Polity, Piety, and Polemic: Giles Firmin and the Transatlantic Puritan Tradition
Warren, Jonathan Edward
Giles Firmin (1613/14-1697) was one of many migrants to the Bay Colony in the early 1630s that returned to England in the mid-1640s. Settling in rural Essex, Firmin received Presbyterian orders in 1648, but he spent the remainder of his career attempting to reconcile the godly to one another and to combat the influence of the “sects,” in particular Baptists and Quakers. Firmin was by no means one of the canonical figures among his contemporaries, but his oeuvre is of interest for three reasons: 1) Firmin tends to stake out positions that mediate between polarized theological and ecclesiological positions among the godly. Rather than identifying with a particular party, Firmin tends to present himself as a “New England divine” interested in the Reformation of England. His positions are thus generally creative extensions and harmonizations of positions within the Puritan tradition. 2) Firmin’s writing career neatly maps on the later Stuart period in English history, and for that reason his engagement in several of the controversies convulsing the godly during that time period offer an excellent opportunity to write an episodic, concise history of later Stuart Puritanism-cum-Dissent. 3) Likewise, close contextualization of Firmin’s work makes possible the close examination of the thought of more prominent figures of the period that have been badly understudied or poorly understood, especially Zachary Crofton, John Humfrey, John Gauden, Vincent Alsop, Thomas Grantham, Henry Danvers, and Richard Davis. The indirect result of the dissertation is thus not only an enhanced understanding of Firmin but also of the transitions within Puritan and Dissenting thought in the later Stuart period.