“Manuductio ad Ministerium”: Cotton Mather as Pastoral Innovator -- By: George W. Harper

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:1 (Spring 1992)
Article: “Manuductio ad Ministerium”: Cotton Mather as Pastoral Innovator
Author: George W. Harper


“Manuductio ad Ministerium”:
Cotton Mather as Pastoral Innovator*

George W. Harper

* I wish to thank Dr. Arthur Kaledin, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. David D. Hall, of the Harvard Divinity School, and especially Dr. Richard F. Lovelace, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for their guidance and assistance. An abbreviated version of this paper was presented at the 1991 annual meeting of the American Society of Church History.

I. Introduction

Cotton Mather has proven to be a figure of endless fascination—and, too frequently, revulsion—for historians of colonial America. Nor is this difficult to understand: with his idiosyncratic blend of vanity and insecurity, scholarship and credulity, orthodoxy and innovation, Mather could almost be said to offer something for everyone. Progressive scholars of an earlier generation saw him as nothing more than the last, dullest defender of New England’s dying orthodoxy—and there is at least an element of truth to their claim.1 On the other hand, Richard

Hofstadter claimed Mather as nothing less than an unwitting herald of secular, post-theocratic New England—and even this exercise in scholarly hyperbole is not without its point.2

Recently, Mather has been portrayed in a more flattering light, as a transitional figure who merged the contributions of English churchmen such as Richard Baxter with the work of August Hermann Francke and other Continental pietists to lay the foundations for what was to emerge in the next century as American evangelicalism.3 There have been treatments of Mather as historian and hagiographer, Mather as social conservator and cultural apologist, Mather as ecclesiastical power-broker and political meddler, even Mather as amateur scientist.4 Surprisingly, what is still lacking is a study of Mather as pastor, and more specifically as pastoral innovator.5 Such an oversight is puzzling, since, whatever Mather’s other interests may have been, for nearly half a century he devoted the bulk of his time to the arduous task of shepherding the flock of God’s people known as the Second (“Old North”) Church of Boston.

II. Cotton Mather, Pastor

Cotton Mather, grandson of Richard Mather and John Cotton and son of Increase Mather, from his birth bore on his shoulders the weight of hopes and expectations signified by his

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