Andrew Lang.

John Knox and the Reformation online

. (page 12 of 20)
Online LibraryAndrew LangJohn Knox and the Reformation → online text (page 12 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


lay a Confession before the House. {172}

It will be observed that, in the petition, "Emperors, Kings, and Princes"
have "lawful authority" over the clergy. But that doctrine assumes,
tacitly, that such rulers are of Knox's own opinions: the Kirk later
resolutely stood up against kings like James VI., Charles I., and Charles
II.

The Confession was drawn up, presented, and ratified in a very few days:
it was compiled in four. The Huguenots in Paris, in 1559, "established a
record" by drawing up a Confession containing eighty articles in three
days. Knox and his coadjutors were relatively deliberate. They aver
that all points of belief necessary for salvation are contained in the
canonical books of the Bible. Their interpretation pertains to no man or
Church, but solely to "the spreit of God." That "spreit" must have
illuminated the Kirk as it then existed in Scotland, "for we dare not
receive and admit any interpretation which directly repugns to any
principal point of our faith, to any other _plain_ text of Scripture, or
yet unto the rule of charity."

As we, the preachers of the Kirk then extant, were apostate monks or
priests or artisans, about a dozen of us, in Scotland, mankind could not
be expected to regard "our" interpretation, "our faith" as infallible.
The framers of the Confession did not pretend that it was infallible.
They request that, "if any man will note in this our Confession any
article or sentence repugning to God's Holy Word," he will favour them
with his criticism in writing. As Knox had announced six years earlier,
that, "as touching the chief points of religion, I neither will give
place to man or angel . . . teaching the contrair to that which ye have
heard," a controversialist who thought it worth while to criticise the
Confession must have deemed himself at least an archangel. Two years
later, written criticism was offered, as we shall see, with a demand for
a written reply. The critic escaped arrest by a lucky accident.

The Confession, with practically no criticism or opposition, was passed
en bloc on August 17. The Evangel is candidly stated to be "death to the
sons of perdition," but the Confession is offered hopefully to "weak and
infirm brethren." Not to enter into the higher theology, we learn that
the sacraments can only be administered "by lawful ministers." We learn
that _they_ are "such as are appointed to the preaching of the Word, or
into whose mouth God has put some sermon of exhortation" and who are
"lawfully chosen thereto by some Kirk." Later, we find that rather more
than this, and rather more than some of the "trew ministeris" then had,
is required.

As the document reaches us, it appears to have been "mitigated" by
Lethington and Wynram, the Vicar of Bray of the Reformation. They
altered, according to the English resident, Randolph, "many words and
sentences, which sounded to proceed rather of some evil conceived opinion
than of any sound judgment." As Lethington certainly was not "a lawful
minister," it is surprising if Knox yielded to his criticism.

Lethington and Wynram also advised that the chapter on obedience to the
sovereign power should be omitted, as "an unfit matter to be treated at
this time," when it was not very obvious who the "magistrate" or
authority might be. In this sense Randolph, Arran's English friend,
wrote to Cecil. {174a} The chapter, however, was left standing. The
sovereign, whether in empire, kingdom, duke, prince, or in free cities,
was accepted as "of God's holy ordinance. To him chiefly pertains the
reformation of the religion," which includes "the suppression of idolatry
and superstition"; and Catholicism, we know, is idolatry. Superstition
is less easily defined, but we cannot doubt that, in Knox's mind, the
English liturgy was superstitious. {174b} To resist the Supreme Power,
"doing that which pertains to his charge" (that is, suppressing
Catholicism and superstition, among other things), is to resist God. It
thus appears that the sovereign is not so supreme but that he must be
disobeyed when his mandates clash with the doctrine of the Kirk. Thus
the "magistrate" or "authority" - the State, in fact - is limited by the
conscience of the Kirk, which may, if it pleases, detect idolatry or
superstition in some act of secular policy. From this theory of the Kirk
arose more than a century of unrest.

On August 24, the practical consequences of the Confession were set forth
in an Act, by which all hearers or celebrants of the Mass are doomed, for
the first offence, to mere confiscation of all their goods and to
corporal punishment: exile rewards a repetition of the offence: the third
is punished by death. "Freedom from a persecuting spirit is one of the
noblest features of Knox's character," says Laing; "neither led away by
enthusiasm nor party feelings nor success, to retaliate the oppressions
and atrocities that disgraced the adherents of popery." {174c} This is
an amazing remark! Though we do not know that Knox was ever "accessory
to the death of a single individual for his religious opinions," we do
know that he had not the chance; the Government, at most, and years
later, put one priest to death. But Knox always insisted, vainly, that
idolaters "must die the death."

To the carnal mind these rules appear to savour of harshness. The carnal
mind would not gather exactly what the new penal laws were, if it
confined its study to the learned Dr. M'Crie's Life of Knox. This
erudite man, a pillar of the early Free Kirk, mildly remarks, "The
Parliament . . . prohibited, under certain penalties, the celebration of
the Mass." He leaves his readers to discover, in the Acts of Parliament
and in Knox, what the "certain penalties" were. {175} The Act seems, as
Knox says about the decrees of massacre in Deuteronomy, "rather to be
written in a rage" than in a spirit of wisdom. The majority of the human
beings then in Scotland probably never had the dispute between the old
and new faiths placed before them lucidly and impartially. Very many of
them had never heard the ideas of Geneva stated at all. "So late as
1596," writes Dr. Hay Fleming, "there were above four hundred parishes,
not reckoning Argyll and the Isles, which still lacked ministers." "The
rarity of learned and godly men" of his own persuasion, is regretted by
Knox in the Book of Discipline. Yet Catholics thus destitute of
opportunity to know and recognise the Truth, are threatened with
confiscation, exile, and death, if they cling to the only creed which
they have been taught - after August 17, 1560. The death penalty was
threatened often, by Scots Acts, for trifles. In this case the graduated
scale of punishment shows that the threat is serious.

This Act sounds insane, but the Convention was wise in its generation.
Had it merely abolished the persecuting laws of the Church, Scotland
might never have been Protestant. The old faith is infinitely more
attractive to mankind than the new Presbyterian verity. A thing of slow
and long evolution, the Church had assimilated and hallowed the world-old
festivals of the year's changing seasons. She provided for the human
love of recreation. Her Sundays were holidays, not composed of gloomy
hours in stuffy or draughty kirks, under the current voice of the
preacher. Her confessional enabled the burdened soul to lay down its
weight in sacred privacy; her music, her ceremonies, the dim religious
light of her fanes, naturally awaken religious emotion. While these
things, with the native tendency to resist authority of any kind,
appealed to the multitude, the position of the Church, in later years,
recommended itself to many educated men in Scotland as more logical than
that of Knox; and convert after convert, in the noble class, slipped over
to Rome. The missionaries of the counter-Reformation, but for the
persecuting Act, would have arrived in a Scotland which did not
persecute, and the work of the Convention of 1560 might all have been
undone, had not the stringent Act been passed.

That Act apparently did not go so far as the preachers desired. Thus
Archbishop Hamilton, writing to Archbishop Beaton in Paris, the day after
the passing of the Act, says, "All these new preachers openly persuade
the nobility in the pulpit, to put violent hands, and slay all churchmen
that will not concur and adopt their opinion. They only reproach my Lord
Duke" (the Archbishop's brother), "that he will not begin first, and
either cause me to do as they do, or else to use rigour on me by
slaughter, sword, or, at least, perpetual prison." {177a} It is probable
that the Archbishop was well informed as to what the bigots were saying,
though he is not likely to have "sat under" them; moreover, he would hear
of their advice from his brother, the Duke, with whom he had just held a
long conference. {177b} Lesley, Bishop of Ross, in his "History,"
praises the humanity of the nobles, "for at this time few Catholics were
banished, fewer were imprisoned, and none were executed." The nobles
interfering, the threatened capital punishment was not carried out. Mob
violence, oppression by Protestant landlords, Kirk censure, imprisonment,
fine, and exile, did their work in suppressing idolatry and promoting
hypocrisy.

No doubt this grinding ceaseless daily process of enforcing Truth, did
not go far enough for the great body of the brethren, especially the
godly burgesses of the towns; indeed, as early as June 10, 1560, the
Provost, Bailies, and Town Council of Edinburgh proclaimed that idolaters
must instantly and publicly profess their conversion before the Ministers
and Elders on the penalty of the pillory for the first offence,
banishment from the town for the second, and death for the third. {177c}

It must always be remembered that the threat of the death penalty often
meant, in practice, very little. It was denounced, under Mary of Guise
(February 9, 1559), against men who bullied priests, disturbed services,
and ate meat in Lent. It was denounced against shooters of wild fowl,
and against those, of either religious party, who broke the Proclamation
of October 1561. Yet "nobody seemed one penny the worse" as regards
their lives, though the punishments of fining and banishing were, on
occasions, enforced against Catholics.

We may marvel that, in the beginning, Catholic martyrs did not present
themselves in crowds to the executioner. But even under the rule of Rome
it would not be easy to find thirty cases of martyrs burned at the stake
by "the bloudie Bishops," between the fifteenth century and the martyrdom
of Myln. By 1560 the old Church was in such a hideous decline - with
ruffianly men of quality in high spiritual places; with priests who did
not attend Mass, and in many cases could not read; with churches left to
go to ruin; with license so notable that, in one foundation, the priest
is only forbidden to keep a _constant_ concubine - that faith had waxed
cold, and no Catholic felt "ripe" for martyrdom. The elements of a
League, as in France, did not exist. There was no fervently Catholic
town population like that of Paris; no popular noble warriors, like the
Ducs de Guise, to act as leaders. Thus Scotland, in this age, ran little
risk of a religious civil war. No organised and armed faction existed to
face the Congregation. When the counter-Reformation set in, many
Catholics endured fines and exile with constancy.

The theology of the Confession of Faith is, of course, Calvinistic. No
"works" are, technically, "good" which are not the work of the Spirit of
our Lord, dwelling in our hearts by faith. "Idolaters," and wicked
people, not having that spirit, can do no good works. The blasphemy that
"men who live according to equity and justice shall be saved, what
religion soever they have professed," is to be abhorred. "The Kirk is
invisible," consisting of the Elect, "who are known only to God." This
gave much cause of controversy to Knox's Catholic opponents. "The notes
of the true Church" are those of Calvin's. As to the Sacrament, though
the elements be not the _natural_ body of Christ, yet "the faithful, in
the right use of the Lord's Table, so do eat the body and drink the blood
of the Lord Jesus that He remains in them and they in Him . . . in such
conjunction with Christ Jesus as the natural man cannot comprehend."

This is a highly sacramental and confessedly mystical doctrine, not less
unintelligible to "the natural man" than the Catholic theory which Knox
so strongly reprobated. Alas, that men called Christian have shed seas
of blood over the precise sense of that touching command of our Lord,
which, though admitted to be incomprehensible, they have yet endeavoured
to comprehend and define!

A serious task for Knox was to draw up, with others, a "Book of the
Policy and Discipline of the Kirk," a task entrusted to them in April
1560. In politics, till January 1561, the Lords hoped that they might
induce Elizabeth (then entangled with Leicester, as Knox knew) to marry
Arran, but whether "Glycerium" (as Bishop Jewel calls her) had already
detected in "the saucy youth" "a half crazy fool," as Mr. Froude says, or
not, she firmly refused. She much preferred Lord Robert Dudley, whose
wife had just then broken her neck. The unfortunate Arran had fought
resolutely, Knox tells us, by the side of Lord James, in the winter of
1559, but he already, in 1560, showed strange moods, and later fell into
sheer lunacy. In December died "the young King of France, husband to our
Jezebel - unhappy Francis . . . he suddenly perished of a rotten ear . . .
in that deaf ear that never would hear the truth of God" (December 5,
1560). We have little of Knox's poetry, but he probably composed a
translation, in verse, of a Latin poem indited by one of "the godly in
France," whence he borrowed his phrase "a rotten ear" (aure putrefacta
corruit).

"Last Francis, that unhappy child,
His father's footsteps following plain,
To Christ's crying deaf ears did yield,
A rotten ear was then his bane."

The version is wonderfully close to the original Latin.

Meanwhile, Francis was hardly cold before Arran wooed his idolatrous
widow, Queen Mary, "with a gay gold ring." She did not respond
favourably, and "the Earl bare it heavily in his heart, and more heavily
than many would have wissed," says Knox, with whom Arran was on very
confidential terms. Knox does not rebuke his passion for Jezebel. He
himself "was in no small heaviness by reason of the late death of his
dear bedfellow, Marjorie Bowes," of whom we know very little, except that
she worked hard to lighten the labours of Knox's vast correspondence. He
had, as he says, "great intelligence both with the churches and some of
the Court of France," and was the first to receive news of the perilous
illness of the young King. He carried the tidings to the Duke and Lord
James, at the Hamilton house near Kirk o' Field, but would not name his
informant. Then came the news of the King's death from Lord Grey de
Wilton, at Berwick, and a Convention of the Nobles was proclaimed for
January 15, 1561, to "peruse newly over again" the Book of Discipline.




CHAPTER XIII: KNOX AND THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE


This Book of Discipline, containing the model of the Kirk, had been seen
by Randolph in August 1560, and he observed that its framers would not
come into ecclesiastical conformity with England. They were "severe in
that they profess, and loth to remit anything of that they have
received." As the difference between the Genevan and Anglican models
contributed so greatly to the Civil War under Charles I., the results may
be regretted; Anglicans, by 1643, were looked on as "Baal worshippers" by
the precise Scots.

In February 1561, Randolph still thought that the Book of Discipline was
rather in advance of what fallen human nature could endure. Idolatry, of
course, was to be removed universally; thus the Queen, when she arrived,
was constantly insulted about her religion. The Lawful Calling of
Ministers was explained; we have already seen that a lawful minister is a
preacher who can get a local set of men to recognise him as such. Knox,
however, before his return to Scotland, had advised the brethren to be
very careful in examining preachers before accepting them. The people
and "every several Congregation" have a right to elect their minister,
and, if they do not do so in six weeks, the Superintendent (a migratory
official, in some ways superior to the clergy, but subject to periodical
"trial" by the Assembly, who very soon became extinct), with his council,
presents a man who is to be examined by persons of sound judgment, and
next by the ministers and elders of the Kirk. Nobody is to be "violently
intrused" on any congregation. Nothing is said about an university
training; moral character is closely scrutinised. On the admission of a
new minister, some other ministers should preach "touching the obedience
which the Kirk owe to their ministers. . . . The people should be
exhorted to reverence and honour their chosen ministers as the servants
and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus, obeying the commandments which they
speak from God's mouth and Book, even as they would obey God himself. . . . "
{182}

The practical result of this claim on the part of the preachers to
implicit obedience was more than a century of turmoil, civil war,
revolution, and reaction. The ministers constantly preached political
sermons, and the State - the King and his advisers - was perpetually
arraigned by them. To "reject" them, "and despise their ministry and
exhortation" (as when Catholics were not put to death on their instance),
was to "reject and despise" our Lord! If accused of libel, or treasonous
libel, or "leasing making," in their sermons, they demanded to be judged
by their brethren. Their brethren acquitting them, where was there any
other judicature? These pretensions, with the right to inflict
excommunication (in later practice to be followed by actual outlawry),
were made, we saw, when there were not a dozen "true ministers" in the
nascent Kirk, and, of course, the claims became more exorbitant when
"true ministers" were reckoned by hundreds. No State could submit to
such a clerical tyranny.

People who only know modern Presbyterianism have no idea of the despotism
which the Fathers of the Kirk tried, for more than a century, to enforce.
The preachers sat in the seats of the Apostles; they had the gift of the
Keys, the power to bind and loose. Yet the Book of Discipline permits no
other ceremony, at the induction of these mystically gifted men, than
"the public approbation of the people, and declaration of the chief
minister" - later there was no "_chief_ minister," there was "parity" of
ministers. Any other ceremony "we cannot approve"; "for albeit the
Apostles used the imposition of hands, yet seeing the miracle is ceased,
the using of the ceremony we judge it not necessary." The miracle had
_not_ ceased, if it was true that "the commandments" issued in
sermons - political sermons often - really deserved to be obeyed, as men
"would obey God himself." C'est la le miracle! There could be no more
amazing miracle than the infallibility of preachers! "The imposition of
hands" was, twelve years later, restored; but as far as infallible
sermons were concerned, the State agreed with Knox that "the miracle had
ceased."

The political sermons are sometimes justified by the analogy of modern
discussion in the press. But leading articles do not pretend to be
infallible, and editors do not assert a right to be obeyed by men, "even
as they would obey God himself." The preachers were often right, often
wrong: their sermons were good, or were silly; but what no State could
endure was the claim of preachers to implicit obedience.

The difficulty in finding really qualified ministers must be met by
fervent prayer, and by compulsion on the part of the Estates of
Parliament.

Failing ministers, Readers, capable of reading the Common Prayers
(presently it was Knox's book of these) and the Bible must be found; they
may later be promoted to the ministry.

Stationary ministers are to receive less sustenance than the migratory
Superintendents; the sons of the preachers must be educated, the
daughters "honestly dowered." The payment is mainly in "bolls" of meal
and malt. The state of the poor, "fearful and horrible" to say, is one
of universal contempt. Provision must be made for the aged and weak.
Superintendents, after election, are to be examined by all the ministers
of the province, and by three or more Superintendents. Other ceremonies
"we cannot allow." In 1581, a Scottish Catholic, Burne, averred that
Willock objected to ceremonies of Ordination, because people would say,
if these are necessary, what minister ordained _you_? The query was hard
to answer, so ceremonies of Ordination could not be allowed. The story
was told to Burne, he says, by an eyewitness, who heard Willock.

Every church must have a schoolmaster, who ought to be able to teach
grammar and Latin. Education should be universal: poor children of
ability must be enabled to pass on to the universities, through secondary
schools. At St. Andrews the three colleges were to have separate
functions, not clashing, and culminating in Divinity.

Whence are the funds to be obtained? Here the authors bid "your Honours"
"have respect to your poor brethren, the labourers of the ground, who by
these cruel beasts, the papists, have been so oppressed . . . " They
ought only to pay "reasonable teinds, that they may feel some benefit of
Christ Jesus, now preached unto them. With grief of heart we hear that
some gentlemen are now as cruel over their tenants as ever were the
papists, requiring of them whatsoever they paid to the Church, so that
the papistical tyranny shall only be changed into the tyranny of the
landlord or laird." Every man should have his own teinds, or tithes;
whereas, in fact, the great lay holders of tithes took them off other
men's lands, a practice leading to many blood-feuds. The attempt of
Charles I. to let "every man have his own tithes," and to provide the
preachers with a living wage, was one of the causes of the distrust of
the King which culminated in the great Civil War. But Knox could not
"recover for the Church her liberty and freedom, and that only for relief
of the poor." "_We speak not for ourselves_" the Book says, "but in
favour of the poor, and the labourers defrauded . . . The Church is only
bound to sustain and nourish her charges . . . to wit the Ministers of
the Kirk, the Poor, and the teachers of youth." The funds must be taken
out of the tithes, the chantries, colleges, chaplainries, and the
temporalities of Bishops, Deans, and cathedrals generally.

The ministers are to have their manses, and glebes of six acres; to this
many of the Lords assented, except, oddly enough, those redoubtable
leaders of the Congregation, Glencairn and Morton, with Marischal. All
the part of the book which most commands our sympathy, the most Christian
part of the book, regulating the disposition of the revenues of the
fallen Church for the good of the poor, of education, and of the Kirk,
remained a dead letter. The Duke, Arran, Lord James, and a few barons,
including the ruffian Andrew Ker of Faldonside, with Glencairn and
Ochiltree, signed it, in token of approval, but little came of it all.
Lethington, probably, was the scoffer who styled these provisions "devout
imaginations." The nobles and lairds, many of them, were converted, in
matter of doctrine; in conduct they were the most avaricious, bloody, and
treacherous of all the generations which had banded, revelled, robbed,
and betrayed in Scotland.

There is a point in this matter of the Kirk's claim to the patrimony of
the old Church which perhaps is generally misunderstood. That point is
luminous as regards the absolute disinterestedness of Knox and his
companions, both in respect to themselves and their fellow-preachers. The
Book of Discipline contains a sentence already quoted, conceived in what
we may justly style a chivalrous contempt of wealth. "Your Honours may
easily understand _that we speak not now for ourselves_, but in favour of
the Poor, and the labourers defrauded . . . " Not having observed a
point which "their Honours" were not the men to "understand easily,"
Father Pollen writes, "the new preachers were loudly _claiming for
themselves_ the property of the rivals whom they had displaced." {186}
For themselves they were claiming a few merks, and a few bolls of meal, a


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryAndrew LangJohn Knox and the Reformation → online text (page 12 of 20)