John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity” (1630)
Argument for charity and decent human behavior in the community.
Puritan political thought is based in large part on the premise that the community
and political rule are grounded in and justified by a natural hierarchy of talents
and merit ordained by God, as Winthrop notes, “GOD ALMIGHTY in His most
holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all
times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and
dignity; others mean and in submission,” (Winthrop 1). Inequality is thus a
healthy part of communal life, and an example of divine providence.
Winthrop, indeed, argues that: 1) the natural inequality/diversity of men shows
the range of God’s wisdom in allowing the human community to emerge as an
organizable and sustainable totality (his phrase, “this great king will have many
stewards, counting himself more honored in dispensing his gifts to man by man,
than if he did it by his own immediate hands,” (1) indicates that he sees earthly
rulers as directly accountable and subordinated to God in their political office), 2)
social order allows the wicked to be moderated and restrained, and allows for a
range of virtues (the love, mercy, gentleness and temperance of the elite ought
serve as an example to the poor/inferior, who should in turn be faithful, patient
and obedient) and 3) hierarchy creates a community knit together by
interdependence and mutual need
, which in turn promotes ‘brotherly affection.’
For Winthrop, furthermore, the fact that all men are different through God’s plan
alone ought humble and restrain all members of the community (1).
Having established that the
of the community will be one of hierarchical
inequality, Winthrop turns to establishing a
code of conduct
for the community in
saying, “There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: Justice
and Mercy,” (1). He notes, however, that these two principles might seem to
demand opposite courses of action in some cases.
Winthrop next makes a cutting distinction between the “Law of Nature” and the