Drama Queen (A John E. Walker Investigation Book 1)

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Man pursues knowledge and certainty unwisely and is in turn pursued for his presumption. He is at odds with life, and persecution and exile define his relationship to the world. Before this is theology, it is a state of mind, one which Calvin letters show to have dogged him throughout life: Whenever I call to mind the state of wretchedness in which my life was spent [in Geneva], how can it be otherwise but that my very soul must shudder when any proposal is made for my return?

I pass over entirely that disquietude by which we were perpetually tossed up and down, and driven from one side to Calvin's theology and the puritan mind 9 another.

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I know indeed from experience, that wheresoever I might turn, all sorts of annoyances were strewn in my way; that if I would live to Christ, this world must be to me a scene of trial and vexation; the present life is appointed as the field of conflict. Although modern historical research is tending to qualify the supposition that the puritans of the Elizabethan and Jacobean church were natural radicals and to emphasise rather their conservatism and centrality in social and political affairs, Hooker as early as found a stance of opposition to characterise the Calvinist reformers Laws, 1, To be a stranger is not merely not to belong to one's surroundings, to be distanced from their meaning, but to be estranged and set at odds with them.

The Calvinist, passing through this world, demands that it yield up its secrets and give him tidings of his Maker; the world looks blankly back, The puritan universe is anxious and insecure because of the distance which the Fall has interposed between man and God, which prevents man from perceiving God directly in Nature. God is mysterious and inscrutable; His universe is full of evidence about His nature, but man's corrupt vision is unable to read it reliably. The result is an obsessive search for significance, a relentless interpretation of'clues'.

Despite this ineluctable Mystery at the centre of things, man cannot rest content at the periphery, for he is enjoined to discover the state of his soul, in defiance of what Ralph Waldo Emerson would later call the unreliability of his instruments. Nothing in the world is innocent of intention, but the messages are all in code. Where the faithful possess the mystery, the unregenerate are driven to solve it with the aid of the only tools available to them - reason and nature - whose inefficacy had been roundly demonstrated by Calvin in Book 1 of the Institutes.

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Paradoxically, and as if to overcome by sheer power of assertion, the Calvinist is both an obsessive observer and an obsessive rationalist. His reason is constantly at work, ordering, constructing, offering up 'explanations' to a world which absorbs them with silent impassivity. This oscillation between the poles of observation and ratiocination exemplifies the puritan's difficulty in pitching the relationship of the individual to the world, of the self to the other.

Merely to observe, to wait for evidence to present itself, is to be passive and to empty the self of 10 The puritan-provincial vision positive aspiration; to reason with the world and with God is to be presumptive, over-active. For the puritan there is no stable middle term between self-abnegation and self-assertion. In their reaction against the extravagant rationalism of Aquinas and the Thomists, Calvin and Luther swung to an opposing extreme of irrationalism, although they reached this position in one of the central paradoxes of Calvinist thought through a triumphant exercise of the powers of human reason.

More temperate reformers admitted the logic and virtue of much of the Calvinist case but sought to mitigate its absolutism and to win back a place for human reason in the divine scheme of things. Recoiling from the stringency of Calvin's anti-rationalism, Hooker, for example, declares that there is a code of behaviour - Natural Law - which is directly available to human reason: 'the lawe of reason or humaine nature is that which men by discourse of naturall reason have rightly found out themselves to be all for ever bound unto in their actions' i, Reason is 'the director of mans will by discovering in action what is good' 1, Reason and the natural laws themselves decreed by God are not displaced by Divine Law or by revelation, but merely supplemented by it in spiritual matters 1, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity devotes itself to refuting Calvin's view that Scripture, directly apprehended by faith, is man's only access to knowledge of God.

On the contrary, Hooker argues, there are many routes to knowledge, and none should be exalted at the expense of another. God's intentions as revealed in the Scriptures are mediated for the individual by the collective authority of that consensus of human reason which is the Church. This consensus is an important guarantor of meaning for the individual: 'The generall and perpetuall voyce of men is as the sentence of God him selfe' 1, Calvinism finds no such consolation in collective reason: the individual is alone with God's Word, his only mediator the faith which God's Grace may have bestowed upon him to approach it.

The existence and the quality of that faith must therefore be the primary inquiry for the Calvinist believer. Hooker's appeal to reason and tradition as necessary checks to the excesses of individual 'affection' attempts to temper the intensity and isolation which pressurises puritan faith; the idea that 'of things once receyved and confirmed by use, long usage is a law sufficient' 1, is what the puritan and, as I shall suggest later, the provincial must dispute. Hooker is clear, however, that to speak of knowledge and experience rationally is quite different from attempting to control one's relation to the world through reason; where his language finds a tenable position of partial and provisional understanding, puritan rhetoric is driven to penetrate the hidden secrets of God.

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Fearful punishment awaits such presumption. Calvin's theology and the puritan mind 11 The conscience played a vital part in the puritan's 'conversion', his coming to consciousness of election.

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He was bound to dispel any doubts he might have about his election, because 'From doubtings, ariseth trouble of mind, and terror of conscience', and only the reprobate have terrified consciences: Their doubtings are condemning, and condemned: and directly opposed to faith. He that will not beleeve, shall be damned, destruction shall be upon them: and flaming vengeance. Remember, God hath allowed none to doubt or despaire of their election. Neither hath he allowed any to beleeve the certaintie of their reprobation. None can gather the persuasion of their reprobation from themselves, for all men are liers.

Where the spaciousness of Hooker's writing allows room for uncertainty within faith, the puritan tends - in his life and his writing - to strive always to eradicate doubt by sheer force of self-scrutiny. To this end, Calvin says, God has appointed the conscience as an internal observer, 'a witness which allows them not to conceal their sins, but drags them forward as culprits to the bar of God.

Even more ominously, Calvin likens the conscience to a 'kind of sentinel' set over man 'to observe and spy out all his secrets, that nothing may remain buried in darkness' Institutes, n, The bifurcation of the puritan personality into actor and observer was a tenet of doctrine; Calvin's own training as a lawyer fosters a rhetoric of oppositions and a structure of thought which resounds through contexts far removed from his discussion of election and reprobation. Samuel Willard's account of the workings of conscience suggests the power which these images of division, legalistically expressed, held over the puritan imagination.

He describes its functions successively as a 'statute book' of the natural moral law, a 'register' in which are indelibly recorded all the acts of man's life, a 'witness' to his most secret sins which 'dares not withold its testimony, when God commands it to declare', and an 'accuser' which 'will haunt [men] with its reflections, and give them no rest'. Next, conscience is a judge' which 'keeps a court in the man'; finally, it is an 'executioner' which 'falls upon the man, and rends and tears him', and 'a guilt apprehended that torments them, and makes them feel a hell in their own breasts; they start and fly at the shaking of a leaf, and would run away from themselves, if possibly they could'.

It seems to me, that though their degrees of humility may be suitable for them, yet it would be a vile self-exaltation in me, not to be the lowest in humility of all mankind. The point is not that Edwards' experience of grace does not involve joyful acquiescence, but that in setting it down he is bound, by the conventions of the model of puritan conversion, to justify its authenticity by resorting to a rhetoric of absolute self-abasement.

There is a significant distance — one which later writers would exploit as a lever on their fiction — between experience and the language which may describe it. But Calvinist faith was dynamic, and the progressive stages of conversion, from Effectual Calling through Justification to Sanctification, emphasised the narrative understanding of faith as it revealed itself in the actions of the convert: 'A Man's whole Life is but a Conversion. But because of the distancing effects of Original Sin, the story of the Calvinist convert's life is not itself simply descriptive of his increasing closeness to God.

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His physical experiences are emblematic of the stages in his spiritual regeneration; individual events in his life 'natural facts' as Ralph Waldo Emerson would later say symbolise 'spiritual facts'. Emblem, symbol, allegory: these emphasise the doubleness of the puritan vision, the compulsive need to interpret the experience in terms of something else, to discover 'meaning' in 'fact'. The truth of the word, like that of nature, is not directly available to the unregenerate imagination. The Word mirrors God, actions mirror the Word; the puritan plays his actions onto the mirror of the Scriptures hoping to 'read' one Word in terms of the other.


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It both follows a predestined route and creates one for the reader himself to follow. But it also, in the retelling, involves itself in a continual interrogation of events. The problem, enacted repeatedly in puritan spiritual autobiographies, is to unite the particular 'natural fact' with the 'spiritual fact' of which it is the symbol: what did the event mean? Was it true evidence of salvation, or merely that 'vain confidence' by which the devil tempts us to perdition Institutes, i,? Can the 'natural' and 'spiritual' facts be adequate and complete reflections of one another; how is experience to be translated into writing about experience?

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These, and related questions, would inform Scottish and American writing well beyond the reach of direct influence. Covenant theology appealed to the side of the puritan mind which was always tempted to drive a bargain with God. Two aspects reveal the particular bent of the puritan mind. Firstly, the 'Law' - Old and New was held to reveal absolute truth.

Puritans refused to concede Hooker's distinction between the Law which was the direct Word of God, eternal and unchangeable, and the 'lawes positive', which had a more local and contingent force and were framed with 'regard had to the place and persons for which they are made' Laws, 1,—1. For the puritan there is nothing which we might properly call a historical truth; the apocalyptic framework in which he operates puts him in direct contact with the eternal, or it throws him into Calvin's 'abyss'.

It is this which helps to give a peculiarly abstract, unrooted air to a work like Jonathan Edwards' never completed A History of the Work of Redemption posthumously published in ; the absoluteness of Edwards' exegesis makes no attempt to establish its eternal conclusions within a framework of historical change. Temporal — contingent — narrative considerations are powerless to mediate between the instant and the infinite. There may be, as Emerson puts it later, 'only two absorbing facts, I and the Abyss'. But take this confidence away, suggest that truth may be provisional or partial, and he will veer at once to the opposite extreme of scepticism, where all is relative and any centre of stability seems at an unapproachable distance.

To a large extent the inner or psychological history of puritanism is the story of its attempts to fight off the consciousness and the consequences of this failure of confidence which I shall call provincialism. In chapter 2 we 14 The puritan-provincial vision shall see Hume grappling with this problem in a philosophical context; here we may note that the a-historical stance, and the tendency to swing from eschatological confidence to absolute scepticism are attitudes towards life which are inherent in and codified by the puritan viewpoint before it becomes the provincial one.

A second feature of covenant theology also demonstrates this characteristic way of thinking. The practice of explaining every historical event in relation to God's covenanted will for man reinforced the puritan's belief that no incident is neutral, that everything which happens is a sign to be 'read' for its significance, as being either something commanded by God, or something which breaks a commandment. Hooker insisted that some things in life are not tied to keeping or breaking of a covenant, but are 'free in their owne nature and indifferent' Laws, i, In his confidence that 'signes must resemble the thinges they signifie' 11, 33 , Hooker's primary commitment to reality over theology is an important feature of what we may call the 'central' mind.

The strict Calvinist's primary allegiance to the absolute truth of the Word and mistrust of the veracity of appearances tend on the other hand to favour abstraction over actuality and to insist that reality be brought to square with theory. Where Calvin understood the sacraments as seals of the Covenant, Hooker stressed their value as participation in Christ. The difference hinges once again not on a doctrinal point, but on the way meaning is seen to reside in the elements of the Eucharist, and how this may be received by the believer.

Calvin held that faith gives the sign meaning as the spiritual gift of Christ's redemption. Without this faith the sign empties itself of meaning and becomes a vessel without content. Calvin describes the hollowness of the Word if it is not received faithfully: a Sacrament is so separated from the reality by the unworthiness of the partaker, that nothing remains but an empty and useless figure.


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  • Now, in order that you may have not a sign devoid of truth, but the thing with the sign, the Word which is included in it must be apprehended by faith. They confer nothing, and avail nothing, if not received in faith. All signs become null when the thing signified is taken away. Institutes, 11, ; The puritan unsure of his own election finds himself in a world of empty, unreadable symbols, a threateningly inscrutable surface whose depths he cannot plumb. Outer and inner, symbol and significance, word and thing become part of the Calvinist structure of polarities, and part of the puritan—provincial rhetoric of distance.

    For Hooker, on the other hand, meaning is inherent in the elements as Calvin's theology and the puritan mind 15 sacraments: the bread and wine are vehicles of grace which are not dependent upon the state of mind of the receiver. They may not be efficacious if received in the wrong spirit, but 'the elements and words have power of infallible signification, for which they are called seales of Gods trueth' in, The verbal contrasts between the two accounts of sacramental meaning reflect fundamentally divergent understandings of the nature of reality: For wee take not baptisme nor the Eucharist for bare resemblances or memorialls of thinges absent, neither for naked signes and testimonies assuringe us of grace received before, but as they are indeed and in veritie for meanes effectuall whereby God when wee take the sacraments delivereth into our handes that grace available unto eternall life, which grace the sacramentes represent or signifie.

    In both cases, this undermines the confidence with which the sacraments may be received as 'pledges and assurances of the interest which we have in the heavenly things which are represented by them'. Both otherness and relationship are preserved here as they cannot be in puritan theology, which leads always in the direction either of alienation from or subsumption in the other. The typological and allegorical frame of mind does help to mitigate the individual's sense of being at sea in a world of threateningly significant but seemingly random facts, but paradoxically this same frame of mind is also responsible for the sense of isolation.

    In his quest for significant information pertaining to the state of his own soul, the Calvinist is unable to imagine the 'other' as anything but a message to him, a distorted reflection of something within. For all its insistence on the transcendence of God and the littleness of man, Calvinism takes an ineluctably anthropocentric view of the universe. One reason for the terrifying aloneness which man feels in this world is that he simply fails to see that which is beyond himself, to apprehend and accept otherness.

    The puritan community structured itself on principles of exclusion and mutual observation: the elect watched the unconverted and defined themselves in opposition to them; the unconverted watched themselves, nature and each other for signs of election , and the elect for guidance ; an inscrutable God watched all men. Self-investigation was not of course peculiar to Calvinists in the seventeenth century: contemplation of the self by the self is the leading feature, for example, of the meditations of Donne, Vaughan and Thomas Browne. Again, it is the attitude towards the act that distinguishes them: the Calvinist scrutinises his soul in all seriousness, as it were - and indeed, what he finds there is a matter of eternal life or death to him - while the Anglican can catch himself in the act, can eavesdrop on his own self-questionings; can, in short, find a perspective from which to view his own littleness without belittling it, by recognising a centre beyond himself.