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A Cloud of Witnesses; Darting out Light upon a Case, too Unseasonably made Seasonable to be Discoursed on.


A Cloud of Witnesses; Darting out Light upon a Case, too Unseasonably made Seasonable to be Discoursed on.

James Dodson

[by Cotton Mather, circa 1700]

THE CASE before us, is not, Whether People of Quality may not Employ a Dancing-Master, with due Circumstance of Modesty to instruct their Children how to carry themselves handsomely, in Company? But, whether the Dancing Humour, as it now prevails, and especially in Balls, or in circumstances that Lead the Young People of both Sexes, unto great Liberties with one another, be not a Vanity forbidden by the Rules of Christianity? And, If it be so, Whether Vertuous and Prudent Parents, will not their Second Thoughts be very cautious, how far they expose their Children to the Temptations of such Vanity? If a Nonconformist Minister should speak to this CASE, it may be thought Answer enough, That it is HE. Wherefore that the Reader may have no pretence to be Angry at any One such Minister, in the World, we will only bring some other Authorities.

‘Tis fit we should begin with, The Sacred Scripture.

Rom. 13:13. Let us walk honestly, [or decently] but not in RIOTING.

1 Pet. 4:2. The Time past of our Life may suffice us, to have wrought the Will of the Gentiles, when we walked in REVELLINGS.

All the World, that understand the Greek Tongue, (and the greatest Interpreters) confess, That the Greek word, κωμος Komos, which our Translators, in one place render, by, RIOTING, in another, by, REVELLING, is truly translated, by DANCING. ‘Tis the very Thing, Expresly forbidden.

The ASSEMBLIES Larger Catechism.

Q. What are the Sins forbidden in the Seventh Commandment?

A.—Light Behaviour,—Unchast Company.—

DANCINGS, Stage-playes, and all other Provacations to Uncleanness in our selves or others.

Behold, A great Authority, and REASON with it.

Phil. 4:8. Whatsoever things are of GOOD REPORT, Think on these things,

We will proceed unto some faithful Citations, from Fathers, yea, from Pagans; from Councils: from Divines of the Church of ENGLAND; yea, from Roman-Catholicks, and even Courtiers among them too: And we will not Cite so much as one word from any English Nonconformists, (who do not use to declare for less Vertue, than the rest of mankind!) that we may have some Account of the GOOD REPORT, which the Thing before us has had among all the Vertuous:


The words of Chrysostom, and of Arnobius, and of Austin, and other Ancient Writers, are so full of Terrors and Thunders, against the Dances of their Times, that ours will not bear to hear them. We will be so complaisant, unto the Modern Customes, as only to Summ them up in this Epitome; A Dance, is a Work of Satan, one of his Pomps and Vanities, which all Baptised Persons are under Vows to Renounce.

Only we will make so free with Ambrose, (who was no Non-Conformist, but a Bishop, and a Courtier too!) as to quote his Advice; That if Godly Parents would not have the Souls of their Children corrupted and Ruined, they should be very cautious about sending them to the Dancing School.


Macrobius informs us, That amongst Ancient Romans, Dancing was look’d upon as Infamous.

Scipio Africanus, complained of it, as a Degeneracy in his Age, that Persons of Quality sent their Children to the Dancing School.

Salust, the Historian, reproached Sempronia as infamous, for having been a Dancer; their practice being, The Instrument of Luxury.

Cicero, in his Oration from Murcena, says, Nemo Saltat Sobrius, nisi forte insaniat. A man must be either Drunk, or Mad, (says the Orator,) that is fond of Dancing. He Says, That this Vice never goes alone; & therefore he Reproaches Gabinius& Antonius with it.

Seneca bewails it, That in his Time Young ones were corrupted with Dances; and that Dancing-Schools were set up in the City. Tiberius himself, Banished the Dancers out of the City.

Priamus, in the Poet, severely reproves his Children, Because he understood they were, orchstai Dancers.

Plutarch, in his Description of, A Vertuous Woman, mentions this, as part of her Character, She must not be a Dancer.


It is well known, That the old Councils, Ordained no less a Censure, Than that of Deposition for a Clergy-Man, and that of Excommunication for other People, to bear a part in a Dance. Particularly, One assembled in Trullo. Can. 51. Yea, very many Councils, make it a Crime in Clergy-Men to be so much as the Spectators of a Dance.

We will descend unto late ones.

Many provincial Assemblies in Holland, have declared, That the Scourge of Ecclesiastical Discipline should be employed upon Dancers.

The National Synod of Dort, A.D. 1578. Thus Express themselves.

“Because Dances are for the most part attended with a levity, unbecoming Christians, and are an offence to the Godly; Especially when practised in a Time of Common Danger and Calamity: they that go to Dances shall be Reproved; and if after divers Admonitions they persist therein, they are to be excluded from communion.”

The Reforming Synod in Poland, prohibited the Dances too commonly practised; and pronounced them censurable.

The Discipline of the Reformed Churches in France, has this Article.

“Dancing is to be suppressed; and those that take the Liberty or Custome to Dance, after they have been several times admonished, shall be Excommunicated, when they shew themselves obstinate in their Rebellion. And the consistories are Exhorted well to put this Article into Execution, and to Read the same Publickly in the Name of God, and in the Authority of the Synods: And the said Synods and Colloquies are Exhorted to take heed of, and warn those Consistories that therein do not their Duties, to Censure the offenders for it.

And in this, ‘tis well known, they did but imitate the old Waldenses.

Divines of the Church of ENGLAND.

Three famous Bishops, have Written against Mixt Dances, as unlawful. Their Names are, Dr. DOWNHAM, Dr. BABINGTON, Dr. ANDREWS. Their words are too long to be Repeated.

An Arch-Bishop, namely, Dr. USHER, has Written against these Vanities, particularly in his Catechism. Page 279.

Yea, divers have more lately had the Courage to do so. Amongst the rest, Mr. H. DeLuzancy, the Vicar of Harwich. In his Treatise of the Two Sacraments, he showes, That Baptised Persons are to Renounce the Pomps and Vanities of this sinful World. And says he, p. 91, 92 “Such are the Vain Conversations, Empty Visits,& Publick Meetings of People of Different Sexes, where the Soul is betray’d by the Eye, and Sinful Creatures are proud of poysoning one another. Such are those Methods of Dressing, which are grown a Study and a Trade; and Women are ashamed to appear with the Faces which God has given them, but choose rather to be seen with those of the Devils making. Washing, Painting, PATCHING, are become serious Occupations, and have turn’d out of Doors Morning Devotions. Such are BALLS, and Playes.”


How can Protestants Expect any other, but that the Vengeance of Heaven, will Employ the Papists to Chastise them, to Destroy them, when Protestants indulge themselves in Vanities, which are decried and condemn’d even by the very Papists? We know not what Broad-sides may quickly be given us, from French Roman-Catholicks. But there shall Two be now (instead of many more) turned upon us.

Father Le Jeune, in his Le Missionariede L’Oratoire, has a whole Sermon, Contre Les Bals, Les Danses, et autres divertise-mens mondains, qui sont allumettes de Luxure.

I will faithfully Translate a few passages out of it.

“The Evil Spirit, has invented and introduced into the World, BALLS, and DANCES, and other Divertisements, which the Reproved call Innocent, but St. Augustin called, Lugendas Latitias, The Sports which call for Sorrows.”

He proceeds to show, how the Sacred Scriptures, which command Seriousness, and Gravity, and Modesty, condemn Dances, and begs his Hearers to think on that word; Job. 21:11, 13. Their Children DANCE, and in a moment they go down to the Grave; (or as he renders it,) into Hell. Says he; There are some Sins thought Venial, that will End so.

He mentions and commends Chrysostom, who having heard, That some of his Hearers had been at a Ball, immediately he Preached a powerful Sermon against it; and among other things that man of God said, (& his words are quoted with Honour by this Papist;) If I could Learn, who they were, that were present at these Follies, I would chase them out of the Church; I would not permit them to be present at our dreadful Mysteries; And he goes on to call them, The Pomps of the Devil.

The Papist goes on to tell us, That Chrysostom observes, We read not of any Dances at the Weddings of the Holy Patriarchs, and that the Weddings had the Blessings of God the more following of them.

This Papist proceeds; ‘When you were Baptised, you Renounced these Follies; you were Engaged by an Express promise, to shun these Pomps of the Devil. If you return to them, you are guilty of Perfidy, & Forgery, and Disloyalty. But how then can one grant you the Communion which is much more than Baptism?’

Says he; ‘Here you throw away the precious Time, which cannot be recovered; the Time which is allowed you to work out your Salvation. You Extinguish in your selves the Spirit of Piety, of Charity, and of Repentance; the Spirit of Devotion. That Spirit is a precious Balm; or an Essence and a Cordial; nothing so easily grows Dead and Flat: there needs but One Dissolute Hour, to ruine in you, all that Spirit of Piety, which you have been gathering for many weeks, by your Meditations, and Supplications. They have no Speech of GOD, at a Ball, or at a Play; and if at Collations, they Speak of GOD, and of Divine Things, of Devotions or of Devout Persons, it is ordinarily to rally upon them, and tell merry Stories thereof.

‘Here are profuse Expences of what should be Employ’d for the Comfort of the Poor, and their Succour in their Miseries.’

‘If the Young Gentlewomen would be well provided for in a Marriage, they should prefer a man of Sense and Judgement. Now there is no man of Judgement, who would not choose rather a Young Gentlewoman, that should be Wife, Modest, Reserv’d, and Retired, than a Dancer, a giddy, and an idle Damsel.’

‘Whence comes it that the Casuist informs me not, that the Ball and the Play, are any other than Indifferent Things? But think you to be Excused from the Judgements of God, because your Faith has been pinn’d on the Sleeve of, an Alamode Casuist, who has a mind to render himself complaisant unto your Inclinations, rather than harken to St. Augustin, and St. Chrysostom, and St. Cyprian, and other Fathers of the Church, who Flatter you not, because they Need you not.’

But, because this was a Church-man, we will hear no more from him. Let us at last hear a Courtier.

M. Rabutin, in his Instructions to his Children. [In his Memoirs, Tom. 2p. 155.] has these passages. ‘I have ever believed Balls to be dangerous. Of this, not only my Reason, but my own Experience made me sensible; and tho’ the Authority of the Fathers of the Church in this Case, be very considerable, yet that of a Courtier may be of greater weight. The coldest Constitutions are inflamed there. They that are Old, cannot go to them, with out making a ridiculous Figure, nor the Young, tho’ within the Rules of Decency, without Exposing themselves to great Dangers. It is my Opinion, then, That A CHRISTIAN OUGHT NOT TO BE AT A BALL; and I think it the Duty of the Guides of Consciences, to Interdict it for ever unto those who are under their Direction.’

A Question upon the whole.

Whether a Non-conformist Minister can be justly Reproached, for his faithful and watchful Endeavours, to reclaim his Neighbours, from hazarding their own and their Childrens Vertue, by Vanities, which have had no Good Report by the Vertuous in all Ages, but been decried, not only by Fathers, by Councils, Divines of the Church of England, but also by Papist, both Preachers and Courtiers, and by the very Pagans?

Think seriously upon it; and upon Amos 6:3, 5, 6. Wo to them that put far away the Evil Day, and chaunt to the sound of the Viol, but they are not grieved for the Affliction of Joseph. And upon Isa. 22:12, 13, 14. In that Day did the Lord God of Host call to weeping and to mourning; And behold Joy and Gladness; Surely, This Iniquity—Look it, Reader; for I Tremble to Write it!