It is the undeniable truth that Calvinists took over England, and through English colonization, Calvinism was the main religious force in opening up the North American continent, specifically those colonies who later became the United States of America. What Calvin’s modern fans try to obfuscate however, is the fact that the small group of truly great thinkers who authored and crafted the US Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights where the relationship between religion and State authority was cleanly severed, were in truth a coven of dissidents reacting directly to Calvinistic oppression and abuse of power. They had seen it historically on two continents for many generations. For this reason, the Founding Fathers incorporated protection for all religion in the Constitution. They also limited government from taking a position on religion at all, other than acknowledging the Great Architect of the Universe, the Creator, Who grants all mankind its universal rights.
From the birth of the Church of England to the American Revolution, the State enforcement of Christianity had been seen by America’s Founding Fathers to be, a capricious and bloody disaster. After Henry VIII, the Church of England had first undergone a violent flip-flop back to brutally enforced Roman Catholicism with the short-lived “Bloody Mary,” Henry’s daughter. She died mercifully prematurely in her reign, and from then on the Parliament became over-run with Protestants eagerly driven to force Roman Catholics out government, the court, and ultimately all of England if they could manage it. They rapidly codified anti-Catholic laws including the proscription of Roman Catholics from ever taking the English Crown again. This power-hungry English Parliament looked over the channel in Europe, and jealously spied Calvin’s incredible control of every aspect of Genovese society. They soon adapted themselves to exploit Calvin’s whole approach.
In 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate the Scottish Throne because she was a Roman Catholic. Scotland had been forcefully aligned with England and politics had gone all Puritan on her. Her heir and son James, had been raised a Protestant. He met the new Protestant requirement to take his mother’s throne, but James was only 13 months old however. Several regents ruled on his behalf while he grew up. Before he ascended to his kingly duties, he took to travelling Denmark and Norway to learn the sport of witch hunting, which was immensely popular in Scandinavia at the time. He was a very active participant in these trials and punishments, and in one famous case testified that the witches involved had cast a spell of bad weather that was intended to sink his boat and prevent his participation as he travelled to the court. He authored a little book on the subject titled Daemonologie in 1597, which became something of a handbook for witch hunting fanatics.
James I (Known as James VII of Scotland) practiced his witch hunting hobby as the Scottish King a while. He took a Danish wife while he was at it. Inevitably his mother was executed as a threat to English Protestantism by Elizabeth I. This cleared the way for him to take the English throne without dispute, since unlike his mother, James’ religion was all in order and he had a proper Protestant spouse to make proper Protestant heirs with. He united the two kingdoms of Scotland and England in 1603 as James I of England, when Elizabeth I died childless.
In 1605 a Catholic soldier named Guy Fawkes, supposedly guarding a pile of firewood underneath James’ first parliament as English king, was discovered to also have a pile of powder kegs nearby with which he intended to blow up the entire government. After that, James forced English Catholics to swear an oath of loyalty and deny the supremacy of the Roman Pope over English law. He was quite friendly to them afterward however.
James I also tried to conform the Scottish Protestants as closely as he could to the English Protestants. This annoyed the Scottish immensely. Part of James I’s problems with the Scottish had to do with the Scottish Reformationists claiming way too much independence from the English Church, of which he was now the head, and resting way too much authority on the scribblings of John Calvin. Of course, as already noted, in reality James I had begun his King’s career in Scotland as a back-woodsy Calvinistic Puritan like all the other Scottish Protestants. When he came into the English Throne however, all his witch hunting and whatnot alienated the English Court’s more cosmopolitan, educated Puritans who considered him to be unsophisticated and superstitious. But James I was well thought of throughout his kingdoms, and he made many important cultural and religious “advances” at least from the English, Protestant perspective.
In 1607 a group of settlers sailed from James I’s England and founded the American colony of Jamestown in his name. This entrepreneurial venture became the toe-hold of the Church of England on a big new continent.
James I gave us the era of William Shakespeare. He fostered art and architecture, music and social progress. He brokered something of a peace between Catholic and Protestant, England, Ireland and Scotland, and he sponsored the translation and publication of the Bible that would become the New World English Standard, his “Authorized Version,” which was first published in 1611.
Oddly enough, neither the Pilgrims, other American colonists, or the common English used their king’s “Authorized Version” until around 1651, some thirty years after he made it available to them all. Until around that period, the Geneva Bible was used in the home. This had been compiled in Geneva in part by Calvin’s brother-in-law, as headed up by English refugees from Bloody Mary. It was finally published and Dedicated to the new Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I in 1560.
The Geneva bible was flamingly anti-Roman, something the Anglican church had no quarrel with, but it was also flamingly anti-authoritarian, something the English Crown had issue with. So the Bishop’s Bible was used in church.
This Bishop’s Bible wasn’t the first English “Authorized” Bible. In 1539 Henry VIII ordered Thomas Cromwell to supervise Myles Coverdale in producing the English Great Bible, so-called because it was huge. It is sometimes also called the “Cromwell Bible.” It was also very expensive. It was a clergy-only authorization not meant for the masses. Because Henry VIII grew impatient with the scholarship and tedious deliberation involved, Coverdale ended up basically ripping off the work of William Tyndale who Henry had branded a heretic and traitor, and executed three years previously. Coverdale took Tyndale’s work and removed the objectionable anti-Catholic and anti-authoritarian marginal notes, consulted the Latin Vulgate and various German translations and made editorial corrections for political and dogmatic reasons to keep his king happy. He did not spend any time at all looking at any ancient Biblical texts. The result was clumsy Olde English and would be scarcely understandable today.
Another irony of the Great Bible is the fact that Myles Coverdale in 1535 had already published the first complete English Bible. The Coverdale Bible, unlike other English translators, included the full New and Old Testaments. Like the Great Bible, it was based on Tyndale and German translations. So it is important to note that the Great Bible was very specifically published by the Church of England for some very specific editorial reasons not at all related to scholarship or accuracy. Henry VIII already had an excellent English complete Bible from Coverdale. He wanted one like it, but spun to his own purposes, as supervised by his Vicar General Thomas Cromwell, to insure the resulting volume met the express interest of supporting his king as the sole Defender of the Faith. Not the Pope. Not the Bible. Not John Calvin. But Henry VIII, King of England.
It could be fairly claimed that all of these translations served one political or theological purpose or another rather than represented true and accurate preservation of Holy Writ. But when the Geneva Bible made the Holy Scriptures available in common English vernacular it became immediately popular with the common folk. It was very much a Calvinist document however, a movement that hadn’t yet been smoothed into existing Anglican doctrines maintaining the unilateral Church authority of the English King. Unlike Calvin’s Calvinism and the masses who actually might like a little Biblical anti-authoritarianism, the Church of England and its heads of state didn’t like using a Bible infested with Calvinesque marginal notes authorizing rebellion from Crown and Church. Calvin encouraged slaves and servants to choose God over their masters, and a host of other dangerous free-thinking intimations. So in 1586, under Elizabeth I, a council of bishops produced yet another Bible based on William Tyndale’s work. This again is ironic, since Tyndale had only decades before been arrested by Henry VIII and imprisoned for over 500 days in filthy conditions until he was nearly dead. Finally Henry invented some feeble evidence and Tyndale was convicted of heresy and treason in a contrived trial and then strangled and burnt at the stake in the prison yard on October 6, 1536. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”
For James I’s Biblical mission, he didn’t have to worry about Henry VIII’s fondness for all things Roman Catholic, that had passed from the Anglican Church in no uncertain terms. But when he left the Scottish rabble and became an English king as well, it became a problem of uniting the equally rabid English and the Scottish Protestant factions not against a Roman Pope, but into agreement upon the sovereignty of the King of England as head of both Church and State. That just wasn’t an easy proposition. English Calvinists brushed over rather a lot of Calvin’s views on rather a lot of Church-State issues because they didn’t fit the Anglican foundation. James felt he had to insure this Anglican power base would be observed throughout his kingdoms. This meant he had to mount yet another Biblical rendition that either left all the politics out, openly supported his role as King and Church Head, or the very least, walked that fine line between a sort of neutral accuracy and asking for trouble. Again, he used Tyndale’s work as a centerpiece. His team would go back to the oldest known manuscripts and attempt not just a literal translation, but something that captured the majesty of the Word of God, something everyone could not only read and enjoy as literature, but a Bible that would exclude all marginal interpretations and leave it to the Church (Him as its head) to do all the interpreting.
And the rest is history…
Backtracking the English Bible even farther however, to be fair, the first first delivery of the Holy Scripture to the English masses of course, has to be credited to John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was such a prolific religious idea man and academic genius that he, not Martin Luther, is lauded by the scholarly as the precursor to the Reformation Movement. He was in fact, a Reformer before the Movement caught up with him. He professed that the Bible should be an open possession of the Body of Christ, not a secret collection of scribblings in a language the common population couldn’t even read. He was embarrassed that English nobility read the only common-language Bible they could easily get in French, the only other available being the Vulgate, which was in Latin, which by that time was no longer a common language and was used only by academics and the clergy. Wycliffe instigated an English translation from the Latin that resulted in English versions of the New Testament and an edited, more readable edition of the Old Testament that had been already finished, by Nicholas of Hereford, all of which was again edited and revised by Wycliffe’s associate John Purvey in 1388.
Wycliffe’s pre-Reformation Reforming led to his Roman Catholic opponents saying, “The jewel of the clergy has become the toy of the laity.” And in Wycliffe’s time, Rome was the only game in town. The Roman hierarchy attempted to completely exterminate Wycliffe’s work, but about 150 manuscripts still remain. Tyndale was indeed inspired by Wycliffe’s efforts, which is but one more thing that put him at odds with Henry VIII. Henry VIII did not look at Wycliffe as a Reformer. Henry VIII was the only Reformer Henry VIII needed in his Court. Henry VIII saw Wycliffe as a rebel and troublemaker who in the end was declared posthumously a heretic, excommunicated, dug out of the Church’s Holy Ground, and dumped ignominiously into the local river. Just to make sure he stayed dead, his writings and books were all burned and declared heretical and banned.
At any rate, 1653 brings us to England’s first full-bore Calvinist witch hunter and overall pompous English bastard, Oliver Cromwell. By by 1653 Cromwell had promoted his exploits killing Catholic Celts on the battlefield into a high position in Parliament. He then overthrew King Charles I, had him executed for ostensibly for seeking help from a Catholic army during the battle which Cromwell sold as treason, dissolved Parliament, dissolved the monarchy, formed the “Commonwealth of England,” and installed his own “Barebones” Parliament consisting of hand-picked ministers.
Oliver Cromwell was a distant relative of Thomas Cromwell, the man who’d found Henry VIII the legal and doctrinal excuses for taking over the job of English Pope. Henry had taken Oliver’s kin to the heights of power in his Kingdom, but Thomas eventually found his English Reformation plans put on hold as Henry cut off his head. It seems Parliament thought he was getting too big for his britches and convinced Henry Thomas Cromwell had to go. His kinsman Oliver obviously figured out how to prevent that from happening again by killing the king first, and taking over Parliament himself.
Oliver Cromwell was a truly raving England-First Puritan who professed that God guided his every move. And being a true Calvinist to the core, he had no use for a monarchy pretending to be the head of the Church, and he had no need for a professional clergy to tell his Parliament how to govern English society.
When Oliver Cromwell quoted the Bible it was the full Calvinist Geneva Bible mind you, not the King James Version. Cromwell was all about doing God’s will as he saw fit and any one or anything that encumbered this mission was eliminated. Cromwell had won brutal battle after battle in his campaign against Scottish and Irish Catholics, and even formed a violent aversion to his period Scottish Presbyterians who refused to conform to his English Church and legal systems. He knew what was best for them and he was damned well going to force them to accept it. After conquering them all, he declared himself “Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland.”
Cromwell’s army slaughtered more than forty-percent of the native Irish population for refusing to renounce Catholicism, and drove by force the remaining indigenous population to County Connaught, with the Act of Settlement in 1653. His treatment of the Irish has been categorized by historians as “genocidal.” Even the Scottish Presbyterians had been fighting for a Stuart restoration to the Scottish and/or English Throne, in the person of Charles II, but Cromwell easily and brutally put down both Catholic and Protestant supporters of the Stuarts.
The only thing Oliver Cromwell hated worse than Catholics was heretics and traitors. The only thing he hated worse than heretics and traitors were witches. And be slaughtered a lot of each.
Cromwell’s Commonwealth died with him and the monarchy was restored in 1660 with Charles II, who dug up his bones and hung him by his shroud at Tyburn, except for his head which was cut off and displayed outside Westminster Hall. For the most part his ethnic cleansing of the Irish and gloating victories over the Scottish combined with his furious Calvinism still to this day overwhelm any contributions he may or may not have made to English society.
The English Crown in the 18th century diminished into something close to a “Super Minister,” and almost a figurehead that Parliament could listen to or not. But though a figurehead, the king remained an important figurehead and led by example if nothing else.
In 1745 “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” Charles Edward Stuart, Scotland’s last Stuart pretender to the English and Scottish thrones, returned to Scotland from his safe exile in France, and led a Jacobite or “Highland” rebellion that recaptured his Scottish throne. This surprised everyone including his loyal followers. The English were taken aback and in a state of panic. He then stupidly insisted upon taking on his claim to the English throne. That didn’t go so well for him.
Invading England and capturing its capitol city was not an entirely idiotic notion. The Scots were actually doing quite well at first. (And of course they had God on their side…) The English Parliament even fled town and the entire government was essentially in the process of abandoning London to the oncoming Scottish forces. In the last push however, Charlie got spooked, received some bad intelligence and became convinced a huge force was just waiting for them a few miles closer to their goal. He turned tail and retreated back up into Scotland to have a rethink.
George II of England couldn’t believe this stupid move, thanked God for such a stroke of luck, took advantage of the time Stuart had granted him to rest, rally, and reorganize his forces. Then he sent the Duke of Cumberland chasing backup to Inverness with his best and brightest to solve the Scottish Catholic problem once and for all, in the same way Oliver Cromwell had solved the Irish Catholic problem generations before.
On April 15, 1746, Cumberland’s army faced off with the last Stuart claimant to the English throne with cannon, musket, and sword at Culloden Moore in northern Scotland. When he was finished, there wasn’t much left other than carnage and bloody tartan. He followed up the Jacobite slaughter by systematically burning out the entire Highland population. Likewise, by legal proscription, rape, pillage, and mass murder he drove out or effected the near genocide of the Highland Clans. The Jacobites were mostly Catholic, mixed with a smattering of Scottish Episcopalians, who had splintered from the Scottish Presbyterians because they wouldn’t conform to the Church of England’s guidelines. I mention this again because it isn’t coincidental. This butchery didn’t take place because of simple politics. It was a religious war. It was Christians killing Christians because they disagreed who should be running the Church and State.
(So in one-thousand seven-hundred and forty-five years since the birth of Christ nothing much had changed.)
As usual, George II mainly ended up the King of England because he wasn’t Roman Catholic. George II’s father, George I had been imported from Hanover, which is now in Germany, even though there were English and Scottish heirs with perhaps better claims. The British Isles contestants were all Roman Catholics or had Catholic sympathies.
George I spoke very poor English. He was regarded as a bumpkin and a foreigner by Parliament, and turned out to be far more conciliatory to Roman Catholics than they’d imagined he would be. Undaunted by his efforts at moderation, Parliament continued to enact anti-Catholic measures that grew increasingly oppressive. The English public never warmed up to him either, and it was said that his heart was never in England, but Hanover.
As a young heir to the English throne, George II came to heated debates with his father over the dangers of allowing Roman Catholics to undermine the English Church and State by allowing them power and position when they were forsworn to a foreign Pope. This was an attitude that carried over to the American colonies and remained stalwart amongst the Protestants in the United States of America until about 1960, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, was elected president midst much the same objections from opponents over his allegiances to Rome. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy)
Over these Catholic conspiracy issues and other matters of governing England, George II became enraged at his father in public one too many times, and was banished from Court till his father passed away and he took the throne in 1727.
Unlike his father, George II spoke fluent English and was a gung-ho Calvinist. He refused to go back to Hanover for his father’s funeral and this little gesture of contempt won him the approval of all English society. His slap-down of the Jacobites at Culloden was the last pitched battle ever fought on English soil. Protestantism had unquestionably been secured in the British Isles.
But a pitched battle was brewing on American soil at the same time. In 1776, George II’s heir, King George the III, ultimately lost the American colonies. I leave you to sort out the reasons for this heated move to independence by the English colonists. There are a lot of theories, but a look at actual history will tell you it had as much to do as a whiskey tax and a beer tax and the price of tea, as it did with securing religious freedom. And perhaps the Calvinists were right in the end: the exercise of bashing Bibles back and forth for so many centuries eventually beat some sense into America’s head.
America had begun to realize that religious liberty wasn’t liberty at all unless all individuals were allowed to debate and investigate their own understanding of religious truth, and were then free to observe these beliefs. America had also learned from Calvin’s oppression, that religion wasn’t worth anything if you could not enjoy the fruits of your own labors. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness may not be in the Bible, and happiness may not even be pious, but it wasn’t a bad as it was cracked up to be. And perhaps America had even learned that it was none of the local church biddies’ business if you wanted to dance, or sing, or fart on your own doorstep. In America, a man’s home truly became his castle, and that made him head of his own church in his own home.
John Calvin may have been given credit for founding the hardworking American ethos. But he taught God’s truth by bad example. America learned the value of true religious freedom by suffering the lack of it under Calvin’s colonial hell on earth.