The Puritans

Who were the Puritans?

The Puritans were members of a religious movement that began in England in the 1500s and lasted into the first half of the 1600s, when it spread to America as well. Influenced by the teachings of religious reformers John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384) and John Calvin (1509–1564), the Puritans were so named because they wanted to “purify” the Anglican church (also known as the Church of England). They believed too much power rested with the church hierarchy (its priests, bishops, and cardinals), that the people (called the laity or lay members) should have more involvement in church matters, and that the ceremonies ought to be simplified to stress Bible reading and individual prayer. Further, they defied the authority of the pope, believing that each church congregation should have control of its own affairs, which should be guided by a church council (called a presbytery) made up of lay members.

These ideas are familiar to Americans today since they provided the basis not only for many Protestant churches but also influenced the formulation of U.S. government. When the Puritans faced persecution at home, they became religious pilgrims, traveling to the New World, where they established both their religious and social belief system.


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