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Doctrinal Doubleness and the Meaning of Despair in William Perkins’s “Table” and Nathaniel Woodes’s The Conflict of Conscience

From: Studies in Philology
Volume 110, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 533-561 | 10.1353/sip.2013.0015



This article explores the “double vision” of experience produced by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century predestinarian thinking, focusing in particular on the vexed question of despair and its significance within the Protestant spiritual journey. Through an analysis of two under-examined and seemingly very different Elizabethan texts—the theologian William Perkins’s “Table Declaring the Order of the Causes of Salvation and Damnation” and the rector Nathaniel Woodes’s play, The Conflict of Conscience— the article reveals the extent to which the doctrinal complexities embedded within the Church of England’s predestinarian theology became bound up in the problem of narrative storytelling, with writers looking for recognizable causality and sequentiality in the unfolding of the spiritual life even as the underpinning belief system refuted it. The eventual result of this paradox, this article argues, was the total embrace of active, even aggressive personal interpretation as a means for understanding and clarifying the double vision of despair, engaging with its dramatic plurality while also striving to bring it to a unified and focused conclusion.

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