This is a beta version of NNDB
Search: for

John Knox

John KnoxBorn: c. 1514
Birthplace: Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
Died: 24-Nov-1572
Location of death: Edinburgh, Scotland
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Religion

Nationality: Scotland
Executive summary: Scottish Reformation

Scottish reformer and historian. Of his early life very little is certainly known, in spite of the fact that his History of the Reformation and his private letters, especially the latter, are often vividly autobiographical. Even the year of his birth, usually given as 1505, is matter of dispute. Theodore Beza, in his Icones (1580), makes it 1515; Sir Peter Young (tutor to James VI of Scotland), writing to Beza from Edinburgh in 1579, says 1513; and a strong case has been made out for holding that the generally accepted date is due to an error in transcription. But Knox seems to have been reticent about his early life, even to his contemporaries. What is known is that he was a son of William Knox, who lived in or near the town of Haddington, that his mother's name was Sinclair, and that his forefathers on both sides had fought under the banner of the Bothwells. William Knox was "simple", not "gentle" -- perhaps a prosperous East Lothian peasant. But he sent his son John to school (no doubt the well-known grammar school of Haddington), and thereafter to the university, where, like his contemporary George Buchanan, he sat "at the feet" of John Major. Major was a native of Haddington, who had recently returned to Scotland from Paris with a great academical reputation. He retained to the last, as his History of Greater Britain shows, the repugnance characteristic of the University of Paris to the tyranny of kings and nobles; but like it, he was now alarmed by the revolt of Martin Luther, and ceased to urge its ancient protest against the supremacy of the pope. He exchanged his "regency" or professorship in Glasgow University for one in that of St. Andrews in 1523. If Knox's college time was later than that date (as it must have been, if he was born near 1515), it was no doubt spent, as Beza narrates, at St Andrews, and probably exclusively there. But in Major's last Glasgow session a "Joannes Knox" (not an uncommon name, however, at that time in the west of Scotland) matriculated there; and if this were the future reformer, he may thereafter either have followed his master to St. Andrews or returned from Glasgow straight to Haddington. But until twenty years after that date his career has not been again traced. Then he reappears in his native district as a priest without a university degree (Sir John Knox) and a notary of the diocese of St. Andrews. In 1543 he certainly signed himself "minister of the sacred altar" under the Archbishop of St. Andrews. But in 1546 he was carrying a two-handed sword in defense of the reformer George Wishart, on the day when the latter was arrested by the archbishop's order. Knox would have resisted, though the arrest was by his feudal superior, Lord Bothwell; but Wishart himself commanded his submission, with the words "One is sufficient for a sacrifice", and was handed over for trial at St. Andrews. And next year the archbishop himself had been murdered, and Knox was preaching in St. Andrews a fully developed Protestantism.

Knox gives us no information as to how this startling change in himself was brought about. During those twenty years Scotland had been slowly tending to freedom in religious profession, and to friendship with England rather than with France. The Scottish hierarchy, by this time corrupt and even profligate, saw the twofold danger and met it firmly. James V, the "Commons' King" had put himself into the hands of the Beatons, who in 1528 burned Patrick Hamilton. On James's death there was a slight reaction, but the cardinal-archbishop took possession of the weak regent Arran, and in 1546 burned George Wishart. England had by this time rejected the pope's supremacy. In Scotland by a recent statute it was death even to argue against it; and Knox after Wishart's execution was fleeing from place to place, when, hearing that certain gentlemen of Fife had slain the cardinal and were in possession of his castle of St. Andrews, he gladly joined himself to them. In St. Andrews he taught "John's Gospel" and a certain catechism -- probably that which Wishart had got from "Helvetia" and translated; but his teaching was supposed to be private and tutorial and for the benefit of his friends' " bairns." The men about him however -- among them Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, "Lyon King" and poet -- saw his capacity for greater things, and, on his at first refusing "to run where God had not called him", planned a solemn appeal to Knox from the pulpit to accept "the public office and charge of preaching." At the close of it the speaker (in Knox's own narrative) "said to those that were present, 'Was not this your charge to me? And do ye not approve this vocation?' They answered, 'It was, and we approve it.' Whereat the said Johnne, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears and withdrew himself to his chamber", remaining there in "heaviness" for days, until he came forth resolved and prepared. Knox is probably not wrong in regarding this strange incident as the spring of his own public life. The St. Andrews invitation was really one to danger and death; John Rough, who spoke it, died a few years after in the flames at Smithfield. But it was a call which many in that ardent dawn were ready to accept, and it had now at length found, or made, a statesman and leader of men. For what to the others was chiefly a promise of personal salvation became for the indomitable will of Knox an assurance also of victory, even in this world, over embattled forces of ancient wrong. It is certain at least that from this date he never changed and scarcely even varied his public course. And looking back upon that course afterwards, he records with much complacency how his earliest St. Andrews sermon built up a whole fabric of aggressive Protestantism upon Puritan theory, so that his startled hearers muttered, "Others sned (snipped) the branches; this man strikes at the root."

Meantime the system attacked was safe for other thirteen years. In June 1547 St. Andrews yielded to the French fleet, and the prisoners, including Knox, were thrown into the galleys on the Loire, to remain in irons and under the lash for at least nineteen months. Released at last (apparently through the influence of the young English king, King Edward VI), Knox was appointed one of the licensed preachers of the new faith for England, and stationed in the great garrison of Berwick, and afterwards at Newcastle. In 1551 he seems to have been made a royal chaplain; in 1552 he was certainly offered an English bishopric, which he declined; and during most of this year he used his influence, as preacher at court and in London, to make the new English settlement more Protestant. To him at least is due the Prayer-book rubric which explains that, when kneeling at the sacrament is ordered, "no adoration is intended or ought to be done." While in Northumberland Knox had been betrothed to Margaret Bowes, one of the fifteen children of Richard Bowes, the captain of Norham Castle. Her mother, Elizabeth, co-heiress of Aske in Yorkshire, was the earliest of that little band of women-friends whose correspondence with Knox on religious matters throws an unexpected light on his discriminating tenderness of heart. But now Mary Tudor succeeded her brother, and Knox in March 1554 escaped into five years' exile abroad, leaving Mrs. Bowes a fine treatise on "Affliction", and sending back to England two editions of a more acrid "Faithful Admonition" on the crisis there. He first drifted to Frankfurt, where the English congregation divided as English Protestants have always done, and the party opposed to Knox got rid of him at last by a complaint to the authorities of treason against the emperor Charles V as well as Philip and Mary. At Geneva he found a more congenial pastorate. Christopher Goodman (c. 1520-1603) and he, with other exiles, began there the Puritan tradition, and prepared the earlier English version of the Bible, "the household book of the English-speaking nations" during the great age of Queen Elizabeth I. Here, and afterwards at Dieppe (where he preached in French), Knox kept in communication with the other Reformers, studied Greek and Hebrew in the interest of theology, and having brought his wife and her mother from England in 1555 lived for years a peaceful life.

But even here Knox was preparing for Scotland, and facing the difficulties of the future, theoretical as well as practical. In his first year abroad he consulted John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger as to the right of the civil "authority" to prescribe religion to his subjects -- in particular, whether the godly should obey "a magistrate who enforces idolatry and condemns true religion", and whom should they join "in the case of a religious nobility resisting an idolatrous sovereign." In August 1555 he visited his native country and found the queen-mother, Mary of Lorraine, acting as regent in place of the real "sovereign", the youthful and better-known Mary, new being brought up at the court of France. Scripture-reading and the new views had spread widely, and the regent was disposed to wink at this in the case of the "religious nobility." Knox was accordingly allowed to preach privately for six months throughout the south of Scotland, and was listened to with an enthusiasm which made him break out; "O sweet were the death which should follow such forty days in Edinburgh as here I have had three!" Before leaving he even addressed a letter to the regent, urging her to favor the Evangel. She accepted it jocularly as a "pasquil", and Knox on his departure was condemned and burned in effigy. But he left behind him a "Wholesome Counsel" to Scottish heads of families, reminding them that within their own houses they were "bishop and kings", and recommending the institution of something like the early apostolic worship in private congregations. Of the Protestant barons Knox, though in exile, seems to have been henceforward the chief adviser; and before the end of 1557 they, under the name of the "Lords of the Congregation", had entered into the first of the religious "bands" or "covenants" afterwards famous in Scotland. In 1558 he published his "Appellation" to the nobles, estates and commonalty against the sentence of death recently pronounced upon him, and along with it a stirring appeal "To his beloved brethren, the Commonalty of Scotland", urging that the care of religion fell to them also as being "God's creatures, created and formed in His own image", and having a right to defend their conscience against persecution. About this time, indeed, there was in Scotland a remarkable approximation to that solution of the toleration difficulty which later ages have approved; for the regent was understood to favor the demand of the "congregation" that at least the penal statutes against heretics "be suspended and abrogated", and "that it be lawful to us to use ourselves in matters of religion and conscience as we must answer to God." It was a consummation too ideal for that early date; and next year the regent, whose daughter was now queen of France and there mixed up with the persecuting policy of the Guises, forbade the reformed preaching in Scotland. A rupture ensued at once, and Knox appeared in Edinburgh on the 2nd of May 1559 "even in the brunt of the battle." He was promptly "blown to the horn" at the Cross there as an outlaw, but escaped to Dundee, and commenced public preaching in the chief towns of central Scotland. At Perth and at St. Andrews his sermons were followed by the destruction of the monasteries, institutions disliked in that age in Scotland alike by the devout and the profane. But while he notes that in Perth the act was that of "the rascal multitude", he was glad to claim in St. Andrews the support of the civic "authority"; and indeed the burghs, which were throughout Europe generally in favor of freedom, soon became in Scotland a main support of the Reformation. Edinburgh was still doubtful, and the queen regent held the castle; but a truce between her and the lords for six months to the 1st of January 1560 was arranged on the footing that every man there "may have freedom to use his own conscience to the day foresaid" -- a freedom interpreted to let Knox and his brethren preach publicly and incessantly.

Scotland, like its capital, was divided. Both parties lapsed from the freedom-of-conscience solution to which each when unsuccessful appealed; both betook themselves to arms; and the immediate future of the little kingdom was to be decided by its external alliances. Knox now took a leading part in the great transaction by which the friendship of France was exchanged for that of England. He had one serious difficulty. Before Elizabeth's accession to the English crown, and after the queen mother in Scotland had disappointed his hopes, he had published a treatise against what he called "The Monstrous Regiment (regimen or government) of Women"; though the despotism of that despotic age was scarcely appreciably worse when it happened to be in female hands. Elizabeth never forgave him; but William Cecil corresponded with the Scottish lords, and their answer in July 1559, in Knox's handwriting, assures England not only of their own constancy, but of "a charge and commandment to our posterity, that the amity and league between you and us, contracted and begun in Christ Jesus, may by them be kept inviolated for ever." The league was promised by England; but the army of France was first in the field, and towards the end of the year drove the forces of the "congregation" from Leith into Edinburgh, and then out of it in a midnight rout to Stirling -- "that dark and dolorous night", as Knox long afterwards said, "wherein all ye, my lords, with shame and fear left this town", and from which only a memorable sermon by their great preacher roused the despairing multitude into new hope. Their leaders renounced allegiance to the regent; she ended her not unkindly, but as Knox calls it "unhappy", life in the castle of Edinburgh; the English troops, after the usual Elizabethan delays and evasions, joined their Scots allies; and the French embarked from Leith. On the 6th of July 1560 a treaty was at last made, nominally between Elizabeth and the queen of France and Scotland; while Cecil instructed his mistress's plenipotentiaries to agree "that the government of Scotland be granted to the nation of the land." The revolution was in the meantime complete; and Knox, who takes credit for having done much to end the enmity with England which was so long thought necessary for Scotland's independence, was strangely enough destined, beyond all other men, to leave the stamp of a more inward independence upon his country and its history.

At the first meeting of the Estates, in August 1560, the Protestants were invited to present a confession of their faith. Knox and three others drafted it, and were present when it was offered and read to the parliament. The statute book says it was "by the estates of Scotland ratified and approved, as wholesome and sound doctrine grounded upon the infallible truth of God's word." The Scots confession, though of course drawn up independently, is in substantial accord with the others then springing up in the countries of the Reformation, but is Calvinist rather than Lutheran. It remained for two centuries the authorized Scottish creed, though in the first instance the faith of only a fragment of the people. Yet its approval became the basis for three acts passed a week later; the first of which, abolishing the pope's authority and jurisdiction in Scotland, may perhaps have been consistent with toleration, as the second, rescinding old statutes which had established and enforced that and other catholic tenets, undoubtedly was. But the third, inflicting heavy penalties, with death on a third conviction, on those who should celebrate mass or even be present at it, showed that the reformer and his friends had crossed the line, and that their position could no longer be described as, in Knox's words, "requiring nothing but the liberty of conscience, and our religion and fact to be tried by the word of God." He was prepared indeed to fall back upon that, in the event of the Estates at any time refusing sanction to either church or creed, as their sovereign in Paris promptly refused it. But the parliament of 1560 gave no express sanction to the Reformed Church, and Knox did not wait until it should do so. Already "in our towns and places reformed", as the Confession puts it, there were local or "particular kirks", and these grew and spread and were provincially united, until, in the last month of this memorable year, the first General Assembly of their representatives met, and became the "universal kirk", or "the whole church convened." It had before it the plan for church government and maintenance, drafted in August at the same time with the Confession, under the name of The Book of Discipline, and by the same framers. Knox was even more clearly in this case the chief author, and he had by this time come to desire a much more rigid Presbyterianism than he had sketched in his "Wholesome Counsel" of 1555. In planning it he seems to have used his acquaintance with the "Ordonnances" of the Genevan Church under Calvin, and with the "Forma" of the German Church in London under John Laski (or A. Lasco). Starting with "truth" contained in Scripture as the church's foundation, and the Word and Sacraments as means of building it up, it provides ministers and elders to be elected by the congregations, with a subordinate class of "readers", and by their means sermons and prayers each "Sunday" in every parish. In large towns these were to be also on other days, with a weekly meeting for conference or "prophesying." The "plantation" of new churches is to go on everywhere under the guidance of higher church officers called superintendents. All are to help their brethren, "for no man may be permitted to live as best pleaseth him within the Church of God." And above all things the young and the ignorant are to be instructed, the former by a regular gradation or ladder of parish or elementary schools, secondary schools and universities. Even the poor were to be fed by the Church's hands; and behind its moral influence, and a discipline over both poor and rich, was to be not only the coercive authority of the civil power but its money. Knox had from the first proclaimed that "the teinds (tithes of yearly fruits) by God's law do not appertain of necessity to the kirkmen." And this book now demands that out of them "must not only the ministers be sustained, but also the poor and schools." But Knox broadens his plan so as to claim also the property which had been really gifted to the Church by princes and nobles -- given by them indeed, as he held, without any moral right and to the injury of the people, yet so as to be Church patrimony. From all such property, whether land or the sheaves and fruits of land, and also from the personal property of burghers in the towns, Knox now held that the state should authorize the kirk to claim the salaries of the ministers, and the salaries of teachers in the schools and universities, but above all, the relief of the poor -- not only of the absolutely "indigent" but of "your poor brethren, the laborers and handworkers of the ground." For the danger now was that some gentlemen were already cruel in exactions of their tenants, "requiring of them whatever before they paid to the Church, so that the papistical tyranny shall only be changed into the tyranny of the lords or of the laird." The danger foreseen alike to the new Church, and to the commonalty and poor, began to be fulfilled a month later, when the lords, some of whom had already acquired, as others were about to acquire, much of the Church property, declined to make any of it over for Knox's magnificent scheme. It was, they said, "a devout imagination." Seven years afterwards, however, when the contest with the Crown was ended, the kirk was expressly acknowledged as the only Church in Scotland, and jurisdiction given it over all who should attempt to be outsiders; while the preaching of the Evangel and the planting of congregations went on in all the accessible parts of Scotland. Gradually too stipends for most Scottish parishes were assigned to the ministers out of the yearly teinds; and the Church received -- what it retained even down to recent times -- the administration both of the public schools and of the Poor Law of Scotland. But the victorious rush of 1560 was already somewhat stayed, and the very next year raised the question whether the transfer of intolerance to the side of the new faith was as wise as it had at first seemed to be successful.

Mary Queen of Scots had been for a short time also queen of France, and in 1561 returned to her native land, a young widow on whom the eyes of Europe were fixed. Knox's objections to the "regiment of women" were theoretical, and in the present case he hoped at first for the best, favoring rather his queen's marriage with the heir of the house of Hamilton. Mary had put herself into the hands of her half-brother, Lord James Stuart afterwards Earl of Moray, the only man who could perhaps have pulled her through. A proclamation now continued the "state of religion" begun the previous year; but mass was celebrated in the queen's household, and Lord James himself defended it with his sword against Protestant intrusion. Knox publicly protested; and Moray, who probably understood and liked both parties, brought the preacher to the presence of his queen. There is nothing revealed to us by "the broad clear light of that wonderful book", The History of the Reformation in Scotland, more remarkable than the four Dialogues or interviews, which, though recorded only by Knox, bear the strongest stamp of truth, and do almost more justice to his opponent than to himself. Mary took the aggressive and very soon raised the real question. "Ye have taught the people to receive another religion than their princes can allow; and how can that doctrine be of God, seeing that God commands subjects to obey their princes?" The point was made keener by the fact that Knox's own Confession of Faith (like all those of that age, in which an unbalanced monarchical power culminated) had held kings to be appointed "for maintenance of the true religion", and suppression of the false; and the reformer now fell back on his more fundamental principle, that "right religion took neither original nor authority from worldly princes, but from the Eternal God alone." All through this dialogue too, as in another at Lochleven two years afterwards, Knox was driven to axioms, not of religion but of constitutionalism, which Buchanan and he may have learned from their teacher Major, but which were not to be accepted until a later age. "'Think ye', quoth she, 'that subjects, having power, may resist their princes?' 'If their princes exceed their bounds, Madam, they may be resisted and even deposed'", Knox replied. But these dialectics, creditable to both parties, had little effect upon the general situation. Knox had gone too far in intolerance, and Moray and Maitland of Lethington gradually withdrew their support. The court and parliament, guided by them, declined to press the queen or to pass the Book of Discipline; and meantime the negotiations as to the queen's marriage with a Spanish, a French or an Austrian prince revealed the real difficulty and peril of the situation. Her marriage to a great Catholic prince would be ruinous to Scotland, probably also to England, and perhaps to all Protestantism. Knox had already by letter formally broken with the Earl of Moray, "committing you to your own wit, and to the conducting of those who better please you"; and now, in one of his greatest sermons before the assembled lords, he drove at the heart of the situation the risk of a Catholic marriage. The queen sent for him for the last time and burst into passionate tears as she asked, "What have you to do with my marriage? Or what are you within this commonwealth?" "A subject born within the same", was the answer of the son of the East Lothian peasant; and the Scottish nobility, while thinking him overbold, refused to find him guilty of any crime, even when, later on, he had "convocated the lieges" to Edinburgh to meet a crown prosecution. In 1564 a change came. Mary had wearied of her guiding statesmen, Moray and the more pliant Maitland; the Italian secretary David Rizzio, through whom she had corresponded with the pope, now more and more usurped their place; and a weak fancy for her handsome cousin, Lord Darnley, brought about a sudden marriage in 1565 and swept the opposing Protestant lords into exile. Darnley, though a Catholic, thought it well to go to Knox's preaching; but was so unfortunate as to hear a very long sermon, with allusions not only to "babes and women" as rulers, but to Ahab who did not control his strong-minded wife. Mary and the lords still in her council ordered Knox not to preach while she was in Edinburgh, and he was absent or silent during the weeks in which the queen's growing distaste for her husband, and advancement of Rizzio over the nobility remaining in Edinburgh, brought about the conspiracy by Darnley, Morton and Ruthven. Knox does not seem to have known beforehand of Rizzio's "slaughter", which had been intended to be a semi-judicial act; but soon after it he records that "that vile knave Davie was justly punished, for abusing of the commonwealth, and for other villainy which we list not to express." The immediate effect however of what Knox thus approved was to bring his cause to its lowest ebb, and on the very day when Mary rode from Holyrood to her army, he sat down and penned the prayer, "Lord Jesus, put an end to this my miserable life, for justice and truth are not to be found among the sons of men!" He added a short autobiographic fragment, whose mingled self-abasement and exultation are not unworthy of its striking title -- "John Knox, with deliberate mind, to his God." During the rest of the year he was hidden in Ayrshire or elsewhere, and throughout 1566 he was forbidden to preach when the court was in Edinburgh. But he was influential at the December Assembly in the capital where a greater tragedy was now preparing, for Mary's infatuation for Bothwell was visible to all. At the Assembly's request, however, Knox undertook a long visit to England, where his two sons by his first wife were being educated, and were afterwards to be Fellows of St. John's, Cambridge, the younger becoming a parish clergyman. It was thus during the reformer's absence that the murder of Darnley, the abduction and subsequent marriage of Mary, the flight of Bothwell, and the imprisonment in Lochleven of the queen, unrolled themselves before the eyes of Scotland. Knox returned in time to guide the Assembly which sat on the 25th of June 1567 in dealing with this unparalleled crisis, and to wind up the revolution by preaching at Stirling on the 9th of July 1567, after Mary's abdication, at the coronation of the infant king.

His main work was now really done; for the parliament of 1567 made Moray regent, and Knox was only too glad to have his old friend back in power, though they seem to have differed on the question whether the queen should be allowed to pass into retirement without trial for her husband's death, as they had differed all along on the question of tolerating her private religion. Knox's victory had not come too early, for his physical strength soon began to fail. But Mary's escape in 1568 resulted only in her defeat at Langside, and in a long imprisonment and death in England. In Scotland the regent's assassination in 1570 opened a miserable civil war, but it made no permanent change. The massacre of St. Bartholomew rather united English and Scottish Protestantism; and Knox in St. Giles' pulpit, challenging the French ambassador to report his words, denounced God's vengeance on the crowned murderer and his posterity. When open war broke out between Edinburgh Castle, held by Mary's friends, and the town, held for her son, both parties agreed that the reformer, who had already had a stroke of paralysis, should remove to St. Andrews. While there he wrote his will, and published his last book, in the preface to which he says, "I heartily take my good-night of the faithful of both realms... for as the world is weary of me, so am I of it." And when he now merely signs his name, it is "John Knox, with my dead hand and glad heart." In the autumn of 1572 he returned to Edinburgh to die, probably in the picturesque house in the "throat of the Bow", which for generations has been called by his name. With him were his wife and three young daughters; for though he had lost Margaret Bowes at the close of his year of triumph 1560, he had four years after married Margaret Stewart, a daughter of his friend Lord Ochiltree. She was a bride of only seventeen and was related to the royal house; yet, as his Catholic biographer put it, "by sorcery and witchcraft he did so allure that poor gentlewoman that she could not live without him." But lords, ladies and burghers also crowded around his bed, and his colleague and his servant have severally transmitted to us the words in which his weakness daily strove with pain, rising on the day before his death into a solemn exultation -- yet characteristically, not so much on his own account as for "the troubled Church of God." He died on the 24th of November 1572, and at his funeral in St. Giles' Churchyard the new Regent Morton, speaking under the hostile guns of the castle, expressed the first surprise of those around as they looked back on that stormy life, that one who had "neither flattered nor feared any flesh" had now "ended his days in peace and honor." Knox himself had a short time before put in writing a larger claim for the historic future, "What I have been to my country, though this unthankful age will not know, yet the ages to come will be compelled to bear witness to the truth."

Knox was a rather small man, with a well-knit body; he had a powerful face, with dark blue eyes under a ridge of eyebrow, high cheek-bones, and a long black beard which latterly turned grey. This description, taken from a letter in 1579 by his junior contemporary Sir Peter Young, is very like Beza's fine engraving of him in the Icones -- an engraving probably founded on a portrait which was to be sent by Young to Beza along with the letter. The portrait, which was unfortunately adopted by Thomas Carlyle, has neither pedigree nor probability. After his two years in the French galleys, if not before, Knox suffered permanently from gravel and dyspepsia, and he confesses that his nature "was for the most part oppressed with melancholy." Yet he was always a hard worker; as sole minister of Edinburgh studying for two sermons on Sunday and three during the week, besides having innumerable cares of churches at home and abroad. He was undoubtedly sincere in his religious faith, and most disinterested in his devotion to it and to the good of his countrymen. But like too many of them, he was self-conscious, self-willed and dogmatic; and his transformation in middle life, while it immensely enriched his sympathies as well as his energies, left him unable to put himself in the place of those who retained the views which he had himself held. All his training too, university, priestly and in foreign parts, tended to make him logical overmuch. But this was mitigated by a strong sense of humor (not always sarcastic, though sometimes savagely so), and by tenderness, best seen in his epistolary friendships with women; and it was quite overborne by an instinct and passion for great practical affairs. Hence it was that Knox as a statesman so often struck successfully at the center of the complex motives of his time, leaving it to later critics to reconcile his theories of action. But hence too he more than once took doubtful shortcuts to some of his most important ends; giving the ministry within the new Church more power over laymen than Protestant principles would suggest, and binding the masses outside who were not members of it, equally with their countrymen who were, to join in its worship, submit to its jurisdiction, and contribute to its support. And hence also his style (which contemporaries called anglicized and modern), though it occasionally rises into liturgical beauty, and often flashes into vivid historical portraiture, is generally kept close to the harsh necessities of the few years in which he had to work for the future. That work was indeed chiefly done by the living voice; and in speaking, this "one man", as Elizabeth's very critical ambassador wrote from Edinburgh, was "able in one hour to put more life in us than five hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears." But even his eloquence was constraining and constructive -- a personal call for immediate and universal cooperation; and that personal influence survives to this day in the institutions of his people, and perhaps still more in their character. His countrymen indeed have always believed that to Knox more than to any other man Scotland owes her political and religious individuality. And since his 19th century biography by Dr. Thomas McCrie, or at least since his recognition in the following generation by Thomas Carlyle, the same view has taken its place in literature.

Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile

Copyright ©2021 Soylent Communications