Catholic Contempt of Puritanism


What is it about Puritanism that causes the red mist to descend where so many Catholics are concerned? This apparent antipathy is quite hard to fathom given that Catholicism, with its great ascetic tradition, has much in common with the Puritan vision of the Christian life. Thus both traditions are concerned with living a godly, righteous and sober life and from abstaining “…from the passions of the flesh that wage war against (the ) soul” (I Peter 2: 11). Along with the Puritans, Catholics would also acknowledge that separation from the world is the necessary preparation for fellowship with God (Ezek. 20: 34). Moreover with the Puritans they would concur that they must eshew any defilement which could ultimatley debar them from the life everlasting and the beatific vision of God (cf. II Cor. 6: 17-18).

It does seem that whenever a Catholic endeavours to uphold and promote a high standard of morallity, e.g. by denouncing certain TV shows or films for their unwholesome and offensive content he is accused of being a* Puritan* prude or a joyless prigg - in short someone who is attempting to impose his view of what is morally acceptable and permissable on everyone else. Sadly appeals to history and Sacred Scripture go unheard.

As a recent convert from the Church of England, I must confess that I am deeply saddened by the number of Catholics, even here on CAF, who never tire of defending that which is morally objectionable - even issues such as ladies and young women dressing immodestly (eg mini-skirts and low cut tops). It seems very fashionable nowadays to finely nuance certain issues by insisting that they are not so black and white as they seem, but are, in fact, very grey areas about which equally devout Catholics can hold differing opinions on without being disloyal or disobedient to their Church. They seem quite satisfied and happy with many questionable worldly pursuits and fashions and are quite incensed when they are gently rebuked or even mildly critisced. Why? Their usual response to any criticism is a very arrogant and vehement declamation about Catholicism not being a Puritan religion and that there cannot be any “blanket rules” regarding morally reprehensible TV shows, films or novels or women’s attire etc.

The Puritans were very other worldly (something for which they should surely be commended) and I can only assume that because so many Catholics today are evidently very this worldly that is why they hold the Puritans in contempt.

Is it not time that we once again saw the Puritans as a positvie force and worthy champions of high moral standards, rather than the legallistic kill-joys that they are normally portrayed as. Do they not call us all to renewal in our age of failing vision and moral permissiveness? Do not these much maligned saints of old send a vibrant challenge to those who follow Christ in these very difficult and decadent days?

Warmest good wishes,



I think I agree with you actually… :thumbsup:


For me, it’s a matter of degree.

It’s very possible to be modest without being prudish, but there are many who would take their personal - optional - standards and apply them universally. For example, there are those who say skirts must be ankle length, slacks never worn, sleeves to the wrist and necklines no lower than two fingers’ width below the hollow of the neck.

It’s very possible to have a joyful social life without losing control of one’s faculties. One can drink without becoming intoxicated, dance without stripping and gamble without losing the house. The puritan mindset prohibits these pleasures altogether.

It’s very possible to live a normal emotional life, recognizing that there are bad people and unpleasant things in this fallen world without insisting that a person never have a negative thought about anything or anyone.

Finally, it’s very possible to acknowledge that sex happens in both virtuous and sinful contexts, and even to refer to it occasionally in jokes and entertainment without becoming mired in impurity.

This topic brings to mind a charming rhyme by Catholic poet Hillaire Belloc:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine
Is music and laughter and good red wine.
At least I have always found it so
Benedicamus Domino!
God created us to live in the world before we enter eternity, and the joys of the created world are legitimate for those living in time. Earthly pleasures are very limited in comparison to the joys of heaven, but, kept in perspective, they can point us in the right direction.



I think it’s the anti-fun image they have that does it… would a Puritan go to the wedding where Jesus turns water into wine, and enjoy it?


I don’t think anyone got drunk at the wedding Jesus went to…

maybe there’s something wrong with our society if we have such a view of what ‘fun’ is?

for example, many of my acquiantances think a party CAN’T be fun without alcohol… why is that? I think that’s a strange way of looking at things… and I don’t think I agree with it.

there’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine at dinner, neither is there anything wrong with dancing as long as it’s not immoral… but in our society, we’re often told that “immoral” is “fun”

at least in my age group?


I know, and you’re largely right - but there’s the idea that Putitanism is ABSOLUTELY anti-alcohol, anti-dancing etc. - anti-music as well, perhaps?

Incidentally, I suspect inebriation is implied to have occurred - otherwise why would it be odd to save the best wine until last? You only generally save the cheap stuff until last on the assumption that everyone’s a bit too merry to tell the difference…

Of course, maybe the best wine is a sobering one…


Not to mention Puritans would wrap a nice big chain around most forms of artistic expression that could otherwise be acceptable even by conservative standards these days. Take fantasy fiction for example. If I wrote a book (or even a short story) about wizards, elves, and dwarves during Puritan times, I’d be accused of witchcraft. :rolleyes:

Yeah and they make living more bearable too. :stuck_out_tongue:


I don’t have contempt for any of the values you described in your post. I associate the word Puritan with Fundamentalist, though, and I dislike the Fundamentalist black and white, anti-intellectual worldview.

When you say Puritan, I think of someone who believes the beautiful artwork in Catholic cathedrals and our statues are idols. That type of thinking does motivate some contempt from me.


I guess how the word is defined… it it’s referring to a worldview where all secular music is evil and we shouldn’t watch movies and fantasy books are from the devil… that IS extreme, and incorrect… also the idea that statues are idols, that’s just a big misunderstanding…

but if it means that we should resist any immorality, that is correct :slight_smile:


Yes, I agree with you about resisting immorality. Doesn’t that happen naturally to everyone who tries to draw near the Lord? Perverse and impure things aren’t attractive? I think it should.

I would draw a distinction between having a certain adult sophistication about things and not feeling shocked or offended at discussing or encountering adult situations in social life or in art, and with the natural aversion to immorality that happens when you draw near to God. I guess that’s the distinction between prudish attitudes, which I think are based more on a false, reactive, judgemental attitude, and truly pure hearts.

I don’t know exactly how to explain the distinction, even though it is a real distinction. I’m trying to think of an example… Ok. There was a thread posted by someone in another forum and the poster was adamant about not taking a life drawing class because she would have to look at nude people. I don’t know if the kind of horror and fear she expressed was really purity. I think it was more prudishness. (My opinion and distinction, of course, someone else might disagree.)

On the other hand, I don’t watch television and rarely go to movies. I don’t do it because I think I am better than others who watch televsion. I don’t care what other people do. I just find the impurity jarring. I don’t find it tempting. I just find it unattractive. I differ from many people because I also find violence to be just as unattractive as excessive sexual content, so I try to avoid that, too. I think that’s probably purity as opposed to prudishness.

But I don’t think people who are labeled Puritans are necessarily prudes.


The litugical scholar Dom Gregory Dix in his magnum opus THE SHAPE OF THE LITURGY talked about Puritanism and how it got associated with Protestantism.

He remarks that Puritanism, properly considered, lies at the heart of the monastic vocation. The Charterhouse in Vermont is very Puritan in this sense; yea, their chapel is too astere for my taste.

On the other hand, the thorough Protestantism of Swedish Lutheranism, complete with incense, crucifixes, and vestments, has never been Puritan.

<<I don’t have contempt for any of the values you described in your post. I associate the word Puritan with Fundamentalist, though, and I dislike the Fundamentalist black and white, anti-intellectual worldview.>>

Actually, that’s NOT the proper definition of “fundamentalism” in a Christian context, but this is actually a subject for another thread.

Did you know that Christian fundamentalism originated atPrinceton University among Presbyterian ministers and professors?

So it’s hardly “anti-intellectual.”


Well written, baltobetsy. The Puritan mindset declares that even the near-presence of something which could lead one into sin is itself a cause of sin. That is not the Catholic view. Taken to an extreme, the pure Puritan would have to chop off their own hands and pluck out their own eyes, lest they cause them to sin.


Dear Mystic Banana,

Undeniably our religion was never intended to to make us melancholic (God forbid), on the contrary it was designed to increase real joy and happiness among men. However, if we are striving to enter into eternal life at the straight gate then unquestionably we ought to give a very wide berth to discos, bars, night clubs, objectionable TV shows/films, and such-like amusements which dispose one to frivolity and dissipation, if not actual sin. Moreover they can desensitize us to the exceeding sinfulness of sin and thus deaden our spiritual sensibilities; now can we really afford to let that happen? When we are in very high spirits it is all too easy for us to reduce our vigilance and we can soon slip into levity, or perhaps something much worse. We must all know our own strength and natural temperament and act accordingly; happy are those who can use their Christian liberty without abusing it! Alas such people appear to be in a minority nowadays, if the current state of the Chruch is anything to go by.
As regards the Wedding of Cana, to which you refer, and the words “when men have drunk freely”(St. 2: 10), I think we need to be careful as to what we infer from them. They do not necesssarily denote that they inbibed to the point of excess; though unquestionably it may be used in that sense. However it is hardly worth remarking that no excessive alcohol consumption in the slightest degree could have possibly occured at this marriage feast, for our Lord would neither have contributed to any such sin by a miracle, nor indeed have been present at all in that case. Undoubtedly the large quantity of wine created was not all consumed on this one occasion.

To end on a positive note, I would freely admit that by His presence at this marrige feast of Cana our Lord gives his sanction and blessing to all innocent social enjoyments. He would surely teach us that as Christian’s our duty is not always to denounce and avoid, but to hallow and purify as it were, various social occasions and functions.

Warmest good wishes,



Well bars and clubs I can understand. Besides those things don’t interest an apparent recluse like me. :rolleyes: Movies and TV shows on the other hand, those can be still debatable. There are a lot of powerful movies out there that have content that you would object to. Take Schindler’s List for example or the 2002 movie adaptation of Chicago. Both were critically acclaimed films and I highly doubt that watching and critiquing such movies involves being in an unintellectual state as “high spirits”.


Hi Portrait

Knowing all too well far much of excess, I’m not so big on pushing the point too far - alcohol (and any other earthly delight) can and does draw us into depravation and ungodliness - it’s true, but we also supposed to enjoy life.

The wedding of Cana is open to interpretation - I’m not suggesting some wild bachanalian party, but I always felt it was certainly far from sombre - and unlikely to be teetotal as some evangelicals I’ve known have argued.

On music and telly, I’ve got to say, sometimes I think, actually, there is an ever increasing tendency towards pro-materialism and excessive anti-theism on it, to the point where I’m almost finding it difficult to enjoy it anymore. Then, that might well be moreso in the UK… similarly, I’m beginning to find much to fault in a lot of my treasured rock’n’roll

  • there’s so much anti-theism in it, it’s difficult to not feel offended at times… give me a few years - I might be a puritan by then afterall! Although I could never imagine giving up music totally - it almost seems wrong…

whup - and here comes the turn! Life is for the living, but in a decadent society, there is inevitably much temptation. And furthermore, there is good in there, and I’m not sure whether it’s better to cherish and encourage that side than to hide from the world and reject it - or hate it, as, again, puritanism is commonly viewed as doing.

God bless!


Dear Mystic Banana,

Many thanks for your posting and for your honesty about the issue of Christian separation from the world - very balanced and thoughtful.

By the way I am a great fan of 60’s and 70’s pop and also very enthusiastic about disco and funk music, especially from the 1970’s era. In comparison with some of the eminently forgettable and downright evil stuff that is being churned our today, it is mildness itself. Even aesthetically speaking it is in a different league altogether and far superior. However, whilst I confess to still listening quite frequently to the music from this period, I always feel ill-at-ease so doing, especially since converting to Catholicism this year. Whilst many of the tracks are tuneful and catchy there are these oblique references to extra-marital sex and certain lyrics which have immoral overtones - for example Chic’s * My Forbidden Lover*. Thus I find myself asking can I really be involved with all this as a disciple of Christ; is it promoting aspirations after holiness, or simply frustrating them and causing me to dwell on unwholesome and materialistic thoughts? So yes I have my struggles against worldly pleasures to contend with.

I would concur with you regarding the Wedding of Cana; it seems utterly impossible, on any fair and honest interpretation, to reconcile that passage with what is commonly called “Teetotalism”, widely espoused by old fashioned Evangelicals. Clearly if our Lord actually worked a miracle in order to supply wine at this marriage feast, then it seems to me impossible, by any ingenuity, to prove that alcohol consumption is sinful. That position cannot be sustained in the face of this passage, without wresting the plain meaning of Sacred Scripture and charging Christ with abetting sin.

So lets say a toast to Puritanism!!

Warmest good wishes and prayers,


PS Its good to meet a fellow UK resident on CAF. God Bless.


Hard not, to, I think! I think one of the reasons I turned to 60’s/70’s rock was because there is more spirituality there than seemed in the dance music that was ubiquitus during my own youth. Except ultimately half of it often turns out to be the kind of psychological/mythopaic spirituality that reduces it all to a meaningless joke for me in the end, and the hatred of christianity that comes out of it on further examination in some cases means that I don’t think I can really enjoy listening to some of this stuff at all… but there’s good in some of it…

PS Its good to meet a fellow UK resident on CAF. God Bless.

Moderation’s fair enough, and I regret my historical lack of it, but the whole absolute anti stuff… still, in a way I’d be unhappy to reject puritanism totally - but it’s not for everyone, and it’s that imposition that does for me - but they are fellow Christians, and they’ve done much good along the way, so I think your original statement is reasonable.

I don’t think there is anything like the CAF in the UK, is there? Having a number of atheist friends and acquantances, and given the increasing orthodoxy of the same in British culture, I find this website essential! Some prefer a quiet, nonconfrontational faith, but personally I can only stick so much materialist assumption and scorn for religion for so long…God bless the CAF! :signofcross:

Anyway, I think I’ll have another drink…

Cheers! And

Good night and God bless

Mystic Banana


I found some of this thread confusing. Puritanism is a form of Protestantism that arose in England in opposition to the Church of England in response to the teachings of John Calvin. I think what you mean is being “puritanical”??

Puritanism as such no longer really exists though its influence is widespread in American life and culture. (Jerry Falwell, for example, struck me as an heir to this tradition.)

Puritans got a bad name for being moral prudes thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne and later Arthur Miller. That just indicates how long traditional Christian morality has been under attack.



I’m fairly sure Portrait knew what he was talking about - and Puritanism represented an extreme of Christian morality, beyond, and in some ways opposed, to the morality of the Catholic Church. His point was one of why Catholics can be particularly belligerent to such a particularly devout brand of Protestantism.

They moreso got a bad name for witch-burnings and the like, at least with Arthur Miller

And Christian morality has been under attack since before Christianity! Such is life :knight2:


I don’t believe that that’s legitimate Catholic thought. It seems to presume that the world is evil, and indeed Puritanism (unless I’m mistaken) presumes exactly that.

But I object to your characterisation of my attitude toward Puritanism as “contempt”. It’s not contempt at all, it’s merely a fundamental disagreement.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit