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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

Or had a Lutheran stage of development


Sec. 7. _National Characteristics._

It was not that the Reformation in any of these countries was to become Lutheran in the end, or had a Lutheran stage of development. The number of genuine Lutherans outside Germany and Scandinavia was very small. Here and there a stray one was to be found, like Dr. Barnes in England or Louis Berquin in France. One of the deepest principles of the great Reformer's teaching itself checked the idea of a purely Lutheran Reformation which would embrace the whole Reformation Church. He taught that the practical exercise of faith ought to manifest itself within the great institutions of human life which have their origin in God--in marriage, the family, the calling, and the State, in the ordinary life we lead with its environment. Nations have their character and characteristics as well as individual men, and they mould in natural ways the expression in creed and institution of the religious certainties shared by all. The Reformation in England was based on the same spiritual facts and forces which were at work in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, but each land had its own ways of embodying them. It is interesting to note how national habits, memories, and even prejudices compelled the external embodiment to take very varying shapes, and force the historian to describe the Reformation in each country as something by itself.

The new spiritual life in England took a shape distinctly

marked out for it by the almost forgotten reformatory movement under Wiclif which had been native to the soil. Scotland might have been expected to follow the lead of England, and bring her ecclesiastical reconstruction into harmony with that of her new and powerful ally. The English alliance was the great political fact of the Scottish Reformation, and leading statesmen in both countries desired the still nearer approach which conformity in the organisation of the Churches could not fail to foster. But the memory of the old French alliance was too strong for Cecil and Lethington, and Scotland took her methods of Church government from France (not from Geneva), and drifted farther and farther away from the model of the English settlement. The fifteenth century War of the Public Weal repeated itself in the Wars of Religion in France; and in the Edict of Nantes the Reformed Church was offered and accepted guarantees for her independence such as a feudal prince might have demanded. The old political local independence which had characterised the Low Countries in the later Middle Ages reasserted itself in the ecclesiastical arrangements of the Netherlands. The civic republics of Switzerland demanded and received an ecclesiastical form of government which suited the needs of their social and political life.

Yet amidst all this diversity there was the prevailing sense of an underlying unity, and the knowledge that each national Church was part of the Catholic Church Reformed was keener than among the Lutheran Churches. Protestant England in the time of Edward VI. welcomed and supported refugees banished by the Augsburg Interim from Strassburg. Frankfurt received and provided for families who fled from the Marian persecutions in England. Geneva became a city of refuge for oppressed Protestants from every land, and these strangers frequently added quite a third to her population. The feeling of fraternity was maintained, as in the days of the early Church, by constant interchange of letters and messengers, and correspondence gave a sense of unity which it was impossible to embody in external political organisation. The sense of a common danger was also a wonderful bond of kinship; and the feeling that Philip of Spain was always plotting their destruction, softened inter-ecclesiastical jealousies. The same sort of events occurred in all the Churches at almost the same times. The Colloquy of Westminster (1559) was separated from the Colloquy of Poissy (1561) by an interval of two years only, and the same questions were discussed at both. Queen Elizabeth openly declared herself a Protestant by partaking of the communion in both "kinds" at Easter, 1559; and on the same day Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, made the same profession in the same way at Pau in the south of France. Mary of Guise resolved that the same festival should see the Scots united under the old faith, and thus started the overt rebellion which ended in Scotland becoming a Protestant nation.


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