Why a City On a Hill?

“A city on a hill” to Winthrop was the hope and belief in the people aboard his ship truly creating and becoming a city which would be the epitome of Puritan perfection. He undoubtedly believes in its potential to a surge forward and stand a glistening example to a new world, forged under their guidance. While today’s America isn’t an example of Puritan perfection it does stand as an example and a place that will never go unnoticed by its surrounding areas. If we take the context out of it, and by that I mean the “Puritanical-ness” then what Winthrop meant by this city on a hill, was just a city elevated above all else, a place ripe with innovation and constantly progressing. It would be the city in which all else looked up to. In this sense then, “city on a hill” is applicable today, it is the same way in which many see the United States. As this country is so elevated in technology, society, and economy. Americans, then have created their “city on a hill” that is so important in the affairs of other countries because of its power and pull. It is where other countries look, to see where they can go, it has become an example.

Winthrop’s belief in this small colony seemed then to have been well placed. That colony did become eventually, one of the most powerful countries in the world. But it would be sheer luck that this pre-dated faith in America’s “greatness” would come true. Looking into it, John Milton uses a similar image in “Areopagitica”, where an apostle is preaching from the hill to pagans. This hill we recognize to be found a biblical allusion as it is also referred to in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. In both these instances, a human person is speaking the sacred word of God, i.e (a higher being) to the lesser people. To the people that will follow what they say. The literal height of the hill gives them a figurative authority and spiritual “height” over the people. Winthrop I believe, is trying to express the way in which he believed his people would become like a sort of preachers to the world. They would be that perfect puritan city, which exuded a sort of holy perfection not unlike the preaching done from these hills. Winthrop wanted his people to create a town that sat on a figurative hill from the world around them. They would be that connection from God to the world. A perfect example of how the Puritan God wanted these people to live. For them that was success, and has America became a country of great success? A different type of success? Yes. But, still success. Winthrop truly couldn’t have known that America would rise, not as a perfectly Puritan but as powerful and influencing anyway, and yet it stands that this is true.

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