The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Themes

Roger Williams

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Williams stuffed The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience full of any materials he found relevant to his cause. It opens with three prefaces and three chapters from a 1620 work purportedly from a former inmate of Newgate prison pleading against persecution for cause of conscience. A broad response from John Cotton follows, and the bulk of the first part of this book of about 265 pages comes in “A Reply to the Aforesaid Answer of Mr. Cotton,” a reply couched in the form of a dialogue between Truth and Peace.

In various formulations, accompanied by references to the Scriptures and to church fathers such as Tertullian, Cotton had pounded away at one theme: that a man may be granted liberty of conscience if he fears God because it is certain that he will repent of his errors once he learns the truth, but there remains the question of should a “heretic, after once or twice admonition . . . be tolerated . . . without such punishment as may preserve others from dangerous and damnable infection.” Cotton’s answer, of course, is no. Against Cotton’s talk of punishment, Williams pleads for toleration, citing “the cry of the whole earth, made drunk with the blood of its inhabitants, slaughtering each other in their blinded zeal for conscience, for religion, against the Catholics, against the Lutherans, etc.” As for Cotton’s “admonitions,” Williams replies that “the worship which a state professes may be contradicted...

(The entire section is 565 words.)