Words and the English

Jeremy Paxman in his book, “The English”, writes about the line of thought that explains the spiritual reformation that took place in Britain and its impact upon art and literature, politics and education.

He explains the historical emphasis Britain had upon words, rather than images, and even the painters often focused on what was observed in nature. Some think this stems from Oliver Cromwell’s destruction of all catholic images and icons.
Here are some of the comments he makes:

“Measured by its consequences, this was not so much ‘an English Renaissance that was never to be’ as an Anglo-Saxon Enlightenment that predated its Continental counterpart by a century or more.”

“The English not only came to a new way of appreciating the Word, they came to an appreciation of words. We cannot know whether there would ever have been an English Titian, Raphael or Michelangelo. But we are sure that the Reformation and its aftermath threw up William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, John Donne, John Bunyan and John Milton.”

“The answer seems to have to do with the fact that the English Reformation was about politics, rationality and choice, and the theological stimulus behind it was concerned with meaning: therefore words are the medium of choice.”

“But the most important consequence of the translation of the Bible was to embed in the English mind a belief in the rights of the common man.”

To me this helps explain a lot of the differences between the UK/USA/Australia and mainland Europe. While Britain turned to the Word of God and the words of God, much of Europe turned to worshipping the creature more than the Creator. The British looked upward, in mainland Europe many turned inward. Of course there are exceptions to the rule in both spheres, but no one can argue that great differences can exist.

With the focus Britain had on the Word is it any wonder that the Puritans wrote so extensively and deeply, to the extent that they often remain authorities to which we refer to day?

Perhaps understanding our history better will help form our thinking now, our understanding of God’s Word and the foundation we leave on which future generations will build.

What do you think?

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