A golden chaine: salvation charted

A key text in English Calvinist predestinarian theology, the Puritan divine William Perkins’ Golden Chaine included in illustration of its principles this table with its curious resemblance to a modern flow chart. Influenced by the pedagogical tools promoted by the French logician Pierre Ramus, the table sets out key principles of religion in a format originally designed to serve as an aid to memory in the study of grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic or logic. In its spatialisation of the mechanism of election on the one hand, and reprobation on the other, Perkins’ table visually suggests the systematic determination of divine providence that it describes. Its resemblance a genealogical table offers a correlation between the temporality of individual salvation and the temporality of salvation history writ large. Notably, though it appears to represent a plain narrative of election and reprobation, it also demonstrates how faith requires recursive, repetitive investment in the ‘mediation’ of Christ. Likewise, it demonstrates a key problem of predestinarian doctrine: the superficial resemblance of reprobates to the elect, in the event of a ‘calling not effectuall’: what appears to be forward movement may turn out to have been backsliding all along. BW

The works of Mr William Perkins (London: John Legatt, 1626).

CUL: CCA.6.22

Further Reading

Richard A. Muller, ‘Perkins’ A Golden Chaine: Predestinarian System or Schematized Ordo Salutis?’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 11 (1978), pp. 69-81.

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