The Protestant Reformation in England and Scotland compared.

England became a melting pot for new ideas and the Protestant faith driven along by the likes of John Wyckcliffe  (1329-1384) who was in the vanguard of the assault on the Church of Rome. He came to notice as a teacher of philosophy at Oxford and wielded considerable influence, writing and debating zealously  in defence of an English, protestant church and against  the Papacy. He soon raised the temperature of debates by attacking the excesses of the church of Rome, and promoting the right of the government to seize the assets of  corrupt clergy. Closely associated with Wyckcliffe was the Czech Jan Hus (1374-1415) who also opposed the pope and the practice of indulgences. Their followers became known as the Lollards. As their views took hold, especially among the tradesmen and peasants, social disorder became the excuse for suppression and many moved on into Wales and south western Scotland. 

Critical to the Reformation in both countries was Wyckcliffe`s translation of the Bible from Latin into English in 1380. This for the first time allowed the common man to read and make his own judgments on the Word of God. However, as a manuscript version, copies and extracts were expensive, slow in circulation and the sources more easily identified by the clerics. A vital catalyst in later years was the printing press brought to England by Caxton. This enabled many more copies of the Bible, and other tracts to be published. Moreover, the simplicity of the language also helped to standardise English from the many regional dialects that existed. Thus there was already a movement against the Church of Rome, it`s beliefs and practices, long before the historical and largely political break effected by Henry VIII.

It is generally known that Henry VIII created the Church of England more as a political act, to facilitate his divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. It was a momentous decision in its own right since it meant a clear break with Spain, Rome and the Papal authority and a risk of war.  In 1529 Parliament met at the behest of Henry to make the necessary changes, and appointed the King as its Supreme Head. At the same time payments to Rome were terminated and further payments prohibited. Subsequently there followed the dissolution of the monasteries which raised immense sums of money for the lavish spending king and the navy that he was building.

However the changes to religion itself were not consistent and on widely differing principles. In England the papal supremacy was transferred to the King  and the church hierarchy subjected to his authority, but they were allowed to remain in office. There were some changes to the services but essentially it remained `popish` in content and conduct. It was not until the short reign of Edward VI when Cranmer`s influence is most seen. This was reflected in the Injunctions to the Church of England, which clearly abolished the rites and ceremonies, creeds and idolatry of the Church of Rome. This was then savaged by Edward`s successor, `Bloody Mary` who returned to all the excesses of popery, before finally settled by Elizabeth I.

In essence the Reformation in England was by means of the Scriptures. It did not have the gladiators like Luther,  Zwingli , Calvin or Knox, but had the widely circulated and read Holy Word as its foundation. Many gave witness for their faith and suffered over the two centuries that it took to effect reform; but the change on the hearts and minds of the people was very deep and lasting. Notably there was a change in the physical administration without an immediate attempt to replace the doctrine, thus leaving scope for ongoing debate , and dissent.

 In the Scottish Reformation the policy of the Reformers, the Confession of Faith, was approved by the Lords of the Articles and the whole Parliament. Only then were the primary acts forbidding the Mass, papal authority and repeal of  statutes favouring Romish practices,  enacted. The Church of Rome was not technically abolished -  only its mechanisms in Scotland. The practical effect was that all semblance and trace of the Church of Rome was removed from public places as not having divine authority, or was burdensome or unprofitable to the people. The worship and management of the approved church in Scotland ( not the Church of Scotland) was reduced to the primitive simplicity of the Scriptures, and moreover, it was done within months, not the centuries that it took England to sort itself out. By adopting the Confession of Faith the basic difference between the churches was crystallised in one question  - Is the Pope the sole Vicar  and vice Regent of God on earth ? This remains the singular point of difference between the Roman and all other Christian churches.

 In England there were hopes that the Protestant Reformation would be advanced further when Edward VI succeeded to the crown and Archbishop Cranmer was able to influence issues. Edward was strongly inclined to comply with the precepts of the Scriptures and to allow freedom of worship which, had he lived, would have completed a greater reformation in England that would have been closer to the form of other reformed churches. Among his endeavours was to bring leading teachers and theologians to the English universities including Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer,  Lever ( Knox`s colleague in Frankfort), Grindal who became successively Bishop of London, Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury; and the martyr John Bradford who was burnt at the stake in July 1555. He further had support from Martin Bucer from Strasbourg, Peter Martyr from Italy who were professors at Oxford and Cambridge, and John A. Lasco a nobleman from Poland  who superintended a congregation of about 3000 German, Italian and French Protestants in London. However, the young kings early death, aged but sixteen years in 1563, and the succession of  his catholic sister "Bloody Mary" brought reform to a halt  There followed a period of persecution and terror in which some 300 non conformists / Protestants were executed for alleged heresy, including Cranmer, Latimer, Bradford and Ridley.

While in England John Knox was, among other things, consulted on the  Book of Common Prayer and made suggestions to the governing council at the time for removing certain practices. He was naturally pleased that some of his suggestions were taken up although the infrastructure of the Church of England gave cause for concern. While on the continent and with Calvin in Geneva, Knox developed an increasing distaste for the English liturgy and hardened his pre-existing views on ecclesiastical government. As far as the Scottish Reformation is concerned, it should be remembered that Knox saw in Geneva a church whose form came near to his own  ideals, but he did not slavishly follow or imitate it when he returned to Scotland. Knox was firmly of the opinion that the clergy ought not to be involved and diverted from their official duties, by holding civil appointments. He thought that the bishops (for whom he saw no provision  in the Scriptures) should divest themselves  of secular titles and `dignities`. The bishoprics he considered should be divided so that a a godly and learned man could be appointed in every town and city; and that schools should be established throughout the nation.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 she was obliged to apply some toleration because of the threats of civil war and hostility from France and Spain. She consolidated the establishment of the Church of England with herself as Supreme Governor and An Act of Uniformity in 1559 restored the Articles and the Prayer Book of Edward VI. But the Act was severely restrictive and retained episcopacy and some alleged `popish` practices - much to the dissatisfaction of Calvinists and the Puritan religious refugees returning from exile on the continent.

Although some of the grossest idolatry and superstition was removed, the consolidation of the Church by Elizabeth I left it rigid in form and practice. There was an extreme paucity of useful preachers and the bishops still had a role, while the returning exiles were desirous of further improvement. The simplicity of the Scriptures was not adopted with elements such as crossing at baptism, kneeling in the Eucharist, theatrical dress and repetition of prayers by rote remaining in use. Among other things of censure were the great number of ignorant priests who had been accustomed to  simply saying mass and singing the litany, the reading of homilies, the mumbling of prayers, the chanting of matins, and even-song instead of preaching. The celebration  of the sacraments was made without any instruction to the people, while there was the scandal of pluralities with many priests and bishops holding several official appointments from which they were frequently absentees.

Thus the incomplete reformation in England ( by Calvinist standards) was exposed to further demands for change by those who became to be known as Puritans.

In common with Scotland, religious practices became a source of irritation, then confrontation under the Stuart kings intent on their own `Divine Right` way of rule, and the church of their choice. This friction, and eventually persecution, continued right through the seventeenth century until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the establishment of a democratic and constitutional monarchy under William III and Mary.

The First Admonition to Parliament 1572.

18/07/2011

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