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Puritanism was the English Calvinistic dissenting movement against established Anglican religion of the 16th and 17th centuries. Ardent Protestants who worked to purify and reform the church along Reformed lines were called "Puritans." Their early leaders included Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) and William Perkins (1558-1602). Puritanism spread beyond England into America and among immigrant English people in Holland.

Up to the time of the English Revolution (1640-1660), most Puritans tried to work from within the Church of England. A small Separatist movement of the most extreme Puritans led by Robert Browne (ca. 1550-1633), refused all compromise and withdrew into separate churches. The "Pilgrim Fathers" of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts were of this sort. The Separatist and non-Separatist Puritans eventually fragmented further into various orthodox denominations, e.g., Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists; moreover, Puritanism was also parent to many still more radical groups, including the Levellers, Diggers, Quakers, and Fifth Monarchists. During the English Revolution, many Puritans supported the revolutionary political and religious programs of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658).

In another sense, Puritanism can also be viewed as a universal type of Christianity, which has recurred many times and places, not only in England. The "Puritan" is the intense, pietistic, purifying Christian, exemplified by aspects of St. Augustine (354-430), Tertullian (ca. 160-220), or the Donatists (ca. 311-412 ff.) as much as by Cartwright, Perkins, and Browne. Anabaptism in the 16th century is one of the main examples of this universal type of Christianity. Many of these groups favored a restoration of primitive Christian purity (restitutionism).

The essence of English Puritanism was a balanced combination of doctrinal Calvinism and intense personal piety. Puritans stressed (1) the purified church (2) personal righteousness, and (3) the absolute authority of the Bible. They wanted to purify the Church of England of its more "Catholic elements," notably aspects of the bishop's role and liturgical worship.

Puritanism and Anabaptism intersected at various places in England, Holland, and America. One English Separatist congregation at Amsterdam, led by John Smyth (ca. 1570-1612), decided on rebaptism, and eventually joined the Dutch Waterlander Mennonites (1615). Another part of Smyth's congregation, led by Thomas Helwys (ca. 1575-1616), returned to England and founded the General Baptists. Thus, the Baptists can claim both an Anabaptist and a Puritan origin.

In theology and practice, Puritanism and Anabaptism had certain similarities in their common desire for purifying the church, simplicity of worship, and personal piety. However, Puritanism, in the main, followed a Calvinist, predestinarian theology and also allied itself with the political state, hoping thereby to purify the political order as well as the ecclesiastical.

See also Pietism.


Collinson, Patrick. The Elizabethan Puritan Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Haller, William. The Rise of Puritanism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1938.

White, B. R. The Separatist Tradition from the Marian Martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971: 76-90, 457-61.

Ziff, Larzer. Puritanism in America. New York: Viking Press, 1973.

Author(s) Keith L Sprunger
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Sprunger, Keith L. "Puritanism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 29 Nov 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Puritanism&oldid=121283.

APA style

Sprunger, Keith L. (1989). Puritanism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Puritanism&oldid=121283.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 739. All rights reserved.

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