The Model Minister: Constructing Power and Legacy in Bonifacius - Cotton Mather

American literature essay. Literary analysis of works and characters - Sykalo Evgen 2023

The Model Minister: Constructing Power and Legacy in Bonifacius
Cotton Mather

The ostensible goal of Cotton Mather's Bonifacius (1710), a biography of his late father Increase Mather, is transcended. It turns into a painstakingly rendered portrayal of the archetypal Puritan clergyman, a personage endowed with great authority who influenced the very structure of colonial America. In addition to creating a personal legacy, Mather's representation of his father upholds a particular style of ministerial authority that combines social control, political influence, and religious piety.

The Mantle of the Divine:

Increase Mather is immediately elevated to a semi-divine stature by Cotton Mather. He presents him as a figure who has been selected by God to lead the flock and steer New England toward social and spiritual success. The name Bonifacius itself alludes to Saint Boniface, the venerated apostle who converted pagan Europe to Christianity. Increase is portrayed by this intentional linkage as a contemporary missionary entrusted with bringing civilization and holiness to the American wilderness.

Mather provides a detailed account of his father's intellectual prowess, emphasizing his command of the Bible, theology, and classical education. He portrays Increase as an industrious student who produces a large corpus of sermons, treatises, and historical narratives while remaining perpetually occupied in his studies. The idea of the minister as a learned elite, a figure of authority whose words carry the weight of heavenly knowledge, is strengthened by this stress on intellectual rigor.

Influence and Convincing:

In addition to honoring his father's learning and religiosity, Mather's Bonifacius subtly asserts his ministerial authority. He presents Increase as a shrewd politician who knows how to work his way through the intricate network of social and political dynamics that characterizes Puritan culture. He describes his father's involvement in establishing public policy, his sway over the legislature and the courts, and his contribution to the formation of New England's identity.

However, there are concerns about the possibility of misuse raised by this emphasis on political power. In Mather's story, the distinction between secular authority and religious direction becomes more hazy. Although Increase is portrayed as a kind leader, his enormous influence also raises the possibility of a power concentration within the ministerial class, which might stifle individual liberty and criticism.

The Ambition Shadow:

There is some criticism in Mather's portrayal of his father. He accepts Increase's shortcomings as a person, his sporadic errors of judgment, and his battles with ambition. He even makes a passing reference to the conflicts that occurred between Increase and his peers, especially the newer ministers who opposed his authority.

The picture of the ideal minister gains complexity from these flashes of fragility and tension. They imply that people struggle with self-interest, political scheming, and the inherent inconsistencies of using great authority in God's name, even under the Puritan ideal.

History and Reactions:

With its insights into the establishment of authority and legacy within early American Puritanism, Bonifacius is an intriguing text. It is evidence of Cotton Mather's desire to carry on his father's legacy and influence New England's future. It also functions as a warning story, bringing up issues with the risks of unbridled religious authority and the possibility of self-mythologizing among the clergy.

To sum up, Bonifacius is more than just a biography; it's a skillfully crafted story that upholds a particular paradigm of ministerial authority and influence. It honors Increase Mather's intellectual and spiritual accomplishments, but it also poses concerns about misuse and the difficulties of striking a balance between religious instruction and personal freedom in a culture that has been greatly influenced by the teachings of the pulpit.