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Calvinism in United Kingdom

In the Sixteenth Century

In Scotland

Scotland, like every other European country in the early part of the sixteenth century, had been a place of protest against moral and financial abuses in the Catholic Church, but the beginnings of ecclesiastical rebellion are to be traced rather to political causes. The kingdom had long been a prey to the bitter rivalry of great noble families, and the premature death of James V (1542), which left the throne to his ill-fated infant daughter, Mary Stuart, gave free rein to a feudal reaction against the crown. In general, the Catholic clergy sided with the royal cause, while the religious reformers egged on the nobles to champion Protestantism in order to deal an effective blow against the union of the altar and the throne. Thus Cardinal Beaton, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, ordered numerous executions on the score of protecting religion and the authority of the queen-regent; on the other hand several noblemen, professing the new theology, assassinated the cardinal and hung his body on the battlements of the castle of St. Andrews (1546). Such was the general situation in Scotland when John Knox appeared upon the scene.

John Knox

Born of peasant parents about 1515, John Knox (c. 1515-1572) had become a Catholic priest, albeit in sympathy with many of the revolutionary ideas which were entering Scotland from the Continent and from England. In 1546 he openly rejected the authority of the Church and proceeded to preach “the Gospel” and a stern puritanical morality. “Others snipped the branches,” he said, “he struck at the root.” But the Catholic court was able to banish Knox from Scotland. After romantic imprisonment in France, Knox spent a few years in England, preaching an extreme puritanism, holding a chaplaincy under Edward VI (1547-1553), and exerting his influence to insure an indelibly Protestant character to the Anglican Church. Then upon the accession to the English throne of the Catholic Mary Tudor, Knox betook himself to Geneva where he made the acquaintance of Calvin and found himself in essential agreement with the teachings of the French reformer.

Calvinism in Scotland

After a stay of some five years on the Continent, Knox returned finally to Scotland and became the organizer and director of the “Lords of the Congregation,” a league of the chief Protestant noblemen for purposes of religious propaganda and political power. In 1560 he drew up the creed and discipline of the Presbyterian Church after the model of Calvin’s church at Geneva; and in the same year with the support of the “Lords of the Congregation” and the troops of Queen Elizabeth of England, Knox effected a political and religious revolution in Scotland. The queen-regent was imprisoned and the subservient parliament abolished the papal supremacy and enacted the death penalty against any one who should even attend Catholic worship. John Knox had carried everything before him.

Mary Stuart, during her brief stay in Scotland (1561-1567), tried in vain to stem the tide. The jealous barons would brook no increase of royal authority. The austere Knox hounded the girl-queen in public sermons and fairly flayed her character. The queen’s downfall and subsequent long imprisonment in England finally decided the ecclesiastical future of Scotland. Except in a few fastnesses in the northern highlands, where Catholicism survived among the clansmen, the whole country was committed to Calvinism.

Calvinism in England

Calvinism was not without influence in England. Introduced towards the close of the reign of Henry VIII, it gave rise to a number of small sects which troubled the king’s Anglican Church almost as much as did the Roman Catholics. Under Edward VI (1547-1553), it considerably influenced the theology of the Anglican Church itself, but the moderate policies of Elizabeth (1558-1603) tended to fix an inseparable gulf between Anglicans and Calvinists. Thenceforth, Calvinism lived in England, in the forms of Presbyterianism, Independency, [Footnote: Among the “Independents” were the Baptists, a sect related not so immediately to Calvinism as to the radical Anabaptists of Germany. See above, pp. 134 f., 145, footnotes] and Puritanism, as the religion largely of the commercial middle class. It was treated with contempt, and even persecuted, by Anglicans, especially by the monarchs of the Stuart family. After a complete but temporary triumph under Cromwell, in the seventeenth century, it was at length legally tolerated in England after the settlement of 1689. It was from England that New England received the Calvinistic religion which dominated colonial forefathers of many present-day Americans.



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  • Article Name: Calvinism
  • Author: International
  • Description: In the Sixteenth Century In Scotland Scotland, like every other European country in the early part of the sixteenth [...]

This entry was last updated: October 30, 2016

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