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Understanding Puritan Meditation

Understanding Puritan meditation:
overview of articles

This section of the site highlights important themes in Puritan meditation. The links in the bar at right and the list below lead to brief articles, each highlighting one major aspect of meditation. These articles contain both an introduction to the theme in lay terms, and a more detailed explanation of that theme.


Divine meditation was by no means a Puritan invention. It has its roots in the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly the books of poetry and wisdom, and as such it lies at the very foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Further, influences on Puritan divine meditation stretch throughout the history of western Christendom and draw from or react to sources as diffuse as the early church fathers, the Devotio Moderna, Jean Charlier de Gerson, Ignatius of Loyola, John Calvin and many more.

Far from being the sort of mind-emptying meditation that is today often associated with Eastern religions, biblically-based Protestant or Puritan meditation involves actively engaging the mind, will and emotions in thoughtful contemplation.Indeed, in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England the word "meditate" had connotations of reflection, observation and thoughtfulness, and was not necessarily connected with religion at all - although within the Puritan writings examined here, it is almost always in relation to some religious idea.

From sermon collections and manuals about meditation published in the later seventeenth century, it is possible to identify several major themes which characterize this genre. These include:

Its biblical basis
Its doctrinal basis
Its focus on the intellect
Its focus on the affections
Its practical applications to daily life

The close and dynamic connection between these themes can be roughly understood as follows: Puritans based their understanding of meditation in the teachings of the Bible, which they collected and categorized through doctrine. From this, they discerned two general areas of life that meditation should most directly affect. It must first influence the thoughts of the mind, which would in turn enliven the heart or affections toward God. Finally, Puritans used those two general areas to apply the fruits of meditation to individual lives and situations.

This pattern and these main points are present in the late seventeenth century manuals and sermon collections on meditation, and are central to an understanding of this tradition which is faithful to the method, practice, historical situation, doctrinal intent and inner motivation of the Puritan meditators themselves.

It is not a slight thought of the mercies of God
				which will affect your hearts, but it must be a dwelling on them by meditation. -E. Calamy

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Copyright © 2007 Amy Gant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln