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John Knox

c.1514-1572. Scottish Reformer. Born at Haddington and educated at St. Andrews, probably under the conciliarist and scholastic John Major, Knox was ordained by the bishop of Dunblane (1536) and later served as a notary (by 1540) and a private tutor (by 1543). Thomas Gilyem (Gwilliam) converted him to Protestantism. He was subsequently influenced by the more zealous principles of John Rough and George Wishart,* a disciple of Lutheran and Swiss theology. Knox was indebted to Wishart for his sense of prophetic vocation, his tendency toward theological eclecticism, and his adherence to Bucer's doctrine of the Lord's Supper. Following Wishart's martyrdom (1546), Knox contemplated going to Germany, but renewed action against heretics caused him to go to St. Andrews Castle, where he was called as preacher. When the castle fell, he was taken to France and made a galley slave. While thus detained, he wrote a précis of Henry Balnaves's compendium of Protestant thought, which drew heavily on Luther's commentary on Galatians. In it Knox embraced Luther's doctrine of justification.

After being freed early in 1549, Knox went to England and was appointed preacher at Berwick. His sermons attacked the Mass as idolatrous, and he was summoned to answer for his views before the Council of the North at Newcastle (1550). Through the influence of Northumberland, Knox preached before the royal court in 1552. At Windsor he criticized the provision in the forthcoming Second Book of Common Prayer calling for kneeling during Communion; his efforts were largely responsible for the inclusion of the Black Rubric. Sensing trouble, he refused the bishopric of Rochester, but not because he opposed episcopacy. As one of the preachers of the 1553 Lenten sermons, he warned of the dangers of secret Catholics in political offices. Following Mary's accession, he fled to the Continent. He met with Calvin* in Geneva, Bullinger* in Zurich, and other Swiss leaders, posing questions on rebellion against idolatrous monarchs and female sovereigns.

At Calvin's urging Knox became pastor of the English congregation at Frankfurt in 1554. A dispute over the Book of Common Prayer led to his ouster and return to Geneva in 1555. The same year he went back to Scotland and openly preached Protestant doctrine. He was summoned to appear in Edinburgh in May 1556 on a charge of heresy, but the regent's intervention resulted in a quashing of the summons. He left Scotland that year to become pastor of the English congregation in Geneva. There he wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), arguing that female sovereignty contravened natural and divine law. The Blast was aimed primarily at Mary Tudor, but shortly after its appearance Elizabeth was crowned, making Knox's name odious in Elizabeth's court. Even Calvin was displeased, prompting Knox to write a treatise against an “Anabaptist” in defense of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. The treatise is untypical of Knox's style and basic theological concerns. In the summer of 1558 Knox wrote three more tracts setting forth his theory of lawful rebellion against idolatrous princes, including rebellion by commoners.

The Protestant lords in Scotland sought Knox's return, and he arrived in May 1559. In addition to preaching he negotiated with the English for troops and money. With John Willock and others, he played a major role in drafting the Scots Confession,* which Parliament approved in August 1560. With Willock, John Douglas, and three others, he also drafted the Book of Discipline. After Mary Stuart's return in 1561, Knox denounced her masses and court life at Holyroodhouse. During her reign Knox had three interviews with Mary in which he defended his opposition to idolatry. In 1561-62 he engaged in a controversy on ordination with Ninian Winzet, a Catholic priest and educator. Knox claimed that he, like Amos and John the Baptist, had extraordinary calling, but lacked the miraculous power to demonstrate it. Knox also disputed with Quintin Kennedy, abbot of Crossraguel, on the Mass. In 1567 he visited England, afterward refusing to sanction separation from the Church of England. Following Darnley's murder, he returned to Scotland the month (June) Mary was captured. He demanded her execution. After her abdication he preached at the coronation of her son James (see James VI and I).

Knox was a man of conviction and courage, whose declamations against idolatry overshadowed the warmer side of his nature. His most notable work was the History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland, the first complete edition of which was published in 1644. He gave to the Kirk of Scotland an eclectic theology and polity, helped draw up its Book of Common Order, and planted the seeds for the later development of Covenant thought in Scotland. His broad view of ecumenical fellowship with Protestant churches in England and on the Continent tempered the spirit of Scottish nationalism during his lifetime.

Knox's Works (ed. David Laing, 6 vols., 1846-64); his History (ed. W.C. Dickinson, 2 vols., 1949): major biographies by P.H. Brown (1895), E. Percy (1937), J. Ridley (1968), and W.S. Reid, Trumpeter of God (1974); on Knox's thought, see J.S. McEwen, The Faith of John Knox (1961).