Religion Friday, Jul 4 2008 

‘It is an odd thing, Mr Ireton, that every man that wages war believes that God is on his side. I’ll warrant God must often wonder who is on his.’

Letter from Cromwell to Henry Ireton, his son-in-law.

Belief in Christianity fractured into many forms in Western Europe after the Protestant Reformation, so that by the time our epoch began, distinct churches competed for fealty from the flock, and in turn demanded obedience.

‘When the dawn of the Gospel began to break upon this isle, after the dark midnight of Papacy, the morning was more cloudy here than in other places by reason of the state interest, which was mixing and working itself into the interest of religion, and which in the end quite wrought it out.

But even then there wanted not many who discerned the corruptions that were retained in the church, and eagerly applied their endeavours to obtain a purer reformation, through excess of joy for that which was already brought forth or else through a secret love of superstition rooted in their hearts, thought this too much, and were bitterly incensed, and, hating that light which reproved them of their darkness, everywhere stirred up spirits of envy and persecution against them.

Upon this great revolution, the nation became divided into three great factions: the Papist, the State Protestant and the more religious zealots who afterward were branded with the name Puritan.’

Lucy Hutchinson

A view of the Bible used by each church and how the word of God was communicated by the priesthood to the laity highlights their divisions.

Catholics used the Latin Vulgate Bible, with a belief in apostolic succession resting on Papal infallibility. The ordained priesthood would conduct the central right of worship, the Mass, in a church which reflected the glory of God through the ornate works of man. Salvation could only come through prayer, penance and the sacrament; of faith and good works. The Council of Trent describes the full complex theological position of the Catholic Church in the middle of the sixteenth century, after the Protestant Reformation, and was little changed during our epoch.

Lutherans and Anglicans used vernacular translations of the Bible, which in English was the King James version. Again, a belief in apostolic succession was held, but without allegiance to the Pope.

Lutherans stressed that salvation came from faith alone, with the Mass conducted in both the vernacular tongue and in Latin. They denied Transubstantiation and the Mass and allowed priests to marry.

In England, Anglicans sought a similar religious position, defined by the XXXIX Articles, and was the state form of Protestant worship.

Calvinists (or the Puritans in Britain) used vernacular translations of the Bible, which in English was the Geneva Bible of Calvin. Adorned with notes, this Bible guided the reader to the views of Calvin and his followers regarding correct understanding of the word of God without the need for a clergy. Belief centred on the individual and their personal relationship with God. They believed in predestination; that God had already elected his chosen flock for heaven, and that no amount of sacrament or good works gave salvation. The clergy, elected by their local community to lead them, could offer preaching and reading scripture, but not act as an intermediary to God. In England, the Puritan Creed was summarised in the Westminster confession of 1647. It confirmed Calvin’s position that the Pope was seen as the Anti-Christ. Divine Providence, that God made things happen because of divine direction, control and guidance, was a deeply held belief.

Apart from this Protestant/Catholic divide, further afield in Europe, the original schism in the Christian church in 1054 between East and West eventually led to Russia following its own Orthodox church, and within the Ottoman Empire, Sunni Islam was the state religion. Scattered across all of Europe were Jews.

The test of these faiths was soon to be conducted upon the battlefields of Europe in confessional wars. This was especially so during the early part of our epoch, in the Thirty Years War and the British Civil Wars.

We can see how a simple difference in the practice of worship turns faith into suppressed rage, in this passage from the great Puritan poet, John Milton. He rails against the rails introduced around altars in English churches, by Archbishop Laud as part of Laud’s quest to impose total uniformity of worship in England from 1634 onwards.

‘The table of communion, now becomes a table of separation, stands like an exalted platform upon the brow of the quire, fortified with bulwark and barricado, to keep off the profane touch of the laics, whilst the obscene and surfeited priest scruple not to paw and mammoc the sacramental bread, as familiarly as his tavern biscuit.

And thus the people, vilified and rejected by them, give over the earnest study of virtue and godliness, as a thing of greater purity than they would need, and the search of divine knowledge as a mystery too high for their capacities, and only for churchmen to meddle with; which is what prelates desire that when they have brought us back to popish blindness, we might commit to their dispose the whole management of salvation.’

Placing a faith based obstruction to the individuals path to redemption was a serious personal issue, and the wrath it provoked undoubtely added to the kindling of enmity between the different creeds.

Further attempts by King Charles I and Archbishop Laud to impose uniformity of worship in Scotland led to the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 in defence of Scottish Presbyterianism, and rapidly to the Bishops’ Wars, marking the beginning of the British Civil Wars.

‘What is all our histories, but God showing himself, shaking and trampling on everything that he has not planted.’

Cromwell



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Dynasty Friday, Jul 4 2008 



Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.

Psalm 89:4

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Power Friday, Jul 4 2008 

Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.

Psalm 66:3

 

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