Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Pilgrims

Much as the search for a new trade route to the East ended up bringing Christianity to America, the forces brewing toward an English civil war brought Protestantism. The foundational moment of that process is regarded today as the arrival in November 1620 near the hook of present-day Cape Cod of some 102 men and women, all Separatists from the Church of England.

The significance of the event was far from obvious at the time. The Puritans who became known as Pilgrims were not the only Protestant English dissenters—collectively known as Separatists. Nor was Massachusetts, much less their settlement near today’s Plymouth, their intended destination (it was Virginia). Their settlement was not the first in today’s U.S. territory (that’s St. Augustine, Florida, founded 1565) and only the third English one (after the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke in 1585 and Jamestown in 1607).

The Pilgrims were not a notably distinct subset of English Puritanism, theologically. They sought to “purify” the Anglican Church of its “Catholic” trappings and believed, with Luther, that the Bible was the only true source of Christian teaching and held, with Calvin, against traditional church ritual and order and in favor of predestination. What was distinctive was their doctrine on church organization.

What makes Plymouth Colony stand out, retrospectively, is that it is the first instance of a Protestant polity—or governing entity. It was a “pure” Protestant society, established from almost nothing else, in as close to laboratory conditions as history ever allows.

The Plymouth Puritans considered the church a community of Christians bound to God and one another. Far from the control of the king, they penned The Mayflower Compact, a document that gives the religious congregation a uniquely political and governmental role. They “solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant, & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick” charged with the duty to “enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall lawes, ordinances, Acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient.”

The emphasis on social cohesion may reflect the fact that—unlike the Spanish and French, who came to the New World in contingents of unattached men—the Puritan migration was made up of families. They were literate (they had to read the Bible), and their many surviving diaries, sermon notes, poems and letters attest to an intense devotional life.

In such a society the Bible stimulated their intellects; they developed an interest in classics and were encouraged to write poetry. In the 1630s and 1640s, the Puritans founded the two oldest schools in the United States, Boston Latin School and Roxbury Latin School, and the first university, Harvard. They welcomed the first printing press.

In Plymouth Colony, each congregation elected its ministers, teachers and church elders—who effectively were colony officials. Each town was a congregation, a political, religious and social unit ultimately and directly subject to God’s rule. This made the congregationalist polity democratic, but also theocratic. People—actually, only free white men—voted as they thought God willed. The result was an ecclesiastical order that was ultimately more intolerant than the one they had fled.

In their Calvinist zeal, they saw themselves as a new Chosen People, if you will, and brought to the New World an Old Testament understanding of current history as a drama under divine direction.

In a 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” delivered aboard the Arbella en route to Plymouth, John Winthrop spoke of the community the passengers would be joining as “a city upon a hill” watched by the world. The phrase is from Matthew 5:14, in which Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Winthrop said his listeners should, accordingly, set an example of communal charity, affection and unity and warned that if they failed to keep their end of their covenant with God, “we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world” of God’s judgment.

Condemnation did come, at least by the world and history, for the Puritans. Yet it gave rise to the notion that the United States was “God’s country,” a notion so ingrained that President-elect John F. Kennedy, the first and so far only Catholic elected to the position, recalled Winthrop’s sermon in a speech before the General Court of Massachusetts, remarking, “Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us.”

Plymouth Puritanism had another legacy: its work ethic, today known as the Protestant work ethic, a term coined in 1904 by German sociologist Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The idea is particularly Calvinist: hard work, discipline and frugality are a result of values espoused by the Protestant elect. Given the doctrine of predestination, divining whether one was among the elect became a preoccupation that ranked very high in the Calvinist mind.

This explains why so many people in the United States, who have heard Jesus’ kind and merciful words for poor people and his wrath toward the rich, nonetheless believe that the poor are to blame for their misery. Weber viewed the Calvinist work ethic as a way of coping with the apparent contradiction of Christian ethics in an increasingly scientific and industrial world. It balanced charity with self-discipline and proposed moderation while suggesting that worldly prosperity was a sign of divine favor.

The third legacy was American Puritanism’s undoing. The doctrine of predestination kept Puritans working to do well in this life, in hopes that hard work, as an honor to God, would lead to a prosperous reward. With no margin for error, deviation from the Puritan norm met with strict disapproval and discipline, directed initially toward the first “Strangers” (or non-Puritans) who came with them, even on the Mayflower. Then it led to internal dissent.

Church elders were also political leaders, so any break with church discipline was regarded also as a social and legal wrong. From the start, for example, Plymouth Colony Puritans frowned on Christmas celebrations and festivities on Saturday nights. By 1659 both were outlawed in Boston. To protect themselves from temptation, the Puritans banned drama, religious music, erotic poetry and games of chance.

These measures represented, in part, a break with their own tradition. Contrary to popular belief, Puritans were not prudish and deemed marriage a civil contract between a man and a woman.

No limits were placed on enjoying sexuality within marriage; in fact, those who failed to perform marital sexual duties (such as in 1 Cor. 7:1-16) were criticized. Women and men were equally expected to fulfill these responsibilities and either one could file for divorce based on this issue alone. In Massachusetts Colony, one of every six divorce petitions was filed on the basis of male impotence.

Now put in that context this extract from a poem of early colonist Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), titled “To My Dear And Loving Husband” for a sense of what Puritans would have called hot: “If ever two were one, then surely we / If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.”

The new discipline irked some Puritans. Thomas Hooker went off to found the colony of Connecticut. He is cited as the inspiration for the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut,” one of the world’s earliest written democratic constitutions. Another dissenter, Roger Williams, was expelled by the Puritan leaders, who thought he was spreading “new and dangerous ideas” (he became a Baptist). He founded the colony of Providence Plantation in 1636 (today Rhode Island) as a refuge for religious minorities.

Puritans were also intolerant of the religious views of others. In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting Jesuit Roman Catholic priests from entering territory under Puritan jurisdiction. Toward the 1660s, they mounted attacks against Anglican and the emerging Quaker and Baptist theologies. The hanging of four Quakers on Boston Common in 1659 and 1660 may have spelled the beginning of the end for Puritan theocracy. In 1661, King Charles II explicitly barred Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism.

These and several other events led to the naming of a governor of the Dominion of New England, unifying all the colonies. But for the region’s Puritanism the straw that broke the camel’s back was a bizarre episode concerning witches in Salem (present-day Danvers), Mass., in 1692-93. Witchcraft was listed as a capital crime in the 1636 code of laws of Plymouth Colony, but there had been only two formal accusations, in 1661 and 1677, with little consequence.

However, in February 1692 in the village of Salem, Betty Parris, age 9, and her cousin Abigail Williams, age 11, the daughter and niece, respectively, of Reverend Samuel Parris, began to have fits described as “beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect.” The girls screamed, threw things about the room, uttered strange sounds, crawled under furniture and contorted themselves into peculiar positions. Imagine Linda Blair in the 1973 film The Exorcist.

Initially, three stereotypical suspects, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; Sarah Osborne, who rarely went to church; and Tituba, a black or Indian slave from one of the Caribbean islands, were interrogated intensively and publicly, jailed and ultimately released. The trials, perhaps the only legal public entertainment at the time, unexpectedly generated widespread panic of a demonic presence in the village and a steady stream of accusations against more than 40 people. By May 1693 a succession of trials ended in the execution of 20 people, 14 of them women and all but one by hanging. Five others (including two infants) died in prison.

A public call for justice by the families of the accused and a vast legal and political campaign forced a reversal of convictions by 1711, monetary compensation to 22 people and the reversal of all excommunications by the Salem church by 1712.

A Salem judge who never repented was John Hathorne, ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who added the “w” to hide the relationship. The 19th century author wrote the novel The Scarlet Letter and short stories such as “Young Goodman Brown” and “The Minister's Black Veil,” which say more about the author’s revulsion toward his family’s Puritan past than about history. Playwright Henry Miller used Hawthorne’s Puritans in The Crucible to speak out against the ideological anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The English Puritans

While Scotland played out its drama, even in Elizabethan times there were nonconformists who sought to “purify” the Church of England of what they called its “Catholic” practices. These activists claimed—with some merit—that the established church was not fully reformed; they were called Puritans.

One of the earliest to use the term was Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 to 1575, who also called them “precisians,” meaning that they were sticklers. Puritans preferred to call themselves “the godly.” However, a noted figure in the movement, William Bradshaw, used the term in his 1605 work English Puritanisme, purporting to expound on “the maine opinions of the rigidest.” In modern usage the term is synonymous with prudery, although they were emphatically positive about married sexuality and—mostly in opposition to Catholicism—did not revere virginity.

Puritans adopted the Reformed theology of Calvinism, with its opposition to ritual and emphasis on preaching, a stricter observance of the Sabbath and preference for a presbyterian system, albeit leaning toward the congregational. They opposed religious practices that came close to Catholic ritual.

They fled or went underground when Queen Mary attempted to restore Catholicism. They resurfaced, many returning from exile in continental Europe’s hotbeds of Calvinism, in the England of Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, whose order was established by two laws. The Act of Supremacy of 1558 restored the Church of England’s independence from Rome and the queen as its supreme governor; the Act of Uniformity of 1559 outlined the form the English Church would take, including the reestablishment of the Book of Common Prayer. This is known as the Elizabethan Settlement.

As proposed, the laws defined Holy Communion in terms of Reformed Protestant theology, opposing transubstantiation, ordering that ministers wear a surplice only without other vestments and that priests be allowed to marry, as well as banning images from churches. Faced with opposition from Catholic bishops and lay peers in the House of Lords, revisions allowed for belief in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion, liturgical vestments, celebration of Communion on the altar or on a table against the wall and permitted kneeling out of reverence to receive communion.

The laws were echoed in the Thirty-nine Articles of 1563 composed by 46 theologians, including bishops and other clergy. The document tiptoes toward accepting Trent’s biblical canon by adding, to the Protestant 66-book Old Testament, “the other books (as Hierome saith) … yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Articles bow to Calvin’s Geneva, declaring predestination “sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.” There’s a salute to Luther’s Augsburg stating, “We are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine.” The Articles wrap up with a rousing Protestant rant on the “Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, [which] is a fond thing vainly invented.”

One would have thought this would appease all Protestant parties, but efforts were made to push things further toward Reform, including the Lambeth Articles, a series of nine doctrinal statements by Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift in 1595. When Elizabeth heard of them she became enraged, ordered them suppressed and the bishop deposed; it would be the high tide of Calvinism and Continental Protestantism in Elizabethan England.

Indeed, many Puritans decided to leave the country again. Some went off to found expatriate English Nonconformist and Separatist communities and churches in the Netherlands in the 1590s. From among them came the leaders of a group known today as the Pilgrims, who sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth to the New World in 1620, whose story deserves separate treatment.

The English pot continued to boil, however, under James I. A 1603 Puritan manifesto, the Millenary Petition, called for reform of the English church, naming in particular the use of vestments during services, the sign of the cross in baptism and kneeling to receive Holy Communion. James was not inclined to support them, although he made other minor conciliatory gestures.

Puritanism rose finally to the forefront of life in England under Charles I, who acceded to the throne in 1625, facing almost open revolt from Protestant lawmakers. In 1629, Charles dissolved Parliament with no intention of summoning a new one; it was an attempt to neutralize his enemies there, but it had the opposite effect.

Added to the complaints concerning an established Church kept mildly within Reform by a conservative nobility, was Charles’ perceived sympathy with a new current of thought seeping into England from the Netherlands, Arminianism. It was based on the ideas of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), a theologian at the University of Leiden who disagreed with certain interpretations of Calvin in the Dutch Reformed Church.

Arminius agreed with other Reformers, especially Calvin, that humanity is morally depraved and that atonement is intended for all through Jesus’ death, which satisfies God’s justice. However, to Arminians, grace is resistible, human beings have a free will to respond or resist and election is conditional as is eternal security.

The Puritans viewed Arminianism as a deceptive path to reintroducing Catholicism and away from Calvinism in a more traditional and sacramental direction, a direction they saw as “irreligious.” As if to confirm their suspicions, in 1633, Charles appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he began a series of anti-Calvinist moves restricting nonconformist preachers, insisting on the use of the Book of Common Prayer and reorganizing the internal architecture of English churches so as to emphasize the altar.

Into this cauldron entered one Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), a man of the middle gentry, descended from the sister of King Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell. He became a Puritan after undergoing a religious conversion in the 1630s and took a generally tolerant view of many Protestant sects of his time. He was an elected member of Parliament in the House of Commons when civil strife broke out.

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Royalists (“Cavaliers,” mostly long-maned noblemen known for their horsemanship) and Parliamentarians (“Roundheads,” mostly commoners, including peasants and tradesmen pressed into the infantry, who were known for their short haircuts, as shall be explained). At heart, the war was about class power in England’s government: the primacy of the monarch and nobility, as opposed to that of Parliament and the more common people.

Cromwell took the side of the Roundheads as a military leader. An intensely religious man, a self-styled Puritan Moses, he fervently believed that God was guiding his victories.

The nickname Roundheads was first used in derision around 1641, when debates in Parliament concerning church matters were causing riots. According to a contemporary, the rioters “had the hair of their heads very few of them longer than their ears.” It was a class slur, as the rioters included London apprentices who were bound by regulations to keep their hair closely cropped.

The war also had a powerful religious undercurrent. It was a conflict between what would eventually be called the “high church,” the more traditional faith and rites favored by the Anglican king and nobility on one hand and on the other the “low church” of the middle and working classes leaning toward a more Continental Protestantism, including Puritanism.

Cromwell was one of the signers of King Charles I’s death warrant in 1649. After the regicide, he was at first a leading member of the so-called rump Parliament, which established the Commonwealth of England (1649-53). This Parliament included supporters of religious independence who did not want an established church and sympathizers with the Levellers, who emphasized popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law and religious tolerance, along with Presbyterians who could live with the trial and execution of the king.

The Church of England was retained, but the episcopacy was suppressed and the Act of Uniformity 1558 was repealed in September 1650. Mainly on the insistence of the Army, many independent churches were tolerated, although everyone still had to pay tithes to the established church.

In 1653, Cromwell became Lord Protector, ruling England effectively as a dictator. He was religiously tolerant, but appointed “triers” who assessed the suitability of candidates for parish ministry and “ejectors” to dismiss ministers and schoolmasters deemed unsuitable—both were the vanguard of Cromwell’s reform of parish worship.

England’s American colonies at the time consisted of the New England Confederation, Providence Plantation, Virginia Colony and Maryland Colony. Cromwell secured their submission and largely left them alone. He intervened only to curb his fellow Puritans against Maryland, by confirming the Catholic proprietorship and edict of tolerance there. Of all the English dominions, Virginia most resented Cromwell’s rule, and Cavaliers flocked there during the Protectorate.

Another unusual religious initiative was an effort encouraging Jews to return to England in 1657, over 350 years after their banishment by Edward I, in the hope that they would help speed up the recovery of the country. There is some evidence that he also thought he could convert the Jews and hasten the Second Coming, based on his interpretation of Matthew 23:37-39. He was serious enough about that to ban Christmas as a pagan festival.

The Puritan outbreak in England, which briefly spread to Scotland and Ireland through military forays by Cromwell, ended shortly after Cromwell’s death. His son inherited the title Protector, but without support, and resigned in May 1659, ending the Protectorate. In 1660 Charles II was invited back from exile to be the rightful king, whose reign said legally to have begun in 1649, when Charles I was beheaded.

The Church of England was restored as the national Church in England in 1662 and people reportedly “pranced around May poles as a way of taunting the Presbyterians and Independents.” This was known as the Caroline Settlement, which ushered in the Caroline Divines, deemed to have fostered a golden age of Anglican scholarship and devotional writing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Dissent and Nonconformity in Britain

Although Westphalia calmed the waters on the Continent and Queen Elizabeth I set her realm in the direction of the Reformation, two broad groups of Protestants in Britain remained unhappy: one in Scotland, the other in England itself.

In Scotland, the Reformation came with humanist ideas that included criticism of the Catholic Church and, in the 1520s by Patrick Hamilton, an abbot executed in 1528 on charges of heresy for espousing the views of Luther while at the University of St. Andrews, in the locality of the same name. His only known writing, based upon Melanchton’s Loci Communes, a summary of Lutheran theology, was given the name of Patrick’s Places by an editor; it echoed the doctrine of justification by faith and the contrast between the gospel and the law.

Hamilton was caught in the early stages of Scottish Reform. James V avoided the changes to the church that occurred with Henry VIII in England. However, thanks to the rebellion to his south he negotiated new terms that, in exchange for loyalty to Rome, he was allowed to tax the institution and appoint his many illegitimate children and favorites to office, particularly David Beaton, who became Archbishop of Saint Andrews and a cardinal. Beaton headed the church tribunal that ordered the execution of Hamilton.

The actual reformation did not come until a series of political changes took place. The story is not, strictly speaking, about the Christian faith, but it sheds light on secular impulses behind the Scottish Reformation.

The death of James in 1542 left the crown legally in the hands of six-day-old Mary, Queen of Scots, his heir, child of the king and his French second wife, Marie de Guise. This left Scotland’s body politic divided between a pro-French faction uninterested in Church reform, led by Beaton and the queen’s mother, and a pro-English faction that leaned somewhat toward Protestantism, headed by Mary’s prospective heir, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran.

Arran was initially regent, backed by an “evangelical” party of Protestant nobles at the court. Under him, the Scottish Parliament removed the prohibition against reading the Bible in the vernacular. A marriage was arranged between Mary and Edward, the son of Henry VIII of England, who reputedly bribed Arran, and agreed under the 1543 Treaty of Greenwich. A backlash in Scotland spawned a coup led by Cardinal Beaton, who opposed reform and any possibility of an English marriage for the queen.

The English were now angry and launched a series of invasions of southeast Scotland later known as the “rough wooing” (presumably by the English child Edward of his Scots infant cousin Mary). The English also sought to change hearts in a different way, bringing Protestant books and Bibles to the Lowlands when they invaded in 1547. These sowed a seed seen after the execution of the Zwingli-influenced George Wishart in 1546, burned at the stake on the orders of Beaton.

The execution prompted a number of nobles to rebel, assassinate Beaton and soon after seize St. Andrews Castle, which they held for a year until they were defeated with the help of French forces. Protestant survivors of the siege included chaplain John Knox, who was among those condemned to serve as galley slaves. In 1549, the defeat of the English with French support led to a regency over Scotland by the queen’s mother. De Guise arranged the marriage of Mary, then about seven, to three-year-old Dauphin Francis, son of Henry II of France. In 1548, the Scottish Parliament agreed to a French marriage treaty and Mary was sent to France to spend the next 13 years at the French court.

The reform proper did not begin until about a decade later and was inspired in part by Knox (1513-1572), a Scottish minister and theologian, considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church. As we have seen, Knox was a slave on a French galley. He escaped to England, then fled from Mary Tudor after she restored Catholicism in England, then went to Geneva, where he met John Calvin, then went to Frankfurt to head an English refugee church there.

From Calvin, he learned of Reformed theology and the presbyterian polity, a form of church governance so named for its ruling presbyters or elders (from the Greek presbyteros, originally meaning old man, a term used in the apostolic era for a priest).

Under this polity, local churches are governed by a body of elected elders known as a session, consistory or church board. Groups of churches report to a higher assembly known as the presbytery, above which are synods. The system represents a rejection of the episcopal hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons, which has New Testament roots; unlike its offshoot, the congregationalist polity, local churched are not independent.

Knox was initially in accord with the development of the Church of England under Cranmer, but later broke with it over his development of a new order of service, which was eventually adopted by the reformed church in Scotland.

Back in Scotland in 1559, Knox had set himself against the regent.

De Guise, who was more interested in gaining Scottish support for her pro-French policies and against England than in religion, had developed a policy of limited tolerance of Protestants, and a measure of peace was maintained, particularly after 1553, when Catholic Mary Tudor ruled England. In 1558, two things happened: the arranged marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the dauphin raised fears that Scotland might become a French province, and the accession in England, of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, established a confessional frontier in Great Britain but gave Reformers hope for change.

Knox had been abroad, but everyone knew he detested Marie de Guise long before he stepped off the boat. His passion went beyond mere hatred for a French woman accidentally regent of his country. His 1558 pamphlet The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regimen of Women is a broadside against the female sovereigns of his day, specifically de Guise, Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent, and her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Mary I of England. He argued that “God, by the order of his creation, has [deprived] woman of authority and dominion” and put men in that place.
“For who can denie but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shal be appointed to leade and conduct such as do see? That the weake, the sicke, and impotent persones shall norishe and kepe the hole and strong, and finallie, that the foolishe, madde and phrenetike shal gouerne the discrete, and giue counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be al women, compared vnto man in bearing of authoritie. For their sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.”

An unintended target, Queen Elizabeth I, took offense and denied him safe passage through England.

Two days after Knox arrived in Edinburgh, he went to Dundee, where a large number of Protestant sympathizers had gathered. Declared an outlaw, he preached a fiery sermon at the church of St John the Baptist that stirred a riot that gutted the church. The mob then attacked two friaries in the town, looting their gold and silver and smashing images. In response De Guise gathered nobles loyal to her and a small French army, with a call for troops from France. A series of military clashes followed that evolved into a civil war of sorts, with French troops coming to aid the regent and English troops to aid the rebel Protestants, some say with the Elizabethan goal of annexing Scotland. The sudden death of Marie de Guise in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1560, brought about an end to hostilities and with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh both French and English troops withdrew from Scotland. On 19 July, Knox held a National Thanksgiving Service at St Giles in Edinburgh.

Under orders of the Scottish Parliament, Knox helped write the new confession of faith, the Scots Confession, a document with Lutheran influences and bows to Calvinism, yet which asserts a very un-Protestant list of specific moral imperatives, including actions that “displease and offend his godly Majesty.” He also set up an ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church, called the Kirk, the Book of Discipline.

Reputedly, Knox’s ideas influenced the development of another document after his day, the 1643 Westminster Confession of Faith, holding a Calvinist theological position that Presbyterians came to accept as foundational. The Presbyterian Protestants developed into their own, originally Scottish, but now worldwide denomination.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Continental Catholics and Reformers Reach a Settlement

Once the heat of conflict surrounding the Reformation’s key events abated, each strand of the Protestant movement coalesced around foundational documents. On the European continent, the parties to political and military conflicts set off by religious revolt reached a settlement.

Foundational Documents

As for coalescing, there emerged the Augsburg Confession for the Lutherans and other such confessions, which are not very long. Their language conveys the temper of each movement and contains terms often regarded as pejorative and divisive today, such as “popish.” They differ on a variety of topics, but concur in the central epistemological view of Protestantism: all truth in matters of the Christian faith comes from the Bible. In the end, the Bible is the foundational Protestant document. Of course, not just any Bible.

The Reformation prompted a veritable surge of biblical translation beyond versions direct from St. Jerome’s Vulgate, in Latin. First came Luther’s Bible in German. Its 66 Old Testament books and 27 in the New Testament set the informal Protestant canon, later affirmed in the various confessional documents, just as its direct appeal to Greek texts set a standard for translation. In English, the first translation was the Tyndale Bible, begun in 1526, followed by the first “authorised version” known as the Great Bible (1539), which we have mentioned as unsatisfactory to Henry VIII.

The Geneva Bible (1560), notable for being the first divided into verses, was produced by a number of Protestant scholars—among them William Whittingham (who supervised the OT work) and Anthony Gilby (who supervised the NT)—who fled Mary Tudor’s reign in England to Geneva, then a republic under the primary spiritual and theological leadership of John Calvin. Its annotations—a hugely important element in the Reformation, which discarded all Catholic notes—were of a Calvinist leaning disliked by the ruling Anglicans of the Church of England. However, the literary, political and social significance of this translation cannot be overstated; it was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, John Donne and John Bunyan.

Indeed, the Bishop's Bible (1568) was an unsuccessful attempt by Elizabeth I to put together a new authorized version, an effort crowned by the version approved by King James I in 1611, still today a standard Protestant translation, despite its many flaws and what is currently archaic language.

The Protestant Bibles prompted a translation of the first English Catholic Bible, the Douay-Rheims, from the Latin Vulgate into English made by members of the English College, Douai, France. The New Testament portion was published in Reims, France, in 1582.


The Reformation led to a series of religious wars that erupted into the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), pitting the Catholic House of Habsburg and its allies against the Protestant princes of Germany, plus supporters in Denmark, Sweden and France. In Germany alone it is estimated that up to 40 percent of the population was killed. Thus, the resulting 1648 Peace of Westphalia—signed by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III (sixth emperor after Charles), Philip IV of Spain and representatives of the Kingdom of France, the Swedish Empire, the Dutch Republic, the various other imperial princes and sovereigns of the free imperial cities—was a major continental watershed.

The treaty recognized a principle enshrined a century earlier in a 1555 settlement in Augsburg between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes: cuius regio, eius religio, a Latin phrase meaning “whose realm, his religion.” The principle established the idea that the religion of the ruler would dictate the religion of the ruled. Westphalia modified the terms: princes could choose Lutheranism or Catholicism as the official state religion—Westphalia added Calvinism.

The treaty also established another landmark principle: that Christians living in principalities where their denomination was not the established church were guaranteed the right to practice their faith in public during specified hours and in private at their will. This principle is one precursor to the notion of separation of church and state, an idea that would have to wait a whole century and a half to become enshrined in law, even then only in a new country far away from Europe.

In a move expressing the papal view of a new world in which the medieval cathedral was smashed and abandoned in ruins, Pope Innocent X declared the treaty “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all times.” This remained the Vatican’s gut reaction to almost all major historical events that followed until the latter half of the 20th century.

However, Rome was not alone in its dissatisfaction. There were also Protestants who were not yet ready for such a settlement. They were located in the British Isles, where the Treaty of Westphalia had no force. To them we will turn next.