reformers, of the mid-sixteenth century, had tended to feel that their followers should look into their hearts long enough to see that they were sinners in need of salvation, but not so long that they became bogged down in introspection.

By contrast, Chaderton thought that his

followers needed to look long and hard into their hearts to make sure that their faith was actually authentic.


As we

Laurence Chaderton, An Excellent and Godly Sermon (London, 1578), fol. C5v-C6. Excellent and Godly Sermon, fol. B6v.

188 shall see in the next chapter, his student, William Perkins, would take this approach much further. Thomas Wilcox:

In this case, the comments of Thomas

Wilcox are especially interesting, because they reveal a debate within the puritan movement. was a committed radical.

Unlike Chaderton, he

As a young man, he was

second-in-command to John Field, and in 1573 he was imprisoned for his part in the presbyterian manifesto, the Admonition to Parliament. Like Bradford and Dering, he was a theological militant with a reputation for understanding troubled souls.


unlike them, Wilcox decided to publish some of his letters during his lifetime. more in 158 9.

He published one in 1582, and three

They were mainly about the problems of

despair and self-doubt. salvation?

Could believers be certain of their

How could they gain this certainty?

Could they

ever lose their salvation? In a 1589 preface to the letters, Wilcox explained why he had published his letters.

He had written them several

years before, and had almost forgotten them until "some good brethren" persuaded him to publish them.224

He knew that

certain people would not approve:


Thomas Wilcox, Large Letters, Three in Number, Containing Much Necessarie Matter for the Instruction and Comfort of Such As Are Distressed in Conscience by Feeling of Sinne, and Feare of God's Wrath (London, 1589), fol. A5v.

189 Wherein though some perhaps may suppose that I labor in publishing an unnecessary and impertinent matter, because these ignorant days require doctrine for the building of men up in knowledge and judgement, and these careless and contemptuous times, abounding with all manner of looseness and lewdness, crave rebuke rather, and exhortation for care and confidence in the duties we know. . .225

His critics apparently shared Wilcox's reforming opinions, but they had an old-fashioned preference for a more public, more objective approach.

They believed that Wilcox should

have written books of instruction to teach the multitudes still ignorant of basic Protestant doctrine, or books of moral exhortation to combat the vices of the age.

To them,

his introspective piety seemed self-indulgent and irrelevant. To his critics, Wilcox replied that he, too, had looked at the world around him.

It was full of people who needed

advice about the inner side of religion.

Some of them, he

implied, were under the care of his critics, who had failed to give them the guidance they needed.

Large Letters, fol. A5v.

190 being assured of this, both by mine own knowledge, and other men's faithful reports, that sundry there are abroad in this land, and amongst the rest, even some of you and yours, that as in regard of your spiritual combat and bickerings, and the bitter assaults and temptations you have found therein, have need of holy and heavenly comfort.226

Other critics were apparently more severe.

They did

more than suggest that Wilcox should be addressing other, more urgent problems.

They insisted that Wilcox should not

have addressed the problem of self-doubt at all.


apparently believed that faith was always accompanied by assurance.

As Wilcox explained:

I am loathe to pursue this matter any whit more at large, because I know some very good men have publicly propounded the contrary, to wit that faith and doubting should be things opposite...227

Wilcox did not try to argue with these critics. 226


He simply

Large Letters, fol. A5v-A6 .

Thomas Wilcox, A Profitable and Comfortable Letter for Afflicted Consciences (London, 1582), p. 95. He did not identify his critics.

191 referred them to Calvin's Institutes, book III, chapter 2, section 37, "where you shall find, that he plainly affirmed that faith is so greatly tossed with diverse doubtings that the minds of the godly are seldom quiet, or, at least, do not always enjoy a peaceable state."228

It was an

effective rejoinder, but the significant point is that he had to make it at all.

His critics were committed to the

"kerygmatic" approach, which was, as we saw in the previous chapter, used by Calvin.

But they went beyond even Calvin

and assumed that a knowledge of the gospel would, in and of itself, solve the problem of despair. John Field:

According to Patrick Collinson, John Field

was "the organizing secretary of Elizabethan presbyterianism ... a dedicated revolutionary, a militant Calvinist whose capacity for leadership was acknowledged internationally as well as within English puritan circles."229

Yet Field,

too, played a part in the move to a more subjective religion.

This was not through his own writings.


published very little, and his one venture into devotional


Profitable Letter, p. 96. Wilcox quoted Calvin accurately: "... faith is tossed about by various doubts, so that the minds of the godly are rarely at peace - at least they do not always enjoy a peaceful state." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 111:11:37, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), vol. 1, p. 584.) 229


Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement Jonathan Cape, 1967), p. 86.

192 prose, Godly Prayers and Meditations, was heavily laced with comments about the advantages of a presbyterian form of church government.

It was, instead, by publishing the

private papers of other men - Edward Dering and John Knox that Field helped to foster a more inward-looking religion. In 1578, two years after Dering's death, Field arranged for the publication of Dering's letters, which were mainly about the more private and personal sides of religion.


1583, eleven years after John Knox's death, Field published a devotional tract which Knox had composed for some friends who were worried about their salvation.230 Knox's manuscript and some of Dering's papers belonged to Anne Locke, a strong-minded woman who had been Knox's friend and Dering's wife.

Field explained to her why he had

wanted to publish these papers.

He conceded that Knox's

tract was a private document, which Knox had written for "some few of his friends", and that it had remained "private to yourself and some few others".

But Field believed that

"it also being a thing that would be so fruitful and comfortable to many, that it should lie any longer in the dust in secret, and not be published to the comfort of all..."


This, he added, was not his only motive.

He also

Knox had, of course, spent only a few years in England, during the reign of Edward VI. After the accession of Elizabeth, he was not permitted to return to England. But he was a consistent ally of radical English clergymen, and he seems to have been fondly remembered by his English friends.

193 wanted to honor the dead.

If Dering's papers were

published, "all may thoroughly see what a man also he was, and what a loss we received when God took him from among us. "231 This was not just flattery, intended to pry documents from a grieving widow.

Field seems to have hoped that Knox

and Dering, famous though they already were, would gain luster from the publication of their more private, introspective papers.

Presumably he hoped that their fame

would, in turn, reflect favorably on the reforming movement. An example, taken from a generation later, shows exactly how this tactic could work.

As a young man, John

Wilson had "prejudices against the puritans of those times ... until going to a book-seller's shop ... he lighted upon that famous book, Mr. Richard Rogers, called The Seven Treatises".

This famous book, to be discussed in the next

chapter, was a devotional rather than a polemical treatise, and it turned Wilson into a puritan stalwart.232 Anne Locke: a closer look.

Anne Locke's career and opinions are worth She spent her life in the heart of the


John Field, "The Epistle Dedicatorie" to John Knox, A Notable and Comfortable Exposition, in Works, vol. 4, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1855), pp. 91, 93. 232

Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (Hartford: Andrus, 1853), vol. 1, pp. 303-4. Wilson's mother was a niece of Archbishop Grindal. He eventually emigrated, and became the minister of the First Church in Boston, Massachusetts.

194 Reformed movement.

In the 1530's, when she was a small

child, her father, a rich London merchant, tried to protect Tyndale; during the reign of Edward, she became a friend of Knox; during the reign of Mary, she went into exile in Geneva; in 1570, having lost her first husband, she married Edward Dering.233 She had ideas of her own.

She knew that as a woman she

could not write theological tracts - "great things by reason of my sex I may not do"234 - but she translated two books from French into English, and in their prefaces she expressed her own opinions.

In 1560, she published a

translation of some sermons of Calvin, and in the preface she analyzed the nature of true repentance.

Thirty years

later, in 1590, she published a translation of Jean Taffin's Markes of the Children of God, which had been published in French four years earlier. Taffin was a chaplain of William of Orange, and his book represented a break-through.

It was the first book in

the French language to discuss, systematically and in detail, the reasons why many believers doubted their own 233

Anne Locke's life is discussed in: Patrick Collinson, "The Role of Women in the English Reformation Illustrated by the Life and Friendships of Anne Locke", Studies in Church History 2, ed. G. J. Cuming (London: Nelson, 1965), pp. 258-272. 234

Anne Locke, "The Epistle Dedicatorie", in Jean Taf fin, Of the Markes of the Children of God, trans. Anne Locke (Prowse) (London, 1590), fol. A4.

195 salvation.

It had no equivalent in English.

As we have

seen, English Protestants discussed this dilemma in their private papers, but they were not yet willing to discuss it, at least in any detail, in print. Anne Locke was keenly aware that the book represented something new, and in her preface she explained why she thought that English readers needed it. took a political turn.

Her explanation

For many years, God had granted the

gospel "so long and prosperous success" in England, but now it was time "to prepare ourselves to the day of trial".235 (She did not identify this trial:

she may have meant a

possible second Armada, a succession crisis after the death of Elizabeth, or simply the repressive regime of Archbishop Whitgift.)

A survivor of Queen Mary's reign, she believed

that many of her fellow countrymen, even those committed to true religion, were ill prepared to endure persecution. They needed to understand what salvation was, and how to be sure that they had it.

She thought that Taffin's treatise

could help them. Taffin wrote the book for two reasons.

The first was

to encourage readers who were worried about the military situation in the Low Countries.

William of Orange had been

assassinated two years before, and the Spanish, under Alexander Farnese, were waging an effective campaign in the

"Epistle Dedicatorie", fol. A2.

196 south.

Taffin warmly sympathized with these anxious


Now, as there is nothing of greater importance than the salvation of the soul, so there is nothing that doth more grievously afflict and trouble tender consciences desirous of eternal life than the doubts and fears not to be the child of God. . .236

The second reason was to reassure readers who felt unsure of their own salvation, often as a result of the war with Spain.

They had endured terrible losses and hardships, and

wondered whether they were signs of God's disfavor.


were shocked by defectors from the Reformed religion, like John Haren, a well-known minister in Bruges.237

They asked

themselves how, if Haren's faith had been an illusion, they could be sure of anyone else's faith, including their own. Others had more personal reasons for doubting themselves.

They thought that their faith was growing cold.

They no longer enjoyed reading the Bible.

They no longer


Markes of the Children of God, p. 18. The book was originally published in French, and later translated into Dutch and Latin, as well as English. For his career, see: Cornelia Boer, Hofpredikers van Prins Willem van Orange ('sGravenhage: Nijhoff, 1952). 237

Bruges surrendered to Spain in 1584.

197 had "lively feelings of their faith with comfort and joy."238 For over a hundred pages, in Anne Locke's translation, Taffin responded to these fears, carefully and sympathetically.

He told readers who had lost their old

enthusiasm for the Bible, that

"... thou must continue and

also accustom thyself to read and hear the word of God..." He told readers who had endured terrible hardships that God had always allowed his chosen people to be chastened.


noted that some devout people brooded about the doctrine of predestination:

"Other discourse whether they be of the

number of the elect, and whether their names be written in the book of life..."

He told them to avoid this sort of

vain speculation and to trust the love of God.239 The book was a success with many English readers. Between 1590 and 1624, it was reprinted eight more times. In 1599 an English controversialist, smarting under Catholic charges that Protestant writers did not understand the spiritual and interior side of religion, mentioned Taffin as an example of a Protestant writer who had "very excellent

Markes of the Children of God, p. 42. Taffin, pp. 41, 19.

198 forms of consolation. "240

He was unable, even at that late

date, to cite any such English writer. Conclusion:

Chaderton, Wilcox, Field, and Locke were

very different people, with different careers, policies, and characters.

None of them appears to have been especially

inward-looking by temperament.

But they all believed that

their movement could be strengthened, and made more politically effective, by promoting a more introspective, more emotional piety, and by writing and publishing about it.

A Changing Culture and a Catholic Challenge:

As early as the 1550's, many devout Protestants had demanded more guidance about temptation, assurance, and related problems.

During the mid-sixteenth century, this

pressure was at variance with prevailing intellectual trends in England, which tended to put more emphasis on understanding texts, whether classical or Biblical, than on exploring the complexities of the soul. But, from the late 1570's onward, this pressure for guidance was increasingly reinforced by a fairly sudden change in the wider culture.

In these years, the tastes and

sensibility of educated English men and women underwent an 240

Henry Holland, "The Preface to the Reader" in Richard Greenham, Works, (London, 1599), fol. A5v.

199 extraordinary transformation, initially the result of imported intellectual and artistic trends. Literary historians have concentrated on the stylistic transformation from a drab age of pamphleteers to the golden age of Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare. a psychological change.

But there was also

Art, literature, and medicine all

began to reflect a fascination with motivation and with individual character.

Medical books explored problems of

human psychology, especially the newly fashionable disease of melancholy.241

They taught two contradictory lessons:

that the human soul was almost infinitely complicated, and that there was a science capable of explaining it. These changes were also reflected in Elizabethan painting. Previously, aristocratic Englishmen had favored portraits that displayed their rank, power, wealth, and ancestry.

But, beginning in the 1580's, many fashionable

people preferred portraits that advertized their sensibilities as well as their social position.


like Nicholas Hilliard painted well-born youths "wrapped in deep contemplation as they recline in the open air; the 241

The most important were Levinus Lemnius, The Touchstone of Complexions, trans. Thomas Newton (London, 1576); Timothy Bright, A Treatise of Melancholy (London, 1586); Andre Du Laurens, Of Melancholike Diseases, trans. Richard Surphlet (London, 1599). A standard introduction to the subject is: Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady (East Lansing, 1951) For more recent studies, see: Angus Gowland, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2 006), and Jeremy Schmidt, Melancholy and the Care of the Soul (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).

200 former attired negligently in black, his shirt open at the neck, his book and gloves cast to one side..."242 By the 1580's, first in poetry, and slightly later in drama, writers became fascinated by motivation and emotional nuance.

One famous line caught English literature at this

moment of change.

In 1582, Sir Philip Sidney published a

famous sonnet cycle:

Astrophil and Stella.

In the first

sonnet, he described how he had tried and failed to express his love for Penelope Rich in conventional, borrowed forms. It ended with these words:

"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write" .243

There was one religion that reflected the new sensibility, and it was not Protestant.

During the 1580's,

English Jesuits began to enter the country from their bases on the Continent.

They brought translations of

Counter-Reformation devotional manuals, which were eagerly read even by people with no previous sympathy for Catholicism.

These books offered a psychological subtlety

and sophistication seldom found in Protestant writers. 242

Roy Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture (London: Routledge, 1969), p. 353. 243


The Poems of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. William Ringler Clarendon Press, 1962), p. 165.

201 It is easy to forget how unsettling this was for English Protestants.

There has been a tendency, especially

on the part of some revisionist historians, to dismiss the Catholic challenge as a paper tiger.244

It is important to

remember what late sixteenth and seventeenth century English Protestants never dared to forget: Counter-Reformation Church. in 1563.

the energy of the

The Council of Trent concluded

During the hundred years that followed, large

areas of Germany, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary were reclaimed for Catholicism.

In France, the Reformed Church

suffered a slow and humiliating decline. This reconguista was, of course, often achieved by force.

But not always.

The massive defections from French

Protestantism, during the last two generations before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, were due not only to the hardships of belonging to a persecuted religion.

They were

also due to the spiritual revival among French Catholics, which provided many Protestants with a motive, or at least an excuse, for changing their faith. 244

And, of course, the

Jonathan Scott's comments about the crisis surrounding the "Popish plot", from 1678 to 1681, are relevant to this period as well. He criticizes attempts to explain anti-Catholicism in terms of "hysteria" as a "historical failure", and he points out that: "the hard fact behind these lurid and frequently wildly exaggerated reports is that the century from 1590 to 1690 saw European protestantism reduced by armed force from almost one half to one fifth of the land area of the European Continent." Jonathan Scott, "England's Troubles: Exhuming the Popish Plot", in Tim Harris, Paul Seaward, and Mark Goldie, The Politics of Religion in Restoration England (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), pp. 109, 114.

202 power of Catholic armies does not explain why many people under Protestant rule converted, or remained loyal, to Catholicism, often at great cost to themselves. Of course, there never was much chance that England would become a Catholic nation, although this is more obvious in hindsight than it was to Elizabethans. English Protestants still had much to fear. afford to lose the religious initiative.


They could not

They could not

allow Catholicism to gain a reputation as the religion with the most zeal, the religion that thoughtful people would choose if they were free to do as they pleased.


Protestants considered themselves the heirs of the Edwardian martyrs, as described in Foxe's Acts and Monuments.


could not allow the Catholic Church to steal their script, and to become the religion of exiles, martyrs, and enticing clandestine literature. The Catholic challenge was especially disturbing because it emerged at a time when English puritans were increasingly dependent on the patronage from upper-class lay people.

It is true, of course, that they had always sought

lay support, but, as we have seen, this support became especially important to them in the later years of the century.

During much of the 1560s and 1570s, the puritan

clergy had enjoyed help from supportive or tolerant bishops, though the Queen herself had never had any sympathy for them.

But, during the later years of her reign, the Church

203 hierarchy had become increasingly hostile, a transformation underlined by the appointment of Whitgift as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1583.

Under these circumstances, the puritan

clergy could not afford to concede lay support to their Catholic competitors. As part of their struggle, Catholics, in England and throughout Europe, relied on books.245

Some were

polemical, and others were works of systematic theology. But Catholic apologists had also made a point of circulating devotional books, which would, they believed, be attractive to thoughtful people searching for a deeper form of spirituality.

Just to choose one example, between 1580 and

1605, there appeared twenty English editions or re-editions of works by Luis de Granada, a Spanish Dominican.246


writers, like Gaspare Loarte, had a similar appeal for English readers. These devotional books were attractive even to loyal Protestants, and remained attractive deep into the seventeenth century.

In the 1620s, Richard Baxter, later to


See, for example: Scott Pilarz, Robert Southwell and the Mission of Literature, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); Alexandra Wa Is ham, "'Domme Prechers?' Post-Reformation English Catholicism and the Culture of Print", Past and Present 168 (2000), pp. 72-123. 246

For a discussion of his appeal to English audiences, see: Maria Hagedorn, Reformation und spanische Andachsliteratur: Luis de Granada in England (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1934).

204 become one of the most influential puritan theologians of the late seventeenth century, was converted to a life of piety by reading a bowdlerized Catholic tract.

In 1648,

Ralph Josselin, a puritan clergyman in Essex, read, as part of his private devotions, Robert Bellarmine's Fifteen Steps. Bellarmine was possibly the most famous anti-Protestant controversialist of his time, but Josselin pronounced Fifteen Steps "a pretty discourse" and "a book that containeth divers sweet meditations".

In Scotland, in 1634,

Archibald Johnston recorded in his diary that he was reading, for his own devotions, a book by Luis de Granada. Yet Johnston was, even by Scots standards, an intransigent presbyterian: world".

"the presbytery was to him more than all the

The power of Counter-Reformation literature was

felt, in fact, throughout Europe, even in strongholds of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat, for

example, found avid readers among the monks of Mount Athos, and eventually, in translation, a wide readership throughout the Orthodox world.247 This background helps to explain the reaction to the publication in 1582 by Robert Parsons, an English Jesuit, of


Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (London, 1696) , p. 3; Alan MacFarlane, ed. , The Diary of Ralph Josselin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 143, 148; Gilbert Burnet, A History of His Own Time (1724, reprint; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1833), vol. 1, p. 48.

205 The Christian Directory.248

It was one of the first

Counter-Reformation devotional guides published in English, and it offered, in an urbane and inviting style, a comprehensive guide to the devout life, including the nuances of prayer and temptation.

It was enormously

popular, both among Catholics and Protestants.

The first

edition rapidly sold out, and a Catholic supporter soon printed an unauthorized second edition. Two years later, a clergyman named Edmund Bunny published a Protestant, bowdlerized version.

As he

explained in his preface, he was motivated by the book's popularity:

if people were going to read it anyway, they

should at least read a defanged version, with the distinctively Catholic passages removed.249 Three years later, in 1585, in his preface to the next edition of The Christian Directory, Parsons taunted Protestants for their failure to write any devotional works of their own:


For more about this important book, see: Brad Gregory, "The 'True and Zealouse Service of God': Robert Parsons, Edmund Bunny, and The First Booke of the Christian Exercise", Journal of Ecclesiastical History 45 (1994), pp. 238-268. For the question of its indebtedness to Gaspare Loarte and Luis de Granada, see: J. P. Driscoll, "The Supposed Source of Persons's Christian Directory", Recusant History 5 (1959), pp. 236-245. 249

Edmund Bunny, "The Epistle Dedicatorie" in A Book of Christian Exercise (London, 1584), p. 2.

206 But here I would demand of Mr. Bunny in sincerity where or when, any of his religion did either make or set forth (of themselves) any one treatise of this kind of subject?

I mean, of devotion, piety and


He noted that the Catholic Church had produced many devotional writers, and he challenged Bunny to name any Protestant ones:

Mr. Bunny is not able to name one on his side, from the first heretic that ever wrote, unto this day, which of his own accord hath employed himself in this subject, except it were of envy and malice to defile and corrupt another mans labors...



Robert Parsons, A Christian Directory, (Rouen, 1585) p. 9. Other Catholic writers attacked English Protestants for failing to produce other types of books. In 1600, for example, Thomas Hill published a defence of the Catholic Church: A Quatron of Reasons (Antwerp, 1600). He taunted Protestants for having written little about systematic theology or about cases of conscience - "nothing but a number of pelting objections taken out of Calvin's Institutions, or out of the Magdeburgenses, or out of some heretical pamphlet, together with wretched interpretations of the New Testament, which they have learned of Beza or of some such like fellow...» (pp. 73-74.) 251

Christian Directory, pp. 9-10.

207 Parsons had some words of advice for Protestant readers.

There were, he explained, two types of theology,

one "theoretic or speculative", and the other "practique or active." The first type taught Christian doctrine, but the second explained how to live the Christian life.


writers have concentrated on the first type, and have produced many works of theory or of controversy.

But they

have produced no works of "practical" theology, which tell us how to lead a Christian life.

How fortunate were our

ancestors, who, taking true Catholic doctrine for granted, were able to concentrate on piety and a "virtuous life." Parsons gave an invitation

to the discreet reader of whatever religion and faith he were, to moderate this heat and passion of contention, and to enter into the careful study and exercise of good deeds, which are always better among true Christians than words; assuring him that this is the right way to obtain at God's hand the light of true belief if he were amiss.

Parsons' challenge was plain:

if his readers wanted

"practical", devotional piety, they would have to get it from the Catholic Church.252

Christian Directory, p. 7.

208 Bunny waited four years before making a feeble rejoinder. writers:

He produced a list of Protestant devotional Luther, Calvin, Musculus, Dering, Becon, and


As Bunny was well aware, most of them were

not known primarily for their devotional writings.

He also

included Erasmus, on the grounds that his writings had been repudiated by the Church, and the Bible, on the grounds that Catholics did not follow it.254

He admitted that his list

was short, but that, he explained, was the fault of Catholic polemicists.

Protestants would have had more time for

writing devotional books if they had not been not kept so busy exposing the errors of Rome. As Bunny's awkward comments suggest, this literary arms race caught Protestants off guard.

It was a competition

that some of them never wanted to enter.

In the

historiography of the Reformation, Protestants have been traditionally linked with books, with the advent of print, and with increased literacy.

This makes it easy to overlook

the possibility that some of them had mixed feelings about 253

A Briefe Answer (London, 1589), pp. 38-40. He cited specific works by most of these authors: Calvin's Institutes and writings on Job and on the Psalms, Musculus's Commonplaces, Luther's Commentary on Galatians, Dering's Lectures on Hebrews, Erasmus's Enchiridion, and Becon's Sick Man's Salve. All of them were available in English. 254

Erasmus never left the Catholic Church, but, some years after his death, the Council of Trent put his works on the Index.

209 the explosive growth of book production in the late sixteenth century. Laurence Chaderton was, in the words of Patrick Collinson, "the pope of Cambridge puritanism":

the first

master of Emmanuel College and a guide to several generations of young clergymen.255

In 1578, four years

before the appearance of The Christian Directory, he complained that there were too many books, both religious and otherwise:

"as much reading is a weariness to the

flesh, so there is neither end nor profit in making many books".

He blamed "vain glory" in the writers and "a desire

of filthy lucre" in the printers, who have "stuffed our English studies with many superfluous and unnecessary books to the great hurt of many good wits and to the hindrance of constant judgment in the soundness of Christian doctrine" .256 Chaderton took his own advice.

He died in 1640, about

one hundred years old, but during the course of his long and vigorous career he published only two sermons.257 255


Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement Jonathan Cape, 1967), p. 125.


Laurence Chaderton, An Excellent and Godly Sermon (London, 1578), fol. A3. 257

Although Chaderton was not a prolific writer, he was famous for his preaching. When he preached a sermon during a visit to Lancashire, he stopped after two hours, but his audience is said to have shouted, "For God's sake, sir, go on, go on." (Thomas Fuller, The Worthies of England (1662;

210 In his 1578 sermon, Chaderton had urged pious readers to pay less attention to new books, and to concentrate instead on the one book that really mattered:

"For my part,

I wish with all my heart, that we had fewer books and greater skill in the Old and New Testament of Christ, wherein are bequeathed unto us most heavenly and precious jewels and legacies of the immortal inheritance".

The Bible

contained everything necessary to salvation: "to which most sure word and testament, if we take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, we shall be directed aright in the straight way that leadeth to immortality and happiness. "258 Chaderton may be an extreme case.

But there is no

doubt that, until the end of the sixteenth century, few English Protestants had bothered to write guides to the devotional life.

Many, like Chaderton, apparently assumed

that the Bible was powerful enough to speak for itself.


needed to be expounded, through sermons and lectures, but it did not need to be supplemented.

This point of view helps

to explain why English Protestants wrote so few devotional

reprint, London: Allen and Unwin, 1952), p. 301.) When he retired from his lectureship, forty ministers begged him to stay, claiming that they had been converted through his sermons. (William Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1938), p. 54.) An Excellent and Godly Sermon, fol. A3.

211 books, and why they were caught off-guard by the challenge of Catholic literature. The next chapter will look at two famous men, Richard Greenham and Richard Rogers, who shared Chaderton's aversion for publication, but whose works, almost against their will, were published in response to the Catholic challenge.


books, so reluctantly put into print, transformed the puritan movement.


During the early Elizabethan period, the puritan clergy were pressured by some anxious lay people to provide more advice about despair and related problems.


pressure intensified during the later years of the century for several reasons:

because the clergy grew increasingly

dependent on lay patronage; because Elizabethan culture in general became more introspective and more inward-looking; and because the puritan clergy faced competition from Jesuit missionaries, who boasted of their psychological expertise. The puritan clergy were sensitive to these pressures because they were keenly aware that the success of their movement depended on lay support. political calculation.

Pastoral care merged with

They knew that their movement would

collapse if it did not meet the needs of the devout lay people who supported it.


The next chapter show how the puritan clergy yielded to this pressure, and how they deliberately and consciously developed a more inward-looking religion.



In the previous chapter, we saw how Elizabethan puritans faced mounting pressure to develop a more introspective approach to religion, and to come to grips with the problem of despair.

In this chapter, we will see

how they yielded to this pressure. This chapter, and the one that follows, are about four men, and the role they played in this transformation: Timothy Bright, William Perkins, Richard Greenham, and Richard Rogers.

They were unlikely architects of a

psychological revolution:

Bright was an opportunist;

Perkins was an ideologue; while Greenham and Rogers were shy men who did not want to publish at all.

Perkins, Greenham,

and Rogers were revered for generations as pillars of the puritan movement; Bright could hardly be called a puritan at all, though paradoxically he played a crucial role in shaping puritan thinking about despair.

All of them helped

to develop a more inward-looking religion, but in different ways and for different reasons. These chapters are not only about four writers; they are also about a broader cultural evolution.

These four men

were responding to changes in the literary and psychological culture of their time.

Their interest in the problem of

despair was a reflection of this change, and only makes sense in its context.

214 In other words, the four men were not so much creating a trend as participating in a trend.

For this reason, the

most revealing evidence in this chapter is not the actual writings of the four men, but instead the fascinating prefaces where the friends and editors of Greenham and Rogers described the pressures that they faced.

They wrote

with startling frankness in these prefaces, and their comments reveal much about the hidden agendas of the English puritan leadership at a turning-point in the movement.

Timothy Bright:

In 1586, Timothy Bright published A Treatise of Melancholia. twice.

It was an immediate success.

It was reprinted

It was cited by important puritan writers.259


was read by devout puritans, like Lady Hoby, who noted in her diary in 1599 that she had "read of Bright of Melancholy" .260 The success of A Treatise of Melancholy is understandable. fashionable idea.

It was a fashionable book about a Melancholy was in vogue in the 1580's,


Richard Rogers recommended it in his Seven Treatises. In Gods Arraignement of Hypocrites (London, 1615), John Yates borrowed entire passages from Bright. Compare p. 350 and p. 351 of Yates with p. 189 and p. 192 of Bright. 260


Diary of the Lady Margaret Hoby, Dorothy Meads, ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1930), p. 77.

215 and Bright wrote the ideal introduction to the topic.


was knowledgeable about medicine, but avoided obscure medical terminology; he was knowledgeable about puritan piety, but avoided puritan criticisms of the Church. Who was Timothy Bright?

Unlike the other authors

discussed in this chapter, he was not a puritan clergyman. Instead, he was born about 1550, and was educated at Cambridge, and then trained as a physician.

At the time he

wrote the Treatise, he was struggling to establish himself as a writer.

He was anxious to find a patron, eager to get

noticed, and alert for emerging trends.

His literary career

was mainly limited to the 1580s, when he produced seven books:

the treatise on melancholy, four other medical

works, an important book about short-hand, and an abridgment of Foxe's Acts and Monuments.

This flurry of activity may

have reflected less a need for self-expression than a desire to attract a patron.

In 1590, four years after publishing

his book on melancholy, he was ordained a clergyman, and given a living in Yorkshire, where he quietly spent the rest of his life. Unlike Perkins, he was not linked to a theological party.

His writings reveal no consistent doctrinal or

political agenda. Instead, he seems to have been driven by the desire for a patron.

He dedicated books to Walsingham,

Sidney, Burghley and Queen Elizabeth. puritan stalwart.

He was by no means a

In 1589, at the request of Archbishop

216 Whitgift, the arch enemy of the puritans, he produced an abridgement of Foxe's Acts and Monuments that convenientlyomitted some passages that had been cited by Cartwright and other puritan polemicists.261 Bright may have written about melancholy mainly because he thought that potential patrons would be interested in it. He may also have been canny enough to realize that, precisely because melancholy was such a private and personal problem, it was a safe topic, which he could discuss without referring to the controversies that divided the Elizabethan church. Much of the book was a general introduction to melancholy, which could have appealed to readers of almost any religious persuasion.

But Bright also discussed the

link between melancholy and conversion, at a time when puritans writers were starting to codify the idea of conversion.

This probably explains why the book became

popular in puritan circles. Like Perkins, Bright believed that conversion was usually accompanied by a sense of remorse.

He vigorously

defended the validity of this experience, denouncing skeptics "who either accompt the cause natural, melancholy


For this episode, see: Damian Nussbaum, "Whitgift's 'Book of Martyrs': Archbishop Whitgift, Timothy Bright, and the Elizabethan Struggle over John Foxe's Legacy", in David Loades, ed. , John Foxe: An Historical Perspective (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 135-53.

217 or madness, or else having some farther insight, with a Stoical prophaness of atheism, scoff at that kind of affliction against which they themselves labor to shut up their hard hearts."

But he also acknowledged that, in

certain cases, it was hard to distinguish between the purifying grief of repentance and the futile grief of melancholy:

"what the difference is betwixt natural

melancholy and the heavy hand of God upon the afflicted conscience, tormented with remorse of sin, and fear of his judgment. "262 He tried to clarify the difference.

Melancholy could

be cured by medical means: "the vein opened, neesing powder or bearfoot ministered, cordials of pearl, sapphire, and rubies..."

Repentant people, on the other hand, could not

rest until they found salvation:

"... no medicine, no

purgation, no cordial or treacle or balm are able to assure the afflicted soul and trembling heart, now panting under the terrors of God. . . "263 This distinction, he conceded, was not as simple as it seemed-.

True converts, like people in general, had one of

the four temperaments: melancholy.

phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric or

If they happened to have melancholy

262 Timothy Bright, A Treatise of Melancholia (London, 1586), pp. 188, iiii. 263

A Treatise of Melancholia, p. 189.

218 temperaments, their conversions combined the holy grief of repentance with the spurious grief of melancholy.


often caused them to have long and difficult conversions. Even after a genuine conversion, a melancholy person might still be anxious and discouraged, "doubtful and jealous of his estate, not only of this life, but also of the life to come."

Because of their natural restlessness,

such people easily became fascinated with the doctrine of predestination:

Of melancholy persons, especially such as are most contemplative, except they be well grounded in the word of God, & remove not one hair therefrom in their speculations, are in this way most overtaken, & receive the punishment of overbold attempt of those holy things, which the Lord hath reserved to his own counsel...

Bright insisted that the doctrine of predestination was not to blame.

By its very nature, it was a "most comfortable

doctrine", "the most strong rock of assurance, in all storms of temptations that can befall unto body or soul."


problem did not lie with the doctrine; it lay with the

219 melancholy humors of the people who tended to become obsessed with it.264 He urged such people to remember that these thoughts came from the devil:

Wherefore suspect these thoughts to be of the enemy and not of yourself, cast into your mind of him, and not springing of incredulity; I am out of God's favor, I am reprobate from his kingdom, there remaineth no hope for me:

I have no faith.

Beset by Satan's lies, they needed to saturate themselves in the truth: "I refer the melancholic to the books of the Scriptures, and moral precepts of the Philosophers, to the godly instructions of the divines, and comfort of their friends."265 These people needed medical care, as well as spiritual care.

Bright urged them to see a physician, but, for

readers who could not afford one, he included recipes for home remedies.

Faithful to Galenic orthodoxy, Bright

believed that melancholy must be expelled from the body by purging, vomiting, and blood-letting.

His remedies were


A Treatise of Melancholia, pp. 199-201.


A Treatise of Melancholia, p. 235.

220 "all openers of the spleen and liver, cleansers of the blood, and great preparers to the purging both of body and humor. "266 He also advised his readers that, if they lived prudently, they could avoid melancholy in the first place. His advice was traditional, clearly based on Galenic theory, but he had some twists of his own, which suggest something about the sort of well-heeled audience he hoped to reach. He urged his melancholy readers to drink claret; to adorn their gardens with a "lively spring"; to wear rubies, which "availeth against frightful dreams", or turquoises, "a comforter of the spirits".

He apparently assumed that many

of his readers had money to spend.267 Unlike the other writers discussed in this chapter, Bright was not a leader of the puritan movement, and he does not seem to have had an obvious theological agenda.


book was influential because, without strong theological convictions of his own, he could more freely respond to the trends of his times.

He was a responsive, rather than an

ideological, writer, and this is probably why he was popular with so many readers:

he wrote about their preoccupations

and not his own. A Treatise of Melancholia, p. 273.

221 It is important to remember the date of the book's publication, which was 1586.

R. T. Kendall and others have

implied that Perkins's teachings on conversion were largely responsible for the inability of so many devout Englishmen to feel certain of their salvation. twenty-eight years old.

But in 1586 Perkins was

He had been given his lectureship

at Great St Andrews, in Cambridge, less than two years earlier.

He had published virtually nothing.268

He could

not have precipitated the epidemic of religious despair that had already been described by Bright. The next section will discuss the work of Perkins.


was a very different man from Bright, of course, but it is important to remember that what they had in common. had not created the problem of despair.


It already existed.

It was a legacy from the Middle Ages, and had been discussed in English Protestant circles since the early years of the Reformation.

Instead Bright and Perkins tried to solve the

problem, though in very different ways, Bright through the idea of melancholy, and Perkins through a systematic approach to conversion.

William Perkins:


According to the Short Title Catalogue, Perkins had published only one book by 1586: Four Great Lyers, a denunciation of astrology, probably printed in 1585.

222 During his brief career, from the mid 1580s to his death in 1602, William Perkins reshaped the thinking of English puritans.

He codified the puritan understanding of

conversion, assurance, and hypocrisy.

We cannot understand

the puritan experience of despair unless we understand the distinctive twist that Perkins gave to these crucial doctrines. Perkins's motives:

To some historians, Perkins is a

villain who misread and distorted the pure theology of Calvin.269

Often these historians fail to ask what

motivated him.

He did not work in a vacuum.

He was

responding to a two-fold pastoral problem that had troubled many other Elizabethan puritans, including his own tutor Chaderton. Like other puritan clergy, Perkins worried that many church-goers had "a fearful security and deadness of heart." They considered it enough

"to make a common protestation of

the faith, not once in all their life times examining themselves whether they be in the estate of grace before the eternal God or not."270


Calvinism 270

They did not realize that they had

For example, R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, .1979).

William Perkins, "Epistle Dedicatorie" to A Treatise Tending Unto a Declaration Whether a Man Be in the Estate of Damnation or in the Estate of Grace (London, 1591), fol. A3v.

223 never been born again; and, lulled into a fatal sense of security, they were in grievous danger of going to hell. On the other hand, like many other puritan clergy, Perkins also worried about the opposite problem.


authentic Christians could not feel "the comfort of the gospel."

They only had "regard to their own sins and God's

infinite vengeance", and "so they are brought into fearful terrors and often draw near to desperation."

These people

were truly converted, but tormented by an unwarranted fear of damnation.271 These were the perennial complaints of the Elizabethan puritan clergy, haunted as they were by their double inability to awaken the complacent and to reassure the fearful.

But, unlike most clergy, Perkins was confident

that he had the answer to these problems. As Perkins saw it, both the ungodly and the godly were under the influence of a delusion:

the ungodly had a false

sense of security, while the godly had an unjustified sense of anxiety.

What both groups needed was greater clarity.

Earlier Elizabethan puritans had hoped that more preaching would solve their country's religious problems. Perkins disagreed.

As he saw it, there was plenty of godly

preaching, but it was not effective:

"most men nowadays are

secure and cold in the profession of the gospel, though they 271

William Perkins, How to Apply God's Word to the Conscience, in Works (Cambridge, 1605), p. 489.

224 have the plentiful preaching of it."

The answer to this

problem was to develop a methodical and systematic approach to preaching:

"so it is with the word of God, and the parts

of it, which except they be used in order and time convenient, will not humble and revive us." 272 Many puritan clergy were prepared to believe Perkins. They were impressed by his success as a preacher, a rare and coveted gift.

Reformed theology exalted the preaching of

the gospel, but many clergy felt that their sermons were ineffective.

For this reason, they were fascinated by

Perkins's unusual ability to move an audience:

"in his

sermons he used to pronounce the word Damn with such an emphasis as left a doleful echo in his auditors' ears a good while after".

In 1602, when John Cotton, an undergraduate,

and not yet a puritan convert, heard the bells toll for Perkins's funeral, "his mind secretly rejoiced in his deliverance from that powerful ministry..."273


"powerful ministry" gave Perkins great authority with likeminded clergy. Conversion:

Many attributed Perkins's success to his

charismatic personality.



But he insisted that he was simply

Perkins, How to Apply God's Word, p. 489.

Samuel Clarke, The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History (London, 1675), p. 415; Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702; reprint, Hartford: Andrus, 1853), vol. 1, p. 255.

225 practicing a method which could be easily learned by other men. His method revolved around an elaborate road-map of conversion. stages:

He taught that it happened in five distinct

1) when the elect heard the Word of God through

sermons or the Bible; 2) when they realized that they were sinners; 3) when they realized that they deserved to be damned; 4) when they realized that they could not escape damnation through their own good works; 5) finally, when they became convinced that God had forgiven them, not for any merit of their own, but because of his freely given love for the elect.

Perkins called the last stage assurance,

"when the elect are persuaded in their hearts by the Holy Ghost of the forgiveness of their own sins and of God's infinite mercy to them in Jesus Christ."274 Perkins' theory of conversion was not completely new. Some of his contemporaries, like Chaderton and Greenham, also taught that conversion usually occurred in stages, beginning with an awareness of sin and ending with reconciliation with God.

But Perkins went far beyond them

in his drive towards system.

He emphasized that every stage

must happen in the right order. He believed, of course, that conversions were the work of the Spirit. 274

But he also believed that the clergy could,

William Perkins, The Estate of a Christian Man in This Life, in Works, p. 432.

226 and must, learn how to induce them. to use the right method:

The important thing was

"All faithful ministers must here

learn the true way of comforting troubled and distressed consciences..."

This right method began by making

unconverted persons aware of "some particular sins", and then led them through the five stages of a valid conversion. Perkins wrote that "this is the way that God used and desired, this is the sure way that cannot fail."275 Perkins's theory of conversion involved a crucial change in emphasis, though not necessarily in actual doctrine.


earlier Reformed theologians, the mark of an authentic believer was allegiance to a message: understood by Reformed theologians.

the gospel as For Perkins, the mark

of an authentic believer was passage through a particular experience.

Earlier Reformers had assumed that people were

true believers if they were loyal Protestants and if they tried to lead an upright life.

Perkins, and most English

puritans after him, assumed that people were true believers if they had experienced a genuine conversion.

Of course,

Perkins and other English puritans continued to expect sound doctrine and sound morals in their followers. doctrine was no longer the touchstone of faith.

But sound Instead,

conversion increasingly tended to define the Christian.


Of the Calling of the Ministerie: Treatise (London, 1605), p. 93.



227 Perkins hoped that his clear, systematic approach would eliminate the doubts that demoralized so many faithful puritans. Unfortunately, as we shall see in later chapters, this approach often had the opposite effect.

Perkins had

hoped, that by creating a road-map of conversion, he could make the way clear for anxious people.

But, predictably,

many of them began to worry that their conversions had not been valid because they did not conform to this model. Assurance:

Perkins taught that conversion ended, or at

least ought to end, in assurance "when the elect are persuaded in their hearts by the Holy Ghost of the forgiveness of their own sins and of God's infinite mercy to them in Jesus Christ."

He admitted that many genuine

Christians lacked perfect assurance.

They were often

tempted to doubt their salvation:

The temptation is an illusion which the devil casteth into the hearts of godly men:

as when

he saith, Thou art not of the elect; thou art not justified; thou hast no faith; thou must certainly be condemned for thy sins.

Perkins believed that such doubts were part of the Christian life:

"he which never doubted of his salvation never

believed, and that he which believeth in truth feeleth many doubtings and waverings, even as the sound man feels many

228 grudgings of diseases which if he had not health he could not feel."276 Hypocrisy:

Perkins's teachings about conversion and

predestination have often attracted criticism but I would argue that the truly unsettling element in his theology revolved around his theory of "hypocrisy".


critics have concentrated on his teachings about conversion and assurance, but it seems likely that his teachings about hypocrisy did more to terrify and destabilize his followers than anything else.

When seventeenth century puritans

worried about their salvation, they usually explained that they were afraid that they were hypocrites.

The importance

of this idea cannot be overestimated. Multiple Meanings:

The term "hypocrite" had a

complicated history, and several different meanings, and they need to be disentangled before we can understand the impact of this very important and unsettling idea. In the Authorized Version of the Bible, the term "hypocrite" is used twenty times in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), though nowhere else in the New 276

The Estate of a Christian Man, p. 4 32; A Golden Chain, in Works, p. 93; Consolations for Troubled Consciences, in Works, p. 490. For Perkins on assurance and conversion, see: Gordon Keddie, "Unfallible Certenty of the Pardon of Sinne and Life Everlasting: the Doctrine of Assurance in the Theology of William Perkins", The Evangelical Quarterly 48 (1976), pp. 230-244. See also: Mark Shaw, "Drama in the Meeting House: the Concept of Conversion in the Theology of William Perkins", Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983), pp. 48-72.

229 Testament. or actor.277

It is a translation of the Greek word hypocrites New Testament scholars disagree about the

exact meaning of this word, although it was clearly a term of denunciation, referring to certain critics of Christ: the scribes and the Pharisees. In modern times, the word is used to describe people who pretend to be more virtuous than they really are.


Oxford English Dictionary defines hypocrite as:

One who falsely professes to be virtuously or religiously inclined; one who pretends to have feelings or beliefs of a higher order than his real ones; hence generally, a dissembler, a pretender.

But this is not the way the word was used during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the Reformation, it was used in roughly three, very different ways. 1) Early reformers described Catholics as "Pharisees" or as "hypocrites".

By this, they meant

enemies of the gospel, who hoped to gain salvation not by faith but by works.

2) By the middle of the sixteenth

century, Reformed writers used the term to describe false believers, who had seemed to be zealous Protestants but


In the Greek original, the word hypocrites appears in exactly the same twenty verses where the English word "hypocrite" appears in the Authorized Version.

230 later defected, often under pressure of persecution.


people were not hypocrites in the modern sense of the word. They had not intentionally feigned loyalty to Protestant religion; they had simply failed to remained loyal when hard times came.

In the final (1559) edition of his Institutes,

Calvin wrote that:

"experience shows that the reprobate are

sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect", but he implied that the reprobate usually abandoned true religion during their lifetimes."278

3) Perkins and many

later English puritans used the term to describe believers who had a false assurance of salvation.

They, too, were not

hypocrites in the modern sense of the word. were what we might call self-deceived.

Instead, they

They sincerely

considered themselves to be believers in good standing with God.

In most cases, they never openly defected, and they

never doubted the reality of their own faith - until that terrible moment, when, after their deaths, they realized that they would be damned forever. These three usages did not supersede each other.


were current in early modern century England, and all could be used by the same author.

But the third usage had the

greatest psychological impact.

Understandably, many people

were terrified by the idea that they could devote their


John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 111:11, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), p. 555.

231 lives to religion, and die a pious death - and still go to hell in the end. Unintended Consequences:

It is important to remember

that the Reformers of the mid-sixteenth century had not intended to create this sort of anxiety.

On the contrary,

they had developed the second definition (equating hypocrisy with apostasy) in order to reassure their worried followers. We have already seen how Jean Taffin, for example, wrote his tract on assurance - later translated by Anne Locke - for certain Dutch Protestants demoralized by the defection of John Haren.

They worried "either that our Church is not the

true Church, and so that we are not the children of God; or that there is no assurance of perseverance in the faith, and consequently no certainty of being the children of God..."279

Some wondered whether Haren's apostasy proved

that the Catholic church was in fact the true faith.


decided that if men like him could lapse, then nobody's faith was certain. Taffin's answer was to discredit Haren:

he had

switched sides for personal gain, which proved that his faith had been an illusion.

Taffin did not urge his

followers to search their hearts to see if they would become like Haren.

As long as they remained loyal to Protestant

Markes of the Children of God, p. 47.

232 religion, they could rest assured that their faith was authentic. Unlike Taffin, Perkins followed the third definition of hypocrisy.

If Taffin emphasized apostasy, Perkins

emphasized self-deception.

Hypocrites, he believed, did not

realize that they were hypocrites.

Many of them lived and

died believing that their faith was sincere. They only discovered their mistake in the next world, when it was too late to do anything about it. Hypocrites were, in Perkins's opinion, hard to distinguish from authentic believers.

Hypocrites might

confess the truth of God's word; they might fear the wrath of God; they might grieve for their sins; they might pray to God, and their prayers might even be answered; they might believe the promises of Christ concerning salvation; they might ask godly people to pray for them; they might revere godly ministers; they might themselves be ministers and preachers of the gospel.280

They might do all these things

and yet be damned in the end.

Thou wilt say this need not, thou professest the Gospel, and art taken for a Christian, yet mark and consider, that this often befalleth reprobates


Certaine Propositions Declaring How Farre a Man May Go in the Profession of the Gospell, and Yet Be a Wicked Man and a Reprobate, in Works, p. 424-431.

233 to be esteemed Christians: and that they are often so like them, that none but Christ can discern the sheep from the goats, true Christians from apparent Christians.281

Perkins's notion of hypocrisy has been criticized by modern writers, like R. T. Kendall, as destructive and "highly confusing".282

It probably was.

But we must

remember that Perkins, like Taffin, was acting out of strong pastoral motives.

He believed that thousands of his fellow

countrymen had illusory faith.

They thought that they were

authentic Christians, but they were headed for hell unless they realized their error. Perkins tried to show how the regenerate could be distinguished from the reprobate.

Both were exposed to the

Word of God, through sermons and the Bible.

But only in the

regenerate did this lead to an experiential knowledge of God.

The reprobate had a knowledge "concerning the kingdom

of heaven" that was "only a general and confused knowledge".

By contrast, the knowledge of the regenerate

was "pure, certain, distinct, and particular."


reprobate were proud, but the regenerate were humble: knowledge of the wicked puffeth them up:


but the knowledge


How Farre A Man May Go, p. 431.


Calvin and English Calvinism, p. 69.

234 of the godly humbleth them." but were slow to obey it.

The reprobate read the Bible,

The regenerate, by contrast, had

a "free and frank heart to perform it in their lives."283 To Perkins, these were real distinctions. not reassure every reader.

But they did

As we will see in later

chapters, it was difficult for anxious people to be sure that they had the "distinct" knowledge of the regenerate. The concept of hypocrisy undermined the assurance of many people, and would be a recurrent theme in narratives of despair.

It was an idea with a devastating impact.

Perkins's Legacy:

Perkins has been reviled by scholars

of many different theological opinions, and this is an understandable reaction.

Yet, before we rush to judge him,

we should remember two points. First, Perkins did not create the syndrome of despair; instead, he was trying to cure it.

It had been a widespread

problem in puritan circles for decades before him. Secondly, we should remember that the real question is not why Perkins developed such unsettling ideas but, instead, why so many people, both lay and clergy, accepted them.

Perkins, it must be remembered, had very limited

institutional power over other people. short; he died relatively young.

His career was

His heyday coincided

roughly with the reign of Archbishop Whitgift, which meant

How Farre a Man May Go, pp. 4 31, 4 3 3.

235 that he belonged to a beleaguered faction.

He taught at

Cambridge, but, aside from that, he had little power to force his opinions on his followers.

They accepted them out

of their own free will. Perkins and his World:

It is commonplace to contrast

the dreary world of Perkins with the dynamic, creative world of Elizabethan literature.

But, actually, it is this world

that helps us to make sense of Perkins and the hold he had over his followers. Perkins's teachings were influential not only because of their theological consequentiality, but also because they reflected common late Elizabethan assumptions about human nature.

Educated people of this age were fascinated by the

idea of disguise, deception, and, especially, selfdeception.

They were contemporaries of Montaigne.


lived in an age which had seen, with the Latin publication in 1562 of Sextus Empiricus, a revival of the ancient philosophical tradition of skepticism.284 To choose just one famous example, the major theme of Sir John Davies's poem, Nosce Teipsum, published in 1599, was the inability of human beings to understand their own hearts.


See, for example: Stuart Clark, Vanities of the Eye (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2 007); Richard Popkin, A History of Skepticism from Savonarola to Bayle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.)

236 For how may we to others' things attain Which none of us his own soul understands For which the devil mocks our curious brain When "know thyself" his oracle commands

For why should we the busy soul believe When boldly she concludes of that and this When of herself she can no judgement give Nor how, nor whence, nor where, nor what she is.

All things without, which round about we see, We seek to know, and how therewith to do. But that whereby we reason, live, and be Within ourselves we strangers are thereto.

We seek to know the moving of each sphere, And the strange cause of th'ebbs and floods of Nile; But of that clock within our breasts we bear; The subtle motions we forget the while.

We that acquaint ourselves with every zone And pass both tropics and behold the poles, When we come home, are to ourselves unknown And unacquainted still with our own souls.285 285

Sir John Davies, The Complete Poems, ed. Alexander Grosart (London: Chatto and Windus, 1876), vol. 1, pp. 19-20.

237 It may also be helpful to make what may seem, at first sight, an inappropriate comparison.

William Shakespeare and

William Perkins were born in Warwickshire six years apart; and, although we know little about Perkins's family, it seems that many of his relatives were yeoman farmers, like the family of Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden. These two men had very different lives, and believed in very different messages.

Or did they?

The new and

destructive element in Perkins's theology was his insistence on the fatal inscrutability of the human heart. was often Shakespeare's message, too.

But that

Lear was deceived by

his two wicked daughters, and Othello was deceived by I ago, because of fatal weaknesses in their own characters.


was paralyzed because he could not tell whether the apparition was a demon or his father's ghost.

Like Perkins,

Shakespeare taught that the human heart was very hard to read, and that the penalty for misreading it was death.

Richard Greenham:

Richard Greenham was very different from Perkins. published nothing in his lifetime. preacher. ideal:


He was a failure as a

Instead, he represented a new and different

the perceptive counsellor, the compassionate friend.

238 He was, in other words, the sort of man who could soften the impact of Perkins's bleak theology.286 To his admirers, Greenham was a man who had wasted the best years of his life.

Born around 1535 and educated at

Cambridge, he belonged to a generation of clergymen who began their careers in the hope that careful preaching would win their countrymen to the gospel.

As we have already

seen, many clergy of that generation became bitterly disappointed with the results of their labors, and Greenham was no exception.

He spent twenty years, from 1570 to 1591,

in Dry Drayton, a village a few miles from Cambridge.


villagers were, according to his friends, "ignorant and obstinate".

Greenham, a short, intense man with chronic

indigestion, struggled to be a model pastor.

As he preached

to his unresponsive flock, he sweated so profusely that he often had to change his shirt after leaving the pulpit.


tried to discuss religion with the villagers as they plowed their fields. failed.

He organized poor relief when harvests

But his efforts were not rewarded.

In twenty

years, he believed that he had converted only one family.287 286

Kenneth Parker and Eric Carlson, "Practical Divinity": The Works and Life of Richard Greenham (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998); John Primus, Richard Greenham: Portrait of an Elizabethan Pastor (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998). 287

Thomas Fuller, The Church History of Britain (London, 1656), book 9, p. 219. For other perspectives on his ministry, see: Kenneth Parker and Eric Carlson, Practical

239 He slowly realized that he had a very different gift, for counselling anxious people who already shared his religious commitments.

Many of them visited him, and

discovered that he could unravel the dilemmas that tormented them:

" his good knowledge and experience, (God)

restored many from unspeakable torments and terrors of mind..."288

After many years, Greenham decided that his

true calling lay with them.

In 1591 he left Dry Drayton,

and moved to London, where he could more easily concentrate on advising troubled souls.

He died a few years later in

1594. Unlike Perkins, he had published almost nothing during his lifetime.

In 1599, several of his admirers produced a

collection of his writings. for publication.

They had never been intended

They were rambling and disorganized:

letters, notes, sketches for sermons.

But his editors

decided to publish them anyway, because they felt a desperate need. Henry Holland, a puritan clergyman, wrote a preface. This preface reveals a great deal about the agendas and dilemmas of late Elizabethan puritans, and is, in this

Divinity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998); Margaret Spufford, Contrasting Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974). 288

Henry Holland, "The Preface to the Reader" in Richard Greenham, Works (London, 1599), fol. A5.

240 sense, more revealing than the book itself.

Holland began

by complaining about the craftiness of the Jesuits, and the danger that their writings might seduce the faithful.


was a desperate need for Protestant books of spiritual guidance:

The diet and cure of souls afflicted is a very great mystery, wherein but few have travailed to reduce that matter to any good form of art or to give any good method of practice.

Master Luther, Master Beza

Urbanus Rhegius, Master Taffin, and others, have very excellent forms of consolation; and many godly brethren in our times have ministered good help for the cure of souls afflicted: but wanting art and good experience, we conceive the danger to be great, and often (as blind Empirics) cause it to be greater; for that we guess uncertainly to apply good remedies and speeches unto the sick, than know how to proceed by any certain rule of art, and well grounded practice .289


Holland, "Preface", fol. A4v. Urbanus Rhegius was a Lutheran theologian. Taffin has been discussed earlier in this chapter. Holland does not identify the consoling works of the four theologians, and, especially since Luther and Beza were prolific writers, it is hard to tell which ones he had in mind.

241 In other words, Holland believed that Protestants had fallen behind the times. Church.

They not kept up with the Catholic

Nor had they kept up with recent medicine, as

Holland implied in his comments about "blind empirics" who lack "any certain rule of art."

Due to the increased

publication of medical books in the 1580's, readers had become familiar with a precise and systematic medical approach to psychology.

Now, Holland suggested, they wanted

a precise and systematic religious approach to psychology. Greenham could have been the man for the job:

If the Lord had not so soon translated him to rest he was no doubt fit and as willing as any in our age to effect this matter... He had a long time a settled disposition (as he trusteth) of God to study the cases of conscience to succor the perplexed in them...290

"Many godly learned friends" had urged him to "train up some younger men to this end, and communicate his experience with them."

They also hoped "that he might leave unto posterity

a commentary of such particular maladies as through God's blessing he hath cured together with the means to that


Holland, "Preface", fol. A5.

242 end..."291

There was an urgent need for this sort of book,

systematic and comprehensive:

because precepts are wanting rules of direction in such cases (by a thorough searching, with a diligent and continual observation and conference with others learned and experienced) might in this age, or in the age following, be brought to some 'form of method and art, whereby the knowledge and experience of these things might be made common to many, not only to the faithful curing, but also the healthful preventing of manifold mischiefs.292

Unfortunately, Greenham's surviving papers were not systematic.

An old-fashioned man, like Chaderton, he had

concentrated not on preparing works for publication, but on sermons, letters, and conversations with his anxious visitors:

"But such were his travails in his lifetime in

preaching and comforting the afflicted that he could not possibly leave these works as he desired."

He had left

behind notes and drafts, "often distracted and corrupted", which his editors struggled to organize, sometimes using the crude method of putting his scattered comments in 291

Holland, "Preface", f ol. A5.


Holland, "Preface", f ol. A5-A5v.

243 alphabetical order:

angels, anger, atheism, and so

forth.293 The collection included advice about a wide variety of problems.

Sometimes, though not very often, Greenham

discussed the problem of despair. was written to a worried young man.

One letter, for example, He had been an

undergraduate at Cambridge, and during that time he had, he thought, experienced a true conversion.

But his father had

insisted, for reasons that are not made clear, that he leave Cambridge, and now he felt numb and dull. fervent love for God.

He had lost his

He wondered whether he had lost his

salvation. Greenham assured him that he was truly in a state of salvation.

His sense of malaise was "partly melancholy,

partly Satan working therewith" .294

Satan wanted to undo

his faith, and was exploiting his melancholy humors to tempt him to doubt and fear. his doubts.

Greenham urged the youth to ignore

They were not valid; they were simply the

creation of melancholy humors and of the Devil.

This was,

as we have seen, very traditional advice, going back to John Chrysostom, and often used in the later Middle Ages. Greenham had a profound influence on the puritan handling of the problem of despair.

But his influence was


Holland, "Preface", f ol. A6v, A6.


Greenham, Works, p. 450.

244 due less to his sparse comments on despair than to his redefinition of the puritan understanding of the ministry. The classical reformers believed that preaching was a clergyman's primary duty.295

They acknowledged that he

should counsel the discouraged, but they expected him to reach his congregation primarily through the pulpit. Greenham, on the other hand, believed that counselling was one of a clergyman's principal obligations.

He exemplified

this in his life, and taught it in his writings. This change may have been partly inspired by the medical and psychological revival of late Elizabethan England.

Holland, in his preface, had implied that

religious writers should keep up with medical writers. Greenham wrote that his readers should trust clergymen as much as they trusted physicians.

as the patient that is sick in body willingly resigneth himself unto the sentence and direction of his skillful and faithful physician, so must the children of God in their spiritual maladies yield themselves unto the physicians of their souls, so much the more because the Lord hath given unto 295

Contemporary works on the duties of the clergy stressed preaching, and mentioned counselling little or not at all. Nicholas Hemmingsen, The Preacher, trans. L. H. (London, 1574) ; William Perkins, Of the Calling of the Ministerie (London, 1605); William Perkins, The Art of Prophecving, trans, (from the Latin original) Thomas Tuke (London, 1607), but composed in 1592.

245 the ministers of his gospel the power of binding and loosing, both in the public ministry of his word and also in the private consolation of his children.296

Greenham took seriously the psychological authority of the clergy.

He wrote that the spirit of God normally assures

the converted of their salvation, but that when assurance fails,

we must ... refer ourselves to the testimony of the faithful ministers of God, who as they are for their wisdom and manifold experience better able to judge our estate than ourselves, so have they power and authority from God to decide the controversy between us and our enemy, and to plead our cause against him.297

This comment recalls the insistence of several late medieval writers, like the author of The Chastising of God's Children, that anxious people should seek the guidance of a wise and devout advisor.

It reminds us that Greenham not

only represented an adaptation of puritan piety to the new 296

Works. p. 469. .


Works, p. 473.

246 introspective culture of late Elizabethan England, but that he also represented a revival of the therapeutic approach to despair that had been prevalent in the late Middle Ages. Greenham was widely seen as the antidote to Perkins.


generation later, an anti-puritan satirist wrote:

I observed in Perkins's Tables The black lines of damnation: These crooked veins So stuck in my brains That I feared my reprobation...

I have been in despair Five times a year, And cured by reading Greenham. . ,298

Perkins and Greenham did, in fact, represent two strains that together would dominate puritan piety throughout the seventeenth century.

Perkins emphasized the necessity of

conversion, but he also promoted other ideas, like the danger of hypocrisy, that left many people uncertain whether


The Poems of Richard Corbett, eds. J. A. W. Bennett and H. R. Trevor-Roper (Oxford: Clarendon Pres, 1955) , pp. 57, 58. The "black lines of damnation" were found in a chart in Perkins's Golden Chain, which showed, through an elaborate tangle of black lines, the order of salvation and reprobation.

247 their conversions were genuine.

Greenham's therapeutic

approach, inherited from the later Middle Ages, enabled many puritans to cope with the emotional stress produced by the contradictory impulses of Perkins's teaching.

If Perkins,

through his theory of conversion, defined the basic narrative of puritan piety, Greenham helped to make the tensions of that narrative endurable. This chapter has looked at several, very different strands in puritan thought.

The next chapter will show how

a morose and little-known clergyman wove them together to create a synthesis that, in one form or another, remained standard in puritan circles throughout the seventeenth century.



The two previous chapters described how the Elizabethan puritan clergy struggled to find an answer to the problem of despair.

This chapter will show how they standardized this

answer, and will explore some of its implications.

Richard Rogers:

In the previous chapter, we saw how Richard Greenham was revered by his friends as the very model of a compassionate, perceptive counsellor.

They regretted that

he had not lived long enough to produce an organized guide to the devotional life.

Four years later, in 1603, Richard

Rogers published his Seven Treatises, which was exactly the sort of book that, in the opinion of some, Greenham should have written.

One of its prefaces was by Stephen Egerton, a

London clergyman who had helped to edit Greenham's papers. He described Rogers as a "another Greenham and herein more happy than he, because he hath lived to pen and to peruse his own labors," and "may yet live (by the mercy of God) to correct and amend whatsoever slip of the pen ... may be showed unto him." 2 "


Stephen Egerton, "To the Christian Reader", in Richard Rogers, Seven Treatises (London, 1603), fol. A3. For accounts of Egerton's sermons and congregation, see: Hoby, Diary, p. 150; and John Manningham, Diary, ed. John Bruce, Camden Society 99 (London, 1868), pp. 74-5, 101.

249 Six hundred and sixty-three pages long, the Seven Treatises was an encyclopedic guide to the religious life. It was intended to be a Protestant alternative to Parsons's Christian Directory, and it covered an even wider range of subjects.

It began by explaining the way to salvation,

which it identified with a Perkinsian sequence of repentance and conversion.

It described the mysteries of conversion

with patient attention, much more than Perkins ever showed, to the likely questions of anxious readers.

It dealt

extensively with problems of religious psychology, such as despair.

Finally, it anatomized the duties of devout

Christians in almost every position and every dilemma of life, including the obligations of husbands and wives, debtors and creditors, alms-givers and alms-receivers. comprehensive approach appealed to many readers.


The book

was reprinted at least thirteen times, and was widely imitated. Rogers was, in many ways, an unlikely author of such an influential book.

He was born about 1550, and educated at

Christ's College, Cambridge, where he would have known Dering and Chaderton.

He spent most of his life as a

clergyman in Wethersfield, in northern Essex, a region that was a hotbed of puritan activity.

Unlike Perkins, who had

written forty-seven works by the time he died at the age of forty-four, Rogers was not a prolific writer.

The Seven

Treatises, printed when he was over fifty, was his first

250 book.

Unlike Greenham, Rogers was not a natural


His diary suggests that few people sought him

out as a counsellor. In fact, his diary, written from 1587 to 1590, reveals a man overwhelmed by inertia and malaise.300 worried about many things:

He was

money, his marriage, and his

career under an anti-puritan hierarchy.

He felt that his

faith had grown- stale; he could not concentrate:

"so many

thoughts stuff my mind... some lawful, but yet either out of season or too long or too deep, some fond and fantastical. . . "301 His great comfort in life, his major source of cheer and vitality, was his friendships with like-minded believers, whose conversation often brought him "exceeding joy and consolation".

His closest friend was Ezekiel

Culverwell, another Essex clergyman and the brother-in-law of several luminaries, including Lawrence Chaderton.


first surviving entry in his diary recalls "a most sweet journey with Mr Culverwell, two days, and much time bestowed

300 -phig m a y n o t kg obvious to readers of M. M. Knappen's edition of Rogers's diary, Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries. This edition includes a large part, maybe two thirds, of Rogers's diary, but Knappen tended to omit some of the more dreary passages. Knappen made a transcript of the entire diary, which, together with the original manuscript, is in Dr Williams's Library in London. 301

M. M. Knappen, ed. , Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries (Chicago: American Society of Church History, 1933), p. 84.

251 on the way about our Christian estate..."

Further entries

mention "sweet conference" and "good company" with Culverwell.

Rogers also intensely admired John Knewstub, a

Suffolk clergyman, for his "marvelous love to all" and "rare humility", and he took equal pleasure in the company of other like-minded souls.302 His friends talked him into writing the Seven Treatises.

According to his diary, about twenty believers,

both lay and clergy, gathered in Wethersfield on December 22, 1587, and made a covenant to pray together and to discuss their spiritual conditions with each other.


asked him to write some tracts, for their own use, on how to lead a devout life. For sixteen years, from 1587 to 1603, Rogers seems to have allowed his writings to be privately circulated.


was apparently just as reluctant to publish as Greenham. Then, Rogers explained, his hand was forced by Catholic propagandists, who had "cast in our teeth that we have nothing set out for the certain and daily direction of a Christian, when yet they have published (they say) many treatises of that argument."

He had seen Parsons's

Christian Directory, and he knew people who had "lost themselves by reading of that book." 302

He did not think much

Two Elizabethan Puritan Diaries, pp. 53, 63, 61, 95. Compare with the entry for August 30, 1587, where he noted his unprofitable conversations with his wife during a journey to London, wherein "my former fervency was abated". p. 58.

252 of it:

"although there be a pretended shew of godliness in

it, and much superstition; yet the best of it is far from true piety and godliness..."

But he thought it was

important to counter this competition and to prove that Protestants, too, could write books of devotion.303 Rogers knew that he was doing something new.

He wrote

that he did not know of any book like his own: "at leastwise, I may say, there hath not come into my hand any book directly tending to this end, which I propound here in the seven treatises following to help the frailty of God's children..."304

In his preface, he explained that he wrote

not for the general public but for the regenerate, "who have already been in the truth of their hearts converted unto the Lord."

He advised unconverted readers to turn to books,

like Perkins' Grain of Mustard Seed, which were addressed to people like themselves. He added a revealing comment, which helps to explain why he, like Greenham, had turned his energies from the unconverted to the converted.

He noted that there were many

tracts addressed to the unregenerate, "plentifully, plainly, and in good order, extant among them already..." was absolutely correct.

Here, he

There were many such tracts.

Stephen Egerton, who contributed a preface to the Seven 303

"Preface", Seven Treatises, f ol. A6, Bl.


"Preface", Seven Treatises, f ol. A5.


253 Treatises, had written a popular catechism, which would be reprinted forty-four times.

But Rogers noted, quite

sensibly, that the unregenerate seldom bothered to read these tracts:

"and for that I know, that for the most part,

they profit not by our writing, who do not before regard and take good by our preaching..."

Perhaps, he added, his book,

though addressed to the converted, might reach the hearts of the unconverted as well.

By describing the inner life of

the godly, it would show them what they were missing:


they themselves go void of which they might enjoy..."


he did not count on it.

In his opinion, most of the

unconverted were not easily moved no matter what sermons or tracts came their way.305 Three clergymen contributed prefaces to the book: Francis Marbury, Stephen Egerton, and Rogers's old friend, Ezekiel Culverwell.

Their prefaces reveal that they, like

Rogers, thought that this was a new kind of book.


(now best remembered as the father of Anne Hutchinson) noted that the book was a new approach:

written not for the

"uncircumcised ear" of the unconverted ("as for the dogs they are to be detested and denied holy things") but instead for the regenerate, the "gracious perusers" who could understand the things of God.


"Preface", fol. A5v.

In other words, it was

254 addressed to readers who were already committed puritans.306

Ezekiel Culverwell thought it could counter

the challenge of Catholic books. Parsons's Christian Directory:

He compared it to it had "more sound godliness

in one leaf then all their artificially composed treatises of resolution".

In a comment that may reveal the pressure

to keep up with medicine, he also compared it to medical tracts, for it contained "the most approved remedies for curing of all spiritual diseases", and an "anatomy of the soul, where ... every vein and little nerve are ... discovered . . . "307 In his preface, Stephen Egerton, an influential London minister and an old associate of John Field, revealed even more sharply than Culverwell how puritans felt outflanked by the appearance of Catholic devotional literature.


admitted that the Catholics had a clever idea - not surprisingly, since the children of this world are in this generation wiser than the children of light.

They had

realized that "their books of controversies, stuffed with manifest untruths, fallacious and corrupted, were not able to gain sufficiently ... to their Babylonish kingdom..."


they "set themselves and others on work ... to pen certain


306 „ T o


christian Reader", Seven Treatises, f ol. A4v.

30? „ T o


christian Reader", Seven Treatises, f ol. A3v,

255 treatises tending to ensnare and entangle the minds of ignorant and simple Christians in the corrupt and filthypuddle of Popish devotion."

They hoped to fool their

readers into thinking "that all true devotion dwelt amongst them and were inclosed and tied to their cells and cloisters."

This was why Rogers's friends had encouraged

him to publish, "as a counterpoison to all such enchantments of papists. "308 In his book, Rogers dutifully discussed a wide variety of anxieties.

His discussion of despair is worth a closer

look because it anticipates the standard puritan position on the subject throughout the seventeenth century. He noted that many true Christians, although they had "manifest signs of faith and the new birth in them", "yet by the subtle and cruel malice of the devil... are brought to this bondage that they are persuaded that they are utter reprobates and have no remedy against their desperation." They "feel (they say) the wrath of God kindled against their souls and anguish of conscience most intolerable."


"can find no release, notwithstanding their continual prayers made unto the Lord, and in their judgment stand void of all hope of the inheritance promised, expecting the


"To the Christian Reader", f ol. A3. Egerton mentioned two Catholic writers: Robert Parsons and Luis of Granada, three of whose books had been translated into English by 1599.

256 consummation of their misery and the fearful sentence of eternal condemnation. "309 The problem was often aggravated by melancholy humors: "yet when melancholy shall herewithall possess the party, then it is made far more grievous."

Melancholy was "an apt

instrument" of the devil, "to terrify the mind with vain and fantastical fears..." Timothy Bright:

Rogers urged such people to read

"the treatise of melancholy, set forth by

Doctor Bright, physician, anno 1586. "310 Some of these people were afraid that they had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. obsessed with blasphemous thoughts. kill themselves:

Some were

Others were tempted to

"if they see a knife, all their thoughts

are to destroy themselves; they go by water, they are vehemently persuaded to drown themselves..."311


resisted all attempts to comfort them:

And if any scripture be reciteth to them; Oh, it belongeth not to them, they say: they are past hope:

and whatsoever we answer

them (be it never so fit for them and to do


Seven Treatises, f ol. A5, p. 40.


Seven Treatises, p. 40.


Seven Treatises, p. 42.

257 them good) yet they are never satisfied, but raise new objections against themselves, as being nothing satisfied by that which was spoken unto them.312

Like Greenham, Rogers believed that it was important for such people to detach themselves from these thoughts and to blame them on outside forces:

they are to count them to proceed from him (Satan) than from themselves, because they are such as are altogether contrary to their former conversation and to nature itself, and such as have no enforcement or enticement but from him.313

He urged despairing people to remember what they had been like when their faith had been strong, and should realize that this had been, and remained, their real selves. In these passages, Rogers made much more extensive use of the idea of melancholy than had either Greenham or Perkins.

They had occasionally used it to explain cases of

religious despair, but they were plainly wary of it, and often warned their readers (as even Bright had) against 312

Seven Treatises, p. 42.


Seven Treatises, p. 43.

258 skeptics who tried to argue that most religious feelings, especially the sorrow of conversion, were caused bymelancholy humors.314

Rogers seems to have had few such

misgivings, and he used the idea of melancholy freely. Rogers's book represented a synthesis of four elements, all explicitly acknowledged by him.

One was the fashionable

idea of melancholy; another was Perkins's theory of conversion.

A third was the Protestant tradition of

reassuring people who were afraid that they had lost their salvation; it was exemplified in Rogers's day by Richard Greenham, but it went back to the time of John Bradford and probably earlier.

A fourth element was the response to

Catholicism, the decision, on the part of certain puritans, that their movement needed to produce devotional books that could compete with works like Parsons's Christian Directory. Rogers's synthesis represented the future.

It would be

adopted, with few changes, by puritan writers throughout the seventeenth century.

But it was also a return to the past.

Aside from its emphasis on conversion, it was largely a revival of the late medieval therapeutic tradition.

Most of

his advice on the subject of despair, and many of the symptoms he reported, could have been taken from William


Perkins, Works, pp. 14, 36, 49, 50; Greenham, Works (London, 1599), p. 268; Greenham, Works (London, 1605), pp. 272, 287, 372, 856.

259 Flete's Remedies Against Temptations or from Sir Thomas More's Dialogue of Comfort. Rogers apparently did not realize this.

He had some

knowledge of contemporary Catholic writings: he had read Parsons's Christian Directory; he may have read other Catholic tracts; almost certainly he had discussed Catholic literature with his friends, like Stephen Egerton, who were disturbed by its popularity.

But there is no evidence that

he thought that he was borrowing from Catholic sources or drawing on a tradition that had been well entrenched before the Reformation. achievement.

Yet that is the paradox of his

In creating an alternative to Counter-

Reformation literature, he and others like him hoped to weaken the appeal of Catholicism to many readers, and helped to create what would be a powerfully creative tradition of puritan devotional writing.

But, at the same time, they

unconsciously ensured that the late medieval tradition of self-examination and of spiritual counselling would live on in a Protestant guise.

They had countered the Catholic

challenge by borrowing from the late medieval Catholic tradition.

Richard Baxter and the Seventeenth Century:

During the sixteenth century, the Protestant approach to religious despair was in a state of rapid evolution.


260 contrast, after the first decade of the seventeenth century, it hardly changed at all.

Throughout the many crises and

transformations of this century, English puritans remained loyal to the synthesis represented by Rogers's Seven Treatises.

Eventually, as we will see in a later chapter,

it would be reinterpreted during the evangelical revival of the eighteenth century.

But this is far into the future.

The essential point is that it changed very little during the seventeenth century. There is nothing surprising about this. Understandably, research on Stuart England has often concentrated on the Civil War and the turmoil that preceded it.

But it would be naive to assume that this instability

was automatically reflected in every aspect of religious and cultural life.

Instead, the puritan concept of despair

remained stable throughout decades of political strife. This stability is congruent with broader trends in Reformed theology.

Perkins followed in the wake of a very

creative generation of second-generation Reformed theologians, like Zanchius, Ursinus, and Beza.

Based mainly

in Geneva and Heidelberg, they had redefined and recreated the work of Calvin and his contemporaries.

By contrast,

most Reformed theologians of the seventeenth century, despite notable exceptions like Arminius and Amyraut, accepted the achievements of this generation.


orthodox Calvinists, from Alsted to Turretin, the greater

261 part of the seventeenth century was a long period of codification and consolidation.

For this reason, it is

hardly surprising that the late Elizabethan interpretation of despair was accepted by most puritans for several generations. It should also be remembered that the Elizabethan synthesis was inherited from a durable tradition: medieval understanding of despair.

the late

The later Middle Ages

had many upheavals of its own - including plague, famine, heresy, and schism - but this tradition had remained stable from the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries, and, in Catholic countries, well beyond.

It was a very persistent

tradition. The Seventeenth Century:

During the century that

followed Rogers, many puritan writers discussed the problem of despair.

Some influential examples are John Downame's

Christian Warfare in 1609-18, Henry Scudder's The Christian's Daily Walk in 1629, Richard Gilpin's Demonologia Sacra in 1677, and Richard Baxter's Cure of Melancholy and Overmuch Sorrow in 1682.

All were faithful to the

Elizabethan synthesis. It is worth summarizing one of them, Baxter's Cure of Melancholy.

Baxter was a prolific writer, who became famous

with the publication of The Saint's Everlasting Rest in 1650, and remained influential until his death in 1690. was also a popular counsellor, and he once wrote:


"I know

262 not how it came to pass, but if men fell melancholy, I must hear from them or see them (more than any physician I know) . . ,315 He began by stating the traditional dilemma.


was an essential prelude to conversion, but, in excess, it could also be the enemy of salvation. realize this:

Many people did not

"many awakened souls under the work of

conversion think that they can never have sorrow enough".316

Some of them became so bogged down in their

grief that they never proceeded to conversion, while others were eventually converted, but only after years of misery. Even after conversion, there could be excessive sorrow.

Many true Christians wondered if God had forsaken

them; they asked themselves if their conversions had been authentic.

Their anxiety unfitted them "for all profitable

meditation"; it turned "prayer into mere complaint"; it rendered "preaching and counsel too oft unprofitable".317


Richard Baxter, The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (London, 1925), p. 216. For more about Baxter as a pastor, see: J. William Black, Reformation Pastors: Richard Baxter and the Ideal of a Reformed Pastor (Carlisle: Paternoster Pres, 2004); J. I. Packer, The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2003) . 3i6

iicure 0 f Melancholy", p. 238.




Melancholy", p. 242.

263 In Baxter's opinion, many of these people were victims of "the disease called melancholy". but matter of fear and trouble".

They could "see nothing

They could not sleep; they

did not enjoy their family, friends, or possessions. became convinced that they would be damned: that God hath forsaken them,


"they think

and that the day of grace is

past, and that there is no more hope..."318

Many were

afraid that they had committed "the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost", and insisted that they would be damned no matter what they did.319 There was no point in reasoning with these people.


clergyman might try to persuade them "that they have some evidences of sincerity": in other words, that their character or their experiences showed signs of a genuine conversion.

But it would do no good.

worried again:

They soon became

"they have nothing to say against it, yet

either it takes off none of their trouble, or else it returneth the next day ... quiet them an hundred times, and their fears an hundred times return."320 Such people needed to understand that they could not trust their own judgment.

Their minds had been infiltrated


"Cure of Melancholy", p. 244.


"Cure of Melancholy", p. 244.


Hcure of Melancholy", p. 244.


by two, very different, outside forces.

The first were

melancholy humors, and the second was Satan, who exploited these humors to "tempt you to overmuch sorrow and fear, and to distracting doubts and thoughts, and to murmur against God, and to despair, and still think that you are undone, undone . . . "321 It was essential for melancholy people to understand that their gloomy thoughts came from outside themselves. Baxter reminded his readers that God would not blame them for "those ill effects which are unavoidable from the power of a bodily disease", namely melancholy.322

He also

believed that it would cheer, rather than terrify, many people to learn that their doubt and despair came directly from the devil.

I must tell the melancholy person that is sincere, that the knowledge of the devil's agency in his case, may be more to his comfort than to his despair.323

This knowledge would allow melancholy people to separate and to liberate themselves from their sense of despair. 32i



Melancholy", p. 249.




Melancholy", p. 24 9.


I'Cure of Melancholy", p. 246.

265 Baxter reminded melancholy readers that they could not trust their own judgement.

As long as their minds were

poisoned by melancholy, they were in no condition to examine their hearts for signs of salvation.

Instead, they needed

to trust the opinions of their godly friends and ministers:

Answer me this question, Do you know any minister, or friend, that is wiser than yourself? say no, how foolishly proud you are!

If you

If you say

yes, then ask the minister, or friend, what he thinketh of your condition, and believe him, and be ruled by him rather than by your crazed self.324

Once melancholy people had decided to fight against despair, they had two weapons at their disposal. weapon was faith in God.

The first

Like James of Milan and other

medieval writers, Baxter urged his anxious readers to stop looking at themselves, and instead to trust in God:

"to end

your, doubt by actually giving up yourself to Christ.325 The second weapon was medicine and healthy diet.


urged his readers to avoid cheese, beef, pork, raw fruit, and other foods that produced melancholy humors.


recommended purges, and listed twenty-one different recipes 324



Melancholy", p. 270.




Melancholy", p. 268.

266 for home-made remedies:

"Take of good beer, ready to drink,

three gallons, put it into a wooden or earthen vessel, as aforesaid, and hang in it a bag that hath of wormwood, agrimony,and wild marjoram each two handfuls; of centaury, one handful; of senna, three ounces; of liquorice and aniseed, of each an ounce; of steel, three gads..."326 Baxter's description of melancholy was very traditional.

Much of it could have been taken from, for

example, Sir Thomas More's Dialogue of Comfort.


symptoms, and many of the cures, he mentioned could have been found in the works of medieval writers.

His analysis

represented a return to the therapeutic approach to melancholy, as it had been practiced for centuries. Baxter, like all puritan writers of the seventeenth century, lived in the long shadow of William Perkins. did not reject Perkins's theology.


He fully accepted its

essential paradigms of repentance and conversion.

But, in

the tradition of Greenham and Rogers, he tried to supplement Perkinsian theology with therapeutic techniques that made, or at least were intended to make, its severity more endurable.

Cure of Melancholy", p. 281.

267 Conclusion:

As we have already seen, many early English Protestants did not see much need for the therapeutic approach that had been so common in the late Middle Ages.

They were confident

in the word of God, and in its power to cure the age-old problem of despair.

By the beginning of the seventeenth

century, many English puritans had decided that religious despair was a perennial problem, and that their clergy needed some sort of psychological expertise in order to cope with it.

Religious despair had become as securely

established among the puritans as it had been among devout late medieval Catholics. But was this inevitable?

Was there something about

Calvinist theology, or English culture and society, that made the syndrome unavoidable?

Or could the puritan clergy

have fended it off by developing a more effective psychology, or, more simply, by ignoring the problem? There were, of course, profound, long-term reasons why English puritans legitimized the problem of despair.


had inherited the syndrome from medieval Catholicism, and, since the 1550's, and probably earlier, Protestant clergymen had been under pressure from pious laymen to offer them advice about despair.

This pressure grew more intense in

the final decades of the sixteenth century, partly because the tastes of educated people became more introspective, and

268 partly because puritans faced competition from Catholics who were distributing books that offered psychological and spiritual guidance. Still, there is reason to think that late Elizabethan puritans might have moved in other directions, and might have done much less to legitimize the problem of despair. As we have seen, the works of Greenham and Rogers did much to create a more introspective type of religion, but they almost did not get into print.

Greenham's works were

published posthumously, and Rogers only published after many years of prodding by his colleagues, and in response to the Catholic challenge. There is also the question of what would have happened if Perkins had not died in 1602, when he was only forty-four years old, at the height of his influence.

He did not

advocate the therapeutic approach to religion taken by Rogers and Greenham.

If he had lived to an old age, and if

he had dominated Jacobean and Caroline puritans as much as he had dominated late Elizabethan puritans, then the piety of the English puritans might not have taken so much of a therapeutic turn. The Broader Context:

There is another way of asking

this question, about the inevitability of the puritan concern with despair:

it is to look at other Calvinist

cultures, and to ask whether they, too, were affected by the problem.

269 There is one difficulty with this approach.


systematic theology is concerned, English Calvinists often depended on Continental writers.

But, where devotional

writings were concerned, most foreign Calvinist cultures often depended on English puritan writers.

This was

especially true, of course, for Scotland and New England. But it was also true of Calvinists in Germany, the Netherlands, and Central Europe.

Around the year 1600,

these cultures began to devour English devotional tracts, and they continued to do so for the seventeenth century and even afterwards.327

There were cases of despair among

these Calvinist cultures.

But it is hard to evaluate them,

to know whether they represented the influence of puritan literature, with its strong emphasis on the problem of despair, or whether they represented an independent development.


For the influence of puritan books on Dutch piety, see: T. Brienen et al. , De Nadere Reformatie, ('s-Gravenhage, 1986); Heinrich Heppe, Geschichte des Pietismus (Leiden, 1879); Willem Jan op't Hof, Engelse Pietistische Geschriften in Het Nederlands (Rotterdam, 1987) . English influence could, of course, take personal as well as literary forms. Willem Teellinck was, together with Voetius, the most influential devotional writer in the early seventeenth century Netherlands, and he did much to create the deeply emotional piety that would be dominant among Dutch Calvinists for several centuries to come. But he was very much the product of puritan religion. As a young man, expecting to spend his life as a lawyer, he travelled to England, where he underwent a puritan conversion. He spent two years in Banbury, a stronghold of puritan piety, and married an Englishwoman. For the rest of his life, he retained strong ties with England, and was a conduit of English piety to the Netherlands.

270 One Calvinist culture stands apart: speaking Switzerland.

France and French-

Few puritan writings were translated

into French, and there is little evidence that puritans had much influence on French Calvinist piety - a marked contrast, incidentally, from the revitalizing influence of English evangelicals on French Protestants during the nineteenth century.328

French Calvinists never developed

an inward-looking piety, unlike their Catholic compatriots, and certain scholars have, in fact, wondered whether this partly accounted for the decay of their religion in the seventeenth century.329

They did not develop an elaborate,

Perkinsian theory of conversion, nor did they take an interest in the problem of despair, which is almost never mentioned in their writings.330

In this, as in so many


Leonard Foster, "Traductions franchises d'oeuvres de devotions puritains", Bulletin de la societe de l'histoire du protestantisme francais 100 (1954), pp. 147-154. 329

For criticisms of the aridity of French Protestant spirituality, see: Emile Leonard, A History of Protestantism, trans. R. M. Bethell, vol. 2 (London: Nelson, 1967); Alexandre Vinet, Histoire de la prediction (Paris, 1860). For a more favorable evaluation, see: Myriam Yardeni, Le refuge protestant (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1985). 330

For the assurance of salvation, see: Janine Garrisson, L'homme protestant (Brussels: Editions complexe, 1986). See also the comment of Philip Benedict, a preeminent historian of French Protestantism: "Huguenot memoirs and family accounts books survive in some abundance from the seventeenth century, but they betray neither the attention to making one's election sure nor the personal covenanting characteristic of British and later Dutch diaries", in Christ's Churches Purely Reformed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), p. 524. I have found virtually no episodes of

271 other ways, they were faithful to the original legacy of Calvin.

Their example reminds us that a connection between

Calvinism and despair was not inevitable. The Return to a Medieval Heritage:

In one other

respect, a glance at foreign Calvinists helps to illuminate the puritan revival of the medieval experience of despair. In three different regions, around the beginning of the seventeenth century, the evolution of Calvinism into a truly indigenous religion was accompanied by the absorption of some aspects of late medieval piety.

In other words, as

Calvinism took root among certain devout lay people in these countries, it sometimes began to reflect the religious patterns that these people had inherited.

In England, this

coincided with a revival of the inward-looking piety, including its concern with despair, that had been so

despair described in the vast collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century memoirs, letters, biographies, and diaries preserved in the more than one hundred volumes of the Bulletin de la societe de l'histoire du protestantisme francais. It is also instructive to consider the work of Charles Drelincourt and Jean Claude, widely believed to be among the more fervent and affective of seventeenth century French Protestant preachers. Drelincourt' s lengthy and very popular treatise on death, Consolations de 1'ame fidele contre les fraveurs de la mort, published in 1651, contains nothing about deathbed despair of salvation, although this was a staple topic in both late medieval and puritan manuals on the subject. It is useful to compare Jean Claude's Cinq sermons sur la parabole des noces, preached in 1675, with Thomas Shephard's famous sermon cycle on the same parable, the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Claude was mainly concerned with reassuring the beleaguered Protestant community about its survival; Shephard was mainly concerned with describing the difference between true and false conversion.

272 prominent in mystical and ascetic circles in late medieval England.

In the Netherlands, writers like Teellinck

combined Calvinist doctrine with the "bridal mysticism" that had played such an important role in Rhenish and Netherlands religion during the late Middle Ages.

This synthesis would

be a major element in the pietistic movements in Dutch and German Calvinism throughout the seventeenth century and beyond.

In Scotland, too, the evolution of Calvinism into

an indigenous faith meant the development of an intense, highly emotional piety.

It was strongly Reformed; it was

marked by charismatic preaching and by passionate loyalty to Calvinist orthodoxy.

But it also had characteristics that

recalled the later Middle Ages; it was marked by an intense devotion to the eucharist, now transformed into the Lord's Supper, and this devotion was often expressed through the late medieval conventions of bridal mysticism.


in southwestern regions like Ayrshire and Galloway, this eucharistic piety also involved a revival of a yet more distant past:

the pre-Christian, Celtic practice of open-

air religious gatherings.

Under the leadership of

charismatic preachers like John Welsh and Robert Bruce, open-air communion services were, apparently, a feature of religious life in the southwest by the 1590's; later, during the reigns of Charles II and James II, they became hallowed in Presbyterian memory through their use by the Covenanters; and, eventually, through the influence of Scots and Scots-

273 Irish immigrants, they played a crucial role in the shaping of American revivalism.331 In other words, the puritan legitimization of despair was only one aspect of a more widespread Calvinist appropriation of the medieval past.

This appropriation of

some elements of medieval devotion was parallel to the Calvinist appropriation of many elements of scholastic theology during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

It would have important effects on the religion

of Calvinists in many regions of Europe and America.

As a

result, some of the more dynamic elements of Protestant religion today can, in fact, be traced back to this appropriation of medieval piety.


For the connections between the Scottish and American revivalist traditions, see: Leigh Eric Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Marilyn Westerkamp, Triumph of the Laity: Scots-Irish Piety and the Great Awakening (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) . For Scottish piety during this period, see: David George Mullan, Scottish Puritanism: 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Margo Todd, The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).


For centuries, from the early Cistercians through the age of William Perkins, the syndrome of despair had played a double role.

On one hand, it illuminated a central drama of

its religious communities.

As we have seen, for medieval

Christians, it was linked to the essential doctrine, and experience, of temptation.

Later, for English puritans, it

became linked to their core concern:

the search for

assurance. But it could also play a very different role.

It gave

members of these communities an outlet for thoughts and emotions that they could not otherwise articulate: that made them frightened or ashamed or bewildered.

thoughts Very

often these thoughts were considered blasphemous, because they challenged central tenets of faith, but they could be expressed and discussed in the context of despair. This is a reminder that we are dealing with an unexpectedly diverse and complicated world.

In recent

years, some of the most exciting research on English puritans has centered on the contacts, and even friendships, that certain puritans had with Familists and other members of the radical fringe.

David Como has described "a

puritanism with permeable boundaries, a religious subculture in which various heretical or esoteric religious traditions were continually being absorbed into the seething world of

275 religious enthusiasm. . . "332 offers an analogy to this.

The experience of despair Narratives of despair usually do

not tell about orthodox people who had unorthodox friends. But they very often tell about orthodox people who had, and often struggled with, unorthodox ideas.

Like the

relationships described by David Como, narratives of despair remind us that the world of orthodoxy and the world of radicalism were not always as far apart as we may have thought. In other words, despair played a double role.


illuminated core theolgical concerns, and at the same time it offered an outlet for emotions and ideas that were at odds with these concerns.

As long as despair played this

double role, it had an important symbolic function within the puritan community. But what happened to this syndrome after the passing of the puritans?

It seems to have slowly faded from sight.

Many evangelicals of the eighteenth century were Calvinists, and considered themselves the heirs of the puritans. few took much interest in the problem.


As the anxious

introspection favored by Perkins and his followers began to fade from sight, so, too, did the experience of despair.


David Como, Blown by the Spirit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), p. 172. See also: Peter Lake, The Boxmaker's Revenge (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001).

276 To be sure, despair as a syndrome still existed, and was often discussed.

Some cases became notorious.


was, for example, William Cowper, the poet, who, in the year 1773, had a dream in which a mysterious voice told him he would be damned.

John Newton, the evangelical leader now

best remembered as the author of the hymn "Amazing Grace", tried hard to reassue him, but for the rest of his long life Cowper remained convinced that he was destined for hell. "God was silent", he wrote in 1793, but laudanum offered him "sensible relief".333 There were cases of despair in New England as well.


1735, the Northampton revival was disrupted by the suicide of Jonathan Edwards's uncle, who had become obsessed with his own damnation.334

Several years later, a young

Connecticut farmer, converted by Whitfield in 1740, was tormented by fears of damnation and by suicidal thoughts, but was rescued from despair when an "experienced Christian"


William Cowper, Correspondence, ed. Thomas Wright (1904; reprint, New York: Haskell, 1969), vol. 4, p. 356. For more about Newton and Cowper, see: George Ella, William Cowper: Poet of Paradise (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1993); James King, William Cowper: A Biography (Durham Duke University Press, 1986); Bruce Hindmarsh, John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) . Newton also counselled other victims of despair. See: John Newton, Cardiphonia, in The Works of John Newton (New York: Carter, 1844), vol. 2, pp. 285, 286. 334

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative in The Great Awakening, ed. C. C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), pp. 128, 206.

277 told him that he, too, had suffered from similar temptations, and had managed to survive them.335 So despair, as a syndrome, continued to exist. was no longer a central concern.

But it

In his old age, John

Newton belonged to an informal group of evangelical clergymen, the Eclectic Society, who met in London about once a month to talk about religious matters.

At several

meetings, the members of the Society touched on the subject of despair, but never bothered to discuss it in any detail. In 1803, one member noted that some people tended, because of their melancholy temperament, to doubt their salvation: "through prevalence of a melancholy habit", they always saw "the black side, not in spiritual affairs only, but in common affairs." further.

But he did not explore the subject

In 1805, the group tried to identify the

mysterious "sin against the Holy Ghost", the idea which had tormented so many puritans.

They agreed that this was a

puzzling question, and each one suggested a different answer.

But none of them implied that any of their

parishioners were afraid that they had committed this sin.336

In other words, the problem of despair never


Michael Crawford, ed., "The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole", William and Mary Quarterly 3.33 (1976), pp. 93, 102. 336

Josiah Pratt, Notes of the Discussion of the Eclectic Society, (London, 1856; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1978), pp. 232, 234, 311.

278 gripped the attention of the Society's members. little theological significance for them. interests.

It had

They had other

Their records suggest that for them, missionary

expansion was a much more compelling topic than the relentless self-examination that had so absorbed the followers of William Perkins. Slowly the problem of despair became peripheral. During the nineteenth century, it was discussed mainly by conspicuously old-fashioned writers, like John Colquhoun, a Scots presbyterian and an avid student of the puritans, or like Nathanael Emmons, a New England Congregationalist who wore a three-cornered hat and knee breeches until his death in 1845.337

More up-to-date Calvinist theologians, like

James Alexander and Charles Hodge, both stars of the Princeton School, referred to it only in passing, and very obviously knew almost nothing about it.338


it was mentioned by novelists, but mainly as a quaint relic


John Colquhoun, Spiritual Comfort (1813; reprint, Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1998), pp. 150, 154, 158, 161; The Works of Nathanael Emmons, ed. Jacob Ide (Boston: Congregational Board of Publications, 1860), vol. 1, p. 107; vol. 3, pp. 366-378. 338

James Alexander, Consolation (1852; reprint, Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), p. 136; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1873; reprint, New York: Scribner, 1911), vol. 3, p. 107.

279 of yesteryear.339

Only Harriet Beecher Stowe, in The

Minister's Wooing, seems to have any grasp of its psychological and theological implications.340 Charles Spurgeon and Mrs Much-Afraid:

A final glimpse

at the Victorian understanding of despair can be found in the works of Charles Spurgeon.

If anyone was in touch with

the puritan tradition, surely it was Spurgeon.

Born in

1834, the son of a Baptist minister, he grew up in a region of Essex where puritan traditions still ran strong.


became perhaps the most popular preacher in Victorian England, admired by such diverse personalities as John Ruskin and Frederick Douglass.

He promoted the revival of

puritan literature, and mentioned it often in his preaching. Yet, in the sixty-one volumes of his published sermons, he rarely mentioned the problem of despair. the problem:

He acknowledged

in 1873, he wrote that "nothing distresses a

Christian so much as the fear of being a castaway from God." In 1865, he admitted that he sometimes questioned his own salvation:

"It is seldom that I do, very seldom, but there

are times when I should be content to sit behind the door of


See, for example: Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Minister's Black Veil", in Twice Told Tales, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne IX (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1974); George Borrow, Lavengro (1851; reprint, London: Murray, 1906). 340


Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister's Wooing Derby and Jackson, 1859) .


280 heaven, if only I might be numbered among God's people". But these quotations are not representative.

He hardly ever

mentioned the subject, and, when he did, as in these passages, he seldom discussed it for more than a paragraph.341 An incident in his autobiography, published shortly after his death in 1892, suggests that, although he acknowledged the existence of despair, he had lost touch with the puritan language and tradition of despair.


incident occurred in 1852 or 1853, when Spurgeon, then in his late teens, was pastor of a small congregation in Waterbeach, a few miles from Cambridge.342

Among his flock

was "one good old woman whom I called 'Mrs Much-afraid'", which was, of course, an allusion to a character in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.

Although Spurgeon himself was convinced

of her salvation, she was haunted by the fear that she would be damned:

"I feel quite sure that she has been many years


Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), vol. 19, p. 688; vol. 11, p. 291. 342

It is impossible to date this narrative. It describes an event that happened in 1852 or 1853 . It appears in Spurgeon's autobiography, published after his death in 1892. The autobiography was composed after his death by his widow and his secretary, and was based on sermons, letters, and other papers written by Spurgeon throughout his career. In other words, the narrative could have been written at any point from 1852 to 1892.

281 in Heaven, but she was always fearing that she should never enter the gates of glory..."343 Spurgeon tried to argue her out of her doubts, using the hearty, jocular tone which delighted his admirers but grated on the ears of his critics.

The old woman complained

that she "had not any hope at all; she had no faith; she believed that she was a hypocrite."

He answered that she

should not "come to the chapel any more; we don't want hypocrites there."

She was, of course, using traditional

puritan terminology; she meant that she was a hypocrite in the sense that she was unconverted.

Spurgeon, on the other

hand, used the term hypocrite in something closer to its modern sense of a false and undesirable person.344 He asked her why she still came to church. answered:

"I come because I can't stay away.

She I love the

people of God; I love the house of God; and I love to worship God." hypocrite."

He replied that she was "a queer sort of When she continued to insist that she was not

saved, he told her that next Sunday he would send her into the pulpit "that you may tell the people that Jesus Christ is a liar, and that you cannot trust Him."

She declared

that she would rather be torn in pieces that say any such


Susannah Spurgeon et al. , ed. , The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon (Chicago, 1898), vol. 1, p. 239. 344

Spurgeon, p. 239.

282 thing:

"He cannot lie!

Every word he says is true."

"Then", I asked, "why do you not believe it?"

She replied,

"I do believe it; but, somehow, I do not believe it for myself; I am afraid whether it is for me."

It was the

classic puritan dilemma; she believed that Christ offered salvation, but she could not believe that he offered it specifically to her.345 The old woman had a traditional case of despair, which could have been lifted word for word from a puritan narrative two hundred years before. consistently talked past her.

But Spurgeon

Where the problem of despair

was concerned, the old woman was like the last native speaker of a dying language. understood.

She could not make herself

The language of despair was forgotten, and the

experience of despair now seemed like a joke.


Spurgeon, p. 23 9.


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