Pocahontas's Baptism

Reformed Theology and the Paradox of Desire

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Bath Spa University
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John Rolfe’s letter detailing his internal struggles concerning his relationship with his future wife Pocahontas brings into play many of the issues which are central to Reformed ideas – conscience, judgement, salvation and desire. The struggle between flesh and faith, desire and salvation which Rolfe presents fits our understanding of Calvinist thought to the extent that Peter Hulme has called the letter a ‘classic Puritan document’. Rolfe’s denial of ‘the unbridled desire of carnall affection’ seems archetypal in its renunciation of the flesh, but there also is another form of desire at work in the letter. Where Rolfe denies that his yearning is carnal he celebrates his longing to convert the native. This is very different, but a recognition of the link between the two desires – for the flesh and for the spirit – is necessary if we are to truly understand the Reformed theology which travelled across the Atlantic in the early seventeenth century.

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