Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who Were the Puritans?

Since I have been studying the Puritans lately, I'd like to post some of my thoughts and notes about them. My hope is that it will stir you to consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Persecution and Anti-Popery

            When King Edward VI died on July 6, 1553, Mary Tudor successfully made her bid for the throne. In doing this, she fully intended to return the kingdom to Roman Catholicism. Unlike her half-sister Elizabeth, Mary appears not to have subordinated her religious views to her political instincts. She earnestly pressed for full implementation of Roman Catholic beliefs and worship practices. Her marriage to Philip II of Spain was a Catholic marriage which she hoped would produce a Catholic heir. Her hopes for a son and a Catholic renewal of England both failed to come to pass. In fact, her vigorous persecution of “heretics” produced the opposite effect she hoped for. Diarmaid MacCulloch states,
Mary made her own vital contribution to the Protestant Reformation by restoring the heresy laws, and burning Cranmer and his various colleagues. That bitter experience became a central part of English consciousness in succeeding Protestant centuries. It tied Protestant England into an active and deeply felt anti-Catholicism which was the particular forte of Reformed Protestant Christians. If anything was the glue which fixed the kingdom into a Reformed Protestant rather than a Lutheran mould, this was it.[1]
            The persecution by “Bloody Mary” was immortalized by John Foxe in his Actes and Monuments. Nearly 300 Protestants are believed to have met their death under her reign for refusing to submit to Catholic doctrine.
            Two of the most famous executions that took place were those of Nicolas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, both Protestant leaders under Edward VI. After being imprisoned for a time in the Tower of London, both were brought before a council of the papal party to defend their beliefs. The commissioners skillfully selected Romish articles which would force the defendants to side with Rome or else expose their Protestant beliefs.
1.      “In the sacrament of the altar, by the virtue of God’s word pronounced by the priest, there is really present the natural body of Christ, conceived of the Virgin Mary, under the kinds of the appearance of bread and wine; in like manner His blood.”
2.      “After the consecration there remaineth no substance of bread and wine, nor any other substance, but the substance of God and man.”
3.      “In the mass there is the lively sacrifice of the Church, which is propitiatory as well for the sins of the quick as of the dead.”
Latimer wrote a reply which appealed to the Word of God in rejection of the Roman doctrines. He concluded with these words:
“Thus have I answered your conclusions, as I will stand unto, with God’s help, to the fire. And after this, I am able to declare the majesty of God, by His invaluable Word, that I die for the truth; for I assure you if I could grant o the Queen’s proceedings, and endure by the Word of God, I would rather live than die; but seeing they be directly against God’s Word, I will obey God more than man, and so embrace the stake.”[2]
            Latimer and Ridley did indeed embrace the stake on October 16, 1555. John Foxe described the scene.
“Then they brought a fagot, kindled with fire, and laid the same down at Dr. Ridley’s feet. To whom Master Latimer spake in this manner: ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’ And so the fire being given unto them, when Dr. Ridley saw the fire flaming up towards him, he cried, with a wonderful loud voice… ‘Lord, Lord, receive my spirit:’ Master Latimer crying as vehemently on the other side, ‘O Father of heaven, receive my soul!’”[3]
            Whether or not Latimer spoke those words, it does seem true that Mary’s persecution identified Catholicism with tyranny in the minds of many people.

Exile and Return

            Mary also sowed other seeds which would contribute to a Puritan harvest. Many Protestants who fled the country to escape persecution went to Reformed cities in Europe, such as Strasbourg and Frankfurt. But the most important place of refuge was in the Swiss cities of Zurich and Geneva, home of John Calvin. Here the English exiles were able to see first hand the changes in worship which the Swiss Reformed Christians implemented. Here they had direct contact with the theological leaders of the Reformed doctrine. Here they saw the government of entire cities changed to reflect what the reformers saw from the Bible. These ideas and connections proved very influential when the exiles returned to England.

[1] “Putting the English Reformation on the Map,” Transactions of the RHS 15 (2005), 86.
[2] Robert Demaus, Hugh Latimer: A Biography (London: Religious Tract Society, 1904), 423.
[3] Latimer’s words are not found in Foxe’s first edition, and it is not certain where he obtained this information. Therefore, there is some doubt about their authenticity.


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