Essay on The Doctrine of Weaned Affections

637 Words Apr 14th, 2013 3 Pages
The Doctrine of Weaned Affections: In Search of Spiritual Milk

One of the most important theological doctrines for many Puritans is what has been called the "doctrine of weaned affections." This doctrine holds that individuals must learn to wean themselves from earthly attachments and instead make spiritual matters their priority. Obviously, inappropriate earthly attachments included material possessions such as one's home, furniture, clothing, and valuables. But the doctrine of weaned affections could also proscribe things that we do not usually think of as incompatible with spirituality, such as a love of natural beauty, a dedication to secular learning, or even an intense devotion to one's spouse, children, or grandchildren.
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Male ministers were comfortable figuring themselves as feminine "breasts" because the metaphor granted them a kind of spiritual, parental authority as vessels for God's word and providers of sustenance for their congregants. The Peter and Mary Tufts gravestone (Malden, Massachusetts, 1702) exemplifies the willingness of Puritan men to appropriate breast imagery to spiritual ends, featuring an obviously male, mustached figure with breasts.

Puritan children were taught from an early age about the importance of renouncing earthly nourishment and affection in favor of "spiritual milk." One of the first texts written and printed for an audience of children, John Cotton's Spiritual Milk for Babes, Drawn Out of the Breasts of Both Testaments for their Souls Nourishment (England, 1646; Boston, 1656), emphasized the doctrine of weaned affections. Spiritual Milk offered a formal catechism for children to memorize, imparting a sense of the corruption and depravity of the earthly human condition through a series of ritualized questions and answers:
Q: Are you then born a Sinner?
A: I was conceived in sin, and born in iniquity.
Q: What is your Birth-sin?
A: Adam's sin imputed to me, and a corrupt nature dwelling in me.
Q: What is your corrupt nature?
A: My corrupt nature is empty of Grace, bent unto sin, and only unto sin, and that continually.
Cotton's Spiritual Milk was often included in the New England Primer, a popular

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