Catholics, Protestants, Church of England, the Kirk, Presbyterians, Puritans, Divine Right of Kings and Parliament
(Originally published January 26th, 2012)
English Catholics and Protestants were Fiercely Religious and willing to Kill or be Killed for their Faith
To understand the founding political structure of the United States you need to understand 17th century Britain. The run up to the 17th century. And the Protestant Reformation. When Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics. And their beliefs and practices.
Catholics are born with original sin. Protestants aren’t. All Catholics have a chance to go to Heaven. God sorts out the Protestant’s going to Heaven before birth. Doing good deeds can help Catholics make it to Heaven. They won’t make any difference for Protestants. Catholics burn away their sins in Purgatory. Then comes Judgment Day. Clean souls go to Heaven. Unclean souls go to Hell. Protestants go straight to Heaven or Hell when they die with no layover in Purgatory or judgment. Catholics believe priests have special powers and the Pope is infallible. Protestants don’t. Catholics have saints, altar rails, candles, pictures, statues and stained glass windows. Protestants don’t. Catholics believe priests change the wine and bread at Communion into the actual body and blood of Christ. Protestants think they just represent the body and blood of Christ.
These are some significant differences. Especially in a time when everyone was fiercely religious. And did everything in this life to prepare for the afterlife. Even buy an indulgence from the Catholic Church to buy their way through Purgatory and into Heaven. One of the pet peeves of Martin Luther that he included in his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 Germany (which was then a collection of German princedoms). This was serious stuff for the laypeople. Who were willing to kill or be killed for their faith. Which they did a lot of in Britain.
When Queen Elizabeth died King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England
King Henry the VIII hated Martin Luther. Was a staunch defender of the faith. But he wanted a divorce. So he could marry a woman who would give him a son instead of more daughters. But he needed the Pope to grant him this. And the Pope refused. Henry VIII also wanted to get the Catholic Church out of his affairs. So he created an English church. The Church of England. With him as the guy in charge. At first his church was going to be protestant. Fully anti-Pope. But he had Parliament pass the Act of Six Articles that made his Protestant Church very Catholic. After Henry VIII died succeeding rulers pulled the Church back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism.
Edward VI pulled it back to Protestantism. Then that bread and wine issue came up again. So they wrote a new prayer book that was deliberately vague. Which caused the Catholics to riot. When he died his sister, Queen Mary, took the throne. An ardent Catholic. Out went that new prayer book. In came Catholicism. And she arrested and burned Protestants at the stake. Then she died. And in came Queen Elizabeth. A Protestant. So the Church of England became Protestant again. With a little Catholicism mixed in. But it wasn’t Catholic enough. So the Pope excommunicated her in 1570. Angry, she oppressed the Catholics. Yet the Protestants weren’t happy, either. That little bit of Catholicism was just way too much for their liking. Especially those hardcore Calvinist Protestants (the people we call Puritans even though at the time it was more a derogatory term). Who Elizabeth then arrested and executed.
There was a Protestant uprising in Scotland and they, too, broke from the Catholic Church. Without consulting their very important friend and ally. Catholic France. Which was home for an exiled Mary Queen of Scots. A Catholic. But she didn’t have the power to fight against the Protestants. So she joined the fight against the Catholics. But she had some Catholic baggage the Scottish couldn’t forgive and they forced her to abdicate anyway. Her son, James VI, became king. The Church of Scotland was Presbyterian (Calvinist Protestantism). But Scotland had a lot of Catholics as well. The Scottish Parliament made James the head of the Scottish Church. The Kirk. Which was a problem for the Presbyterians. Because they said a king couldn’t be the head of their church. When Elizabeth died James became King James I of England. Changed the spelling of his name from ‘Stewart’ to ‘Stuart’. And became the head of the Church of England. Who the Presbyterians said was way too Catholic.
King James I believed in the Divine Right of Kings and Hated Parliament
When Mary Queen of Scots abdicated James VI was only a baby and raised by a Presbyterian handler. His Regent. Who ruled for James until he came of age. Who must have been strict for James did not like the Scottish Presbyterians. Who were very similar to English Puritans. Elizabeth had oppressed Catholics and Puritans. Who were now both looking for a little relief from King James I. James met with some Puritans and Catholic bishops. The bishops resented having to meet with Puritans. And the Puritans wanted to do away with the bishops. But James preferred Catholics over Puritans. So he persecuted the Puritans. Some of who embarked on a ship called the Mayflower and sailed to religious freedom in America. Where they would allow anyone to practice any religion they chose. As long as they chose Puritanism.
Now even though James preferred the Catholics there were a lot of Protestants in England. And a strong anti-Catholic sentiment. After all England’s two great enemies, Spain and France, were Catholic. So he continued some Catholic oppression. One Catholic took great offense to this and decided to do something about it. Blow up Parliament. And the king. Robert Catesby planned the Gunpowder Plot. But someone warned the government. And they caught Guy Fawkes in the cellar surrounded by gun powder just before he could light the fuse. They sentenced Fawkes and the other conspirators to death.
James was not a fan of Parliament, either. It was different in Scotland. There they did pretty much what he wanted. But the English Parliament didn’t. And this really bugged him. For he believed in the Divine Right of Kings. Parliament didn’t. And they told him so. Also, Parliament controlled the purse strings. If he wanted money, and he did, he would have to work with Parliament. Or find another means to pay for what he wanted. He chose to find another means. He forced people to loan him money. And even sold a new hereditary title. The baronet. But it was never enough. When he died the kingdom wasn’t as rich as Elizabeth left it for him. Worse, he left a political mess for his successor. King Charles I. Who became the first king whose subjects put on trial. And executed. Following the English Civil War. Which he, of course, lost.
The Radical New Ideas Sown in the 17th Century would have a Profound Impact on the American Founding Fathers
King Charles I ruled in 17th century Britain. A momentous time of change. In Britain. The Old World. And the New World. A king would be tried for the first time by the people. Religious scores would be settled far and wide. Attempted, at least. And new states would rise in the New World where they would live under the religion they chose. Governed by representatives of the people. Who governed at the consent of the people. Radical new ideas. That were sown in 17th century Britain. And would have a profound impact on the American Founding Fathers.
Tags: bishops, Britain, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Catholics, Christ, Christianity, Church of England, divine right of kings, Elizabeth, England, English, faith, Henry the VIII, Martin Luther, Mary Queen of Scots, Parliament, Pope, Presbyterians, Protestant Reformation, Protestantism, Protestants, Puritans, Scotland, Scottish, The Kirk, wine and bread