Knox’s Attitude to the English Reformation -- By: W. Stanford Reid

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 26:1 (Nov 1963)
Article: Knox’s Attitude to the English Reformation
Author: W. Stanford Reid


Knox’s Attitude to the English Reformation

W. Stanford Reid

Was John Knox at heart an Anglican? Did he favour the form which the Reformation took in England under Edward VI and Elizabeth? These questions have interested both English and Scottish Protestants for some four centuries, and to them historians have given a number of different answers. Today, however, they have gained a new and crucial importance owing to talks of union between the established churches of the two countries and, also, because recently a number of books have appeared dealing with this problem.

From the days of the sixteenth century one school of thought, beginning with Andrew Melville and continuing through David Calderwood and Hume of Godscroft down into the nineteenth century with its Thomas M’Crie, Peter Lorimer and into the twentieth with P. Hume Brown, A. M. Renwick and others, has taught that Knox was no Anglican. The members of this school have held that he favoured the establishment in Scotland of a thoroughly Calvinistic and Presbyterian church which went far beyond the English Reformation. Indeed for Lorimer and some others Knox really laid the basis for English Puritanism.1 Dissatisfied with the lack of thorough Reformation in England, he also wished to make sure that Scotland stopped at no halfway house.

Another school of interpretation which appeared very early had a much less sympathetic attitude to the Scottish reformer. Archbishop Parker in 1559 expressed the hope that England might escape a visitation such as Knox had brought upon Scotland,2 and some three hundred years later Andrew Lang in his John Knox and the Reformation (London, 1905) pictured

him as “the fons et origo mali” in modern Scottish development, including Presbyterianism.3

In more recent years, those who have not favoured the interpretation of the Calvinistic school have also turned away from Parker’s and Lang’s interpretation of Knox. Dr. C. L. Warr, formerly minister of St. Giles Church, Edinburgh, in his work on The Presbyterian Tradition (London, 1933) while showing no love for Knox feels that he did have a true appreciation of the idea of “the succession” of the ministry, and in fact accepted the idea of episcopacy.4 Similarly a more recent writer, Dr. Gordon Donaldson of Edinburgh University, has set forth, from the Episcopalian camp, the same interpretation which he has endeavoured to support in a number of works of detailed and careful historical analysis.<...

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