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Puritan Wisdom on Community Life

— The collegiate way of living has its roots in the universities of Great Britain, and it was imported into the United States by sons of those universities, men who had a strong sense of the importance of collective life. Their social world was very different from ours and it is not a world I would like to go back to, but we shouldn’t let modern-day prejudices blind us to some of the very real virtues those people possessed. Once upon a time school children in the United States used to study John Winthrop’s lay-sermon of 1630 called “A Model of Christian Charity.” Though it takes a bit of historical imagination to see beyond some of Winthrop’s presuppositions, many of his hopes are the hopes of every society, whether a town, a college, or a commonwealth. No collegiate society could go far wrong if it adopted one of Winthrop’s final exhortations as its corporate purpose:

We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.

Sometimes thinkers like Winthrop and his fellow puritans, long regarded as out-moded, are closer today to being avant-garde.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021