Texted Authority: How Letters Helped Unify the Quakers in the Long Seventeenth Century

Horn, Matthew
October 2008
Seventeenth Century;Autumn2008, Vol. 23 Issue 2, p290
Academic Journal
This paper examines the early Quaker movement in England during the second half of the seventeenth century to determine how Quaker letters helped the Quakers form a mechanism of balance between the individual worshiper's need for personal apprehension of religious experience and the corporate movement's need to maintain body unity. The conclusion reached is that the collected and circulated epistles from the early Quaker ministers and especially from George Fox formed a peripheral boundary around the charismatic tendency of the Quakers' religious activity, a boundary that provided the Quaker ministers with a quasi stable expression of orthopraxy. But because the texts had to be interpreted, and because they could be accessed by every literate Quaker, the production of the authority grounded in these texts and imposed upon the group was more of a corporate undertaking than a unilateral dictation.


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