John Knox and
Polity (mid 1500s)
it that Protestantism first came to Scotland?
How did Knox
become such a supporter of Calvin's form of Protestantism?
in Protestantism came at a time when the Scottish were very sensitive to
their own national feelings. England had long been a problem for
Scotland. But by the mid 1500s France was just as big a problem.
Scotland had been
under the rule of the Stuart family and now the rights of the throne belonged
to Mary Stuart, a young woman engaged to marry Francis, the Dauphin
or Prince of France. When she moved to France to be with Francis
the Scottish felt a bit betrayed. She left the rule of Scotland to
her rigidly Catholic mother, Mary of Guise, who would serve as regent until
Mary Stuart came of age. The Guise family was well known for its
hatred of Protestants.
It was also well
understood that when Mary Stuart finally did marry Francis, Scotland would
be offered to him as a gift. Scotland would thus lose its position
as an independent nation and become merely a province of France.
The Scots did not like this idea at all.
Rumors about Protestantism
were swirling through Scotland--and the people seem sincerely interested.
Even the noblemen were interested. George Wishart preached the Protestant
vision to the Scots--based on his own interest in the ideas of Martin Luther.
In essence Wishart was a Lutheran--and a very prominent voice in the affairs
of the Scottish church.
One of those who
became closely involved in Wishart's preaching and teaching was a young
Catholic priest named John Knox.
When in 1546 the
Catholic Cardinal of Scotland arrested Wishart and had him burned at the
stake as a heretic, mobs of Scots went wild. They finally attacked
and killed the Cardinal and took over his castle at St. Andrews.
Others began to rally to their cause--including John Knox, who came to
St. Andrews to preach to and inspire the rebels against the Catholic cause.
Mary of Guise
called in French troops to crush the rebellion at St. Andrews and punish
the rebels. Eventually they overwhelmed the Protestant rebels and
led them off to captivity, including John Knox who was put in chains and
forced to work as a galley slave on French ships.
Through the intervention
of the pro-Protestant English King Edward VI, Knox was finally freed--after
having served 19 months of this horrible sentence. Knox journey to
England--now a Protestant minister rather than a Catholic priest and a
radical voice for the Protestant cause. For the next few years Knox
served as a pastor in some English churches, and then was called into service
as royal chaplain. It during this time that he became part of the
group that was assigned the task of rewriting England's Book of Common
Prayer (which in the end he felt had not gone nearly far enough in the
call for reform of English worship).
How did Knox
and the Scottish Noblemen finally bring Protestantism to Scotland?
When Edward died
in 1553 and Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary") replaced him on the English
throne, Knox decided that it was time to get out of England. He eventually
came to Geneva, Switzerland where he found Calvin's teachings to be very
much to his liking. The two men got on together very well.
Here he joined
up with a number of other English and Scottish refugees living in Geneva--and
together they put together an English translation of the Bible, known as
the "Geneva Bible." (This would soon become the Bible of
choice of English Protestants--such as the Pilgrims and Puritans who came
to America to build a new Christian commonwealth in the early 1600s).
And here in Geneva
Knox first outlined in the tract, Faithful Admonition (1554)
his fervently democratic views on the rights of common people to overthrow
godless rulers--a political view even more radical than Calvin's.
This was to find a sympathetic audience back in Scotland.
In 1555 Knox dared
to return to Scotland for six months and to preach his strongly politicized
But finding the
situation still very dangerous, he returned to Geneva in 1556. There
he became pastor of the English church (1556-1558).
During this sojourn
in Geneva he also published his "First Blast of the Trumpet against the
Monstrous Regiment of Women" (1558), harshly critical of the rule of the
two female Catholic rulers: Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland, and
Mary Tudor, Queen of England. [His anti-female language did nothing
to endear Knox to Elizabeth who became Queen of England in 1558!]
How did Knox
reshape the Scottish Church into a "Presbyterian" form?
Meanwhile in Scotland
in 1557, a group of Protestant Scottish noblemen, called the "Lords of
the Congregation," signed a covenant among themselves declaring for Protestantism
in Scotland. The motivations were mainly political--though Knox,
even from the distance away of Geneva Switzerland, had been writing them
and giving them ideas and understandings that they would need in order
to take such a strong position against established Catholic authority.
Even from a distance Knox was shaping events in Scotland
Then in 1558 Mary
Stuart finally married the Dauphin of France (future King Francis II of
France) finally putting Scotland in the position of one day becoming merely
a French province under a French king. Anti-French, and thus anti-Catholic,
feelings now grew stronger throughout Scotland.
the situation was now ripe for Protestantism in Scotland, Knox, who had
been in close correspondence with the "Lord's of the Congregation," returned
to Scotland in May of 1559.
His first sermon
ignited the flames of anti-French and anti-Catholic revolt. In the
town of Perth where he had delivered the sermon, mobs destroyed monastic
buildings--provoking Mary of Guise to strike back with her French troops.
But the result was only a deadlock. Meanwhile the mobs grew even
more enraged, burning and plundering monasteries and churches (to the horror
of Knox who had not intended for things to get so completely out of hand).
Then in July of
that year (1559) Henry II died and his son Francis (Mary Stuart's husband)
became French king. More French troops were then rushed to Scotland
to help Mary Stuart's mother, Mary of Guise, put down the Protestant uprising.
Things began to look grim for the Reformers.
Then in early
1560 Elizabeth, realizing that a Catholic victory in Scotland would give
her a Catholic enemy to the North as well as to the East (France), sent
English troops to help the Protestants. This proved to be very important
But even more
helpful to the Protestant cause was the death of Mary of Guise in June
of 1560. With her death the French and Catholic cause was left helpless.
A treaty signed
in Edinburgh in early July between France and England called for the removal
of all French troops from Scotland and the barring of all Frenchmen from
political posts in Scotland. But Scotland was also to remain free
from English influence.
This treaty not
only secured national independence for Scotland, it opened the way to Protestant
control of the nation.
In August the
Scottish Parliament declared itself a Protestant nation and adopted the
Scots Confession prepared by Knox and five other clergy at the Parliament's
request. Catholicism was not to be practiced in Scotland, under penalty
Knox then set
about the task of reorganizing the Scottish church. In December of
1560 a General Assembly of the Scottish church was held. The following
month, January of 1561, the first Book of Discipline was presented
to the Scottish Parliament in which Calvin's "Presbyterian" system of church
government in Geneva Switzerland was adopted for the entire Scottish nation.
Each parish was
to be governed by a pastor and council of Elders (forerunner of the church
"session"), elected by the congregation in recognition of their
"call" by God to leadership.
In larger towns
containing several parishes, joint meetings of representatives of those
parishes would be called as "presbyteries."
church was to be supervised by even larger councils called "synods."
And the entire
Scottish church was to be supervised by a national council called the "General
Knox also attempted
to define in the Book of Discipline a system of education and welfare
to be supervised by the reformed Scottish church--financed from the proceeds
of the sale of church abbeys, landholdings and other assets. Here
he was following the Calvinist vision of the church as the leading instructor
and caregiver of the faithful, even more vital to life than the civil authorities.
balked at this idea. Instead the money that came from the confiscations
of the former Catholic church went directly to enrich the Lords.
Consequently in Scotland the church was unable to give support to the social
vision that Calvin had outlined and Knox had taken up as his hope for Scotland.
Indeed, the Scottish church became notable for its great poverty.
Knox busied himself
with reforming the nature of worship in the Scottish church--most of the
reforms having been first formulated in Geneva when he was pastoring the
English congregation there. These reforms he published in 1564 in
his new Book of Common Order. Following the teachings and
practices of Calvin's Geneva (and Zwingli before him), Knox took the stand
that if there could be found no support in scripture for a particular practice
of the church, then it was to be done away with.
Thus among other
things he did away with all of the old feast days, leaving only Sunday
as a holy day.
And also with
Calvin, he moved to free up worship from its long-held ritualism--though
worship was still to be conducted "decently and in order."
sermons were to be the result of the personal inspiration and careful preparation
by the pastor--not the fixed lectionaries ("readings") which the old church
used to distribute to its relatively uneducated clergy.
prayers were to be discouraged--to be replaced by prayers uttered from