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Providence in Early Modern England$
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Alexandra Walsham

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198208877

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198208877.001.0001

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‘Tongues of Heaven’: Prodigies, Portents, and Prophets

‘Tongues of Heaven’: Prodigies, Portents, and Prophets

(p.167) 4 ‘Tongues of Heaven’: Prodigies, Portents, and Prophets
Providence in Early Modern England

Alexandra Walsham

Oxford University Press

The chapter focuses on the various aspects of pre-Reformation practice and belief, and explores how traditional cultural paradigms were subtly altered and rehabilitated rather than permanently effaced by the advent of an era of rapid doctrinal and devotional innovation and change. The early modern canon of providential signs and wonders was a mosaic and an amalgam of a cluster of superficially inconsistent intellectual traditions. The post-Reformation repertoire of omens and portents owed much to pagan mythology. Protestant Ministers acknowledged that prodigies of all kinds could be a medium for conveying messages from heaven, and were against popular techniques of predicting the future as ‘heathenish’, ‘superstitious’, and incompatible with a true understanding of the doctrine of providence. The chapter also highlights the tension and interplay between Protestant theology and the preexisting cultures of divination, and explains how ancient cultural patterns serve as templates for the interpretation of current events, simultaneously throwing their own preoccupations into sharp and vivid relief.

Keywords:   cultural paradigms, prodigies, Protestant theology, post-Reformation, doctrine of providence, providential signs

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