Reformation in Great Britain under Elizabeth

Course: Church History II

Lecture: Reformation in Great Britain under Elizabeth


Answering Questions

I was asked a few minutes ago whether I would say some more about Arminius. I put up what are known as the five points of Calvinism worked out at the Synod of Dort. 

Arminian Position

The classical Arminian position is basically the opposite of those.

Total Depravity

What an Arminian would say is that there is not total depravity - that there is inside you and me some resource which enables us to make some contribution towards our own salvation. It doesn’t mean you can save yourself; you still need the grace of God, in order to be saved. But, it is not entirely a work of God, in the sense that you have a freewill to be able to respond and make a genuine contribution to the effort.

Unconditional Election

Unconditional Election – Opposite to that is the belief that you can contribute to your own salvation; that good people are more likely to be saved than others; that good people are going to go to heaven. This aspect of Arminianism is most prominent at funerals, funerals of people who haven’t been in church in years, but no one has the heart to say anything nasty.

I remember doing this once, having to bury somebody, and there were only four mourners at the funeral. It was nobody I had ever heard of or come across before; I just had to find something to say. I wasn’t going to be dishonest and talk about this person’s wonderful Christian life. I thought the only thing to say was to concentrate of the people who were there and say how much you missed him and how awful it will be now that he’s gone. Well, on the way out, after the funeral the chief mourner came up to me. He was clearly very upset. He said, who told you all that. I said, what do you mean? He said, he was a pain in the neck and we’re glad he’s gone.

Limited Atonement

This is the one that bothers people, perhaps more than anything else – the idea that Christ died for everybody.

The snag from a Calvinist point of view is that if you say that Christ died for everyone, and you say that God is sovereign, and that God’s will cannot be thwarted, you then find yourself in a position of having to say that everyone is saved. How can Christ come and die for everybody and you can’t go against his will, so therefore it was his will that everyone would be saved because he came to die for everybody, so you end up with universalism. Universalism is just an extreme form of predestination.  It’s the belief that everyone is saved, whether they want to be or not. There’s no choice about universalism. So that’s the snag there.

Irresistible Grace

The Arminian belief that you can say no to God.

It’s rather like Bill Clinton, if you say no he is supposed to go away. Whether he does or not is another matter. But in God’s case this is not so. Although you can resist God, if God is determined to get you he will get you. People have been converted against their will. This is important to remember, not just from the point of view of the time of conversion but later on, because what I want, my will can go all over the place and do all sorts of crazy things, and it’s just as well that God overcomes it. It’s not such a good idea, free will, really.

Perseverance of the Saints

The Arminian belief that you can loose your salvation. If you sin after conversion, you can fall away.

Therefore, you have no assurance of salvation. Because you don’t know whether this may not happen, it could happen to you at some future point, and therefore you can’t ever say that you know that you are saved. This is perhaps the biggest sticking point with classical Arminianism, because it rests on a personal decision of you, if you decide the opposite, well that’s it, finished, gone. In a sense, it is holding God hostage to your own desires. It’s a very difficult and dangerous position to hold.

There’s always something about every heresy which is true. If you think of Calvinism as a kind of determinism, as something which denies the integrity of the human being, that you just become a kind of robot manipulated by God, then Arminianism appears to be very attractive. Very often, it is people who think that about Calvinism who react in a kind of Arminian way. They say it can’t be that everything is planned in advance and there is nothing you can do about it. There has got to be some kind of human participation. There is, of course in a sense, because when God comes into your life, he sets you free from the bondage of sin you’ve been in before, and you have a living relationship with Him, which is not one of compulsion in the sort of slave driver sense.

The best human comparison you can take is falling in love. When you fall in love with somebody, you sense a new release of freedom, it’s an exalted experience, but it’s also a form of compulsion, it’s something that you can’t just switch off… God establishes this kind of relationship with us.

Salvation doesn’t make sense

The whole message of the gospel, and this is where Calvinism picks up with something in the New Testament, is that salvation does not make sense in human terms. It does not make sense that God should choose the Jews. This is not me inventing this. This is Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 7, who says to Israel; why did God choose you? There is no reason. You’re not the greatest of the people; you’re not the best of the people. You kind of come away from reading Deuteronomy chapter 7 thinking God must have made a terrible mistake choosing these people. That’s the impression that Moses wants to leave.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians – look around you there aren’t any wise; there aren’t many rich; there aren’t many powerful; why did God choose you?  This isn’t the way God thinks. This is what’s so remarkable, that salvation, if we think in terms of love, it’s not rational. But that does not mean to say that it’s not real. Nor does it mean to say that it’s not liberating and free. Just as in human relationships; you fall in love with somebody and everybody wonders how you could have done it. It is important. Whether it makes sense or not is really immaterial. The kind of person, who says this is not logical, looses out.

Question: What has happened with the Lutherans?

Lutheranism is different, because Lutheranism didn’t get caught up in this argument. Lutherans were not represented at the Synod of Dort. What happened with the Lutherans was that Luther himself was a very strong believer in predestination, more so even than Calvin, it was a very powerful thing from his Augustinian type of background.  But then Luther’s successor in Wittenberg, Phillip Melancthon, and his German names was Schwartzerdt, meaning black earth, rejected predestination. Lutheranism since his time has pushed the whole predestinarian question down to the bottom of its priorities. It isn’t an issue. You can be Lutheran and believe in the five points of Calvinism if you want to, but it’s just not something that is very high on their list of things. 

Lecture begins here

What I want to do today is get back to what I was saying before the break, and that is look a little more at the origins of Puritanism in England in the late 16th century.

Queen Elizabeth - Protestantism

To do this, we really have to go back to the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who became queen on the 17th of November 1558. The 17th of November was regarded in England for over 100 years as a major event. It was a public holiday, the day of the introduction of Protestantism; it was like reformation day, in effect, because later generations regarded this day as the time when the country moved over to Protestantism definitively. It was never going to go back to the Catholic Church. Now, it wasn’t as clear as all that at the time.

Roman Catholic Church

What Elizabeth inherited was a church which was in communion with Rome, and therefore run by bishops who had been appointed for their loyalty to Rome. The other Protestant bishops had been there before. Some of them had escaped the country, but most of them had been put to death, burnt at the stake like Crammer. The hierarchy, the upper echelons of the Church were very much in the Roman camp at this particular point.

Elizabeth couldn’t become Catholic

However, Elizabeth could not become a Catholic, because if she had done this, she would have had to recognize that she was illegitimate, and therefore not able to be queen, because she would not be a legitimate successor to her father. When she was born, although her parents were married according to the Church of England, they were not married according to Rome, and Henry’s first wife was still alive and objecting to the whole business. So, in Roman eyes, Elizabeth was a bastard. This was one of the classic accusations made against her. So, there was no going back in that particular way.

Reintegrate Exiles

Elizabeth also did what she could to reintegrate the exiles: the people who’d gone to Geneva; the people who’d gone to Frankfurt.

Scotland Presbyterian

John Knox was an exception. Elizabeth did not like John Knox, because John Knox did not like women. Knox was shipped off to Scotland where he was fortunate enough with an English army at his back to be able to take over the country really and bring the Scottish reformation in without very much trouble. He spent the rest of his life making Scotland as protestant as he possibly could; establishing Presbyterianism for a start; getting things into some kind of order there with a thorough going Protestant discipline. So Scotland became much more firmly and deeply Protestant than England ever became. That’s the important thing to bear in mind at this particular stage.

However this was a side show as far as Elizabeth was concerned. She thought that was the best thing to do with Knox, and that was okay.

Church Calvinistic Protestantism

The others, people who were Knox’s associates she bought off by offering them high positions in the Church. Some of them she made bishops. Some of them she made professors of theology. So the church leadership changed its character under Elizabeth from having been pro-Roman, because the Roman bishops resigned, they couldn’t carry on with her. They were replaced by people who were much more sympathetic to Elizabeth as a person, but also to Protestantism, and in particular to a Calvinistic type of Protestantism

Prayer book 1559

Elizabeth reintroduced the prayer book of 1552, which was the second and more protestant one that Archbishop Crammer had produced before the death of Edward VI.

She modified it in ways that would make it less offensive to Catholics.

I’ll give you an example. In 1552, there were directions that when you received communion, you were to receive communion kneeling. Kneeling was a big issue. John Knox objected to this, because Knox said, kneeling is reverence, kneeling is adoration; it means you are worshiping the sacrament. People will think you believe in transubstantiation if you receive the bread and wine on your knees. So, in order to keep Knox happy, Crammer inserted in the 1552 prayer book a little paragraph which has come to be known as the black rubric because it was written in later in black ink, which said that kneeling was not to be understood in this way. It did not imply any belief in transubstantiation. It was a custom inherited from the past and we were going to keep it going because it was a traditional thing to do, but it had no theological significance. In 1559, Elizabeth left that out of the prayer book, not because she didn’t believe it, but because Protestants wouldn’t care, and it was just going to offend Catholics. She left it out hoping that taking things out that might cause offense to the more Catholic minded people, that she would be able to keep them in the Church, that she wouldn’t have to face a Catholic opposition.

Debates: Geneva Protestants/Catholics

She was remarkably successful in this. We today look back and we see on the one hand these sort of rabid protestants coming straight from Geneva wanting to recreate Geneva in England, and these Catholic people who were hard liners, and we give them much more importance than their numbers would merit. What you are talking about in each case is way less than 1% of the population. What Elizabeth was good at was getting the broad mass of the population behind her. The difficulty is that the less than 1% were also the vocal ones. They were the ones who cared about the issues. The other 99% just wanted to be left alone basically. She couldn’t ignore them because they were going to be in charge. They were the ones carrying n the debate. But she had to make sure that the theological debates they were carrying on didn’t actually affect the way anybody lived.

High Commission 1559

Elizabeth also drew up very detailed regulations as to how the church should be run – what furniture should be in the Church, where the bible should be placed, what the clergy should wear. She published these so no one would be left in any doubt. In order to make sure that people conformed to her ideas, she established a new court, and this is very important, the court known as the High Commission. This was established in 1559.  The High Commission Court had as its brief, it was an appeal court basically, If anybody complained that there minister was not doing what he was supposed to do; that there was some kind of problem, you could appeal it to the High Commission. The High Commission would investigate and give a ruling. So this was an instrument for insuring that the discipline which the queen wanted, the kind of behavior that the queen wanted actually happened.

Now, the trouble with the High Commission court, this is important because it was going to get very serious as time went on, wan not that it was corrupt. Probably of all the courts that ever functioned in England, this was the least corrupt. It was very well run by people who cared about what they were doing. That. In a way, was the trouble.

If you want a good modern comparison of the way people thought of the High Commission, you don’t have to look any further than Kenneth Starr. It’s exactly the same problem. No one would ever claim that Kenneth Starr was offering counseling out of hours to 21 year old coeds who didn’t have anything better to do with their time. He doesn’t have a bank account in the Cayman Islands. As far as I know he goes home to his wife and sort of sits there reading the newspaper and goes to sleep at 8 o’clock and gets up at 3 in the morning… and leads a sort of perfect ordinary totally blameless and boring life, unlike those he investigates. Now, there is no criticism of him or anything like that. The criticism that you hear is: do we need a person like this? Is what he is doing worthwhile? Is the effort being put into this going to get anywhere? Is this person doing a worthwhile job? That’s the nature of the criticism. When you get something like this, the poor man is in a difficult position because the more conscientiously he does his job, the more people object that this is a job not worth doing.

The High Commission found itself in this kind of dilemma. The more they pursued discipline in the Church, the more people began to say to themselves, do we really need this? Do we want people coming along telling us what to do to that degree of detail?  This gradually became a matter of tremendous resentment.

I’ll give you a very famous case from much later, but it involved the High Commission in 1632. A minister in a church took members of his congregation to court because they had baptized a cat. The judges threw it out.  They said the cat doesn’t have a soul, offending all animal lovers immediately. You can dunk a cat in water and say words over it, but that’s not baptism. The recipient is not capable of receiving the thing which is being given. The minister was not happy with this. So he appealed it to the High Commission, whereupon the High Commission, totally ignoring the cat, arraigned the judges of the lower court for dereliction of duty. What do you mean telling these people that what they did was nonsense? Don’t you take baptism seriously? You can’t just go baptizing any old thing or any old body. You mustn’t do this. You’re not treating this with the seriousness that it deserves. They ended up putting these judges in jail for having said the whole thing was nonsense. The people who baptized the cat got off.

What’s happening in this is that the system is eating itself, and not really getting to grips with the problem. The initial problem is totally ignored.

So this is what Elizabeth set up. She did not intend it to develop like that. You can see the seeds of this being sewn and this whole machinery, the more it got going, the more efficient it was, the more resented it was going to be, and the more problematic. It would inevitably get itself involved in a whole lot of trivialities. Once you do that, all you do is annoy people, to no real purpose. It’s terribly easy to upset people about things that don’t matter. This is what the High Commission succeeded in doing brilliantly before it was finally abolished.

Vestment Debate 1564-1566

The first debate that occurred was among the exiles from Geneva were people who said; we don’t want to wear the clerical robes, the vestments. This was an issue that had surfaced earlier which I mentioned before;. John Knox was very much against this. The priests in the church continued to wear the vestments which they had worn in the days of popery. The people who came back from Geneva said this is no good, because you are giving people the impression that nothing has changed. The queen said that is the impression I want to give, I don’t want to upset people, unduly. You can preach the gospel of salvation by grace through faith as much as you like, just don’t upset people by changing what you wear. She regarded the clerical dress like a uniform. Those who wanted to wear the Geneva gown insisted for two reasons. One because it would give the right impression: we are academics; we are here to preach the word. We are teachers and preachers, not priests who are sacrificing. And also it was a way of lay-isizing the clergy. In other words, making the clergy more like ordinary people, because academic dress although it was something different, you didn’t have to be an ordained clergyman to wear academic dress. So in that sense, it won’t particularly clerical

Puritan view

The puritans were very hot on this because they did not believe that the minister of the congregation was a special kind of being, somebody that was higher than the rest. They believed that he was just an ordinary member of the church who had been called to a specific task. This was his particular gift within the congregation. But he didn’t have any special position over and above it. The wearing of robes is a sign of power.

This was a major controversy. Special directions had to be issued saying that the clergy were to wear clothing, and it was specified down to the underpants and everything. They were told what they were to wear in bed. It was detailed in order to prevent this kind of thing, there was to be uniform and they were to wear it at all times, and that was that.

Secret Catholic missionaries

Meanwhile, about this time, people of Catholic persuasion, people who were not happy with the protestantizing tendencies which they saw gradually began to leave the country. Only a few, we’re not talking about huge numbers here, but a few people began to leave the country, and set up in France schools for the training of Catholic priests who would go back into England as missionaries. Now these schools moved around in different places but eventually settled in the French City of Douai. This became a major center for resistance to the protestantizing of England. People would send their sons out of England to train as priests at Douai under the control of the Jesuits, and then they’d go back as missionaries secretly into England to try to keep the Catholic flames alive.

Pressure Pope

These people were very unhappy. They were extremists. They were very unhappy with the pope. One thing about extreme Catholics is that they don’t like the pope, because they think the pope is too soft. In the 16th century the liberalism of the papacy was obvious because the pope had refrained from excommunicating Elizabeth. He had a kind of wait and see attitude. Everybody was sort of hoping, at least Elizabeth was hoping, that the pope would forget all about her. That way she wouldn’t have to worry too much about the Catholics in England.

Pope calls for Elizabeth’s assassination

But these refugees, these self-imposed exiles were not happy about this and they pressurized the pope. They said, how do you ever expect us to re-catholicize England if you don’t stand up for your own side? Eventually, this way of thinking broke the papacy down and in 1570, the pope finally excommunicated Elizabeth. What is more, in order to keep the extremists happy, he went beyond simple excommunication and said that all Catholics were absolved from their allegiance, they were no longer required to owe allegiance to Elizabeth, not only that, they were to do everything in their power to assassinate her. The object being that if she was assassinated, Mary Queen of Scots who was a good Catholic would be her successor and everything would be sorted out.

Church attendance compulsory – Recusants

Elizabeth had to react to that. So she passed a series of laws, one of which was that everybody was obliged to go to church. Church going became compulsory in England for the first time. The reason was not because she thought people ought to go to church. The reason was a test of loyalty, because if you refused to go to church, this was a sign that you were a secret papist. The Latin word for refuse is recusai (?).  a recusant is a person who refused to go to church when the queen said you must, and therefore a secret Catholic. If you read books of this period you will come across this word, recusant. From 1570, you can say that there is an identifiable Roman Catholic Church in England not in communion with the national church. This was the point of division, where people who followed the pope left the national church and were recusant, and were persecuted as a result. But it is important to remember that Elizabeth never persecuted anybody for religious reasons. She persecuted them for political reasons. It was because they were told that they had to try to assassinate her that she attacked them, not because they were Catholic. That in itself did not interest her one way or the other.

Ireland

Now, in England, there were not very many recusants. There were a few, but you were talking about hundreds rather than thousands. Ireland, though, is a whole other question, because the papal excommunication of Elizabeth set the cat among the pigeons in Ireland in a way that had never happened in Ireland up until this time. When Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534, Ireland had not really followed suit. The Irish for various reasons didn’t follow the Protestant arguments. Possibly one of the reasons was that Ireland did not have a university at this time, and therefore the kind of culture which the universities cultivated – the culture which produced people like Luther, people like Tyndale, they had all studied with Erasmus and this kind of thing, they had a kind of renaissance humanistic education. This didn’t exist in Ireland so there was no class of person, as far as you could see, who could interpret and propagate reformation ideas. All you had was a small aristocracy and the rest of the peasants and nothing in between. So Ireland was not really capable of receiving Protestantism, because Protestantism depended on a certain level of education. There was no point giving people a bible if they couldn’t read. This was part of the problem.

Elizabeth’s conquest of Ireland 1571 - 1601

In 1570, Ireland as a whole found itself in rebellion against the Queen, because of the pope’s say so. It wasn’t that they deliberately revolted. But the pope said, if you are going to follow me, you must rebel against the Queen. You must try to get rid of her. So, the Irish were faced with this terrible decision. They wanted to remain loyal to the pope, and this is what the pope demanded that they should do. But before they could organize, Elizabeth who realized this embarked on a military campaign of conquest, because large parts of Ireland were not really under her control. There were parts around Dublin in the east which she actually ruled, but most of the country was still living in a tribal society. You can tell the fault lines in Ireland. It’s a Celtic society, you can tell by people’s names. If an Irishman has a name with “O” in it, like O’Henry or something, that means grandfather, grandson of so and so. If somebody is a Mc or a Mac, they are son of so and so. That’s the Gaelic, Celtic side, in the west of Ireland mainly. But in the Dublin area which was much more Anglicized and where there were English people or Anglo-Irish Norman people there – it was very interesting that they took over this way of describing themselves, but because they didn’t speak Irish, they did it in their own language which was French. Son in French is Fils. Out of that they created Fitz. So, if you get an Irishman whose name begins Fitz, that means that they are descended from this Anglo-Norman group. The Anglo-Irish were more or less under Elizabeth’s control. But the Gaelic ones were not. So Elizabeth went out to conquer Ireland. It took her 30 years to do so, from 1571 to 1601.

Northern Ireland

When she finally succeeded, when the battle was over, the part of the country she found hardest to control was the north, which was the land of the O’Neil’s clan. They didn’t surrender. So, finally when they were overcome, Elizabeth took a very drastic step of getting rid of them completely. It didn’t actually happen until after she died. When her successor James took the throne, he actually removed physically as many people as he could from the north. Instead, he planted English people and Scottish people in their place. He confiscated the land and gave the land to settlers from England or from Scotland, in order to hold the country. So, the problem of Northern Ireland today comes from that. The Protestants of Northern Ireland on the whole are descendants of these English and Scottish people who were planted there in the 17th century. They are not the natives who were cleared off. Unlike Northern America where they were also shot, they survived. The trouble with letting people survive is that they live to cause trouble later on. That’s what’s happened. Underlying in the Northern Irish conflict today, on the Catholic side, on the nationalist side is this feeling that the Protestants don’t belong there. They are interlopers. They are invaders. They’ve only been there for 350 years. Therefore the sooner we get rid of them the better. This is the undercurrent. There is an ethnic controversy here underlying the religious one.