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Tract

Though this term is applied sometimes to the chant sung in Roman Catholic churches at Mass on certain penitential days, it more often refers to a type of propagandist literature larger than a handbill but shorter than a treatise, designed to promote spiritual or moral edification. Although the fondness of the Oxford reformers of the 1830s for this type of literature led to the term “Tractarians”* being applied to them, tracts and the colporteurs who distribute them are generally thought of as specifically Protestant. Thus the lesser writings of Wycliffe,* the Puritan Marprelate Tracts (1588), and the ephemeral literature of the Civil War period all fall into this category. The eighteenth-century Evangelicals relied heavily on tracts, and the famous Religious Tract Society was founded by George Burder and others in 1799, to be followed by numerous parallel societies in America, the continent of Europe, and the mission fields. Tracts are today used extensively by aggressive heretical sects.