8 Things to Learn About John Knox the Legendary Prophet

John knox

John Knox was an influential figure in the Scottish Reformation. In 1560, he established the Scottish Presbyterian Church, which separated from the Catholic Church and established itself as a reformed congregation.

There are many sides to this person. Let us know in detail about the person called John Knox.

1. Who was John Knox

The enigmatic John Knoxa Scottish theologian, was a man of many contradictions. He was a preacher of the Christian gospel, who supported the armed rebellion. He was also one of the most effective Protestant preachers of that era, but only two of the hundreds of sermons he delivered were ever made public.

1.1. Early Life of John Knox (1514-1546)

Although little is known about Knox’s early life, it is not regarded as privileged, but marked by poverty and health problems, which definitely laid the groundwork for his quest for change.

By Dan Mall on Unsplash/Copyright March, 2021

John Knox was the son of a trader. In 1536, he was ordained as a Catholic priest after achieving academic success under the guidance of renowned scholar John Major.

However, Scotland already had many priests, and he was not taken a parish. Instead, he settled for tutoring and notarial work. In this period, Scotland was still a Catholic nation that supported France in its war with England.

1.2. The Influence of Early Scottish Protestant Reformers on John Knox 

By 1545-46, reformed literature began to arrive in Scotland, and reformed preaching gained prominence. Patrick Hamilton was among the most renowned early Scottish reformers. His ideas became increasingly well-known, and Scott was highly impressed by him.

The movement was further strengthened in Scotland by George Wishart, a student at Zürich, who started publicly promoting Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger’s reformed ideas. Knox, who considered the Mass as an act of idolatry, dedicated himself totally to the Scottish reform movement.

1.2.1. The Suppression of the Movement by the Catholic Church

Protestantism was still a novel idea and not extensively adopted in Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Catholic Church, which was tremendously influential and rich, was trying hard to keep these effects at bay.

James V of Scotland (r 1513-1542) evaded extensive discrimination against Protestants, but after he died, James Hamilton, Mary of Guise (Queen Mary’s mother), and Cardinal David Beaton changed his strategy and started systematically eliminating the dissident Protestants. Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart, two of Knox’s colleagues and leaders in the Protestant cause, were subsequently prosecuted by the Scottish government.

This resulted in violent outrage among Scottish protestants. Cardinal Beaton was being murdered in his residence at St. Andrews Castle by Wishart’s followers, who later took control of the castle and turned it into a shelter for Protestants.

Nearly a year later, John Knox travelled with his two students and soon assumed the role of chaplain at St. Andrews. He started strongly criticising the Roman Catholic Church through his sermons.

1.2.2. Imprisonment in the French Galley 

Knox’s ministry at St. Andrew’s Castle was abolished by the French invasion in 1547. He was captured as a slave in the French galleys, along with his fellow Protestants.  He suffered hardships and a terrible illness there until his release in 1549.

By Raimond Klavins on Unsplash/Copyright July, 2021

He was at the lowest point of his life with many illnesses, but still refused to quit before he preached for the last time in the spires of the parish church between St. Andrews and Dundee land.

1.3. Life In England 

After his exile from Scotland, John Knox moved to England, where he continued his work on the Protestant Restoration. There he was compensated with modest compensation and was appointed the pastor of a Protestant church in Berwick, followed by St Nicholas’ Church in Newcastle upon Tyne. He met Marjorie Bowes in Berwick, and she later became Knox’s first wife and mother of his two kids.

John Knox spent the next five years in England and rose to the position of royal chaplain. However, with Edward VI’s death in 1553 and the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor, Knox’s rise in England was interrupted. She reimposed Roman Catholicism in England and brought back the Mass in the churches.  On the suggestion of friends, Knox departed for Europe in January 1554.

Knox made lasting impressions on the English Church through his work on the English “Book of Common Prayer,” which Queen Elizabeth I of England subsequently modified when she restored the Protestant Church of England in 1558.

1.4. John Knox’s Expeditions 

His first stop after leaving England was France. Later that year, Knox moved to Geneva, Switzerland, and became closely associated with John Calvin, a French theologian.Knox was especially moved by Calvin’s implementation of Reformed doctrines in Geneva, and believed that the same approach would be successful in Scotland.

“First Blast of the Trumpets Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women,” a notable essay denouncing the female monarchy and specifically criticising Catholic Mary Tudor, was written by Knox while he was in Geneva.

After a brief stay in Geneva, John Knox left for Frankfurt, Germany, where he accepted to serve an English congregation on Calvin’s suggestion. He remained there until 1555, till the notes he had written disparaging Queen Mary Tudor were discovered. Consequently, he was requested to leave. He moved back to Geneva and stayed there from 1556–1559.

1.5. John Knox – The Reformation Church Leader 

After spending twelve years in exile, John Knox returned to Scotland in 1559 to continue his role as movement leader for the revived Protestant Reformation. He delivered a violent speech in Perth at St.

John’s church was against Catholic “idol worship” just days after arriving, inciting a riot that caused the destruction of religious buildings, statues, and chapels. He was also appointed as the minister of Edinburgh’s St. Giles Church, which was under Protestant influences. Knox retained this position till he died.

Photo by Ross Findlay on Unsplash/Copyright April, 2021

Many Scottish nobles left Mary of Guise for Knox when she declared martial law to impose Catholicism and used French soldiers and mercenaries to restrain the Protestants.

After the sudden demise of Mary of Guise on June 1560, at Edinburgh Castle, the Treaty of Edinburgh was signed by the representatives of French, English, and Protestant supporters. All war hostilities were stopped, and armies of France and England retreated from Scotland.

1.6. The Formation of the Scottish Presbyterian Church

The Scottish Parliament swiftly enacted three acts, the first of which nullified the Pope’s authority in Scotland, the second of which denounced any teaching or practise incompatible with the Reformed Faith, and the third of which prohibited the performance of Mass in Scotland.

Knox and the other ministers were entrusted with establishing the new church, prior to the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament.

John Knox immediately addressed an assembly, where he helped draft the Scots Confession, which eventually became the Confession of Faith for the Presbyterian Church. Subsequently, he published the Book of Discipline, which outlined the new church’s democratic structure.

Photo by Skyler Gerald on Unsplash/Copyright August, 2018

John Knox put in a lot of effort to secure governmental and financial backing for the Protestant Church, as there were already two churches that were preexisting in Scotland. Knox continued to be a key player in the process of development despite his disagreements with Mary Queen of Scots, who ruled an apparently Protestant nation. Meanwhile, his wife Margery passed away.

In 1564, John Knox remarried a young woman, Margaret Stewart, who later had three daughters with him. Additionally, Knox published the Book of Common Order, which was adopted as the official prayer guide for the Scottish congregation in that same year. However, there was still no consensus regarding religion in Scotland.

1.7. Mary Queen Of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots and Knox did not get along well when she returned to Scotland. Mary summoned Knox and blamed him for written defiance of her mother’s authority, which subsequently sparked a rebellion against her.

She urged Protestant preachers to preserve religious tolerance, and most of them cooperated, but Knox refused to make a compromise. As he preached that there is only one genuine faith, and Christians should not accept the Catholic queen’s fraudulent ideas.

As soon as the Scottish Protestants were in power, Protestantism took over as the nation’s official religion. During this period, protestant Elizabeth I was ruling England and had Mary Stewart under her power.

1.8. Legacy of John Knox

Many academicians view John Knox as a key figure in building the groundwork for the United Kingdom by making Scotland a Protestant nation. Prior to the Scottish Reformation, France was a key ally of Scotland in their battles against England. It was John Knox who formed the Protestant Church of Scotland and changed the equation by making Protestant England their ally, and Catholic France and Spain were considered a foe.

John Knox’s preachings were influenced by the concepts of covenant theology. Offering favours, holy places, mandatory fasts, and papal celibacy were attacked by him as unbiblical, immoral acts that ran counter to the idea of salvation by faith alone.

Knox opposed the Catholic organisational structure of archbishops, bishops, and priests in favour of the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland was a democratic organisation with no central authoritative figure, and complete voter rights were granted to all seniors in a good position.

John Knox was honest with himself and genuine with others, caring for people and urging them to turn from their sins and place their faith in Christ Jesus.

2. End Note

The paradoxical existence of John Knox continues to influence how his legacy is perceived. Some attribute to him the establishment of liberal ideas in his church, which later laid down grounds for the Constitution of the United States, while others point out how his reforms were anti-feminist and led to the decline of women’s rights in Scotland.

Although he is still regarded as one of the Protestant Reformation’s most effective and convincing advocates, there is also a disagreement about how to explain his journey and what it really involves.

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Pooja Thakur

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