An 18th century guide to the principles and practices of New England’s churches


Published in 1726, this work lays out the principles and practices of New England’s churches during the early 18th century. Earliest drafts of the text can be traced back as far as 1701.

Who was Cotton Mather?

Born in 1633 into an influential family in Boston, Massachusetts, Cotton Mather became a Harvard graduate and minister. He is commonly known for his association in the Salem Witch Trials. Mather was a prolific pamphleteer and wrote on the subject of witchcraft in his leaflets.

The book contains an introduction by Cotton’s father, Increase Mather, an influential late 17th century pastor and theologian who believed that anyone seeking to become a member of the church must recount in detail their experience of conversion.

What’s included in the book?

It was designed as a useful tool for churches to consult regarding their practice, as well as to show to what Cotton Mather saw as the ‘Old World’, how churches in British America were conducting themselves, and how they were different to those in Europe. Reverend Mather dedicates his chapters to describing in detail topics such as the ordaining of ministers, holy baptism, Holy Communion, private services, special customs, marriage, preaching, prayer, hymn singing and more – an array of components that went into the daily running and activities of the New England church and its congregation at the time. He emphasises the congregational nature of New England’s puritan churches and the employment of church councils as a means of fostering tolerance and cooperation. Scholars have attributed much of what we know today about New England’s church worship from the elements captured by Mather in Ratio disciplinæ.

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Full title:
Ratio disciplinæ fratrum Nov-Anglorum. A faithful account of the discipline professed and practised in the Churches of New-England; with ... reflections on the discipline of the primitive Churches [and with an introductory Attestation by Increase Mather].
1726, Boston, Massachusetts, US
Printed book
Cotton Mather, Increase Mather
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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