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A Whirlwind Tour of the Protestant
John Wycliffe (1330-84)
Attacked what he saw as corruptions within the church, including:
- The sale of indulgences
- The excessive veneration of saints
- The low moral and intellectual standards of ordained priests.
Wycliffe's political ideas included:
- The rejection of the right to property
- The rejection of the hierarchical organization of society
Wycliffe also repudiated the doctrine of transubstantiation, held
that the Bible was the sole standard of Christian doctrine, and argued that the authority
of the Pope was not well-grounded in Scripture. Some of Wycliffe's early followers
translated the Bible into English, while later followers, known as Lollards, held that the
Bible was the sole authority and that Christians were called upon to interpret the Bible
for themselves. The Lollards also argued against clerical celibacy, transubstantiation,
mandatory oral confession, pilgrimages, and indulgences.
John Huss (1372-1415)
A Bohemian priest, excommunicated in 1410, and burned at the
stake for heresy in 1415. His death lead to the Hussite Wars in Bohemia. Huss followed
Wycliffe's teachings closely, translating Wycliffe's Trialogus into
Czechoslovakian, and modeling the first ten chapters of his own De Ecclesia after
- Believed in predestination
- Regarded the Bible as the ultimate religious authority
- Argued that Christ, rather than any ecclesiastical official, is
the true head of the church.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
10/31/1517--Nails his 95 theses onto the door of Castle
Church at Wittenberg. These theses were Latin propositions opposing the manner in which
indulgences (release from the temporal penalties for sin through the payment of money)
were being sold in order to raise money for the building of Saint Peter's in Rome.
6/15/1520--Condemnation of his teachings.
4/1521--Diet of Worms. Luther is summoned to appear before
Emperor Charles and asked to recant. He refused, declaring that he would have to be
persuaded by Scripture and reason in order to do so. The statement "Here I stand, I
cannot do otherwise," is probably legendary.
In Lutheran Germany, an episcopal (bishop-based) form of
Church government is retained.
Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531)
Swiss theologian and leader of early Reformation movements in
1518--Vigorously denounces the sale of indulgences.
Zwingli believed that:
- The Bible was the sole source of moral authority.
- Everything in the Roman Catholic system not specifically
prescribed in the Scriptures should be eliminated.
Under Zwingli's leadership:
- Religious relics were burned.
- Ceremonial processions and the adoration of the saints were
- Priests and monks were released from their vows of celibacy.
- The Mass was replaced by a simpler communion service.
John Calvin (1509-64)
Calvin was a French Protestant theologian who fled religious
persecution in France and settled in Geneva in 1536.
Instituted a Presbyterian form of Church government in Geneva.
Insisted on reforms including:
- The congregational singing of the Psalms as part of church
- The teaching of a catechism and confession of faith to children.
- The enforcement of a strict moral discipline in the community by
the pastors and members of the church.
- The excommunication of egregious sinners.
Geneva was, under Calvin, essentially a theocracy. Household
conduct was rigidly inspected. Dress and behavior were subject to minute details of
regulation. Forbidden activities included: Dancing, Card playing, and Dicing. Less
innocuous activities such as blasphemy were subjected to the most severe punishments.
Nonconformists were persecuted and even put to death. All citizens were provided with at
least an elementary education so that they might read and understand the Bible.
John Knox (1513-1572)
An ardent disciple of Calvin, Knox established Calvinism as
the national religion of Scotland.
1560--Knox persuades the Scottish Parliament to adopt a
confession of faith and book of discipline modeled on those in use at Geneva. The
Parliament creates the Scottish Presbyterian church and provides for the government of the
church by local kirk sessions and by a general assembly representing the local churches of
the entire country.
Henry VIII (1491-1547)
1531--Henry VIII wishes to divorce Catherine of Aragón
because the marriage has not produced a male heir.
His marriage normally would be illegal under ecclesiastical law
because Catharine was the widow of his brother, but it had been allowed by a special
dispensation from the pope. Henry claims that the papal dispensation contradicted
ecclesiastical law and that therefore the marriage is invalid. The pope upholds the
validity of the dispensation and refuses to annul the marriage.
Zwingli and Johannes Oecolampadius consider Henry's marriage
invalid, but Luther and Melanchthon declare it binding.
1533--Henry marries Anne Boleyn, and two months later he
had the archbishop of Canterbury pronounce his divorce from Catherine.
1533--Henry is excommunicated by the pope.
1534--Henry has Parliament pass an act appointing the king
and his successors supreme head of the Church of England, thus establishing an independent
national Anglican church.
1536-1539--The monasteries are suppressed and their
1539--The Act of Six Articles makes it heretical to deny
the main theological tenets of medieval Roman Catholicism. Obedience to the papacy remains
a criminal offense. Lutherans are burned as heretics, and Roman Catholics who refuse to
recognize the ecclesiastical supremacy of the king (most notably, Sir Thomas More) are
King Edward VI (1537-53)
The Protestant doctrines and practices opposed by Henry VIII are
introduced into the Anglican church.
1547--The Act of Six Articles is repealed.
1547--Continental reformers, such as the German Martin
Bucer, are invited to preach in England.
1549--A complete vernacular Book of Common Prayer is
issued to provide uniformity of service in the Anglican church, and its use is enforced by
1552--A second Prayer Book is published, and a new creed
in 42 articles is adopted.
Mary I (1516-58)
Mary attempts to restore Roman Catholicism as the state religion,
and during her reign many Protestants are burned at the stake.
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
1563--Protestantism is restored.
- The 42 articles of the Anglican creed adopted under Edward VI are
reduced to Thirty-nine Articles. This creed is closer to Lutheranism than to Calvinism.
- Large numbers of people in Elizabeth's time do not consider the
Church of England sufficiently reformed and non-Roman. They are known as dissenters or
nonconformists and eventually form or become members of numerous Calvinist sects such as
the Brownists, Presbyterians, Puritans, Separatists, and Quakers.
The Episcopal organization and ritual of the Anglican Church is
substantially the same as that of the Roman Catholic Church.
James I (1566-1625)
"No Bishop, No King." James ties the Episcopal form of
church government directly to the power of kingship. This statement would serve ironically
as a kind of rallying cry for the anti-prelatical and anti-Charles I forces during the
Charles I (1600-1649)
1637--Attempts, under the influence of Archbishop William
Laud, to impose the Anglican liturgy in Scotland leading to rioting by Presbyterian Scots.
Protestant Church Government (or Polity) in this period can be
broken down roughly into two camps: Episcopacy, and Presbyterianism.
The churches of Lutheran Germany and those of Anglican England
are primarily Episcopal in their polity, while those of the Netherlands, Switzerland, and
Scotland are Presbyterian.
Episcopal vs. Presbyterian: Bishops vs. Presbyters
What exactly is the difference between an Episcopal church
organization and a Presbyterian church organization? The essential difference is that
between the offices of Bishop and Presbyter. In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican
churches, a Bishop is an ecclesiastical official who, through sacramental consecration,
holds special powers in the ministry, and has special administrative powers. (Catholic,
Orthodox, and Anglican churches claim apostolic succession for their bishops, while
Lutheran churches do not.) The English word "bishop" is a translation of the
Greek word episkopos, which means "overseer." A presbyter does not hold
such special office nor have such special powers (nor is any claim of apostolic succession
made). Presbyterian churches are less hierarchical in their organization than are
Episcopal churches: the Presbyterian Church takes literally Luther's idea (developed and
systematized by Calvin) of a "priesthood of all believers." The Presbyterian
Minister is conceived of as a servant to the congregation rather than as a leader of the
congregation. The English word "presbyter" is a translation of the Greek presbuteros,
which means "elder."
The argument made by Calvin and later Calvinist supporters (such
as the Milton of the anti-prelatical tracts of the early 1640s) of a Presbyterian church
government runs as follows:
Presbyterianism is a "rediscovery" of the apostolic
model found in the Greek Scriptures. (Many supporters of a Presbyterian arrangement hold
it to be the only permissible form of ecclesiastical government.) This claim is based on
such texts as Acts 11:30 and 15:22, which describe a church government that closely
resembles that of the Jewish synagogues of the time, each of which was governed by a group
of "elders" (presbuteroi, or "presbyters"). Acts 14:23,
describes Paul appointing these presbuteroi in Churches he founded during his
ministry. In these early congregations, the terms for presbyter and bishop (presbuteros
and episkopos) were used interchangeably, and did not serve to distinguish any
necessary or Biblically-prescribed hierarchical distinctions (see Acts 20:17 and 20:28).
Episcopacy establishes distinctions between believers that cannot be justified by
Scripture, and bishops are spiritual and temporal usurpers who are dangerous to both their
flocks and to their civil rulers.
The defenders of the Episcopal structure of the English Church
argue that authority for Episcopacy is found both in Scripture and tradition.
Richard Hooker argues against the Puritan notion
that Scripture is the sole source of guidance for either church doctrine or church
1593--Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
- Contradicts the Puritan notion that Scripture was the only guide
either to man's conduct or his construction of Church government.
- Beyond, and before, Scripture is another source of truth--the law
of nature: "an infallible knowledge imprinted in the mindes of all the children of
men, whereby both generall principles for directing humane actions are comprehended, and
conclusions derived from them" (Polity , I, viii, 3 1611 edition).
- Even without Scripture the law of nature acts to spur man to
perfection and to show him his obligations to other men in society.
- With the law of nature God "illuminateth every one which
cometh into the world,"
Bishop Joseph Hall is the most famous (and most
temperate) spokesman for the Anglican Episcopal cause in Milton's day (unlike Archbishop
William Laud, Bishop Hall never ordered the removal of a dissident's ears). Hall argues
that Bishops were appointed in the early church as overseers for groups of presbyters as
the church's membership increased. According to Hall, this overseer function of the
bishops served to prevent the spread of schism and heresy, helping to keep Christian
worship pure and undefiled.
1640--Episcopacie by Divine Right
- Traces the origin of bishops and justifies hierarchy by the
practice of the early church.
- Bishops justified by the Holy Ghost.
- Episcopacy--"an eminent order of sacred function, appointed
by the Holy Ghost, in the Evangelicall Church, for the governing and overseeing thereof;
and for that purpose, besides the Administration of the Word and Sacraments, indued with
the power of imposition of hands, and perpetuity of Jurisdiction." (Part II, p. 4)
- In any single church, all is done with the consent of the
presbyters, but with the power of the bishops who receive their power in a direct line
from the apostles.
- "The apostles, by the direction of the Spirit of God, found
it requisite and necessary for the avoyding of schisme and disorder that some eminent
persons should every where be lifted up above the rest." (Part II, pp. 21,22)
The "typical" Presbyterian response to this line of
reasoning is made by a group of ministers known collectively as Smectymnuus.
(An acronym derived from the initials of Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young,
Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstowe).
1641 (February)--An Anti-Remonstrance to the Late Humble
- Antiquity is no argument for Episcopacy
- Bishops' fees contrary to the customs of the early church.
- The distance between minister and archbishop violates the spirit
of the early church.
- Bishops have no right to delegate deputies to preach for them or
sit as judges in courts.
- Reviews the abuses of excommunication, commuting of bodily penance
to monetary payment, and argues that the church government cannot claim divine authority
because of its numerous violations of the customs of early Christianity.
1641 (June 26)--A Vindication of the Answer to the Humble
Remonstrance, from the Unjust Imputations of Frivolosnesse and Falsehood
- Reviews further arguments against a mandatory liturgy, using the
liturgies of Justin martyr and Tertullian as examples.
- Dissenters to the Church of England created by the Prelates, not
- Wide difference between the Reformations on the Continent and in
England: "Our first Reformation was onely in doctrine, theirs in doctrine and
discipline too." (39)
- English bishops must trace their lineage through the hated
Catholic Church, drawing "the line of their pedigree through the loynes of
- Ancient bishops never sought superior power.
- Ancient bishops were preaching bishops.
- Question: "What is the Church of England?" The Laudian
Canons of 1640? The particular forms and ceremonies used?
- Smectymnuuns object to the appropriation by the bishops of the
sole right to define the Church of England.
William Laud is perhaps most famous as the
Archbishop of Canterbury under Charles I, and as the force behind the Star Chamber trials
of the 1630s and early 1640s.
Ordained in the Church of England in 1601, he became bishop of
Saint David's, Scotland, in 1621. Laud was made bishop of London in 1628, chancellor of
Oxford in 1629, and archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. Laud fiercely opposed the church
reforms proposed by the Puritans, and he staunchly supported King Charles I in his battle
Laud, with the support of Charles, attempted to introduce the
Anglican liturgy in Scotland in 1637. This resulted in a riot in Saint Giles Cathedral in
Edinburgh. This led to the Solemn League and Covenant of 1638, the First Bishop's War in
1639, and finally to the meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640, by whom Laud was
impeached for treason. Laud's impeachment by the House of Commons was nullified by the
House of Lords, but soon afterwards he was condemned under a bill of attainder and
beheaded on 1/10/1645.
1) Acted without doubts in suspending preachers: "Nor have I
by these Suspensions, hindred the Preaching of Gods Word, but of Schism and Sedition"
(History of the Troubles and Tryal of . . . William Laud, ed. Henry Wharton, 1695,
2) Refugees at fault, not him: "Nor have I caused any of his
Majesty's Subjects to forsake the Kingdom; but they forsook it of themselves, being
Separatists from the Church of England; as is more than manifest to any Man, that will but
consider what kind of Persons went to New-England" (Ibid).
3) "They have thrust themselves out" (p. 509).
4) No middle ground--anyone who did not worship according to
prescribed ritual was a Separatist, no matter how small the deviation.
5) From Constitutions and Canons Eclesiastical (1640):
"The most High and Sacred order of Kings is of Divine right, being the ordinance of
God himself, founded in the prime laws of nature." This was to be read by each parish
priest four times during the year.
Why is any of this important? Who cares whether a church is
governed by men called bishops or men called presbyters? The matter of how the Christian
Church was organized was of the utmost importance because many English Protestants
believed that, with the "overthrow" of the Roman Church, Christ was preparing
"his Englishmen" to be a kind of theological lamp to the world. In John Davis's The
World's Hydrographical description (1595) the English are "by the eternal and
infallible presence of the Lord predestined to be sent unto all these Gentiles . . . to
give light to all the rest of the world" (Hughes 743, n. 236). In John Milton's Areopagitica
(1644) England is a "nation chosen before any other . . . a nation of prophets, of
sages, and of worthies" (Hughes 743). What could be more important for such a
"chosen nation" than the organization of its worship? Polity and Politics are
not separate in a "nation of prophets."
The English reformation differs from those in Germany,
Switzerland, and France in two respects:
- England is a small country with a strong central government;
therefore, unlike the continental experience of revolution splitting a country into
regional factions or parties and ending in civil war, the English revolt is national. The
king and Parliament act together in transferring to the king the ecclesiastical
jurisdiction previously exercised by the pope.
- In the continental countries agitation for religious reform among
the people precedes and causes the political break with the papacy. In England the
political break comes first, as a result of a decision by King Henry VIII to divorce his
first wife, and the change in religious doctrine comes afterward in the reigns of King
Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I.
Basic Calvinist (Presbyterian) Doctrine can be summed up with
the acronym TULIP:
Total Depravity: Man in his fallen, sinful state does
"not receive the things of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know
them, for they are spiritually discerned." Fallen and unregenerate man finds himself
"dead in trespasses and sin." He is unable to help himself and cannot be
delivered from this dreadful state except through the unmerited grace of God our Savior.
Unconditional Election: God has not left mankind to perish
in its sin, but has from all eternity chosen to save unto himself a people which no man
can number. God has chosen "us in Him before the foundation of the world." This
means that those who will be saved are those who have been chosen to be saved by the
sovereign Lord, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy." He does not
base His election on any condition within man, "lest anyone should boast."
Limited (or Definite) Atonement: Christ's atonement was
designed specifically for the redemption of His people; "I lay My life down for My
sheep." He did not shed His blood for those who will not come to Him, He has not paid
the price for their sin -- they will. "I do not pray for the whole world but for
those you have given me."
Irresistible Grace: Those whom He has chosen will surely
come to Him. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." God
sends His Holy Spirit to effectually work in the hearts of His elect for whom Christ died;
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you." The "gifts
and the calling of God are irrevocable."
Perseverance of the Saints: "My Father, who has given
them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's
hand." Salvation was not merited by any, and the eternal security of His true sheep
is never dependent on them, for "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it
until the day of Jesus Christ." The true believer will persevere by God's grace.
Those who fall away from the faith prove that they were never really saved in the first
The Tyranny of Heaven
Milton's Rejection of God as King
(U. Delaware Press, 2004)
Read a sample of this book
The Tyranny of Heaven argues for
a new way of reading the figure of Milton's God, contending that
Milton rejects kings on earth and in heaven. Though Milton portrays
God as a king in Paradise Lost, he does this neither to
endorse kingship nor to recommend a monarchical model of deity.
Instead, he recommends the Son, who in Paradise Regained
rejects external rule as the model of politics and theology for
Milton's "fit audience though few." The portrait of God in
Paradise Lost serves as a scathing critique of the English
people and its slow but steady backsliding into the political habits
of a nation long used to living under the yoke of kingship, a nation
that maintained throughout its brief period of liberty the image of
God as a heavenly king, and finally welcomed with open arms the
return of a human king.
Tyranny of Heaven