The Protestant Reformation In Scotland


Knox, John (1505 - 1572), led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. His strong personality and fiery preaching made him one of the most powerful Scots of his day. Under his leadership, the Church of Scotland adopted a declaration of faith, a form of government, and a liturgy. The church reflected the presbyterian teachings of the reformer John Calvin, who greatly influenced Knox.

Early years. Knox was born near Haddington, east of Edinburgh. Little is known of his early life, except that he probably attended the University of St. Andrews. He became a Catholic priest in 1536. In those days, Scotland was one of the poorest, most backward countries of Europe. For many years, Scottish kings had been weak. Some had been children controlled by regents. The country was often torn by conflict between nobles. The church owned much of the nation's wealth, and the kings and nobles controlled the church. Politically, Scotland was merely one small part of the rivalry between France and England.

During Knox's early years, a few Scots tried to become Protestant reformers, though they had little hope for reform in either church or government. In the early 1540's, Knox became a follower of the Protestant reformer George Wishart. Early in 1546, Wishart was arrested on the orders of David Cardinal Beaton, and was burned at the stake on a charge of heresy. In revenge, a group of Protestants assassinated the cardinal later that year and seized the castle of St. Andrews, his residence. Knox did not take part in the assassination, but he joined the Protestants in the castle. Mary of Guise, the Roman Catholic pro-French regent of Scotland, asked for assistance from France. The French fleet captured the castle in July 1547, and Knox and several others were taken to France as galley slaves.

Later career. In 1549, the English government obtained the release of Knox and his associates. The government wanted them to build a pro-English Protestant party in Scotland. But the pro-French Catholics in Scotland were too strong, and so Knox went to England as a minister. He preached in Berwick for two years and became known as a radical Protestant reformer. In 1553, Mary Tudor became Queen of England and made Roman Catholicism the state religion again. Knox was one of the Marian Exiles--Protestants who fled to the European continent as religious refugees. While there, he met Calvin in Switzerland.

Late in 1554, Knox became pastor of a church of English refugees in Frankfurt, Germany. He was forced to leave Frankfurt after a conflict with moderate Protestants. He returned to Geneva with most of the English radicals from Frankfurt, and founded a new refugee church. In Geneva, Knox corresponded secretly with Protestants in England, Scotland, and France. He also wrote pamphlets justifying the rights of persecuted people to rebel against tyrannical rulers.

Queen Mary died in 1558, and her successor, Queen Elizabeth, again changed England's state religion. Many Marian Exiles returned, and Knox arrived in Scotland in 1559. The English government helped him and his associates rebel against Mary, Queen of Scots, and establish Protestantism as Scotland's national religion. Mary was a Roman Catholic. Under Knox's leadership, the Scottish Parliament made Presbyterianism the state religion in 1560.

From 1560 until his death, Knox was Scotland's most powerful political and religious leader. He was appointed minister of Edinburgh and preached at St. Giles' Cathedral, which became the political and religious centre of Scotland. His unfinished History of the Reformation of Religion in the Realm of Scotland is a dramatic autobiographical account of the Scottish Reformation to about 1564.

Calvin, John (1509-1564), was one of the chief leaders of the Protestant Reformation. Calvin's brilliant mind, powerful preaching, many books and large correspondence, and capacity for organization and administration made him a dominant figure of the Reformation. He was especially influential in Switzerland, England, Scotland, and colonial North America.

His life. Calvin was born in Noyon, France, near Compiegne. His father was a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin was educated in Paris, Orleans, and Bourges. After his father's death in 1531, he studied Greek and Latin at the University of Paris. Thus, Calvin's education reflected the influence of the liberal and humanistic Renaissance. Unlike several other leaders of the Reformation, Calvin was probably never ordained a priest.

By 1533, Calvin had declared himself a Protestant. In 1534, he settled in Basel, Switzerland. There, he published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). This book achieved immediate recognition and, Calvin expanded it throughout his life. The book sets forth Calvin's basic ideas on religion and is a masterpiece of Reformation literature.

In 1536, Calvin was persuaded to become a leader of the first group of Protestant pastors in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1538, Geneva leaders reacted against the strict doctrines of the Protestant pastors, and Calvin and several other clergymen were banished. Later that year, Calvin became pastor of a French refugee Protestant church in Strasbourg, Germany, where he was influenced by the older German Protestant leaders, especially Martin Bucer. Calvin adapted Bucer's ideas on church government and worship.

Geneva lacked able religious and political leadership. The Geneva city council begged Calvin to return, and he did so in 1541. From then until his death, Calvin was the dominant personality in Geneva.

Calvinism. From its beginning in 1517, the Reformation brought religious and political opposition from the church and from civil rulers. By 1546, many Protestants in Germany, Switzerland, and France were insisting that the people--not just kings and bishops--should share in political and religious policy-making. This idea influenced Calvin and his followers in France, England, Scotland, and the Netherlands. Calvin's French followers were called Huguenots. The English Protestants whom he influenced were called Puritans.

The Calvinists developed political theories that supported constitutional government, representative government, the right of people to change their government, and the separation of civil government from church government. Calvinists of the 1500's intended these ideas to apply only to the aristocracy. But during the 1600's, more democratic concepts arose, especially in England and later in colonial America.

Calvin agreed with other early Reformation leaders on such basic religious theories as the superiority of faith over good works, the Bible as the basis of all Christian teachings, and the universal priesthood of all believers. According to the concept of universal priesthood, all believers were considered priests. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, had various ranks of priests that were separate from laypersons.

Calvin also declared that people were saved solely by the grace of God, and that only people called the Elect would be saved. However, nobody could know who the Elect were. Calvin expanded the idea that Christianity was intended to reform all of society, and he lectured and wrote on politics, social problems, and international issues as part of Christian responsibility.

Many of Calvin's ideas were controversial, but no other reformer did so much to force people to think about Christian social ethics. From this ethical concern and Bucer's ideas, Calvin developed the pattern of church government that today is called presbyterian. Calvin organized the church government separately from civil government, so that an organized body of church leaders could work for social reform. He was the first Protestant leader in Europe to gain partial church independence from the state.


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