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John Knox

John Knox

The Scottish reformer John Knox (ca. 1505-1572) was one of the most celebrated followers of John Calvin and became the chief force in the introduction and establishment of the Presbyterian form of Calvinism in Scotland.

The Scotland of John Knox's time was used to reform movements. Long before Martin Luther's theses of 1517, men were executed for importing the doctrines of John Wyclif and John Hus. During Knox's adolescence he could not but be aware of the agitation for an evangelical Christianity abroad in the land.

The day and even the year of Knox's birth is disputed. The best estimate is probably 1505. His prosperous peasant father, William Knox, sought to prepare him for the priest-hood. His autobiographical writings leave doubt over his early education. It is certain that Knox attended a university, either Glasgow or St. Andrews, but did not earn a degree. After ordination in 1532 he returned to Haddington, the region of his birth.

Conversion to Protestantism

Knox's conversion to Protestantism seemingly occurred between 1543 and 1546. In 1543 he was loyally serving the Catholic Church under the archbishop of St. Andrews. He styled himself "minister of the sacred altar." By 1546 he was vigorously defending the reformer George Wishart, who had introduced Swiss Protestantism into Scotland with his translation of the First Helvetic Confession in 1543 and impressed many before being executed for heresy in 1546.

The following year David Beaton, the cardinal responsible for Wishart's arrest, was murdered. Knox, hearing of the deed, eagerly joined the murderers in the castle of St. Andrews and, after protesting his unworthiness, became their preacher, thereby making his revolt from Rome complete and courting death. Curiously enough, his voluminous writings give no clue as to what transformed him in such a short time from a Catholic priest to a fiery, sword-bearing Protestant.

For fiery Knox was, denouncing the Catholic Church as a "synagogue of Satan" and the beast of the Apocalypse. While the castle trembled with spiritual thunder, the French laid siege, eventually capturing the occupants and making them galley slaves. After 19 months Knox emerged in February 1549, his body intact, his spirit unbroken, and his Protestantism strengthened.

The release of Knox and his comrades may have been engineered by the new Protestant regency in England. In any case Knox took a paid position as preacher there. His popularity grew rapidly. In 1551 he was made chaplain to the king and in 1552 declined a bishopric. He worked to rid the religious services of all vestiges of Catholic ritual and to fix austerity of worship firmly in English Protestant doctrine. This made his life precarious when the fanatically Catholic Mary Tudor acceded to the throne in 1553. The following year Knox left England, wandered for a time, and unknowingly took the most important step of his career by moving to Geneva.

Calvin's Influence

In the "Bible Commonwealth," Knox came to believe fully in Calvinism, in the right of the true church to impose strict rules of conduct and belief on the individual, and in the right of the people to rebel against a civil authority that attempts to enforce adherence to a false doctrine. He called Calvin's Geneva "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles."

On a trip to Scotland in 1555, then under a regency in preparation for the reign of Mary Stuart, Knox organized Protestant congregations and preached quietly. After he left under pressure, in 1556, an ecclesiastical court burned him in effigy. Back in Geneva he worked effectively as pastor of an English congregation.

Calvinism suited his austerity, and Knox preached with certitude that those not of his and Calvin's church were damned for eternity and that no Christian love was due them. Since they were sons of Satan, one could take joy in hating them, reveling over the prospect of their damnation, and even cheating and deceiving them. Knox saw himself as the prophet of a biblical society in which virtuous priests would guide men, and statesmen would be bound by the precepts of the Bible.

Knox's Writings

While he was at Geneva, Knox's pen was busy. His admonitions and letters to followers in England and Scotland are filled with burning condemnations of the Roman Church, a "harlot … polluted with all kinds of spiritual fornication," and of its priests, who were "pestilent papists" and "bloody wolves." His best-known work, History of the Reformation of Religion within the Realm of Scotland, is more polemic than history.

Preaching in the Reformed manner was forbidden in Scotland in 1559, and on May 2 Knox arrived in Edinburgh. Pursued as a criminal, he managed to remain free and become the architect of a new Scottish church. Under his guidance, Catholicism, the regency, and French influence were repudiated, and in 1560 a democratic form of church structure in which congregations elected their ministers and elders was adopted.

Under these conditions it is not surprising that Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic reared in France, found Scotland uncongenial soon after her arrival in 1561. Since Catholic worship was forbidden, Mary's private Masses had to be defended with the sword. In 1568 she was driven from Scotland in the midst of a scandal; Knox was in the forefront of her pursuers.

Death took the reformer on Nov. 24, 1572. Knox was a small man but of immense physical and moral strength. He was not without contradictions in his work and his life. Although an authoritarian, he did more to stimulate the growth of democracy than any man of his age. He left an independent Scotland under a severe but democratically elected church.

Further Reading

The complete collection of the reformer's writings is The Works of John Knox, edited by David Laing (6 vols., 1846-1864; repr. 1966). There are several good biographies. Especially important are Edwin Muir, John Knox: Portrait of a Calvinist (1929), and Andrew Lang, John Knox and the Reformation (1905), which is hostile to Knox. For background, John T. McNeill, History and Character of Calvinism (1954), and John H. S. Burleigh, Church History of Scotland (1960), are recommended. □

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Knox, John

John Knox, 1514?–1572, Scottish religious reformer, founder of Scottish Presbyterianism.

Early Career as a Reformer

Little is recorded of his life before 1545. He probably attended St. Andrews Univ., where he may have become acquainted with some of the new Protestant doctrines. He entered the Roman Catholic priesthood, however, and from 1540 to 1544 was engaged as an ecclesiastical notary and as a private tutor.

By late 1545 Knox had attached himself closely to the reformer George Wishart. When, after Wishart's execution (1546), a group of Protestant conspirators took revenge by murdering Cardinal David Beaton, Knox, now definitely a Protestant, took refuge with them in St. Andrews Castle and preached in the parish church. Attacked by both Scottish and French forces, the castle was eventually surrendered (1547), and Knox served 19 months in the French galleys before his release (1549) through the efforts of the English government of Edward VI.

Knox spent the next few years in England, preaching in Berwick and Newcastle as a licensed minister of the crown and serving briefly as a royal chaplain. He helped to prepare the second Book of Common Prayer, but he declined a bishopric in the newly established Church of England.

Years in Exile

Shortly after the accession (1553) of the Catholic Mary I to the English throne, Knox went into exile on the Continent, living chiefly in Geneva and Frankfurt. In Geneva he consulted with John Calvin on questions of church doctrine and civil authority.

Meanwhile, through his frequent letters, he exerted considerable influence among Protestants in England and Scotland; in his "Faithful Admonition" pamphlet of 1554 he began to urge the duty of the righteous to overthrow "ungodly" monarchs. In 1555–56 he visited Scotland, preaching in private and counseling the Protestant congregations. After his return to Geneva, where he served (1556–58) as pastor to the English congregation, he wrote the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment [i.e., regimen] of Women. That fiery tract was directed against the Catholic Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland, and Queen Mary of England, but it also alienated the Protestant Elizabeth I, who succeeded to the English throne in 1558.

The Scottish Reformation

In 1557 the Scottish Protestant nobles signed their First Covenant, banding together to form the group known as the lords of the congregation (see Scotland, Church of). When, in 1559, Mary of Guise moved against the Protestants, the lords of the congregation took up arms and invited Knox back from Geneva to lead them. Aided by England and by the regent's death in 1560, the reformers forced the withdrawal of the French troops that had come to Mary's aid and won their freedom as well as dominance for the new religion.

Under Knox's direction, a confession of faith (basically Calvinist) was drawn up (1560) and passed by the Scottish Parliament, which also passed laws abolishing the authority of the pope and condemning all creeds and practices of the old religion. The Book of Discipline, however, which provided an organizational structure for the new church, failed to get adequate approval from the nobles in 1561.

When Mary Queen of Scots arrived from France to assume her crown in the same year, many Protestant lords deserted Knox and his cause, and some even joined the queen. From his pulpit and in personal debates with Mary on questions of theology and the loyalty owed by the subject to his monarch, Knox stubbornly defied Mary's authority and thundered against her religion. The queen's marriage to Lord Darnley, her suspected complicity in his murder, and her hasty marriage to James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, stirred the Protestant lords to revolt. Mary was forced to abdicate (1567) in favor of her young son, James VI. All the acts of 1560 were then confirmed, thereby establishing Presbyterianism as the official religion.

Despite the ill health of his last years, Knox continued to be an outspoken preacher until his death. It has been said of Knox that "rarely has any country produced a stronger will." His single-minded zeal made him the outstanding leader of the Scottish Reformation and an important influence on the Protestant movements in England and on the Continent, but the same quality tended to close his mind to divergent views. His History of the Reformation in Scotland, finished in 1564 but published in 1584 after his death, is a striking record of that conflict, but includes a number of misstatements and omissions resulting from his strong bias.

Bibliography

The standard edition of Knox's works is that edited by D. Laing (6 vol., 1846–64, repr. 1967). See biographies by E. S. C. Percy (1937, repr. 1965), J. G. Ridley (1968), and W. S. Reid (1974); J. S. McEwen, The Faith of John Knox (1961); S. W. Reid, Trumpeter of God (1974, repr. 1982); G. B. Smith and D. Martin, John Knox: Apostle of the Scottish Reformation (1982).

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Knox, John (1514–1572)

Knox, John (15141572)

Church reformer, preacher, author, and founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Born in Haddington, Knox was ordained a priest in the Catholic Church in 1536, and worked as a notary and tutor to the noble families of Lothian. By 1545 he had converted to the cause of the reformed church under the influence of George Wishart. Despite the founding of the Protestant Church of England, Scotland's rulers remained resolutely Catholic, and in 1546, Wishart was arrested for his teachings and burned at the stake. When his Protestant followers avenged themselves by killing a Catholic cardinal, Knox joined them at Saint Andrews Castle, where he rallied the besieged reformers with his fiery sermons and his polemics against the evils of the Catholic Church. The group took refuge from Scottish and French soldiers but was finally overwhelmed in 1547. Knox was sentenced to a term of service in the French navy as a galley slave.

In 1549, after his release, Knox returned to England, where he served as one of the king's chaplains. Unwilling to accept an appointment as a bishop in the Church of England, Knox was unwilling to temper his scathing denunciations of his religious enemies. His stand made him a wanted man on the accession of the very Catholic queen Mary in 1553. He escaped to Europe, joining John Calvin in Geneva and preaching Calvinist reforms and government in the German city of Frankfurt, which expelled him in 1555. Knox did not improve his standing with the queen of England with his pamphlet First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, which denounced Queen Mary as well as the Catholic Mary of Guise, who ruled Scotland as a regent. The pamphlet ridiculed the notion of women holding political power, and so enraged Mary's Protestant successor Elizabeth I that she prohibited him from ever setting foot in England.

In 1559 Knox was invited back to Scotland to lead Protestants rebelling against the authority of Mary of Guise. Knox and his allies forced French troops out of Scotland and defeated the Catholic Church. The new Presbyterian Church was established, in which each congregation elected its parish leaders, and by an act of the Scottish parliament in 1560 Scotland officially threw off the authority of the Catholic pope. Knox was also author of History of the Reformation in Scotland, an important history of this period.

See Also: Calvin, John; Elizabeth I; Reformation, Protestant; Tudor, Mary

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Knox, John

Knox, John (c.1514–72). Scottish protestant preacher. Born at Haddington (East Lothian) and educated at St Andrews University, Knox was ordained a catholic priest before being called to the protestant ministry in 1547. In 1549, following two years' imprisonment on a French galley, he settled in England, where his powerful preaching and extreme reliance on biblical authority (typified by his opposition to kneeling at communion) established his radical credentials. Driven into continental exile by Mary Tudor's accession in 1553, his radicalism developed a powerful political edge, culminating in his infamous diatribe against female rule, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558). On Elizabeth's accession later that year, Knox was barred from England and returned instead to Scotland where in 1559 his iconoclastic preaching triggered a protestant rebellion against the regent, Mary of Guise. The reformed settlement of 1560, however, was jeopardized by the return to Scotland in 1561 of the catholic Mary Stuart. While Knox denounced her idolatry from his Edinburgh pulpit, politically he was marginalized and played no significant role in Mary's subsequent downfall. Dogged by failing health, he devoted his later years to compiling his biased but invaluable History of the Reformation in Scotland.

Roger A. Mason

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Knox, John

Knox, John (1505–72). Leader of the Reformation in Scotland. As preacher at St Andrews he was captured by the French, and whilst serving as a galley slave, used the time to produce an edn. of Henry Balnave's Treatise on Justification by Faith. He refused the bishopric of Rochester, and on Mary's accession fled to the Continent where he met the Swiss Reform leaders. His First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558) argued that female sovereignty contravened natural and divine law. In 1559 Knox returned to Scotland, devoting his time to preaching and writing. He drew up the Scottish Confession, shared in the compilation of The First Book of Discipline, and wrote his Treatise on Predestination (1560). He also took a major part in the compilation of the Book of Common Order (1556–64), the service book in use in Scotland until 1645. Knox's memoirs are preserved in his History of the Reformation of Religion with the realm of Scotland, first published in 1587 and immediately suppressed.

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Knox, John

Knox, John (1514–72) Leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. Ordained a Catholic priest, he later converted to Protestantism and took up the cause of the Reformation. Captured by French soldiers in Scotland, he was imprisoned in France (1547), then lived in exile in England and Switzerland. In 1559 Knox returned to Scotland, where he continued to promote the Protestant cause. In 1560 the Scottish Parliament, under Knox's leadership, made Presbyterianism the state religion. In 1563, he was tried for treason but acquitted.

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