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THE APOSTATIZED APOSTLE, JOHN PENNYMAN: HERESY AND COMMUNITY IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY QUAKERISM By Lesley H. Higgins* On the 28th of July, 1670, a Quaker merchant named John Pennyman halted on the floor of the London Royal Exchange, opened an overflowing bag of books and ordered one of his two porters to fetch a candle. In his own words, "So going to the middle of the Exchange, (I bid the Porter pour out the Books) and having put fire to the papers in my hand, with two or three of those News-Books, the man that was sweeping the Exchange was ordered to put it out. . . Z'1 As a sign from the Lord, Pennyman 's act lacked the drama of going naked in the streets2 or dressing in sackcloth and ashes to publicly proclaim the day of the Lord.3 But as a disturbance in the year of the Second Conventicle Act, when the government was endeavoring to suppress seditious gatherings and Quakers were struggling to survive intact, Pennyman 's demonstration was sufficiently dramatic to attract attention. *Department of Religious Studies, Yale University. 1.John Pennyman, no title, beginning with the words "Upon the 28th day of the Month called July, 1670," no printer's name or place, but dated the 30th of the month called July, 1670. The Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University has a copy of Pennyman's collection of eighteen of his own works, bound in a quarto calf volume with the initials "LP." on the spine, and an index apparently in Pennyman's hand at the front, with marginal comments throughout the text (Folio 475). Pennyman's own descriptive note at the front says: "Some of y* Paps and Bookes are here bound together y* I have bin concernd in Printing and Publishing from ye year 7670 to 1680, in wch time few stood by me save Michael y* Great Prince. J.P." According to Joseph Smith's A Descriptive Catalogue of Friends Books (London, 1867), Pennyman had four or five of these collections made (p. 365). Unless otherwise indicated, excerpts from Pennyman's tracts will be derived from this collection. 2.For example, Solomon Eccles, a Friend in good standing, went naked with a pan of fire and brimstone on his head in 1662, calling for repentance in the streets. See Joseph Besse, A Collection of the Sufferings of the Peopk Called Quakers (London: printed and sold by J. Sowie, 1753), vol. 1, 393. 3.Robert Barclay, the famous Scottish apologist for Quakerism, went through the streets of Aberdeen in 1672, dressed in sackcloth and ashes as a sign. See Barclay's own account of the episode, "A Seasonable Warning to the Inhabitants of Aberdeen," in Truth Triumphant (Philadelphia, 1831), vol. 1, 330-336. 102 JOHN PENNYMAN103 He was brought before the Lord Mayor and sentenced to prison, and, as could be anticipated, opponents of Quakerism were confirmed once again in their suspicions about the dangers of enthusiasm .4 Far more unexpectedly, however, an anonymous group of Quakers issued a statement on August 10th in which they declared, "That we do utterly disown and testify against that Action of the said John Pennyman . . ."5 Siich a bill of disownment was highly unusual thirty years before a system of membership was formalized in the Society of Friends.6 While modern historians have rightly traced the development of the Quaker community during this period by examining external societal pressures and major internal schisms within Friends,7 a study of the charges against John Pennyman and his defense also illustrates the problems of discipline and authority facing Quakerism in the 1670's. Individuals like Pennyman forced the community to define its boundaries and develop practical means to deal with errant behavior. His action on the Exchange and his wedding the following year forced the Society of Friends to articulate both the criteria for judging an authentic revelation of the Holy Spirit and the right of the corporate body to issue that judgment. His theological position raised issues of divine and human authority which were under constant discussion in the wider society and which were to persist for Quakers long after the immediate problem of that "envious...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 102-118
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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