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Chapter 5


EXILE: APPEALS FOR A PHINEHAS, AND A JEHU: 1554


No change of circumstances could be much more bitter than that which exile brought to Knox. He had been a decently endowed official of State, engaged in bringing a reluctant country into the ecclesiastical fold which the State, for the hour, happened to prefer. His task had been grateful, and his congregations, at least at Berwick and Newcastle, had, as a rule, been heartily with him. Wherever he preached, affectionate women had welcomed him and hung upon his words. The King and his ministers had hearkened unto him--young Edward with approval, Northumberland with such emotions as we may imagine--while the Primate of England had challenged him to a competitive ordeal by fire, and had been defeated, apparently without recourse to the fire-test.

But now all was changed; Knox was a lonely rover in a strange land, supported probably by collections made among his English friends, and by the hospitality of the learned. In his wanderings his heart burned within him many a time, and he abruptly departed from his theory of passive resistance. Now he eagerly desired to obtain, from Protestant doctors and pontiffs, support for the utterly opposite doctrine of armed resistance. Such support he did not get, or not in a satisfactory measure, so he commenced prophet on his own lines, and on his own responsibility.

When Knox's heart burned within him, he sometimes seized the pen and dashed off fiery tracts which occasionally caused inconvenience to the brethren, and trouble to himself in later years. In cooler moments, and when dubious or prosperous, he now and again displayed a calm opportunism much at odds with the inspirations of his grief and anger.

After his flight to Dieppe in March 1554, Knox was engaged, then, with a problem of difficulty, one of the central problems of his career and of the distracted age. In modern phrase, he wished to know how far, and in what fashion, persons of one religion might resist another religion, imposed upon them by the State of which they were subjects. On this point we have now no doubt, but in the sixteenth century "Authority" was held sacred, and martyrdom, according to Calvin, was to be preferred to civil war. If men were Catholics, and if the State was Protestant, they were liable, later, under Knox, to fines, exile, and death; but power was not yet given to him. If they were Protestants under a Catholic ruler, or Puritans under Anglican authority, Knox himself had laid down the rule of their conduct in his letter to his Berwick congregation. {45} "Remembering always, beloved brethren, that due obedience be given to magistrates, rulers, and princes, without tumult, grudge, or sedition. For, howsoever wicked themselves be in life, or howsoever ungodly their precepts or commandments be, ye must obey them for conscience' sake; except in chief points of religion, and then ye ought rather to obey God than man: not to pretend to defend God's truth or religion, ye being subjects, by violence or sword, but patiently suffering what God shall please be laid upon you for constant confession of your faith and belief." Man or angel who teaches contrary doctrine is corrupt of judgment, sent by God to blind the unworthy. And Knox proceeded to teach contrary doctrine!

His truly Christian ideas are of date 1552, with occasional revivals as opportunity suggested. In exile he was now asking (1554), how was a Protestant minority or majority to oppose the old faith, backed by kings and princes, fire and sword? He answered the question in direct contradiction of his Berwick programme: he was now all for active resistance. Later, in addressing Mary of Guise, and on another occasion, he recurred to his Berwick theory, and he always found biblical texts to support his contradictory messages.

At this moment resistance seemed hopeless enough. In England the Protestants of all shades were decidedly in a minority. They had no chance if they openly rose in arms; their only hope was in the death of Mary Tudor and the succession of Elizabeth--itself a poor hope in the eyes of Knox, who detested the idea of a female monarch. Might they "bow down in the House of Rimmon" by a feigned conformity? Knox, in a letter to the Faithful, printed in 1554, entirely rejected this compromise, to which Cecil stooped, thereby deserving hell, as the relentless Knox (who had fled) later assured him.

In the end of March 1554, probably, Knox left Dieppe for Geneva, where he could consult Calvin, not yet secure in his despotism, though he had recently burned Servetus. Next he went to Zurich, and laid certain questions before Bullinger, who gave answers in writing as to Knox's problems.

Could a woman rule a kingdom by divine right, and transfer the same to her husband?--Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain, is, of course, to be understood. Bullinger replied that it was a hazardous thing for the godly to resist the laws of a country. Philip the eunuch, though converted, did not drive Queen Candace out of Ethiopia. If a tyrannous and ungodly Queen reign, godly persons "have example and consolation in the case of Athaliah." The transfer of power to a husband is an affair of the laws of the country.

Again, must a ruler who enforces "idolatry" be obeyed? May true believers, in command of garrisons, repel "this ungodly violence"? Bullinger answered, in effect, that "it is very difficult to pronounce upon every particular case." He had not the details before him. In short, nothing definite was to be drawn out of Bullinger. {47a}

Dr. M'Crie observes, indeed, that Knox submitted to the learned of Switzerland "certain difficult questions, which were suggested by the present condition of affairs in England, and about which his mind had been greatly occupied. Their views with respect to these coinciding with his own, he was confirmed in the judgment which he had already formed for himself." {47b}

In fact, Knox himself merely says that he had "reasoned with" pastors and the learned; he does not say that they agreed with him, and they certainly did not. Despite the reserve of Bullinger and of Calvin, Knox was of his new opinions still. These divines never backed his views.

By May, Knox had returned to Dieppe, and published an epistle to the Faithful. The rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt had been put down, a blow to true religion. We have no evidence that Knox stimulated the rising, but he alludes once to his exertions in favour of the Princess Elizabeth. The details are unknown.

In July, apparently, Knox printed his "Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God's Truth in England," and two editions of the tract were published in that country. The pamphlet is full of violent language about "the bloody, butcherly brood" of persecutors, and Knox spoke of what might have occurred had the Queen "been sent to hell before these days." The piece presents nothing, perhaps, so plain spoken about the prophet's right to preach treason as a passage in the manuscript of an earlier Knoxian epistle of May 1554 to the Faithful. "The prophets of God sometimes may teach treason against kings, and yet neither he, nor such as obey the word spoken in the Lord's name by him, offends God." {48} That sentence contains doctrine not submitted to Bullinger by Knox. He could not very well announce himself to Bullinger as a "prophet of God." But the sentence, which occurs in manuscript copies of the letter of May 1554, does not appear in the black letter printed edition. Either Knox or the publisher thought it too risky.

In the published "Admonition," however, of July 1554, we find Knox exclaiming: "God, for His great mercy's sake, stir up some Phineas, Helias, or Jehu, that the blood of abominable idolaters may pacify God's wrath, that it consume not the whole multitude. Amen." {49a} This is a direct appeal to the assassin. If anybody will play the part of Phinehas against "idolaters"--that is the Queen of England and Philip of Spain--God's anger will be pacified. "Delay not thy vengeance, O Lord, but let death devour them in haste . . . For there is no hope of their amendment, . . . He shall send Jehu to execute his just judgments against idolaters. Jezebel herself shall not escape the vengeance and plagues that are prepared for her portion." {49b} These passages are essential. Professor Hume Brown expresses our own sentiments when he remarks: "In casting such a pamphlet into England at the time he did, Knox indulged his indignation, in itself so natural under the circumstances, at no personal risk, while he seriously compromised those who had the strongest claims on his most generous consideration." This is plain truth, and when some of Knox's English brethren later behaved to him in a manner which we must wholly condemn, their conduct, they said, had for a motive the mischief done to Protestants in England by his fiery "Admonition," and their desire to separate themselves from the author of such a pamphlet.

Knox did not, it will be observed, here call all or any of the faithful to a general massacre of their Catholic fellow-subjects. He went to that length later, as we shall show. In an epistle of 1554 he only writes: "Some shall demand, 'What then, shall we go and slay all idolaters?' That were the office, dear brethren, of every civil magistrate within his realm. . . . The slaying of idolaters appertains not to every particular man." {49c}

This means that every Protestant king should massacre all his inconvertible Catholic subjects! This was indeed a counsel of perfection; but it could never be executed, owing to the carnal policy of worldly men.

In writing about "the office of the civil magistrate," Knox, a Border Scot of the age of the blood feud, seems to have forgotten, first, that the Old Testament prophets of the period were not unanimous in their applause of Jehu's massacre of the royal family; next, that between the sixteenth century A.D. and Jehu, had intervened the Christian revelation. Our Lord had given no word of warrant to murder or massacre! No persecuted apostle had dealt in appeals to the dagger. As for Jehu, a prophet had condemned his conduct. Hosea writes that the Lord said unto him, "Yet a little while, and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu," but doubtless Knox would have argued that Hosea was temporarily uninspired, as he argued about St. Paul and St. James later.

However this delicate point may be settled, the appeal for a Phinehas is certainly unchristian. The idolaters, the unreformed, might rejoice, with the Nuncio of 1583, that the Duc de Guise had a plan for murdering Elizabeth, though it was not to be communicated to the Vicar of God, who should have no such dealings against "that wicked woman." To some Catholics, Elizabeth: to Knox, Mary was as Jezebel, and might laudably be assassinated. In idolaters nothing can surprise us; when persecuted they, in their unchristian fashion, may retort with the dagger or the bowl. But that Knox should have frequently maintained the doctrine of death to religious opponents is a strange and deplorable circumstance. In reforming the Church of Christ he omitted some elements of Christianity.

Suppose, for a moment, that in deference to the teaching of the Gospel, Knox had never called for a Jehu, but had ever denounced, by voice and pen, those murderous deeds of his own party which he celebrates as "godly facts," he would have raised Protestantism to a moral pre-eminence. Dark pages of Scottish history might never have been written: the consciences of men might have been touched, and the cruelties of the religious conflict might have been abated. Many of them sprang from the fear of assassination.

But Knox in some of his writings identified his cause with the palace revolutions of an ancient Oriental people. Not that he was a man of blood; when in France he dissuaded Kirkcaldy of Grange and others from stabbing the gaolers in making their escape from prison. Where idolaters in official position were concerned, and with a pen in his hand, he had no such scruples. He was a child of the old pre-Christian scriptures; of the earlier, not of the later prophets.


Andrew Lang

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