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Puritan Meditation Tradition

For a much more extensive description than appears on this brief page, see the works listed in the  Selected Bibliography on Puritanism.
Definitions Norman Grabo: "The art of Puritan devotion was basically a method for channeling emotion into verbal structures--a poetic method." 

St. Francis de Sales: "When we think of heavenly things, not to learn but to love them, that is called to meditate: and the exercise thereof, Meditation." 

Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), The Soules Preparation for Christ (1632): "It is a settled exercise for two ends: first to make a further inquiry of the truth: and secondly, to make the heart affected therewith." 

Richard Baxter, The Saints [sic]  Everlasting Rest (1650): "There is yet another way by which we may make our senses serviceable to us, and that is, by comparing the objects of sense with the objects of faith; and so forcing sense to afford us that medium, from whence we may conclude the transcendent worth of glory, by arguing from sensitive delights as from the less to the greater." 

According to Ann Stanford, the process of meditation involves the "vivid picturing in the imagination of a scene called the 'composition of place.'  The scene may be drawn from the Old or New Testaments, the details of the life of Christ, the terrors of hell, or a more present situation.  . . . . After imagining a scene, or seeing the subject of meditation before one in the fields, the meditator draws arguments from it regarding eternal truths or his own relation to God.  The last step is a colloquy with God or with the creature, theoretically involving the will, in which the meditator determines to have more faith, to cease from sin, to abide by God's law, or comes to some moral discernment" ("Anne Bradstreet" 50).

Method In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius Loyola recommended that the exercitant exercise in sequence three faculties of his soul. 1. memory 2. understanding 3. will 
St. Ignatius Loyola
Richard Baxter's Saints Everlasting Rest (1650) followed suit.

First stage: The subject matter--the doctrine or incident--was called up by memory.  The meditator  and  tried to get vivid, detailed apprehension of it using only memory and imagination. 

Second stage: The image or proposition supplied by memory is analyzed and comprehended by reason until the work of understanding was complete. 

Third stage: The subject then was submitted to the will and affections, which were moved to great joy or sorrow. According to Donald E. Stanford, "Once understood, the affections of the will (the emotions) are aroused in this order: love, desire, hope, courage, and joy" ("Edward Taylor" 70).
Pope Paul III receiving Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises  (from the Spiritual Exercises site, which is no longer available)

History The meditation tradition that began with Ignatius Loyola became transformed for Puritans in
Richard Baxter's The Saints Everlasting Rest (1650), especially the fourth part "Directory for the getting and keeping of the Heart in heaven...Heavenly Meditation." 

Baxter's ideas: 

a. positive approach to sensible world
b.recognition that though the senses were potentially dangerous they had their part in worship
c. rational use of sensuous imagery drawn from creatures to describe the invisible things of God
d. complex but consistent statement of the uses and limits of language in meditation.

of the Mind
In this schema, Man was seen as a  "receptor" to divine will. 

A sense impression would be carried to 

1. Common Sense, which identified it;
2. Imagination, which gave it imagery;
3. Memory, which stored it;
4. Understanding, which judged it;
5. Will (in heart), which embraced or rejected it.
6. The Will  directed the Affections accordingly. 

Because of Adam's misuse of his faculties, God had withdrawn his blessing  from this process, causing a paralysis of the faculties and a disruption of the flow of information; thus man could no longer automatically understand God's will.  Both meditation and the conversion process were attempts to "rewire" or "reconnect" this arc.

© 1997-2010. Donna M. Campbell. Some information adapted from Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997).
To cite this page on a Works Cited page according to current MLA guidelines, supply the correct dates and use the suggested format below.  If you are quoting another author quoted on this page, either look up the original source or indicate that original quotation is cited on  ("Qtd. in") this page. The following is drawn from the examples and guidelines in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed. (2009), section 5.6.2.
Campbell, Donna M. "Puritan Meditation Tradition." Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. Date of publication or most recent update (listed above as the "last modified" date; you don't need to indicate the time). Web. Date you accessed the page.


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