chapter  II
4 Pages

II.12 Holy affections


The ‘holy affections’ were a set of special spiritual emotions in early modern Christian culture, which were thought to be imbued with the Holy Spirit.1 Developed in the writings of the medieval theologians St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas, the holy affections included love for the Lord, praise and thankfulness, and the joyous anticipation of salvation.2 What was it like to experience these emotions? Why, when and how were they expressed? Drawing on diaries and sermons from seventeenthcentury England, I show that the holy affections were often found to be the most exquisite of all human feelings – they saturated the body and soul, filling it with ‘heart melting sweetness’. Exploring these delightful experiences helps rebalance our picture of the emotional landscape of early modern Christian culture, which has traditionally concentrated on the gloomier passions of guilt, grief and fear.3 A wider aim is to demonstrate the value of emotion as a category of analysis in religious history: an

investigation of the spiritual feelings of early modern English men and women brings us to a closer understanding of what it was like to be a Christian at this time. The majority of the examples cited here are from Protestant writers, but it is important to note that the holy affections were a Christian, rather than a specifically Protestant, phenomenon.