Sunday, September 18, 2005

Musings on John Knox

This past week, while reading the Well-Trained Mind General Discussion Board, I was surprised to be addressed by someone thanking me for comments about John Knox which I posted last year after reading Story of the World, Volume 3, Chapter 2. I just checked my Word Perfect files and found that I had saved the comments and thought I'd re-post them here...

I'd like to share some of my thoughts on SOTW v. 3, ch. 2, "The Queen Without A Country" for the purpose of discussion, if others want to opine as well, but not for the purpose of starting a flame war. I thoroughly appreciate Story of the World and though I have some quibbles with this particular section, I'm not writing this out of disgust. To let you know my bias: I am a member of a Reformed Presbyterian church. Last year, I taught a high school church history class and gained a deeper respect for the way God used John Knox in church, country, and even towards developing ideas foundational to the American Revolution.

I realize that SOTW is a childrens' history and is not meant to be comprehensive, but humor me as I discuss it as an adult. On pg. 29 it says that Mary of Guise BECAME Mary Queen of Scots' regent. From what I've read, it was not as if Mary of Guise was the only option to become regent. She CAMPAIGNED to become regent and did become the regent, partly because of the *promises* she made to the Protestant lords. At first she was tolerant of Protestants. SOTW goes on to say that Mary of Guise was a good regent. That assessment is arguable, because Mary of Guise, like many politicians, broke the promises that she made to the lords who put her in power. She haughtily dismissed them when they objected, saying that "it became not subjects to burden their princes with promises, farther than they pleased to keep them." The Protestant Lords did suspend Mary from office, but with three qualifications: 1. That they still were in allegiance to Mary Queen of Scots. 2. That they harbored no personal animosity towards Mary of Guise. 3. That they would restore the queen regent to office if she would show sorrow for breaking her promises. Sounds fair to me.

SOTW mentions John Knox, but ignores all of his significant contributions to Scottish, and indeed world history, and instead holds up a magnifying glass to his criticisms of women rulers. Let me first agree that Knox's Monstrous Regiment of Women was indeed "monstrous" in the language he uses in describing women. I'm not trying to get into a discussion here about his beliefs on women rulers, but I think that he way overstated his case and turned it into a general insult and degradation of women. He was a man of his times. Earlier, he had left England due to the persecutions of Bloody Mary. Her abuses I'm sure had a lot to do with influencing his opinions towards women rulers! He certainly did not treat his wife and mother-in-law with the same disrespectful spirit that he displays in his writing. All of this is not an excuse, in my opinion. I think that this part of his writing is a blot on his character which serves to keep me from "putting him up on a pedestal".

I've noticed that many men and women of God in the Bible and in the pages of history have been used by God in various ways in spite of their sin. I've also noticed that when the Bible describes the people of God, after their lives are over, it mercifully focuses on their faith in God and not their sins.

Anyway, in reading this chapter, I got the impression that the Protestant lords were scheming and treacherous, that Mary was unjustly persecuted, and that Knox was a woman-hating sourpuss. However, other books I've read shed a different light.

I think that Knox is a historically more significant character than Mary, because:

  • his preaching was instrumental in furthering not only the Scottish Reformation, but the Reformation in England (Edward VI asked him to preach in England to make the Reformation based on scripture rather than just a political power play as his father had begun it.)
  • He helped author the Scottish Confession of Faith which was -adopted by Parliament BEFORE Mary came to Scotland - and which 1) made Protestantism the official religion of Scotland 2) basically outlawed Catholic worship 3) defined the roles of state and church [I think that this is important to understand that the Protestants were not just renegades against Mary at this time, but their Parliament had made Scotland a Protestant nation. The Protestant nobles were remarkable in accepting Mary as their rightful ruler even though her beliefs were contrary to the principles of the nation and she basically kept breaking the law and turning a blind eye to to others who broke it.]
  • He is the Father of Presbyterianism
  • He was the only man who was immune to Mary's charming personality and could stand up to her. For instance, the first time that he met her, he said, "If princes exceed their bounds, and do against that wherefore they should be obeyed, there is no doubt that they may be resisted even with power." [Sounds like he is giving teeth to the principle in the Magna Carta that the ruler is not above the law!] Later Samuel Rutherford expanded this seed of an idea in his work Lex Rex. It can be argued that Knox articulated a principle that was borne out in the American Revolution!

The books that I've read have painted a very different picture of Mary as well:

Mary married Lord Darnley, but their marriage soon turned sour. She began an affair with the Earl of Bothwell. Darnley turned to drinking and prostitutes. Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, was a Catholic who was hated in Scotland. He was plotting to restore papal authority in Scotland. Darnley believed rumors that Mary was sleeping with Rizzio and plotted with some Protestant nobles (not Knox) to kill him which some assassins did in front of Mary. [SOTW said on pg. 31 that Darnley wanted to make Catholicism illegal... but the practice of Catholicism already WAS!]

SOTW also mentions that Mary became less and less popular. WHY? Could it be that Darnley died in a suspicious way and everyone suspected the Earl of Bothwell with Mary as his accomplice? Could it be that Bothwell pretended to rape Mary who then married him, claiming that she had to because he had "lain with her" against her will? As Douglas Wilson writes in For Kirk and Covenant, "the nation, Protestant and Catholic, was revolted, and so they revolted."

Poor Mary? It seems to me that she brought a lot of her own troubles down upon her own head. Cough.

Please don't take my comments to mean that I am against Catholics! During the time of Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox, every country had an established church. No country was neutral. Queen Elizabeth was fairly tolerant of Catholics, but she was still a Protestant queen and England was a Protestant nation. Really, the American idea of no establishment of religion is a novel idea in history!

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