Meditative poetry, covenant theology, and Lucy Hutchinson's order and disorder.
Wright, Seth Andrew.
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I argue that Order and Disorder (1679), Lucy Hutchinson’s biblical epic on Genesis, is a meditative poem, while claiming that Hutchinson’s study of Independent theologian John Owen’s covenant theology informed her narration of the events in Genesis. I offer a reading of the poem as a whole to show how these claims illuminate Hutchinson’s construal of Genesis. These claims permit me to engage scholarly literature on three heads. First, by demonstrating that Order and Disorder is a meditative poem, I seek to extend the current discussion of seventeenth-century meditative poetry to include poems narrating the content of the poet’s meditation alongside poems narrating the process. Second, by showing Order and Disorder’s specific theological background, I challenge accounts claiming Lucretian atomism and Republican politics as the poem’s intellectual foundation. Finally, I offer the first extended account of meditation in Owen’s theology. Chapter One puts Hutchinson and her work in the historical and critical context, while Chapter Two argues that Owen understood meditation as an intellectual duty whose final cause is communion with God by understanding biblical revelation, and that Hutchinson assumed a similar view in Order and Disorder. As she discerned scriptural truth through meditation, Hutchinson rejected the Epicurean philosophy she had encountered while translating Lucretius. In Chapter Three, I argue that Theologoumena Pantodapa, Owen’s major treatise on covenant theology, which Hutchinson studied closely, implicitly confronts Thomas Hobbes’s contract theory by arguing that communion with God is the highest end of humanity. Chapters Four—Six show how Hutchinson’s approach to meditation and covenant undergird her dilations of Genesis 1—3 in Cantos 1—5. By contending that people can commune with God by meditating on Creation, Providence, and the covenant, Hutchinson denies the ontological materialism found in Lucretius. Finally, Chapters Seven and Eight argue that Hutchinson uses Cantos 6—20 to narrate Genesis 4—31 in terms of an Independent ecclesiology grounded in Owen’s covenant theology. By claiming that the Church is distinguished by acknowledging Providence through meditation, Hutchinson contests the definition of the Church in the Act of Uniformity. The Epilogue suggests Owen regarded Hutchinson’s meditative project as successful.