John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, is hailed as one of the fathers of Protestant church reform. His undying passion for his beliefs as well as a strong bond of friendship with several religious women, sustained him in his work until he died. His work comprises a number of sermons and religious writings that carry on his legacy to this day. There is some disagreement regarding the year of his birth, but critics believe this event to be somewhere in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The Dictionary of National Biography for example places Knox's birth at round about 15141, while Miles Hodges places it at 15052.
According to the Dictionary, Knox was born at Cliffordgate in Haddington. An interesting fact is that he occasionally adopted his mother's maiden name, Sinclair, as an alias when he found himself obliged to hide from persecutors. His father, William Knox came from a highly respected family, with a history of service to the Bothwell earls. As with his birth, little is known about Knox's early years of life and education. Apparently he did not take a degree, but did continue studying after school. His studies at the St. Andrews University where he studied under John Mair. From here he entered the religious profession and became deacon and priest in the early 1930's. He continued his career by practicing as a notary in and around Haddington when 1540 arrived.
What could have been a stable and lasting career for the young church official was overturned in 1543 when he came into contact with the underground protestant movement in Scotland. It was through the preaching of Thomas Guilliame that Knox first began to learn about Protestant ideas. Guilliame's spirited preaching brought new life not only to the movement, but also to the heart of John Knox. He was touched by the energy behind the preacher's words.
1 Dawson, Jane E.A. 2004. 'Knox, John (c.1514 -- 1572)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
2 Hodges, Miles. 2001. John Knox. History: the Reformation
There is no other information available regarding Knox's rejection of the Catholic faith in favor of his new fervor for the Protestant movement. It is only known that he has devoted the rest of his life to his newfound faith and ideals.
Another known fact is that one of Knox's formative influences in terms of his faith was George Wishart, a preacher also filled with a revitalizing energy for the Protestant cause. When Wishart was executed after his trial for heresy in St. Andrews, Knox believed he was in danger, as he had made no secret of his association with the preacher. When most of the unrest subsided, Knox returned to the tutorships he was involved with during 1547. It is during this time that two protestants, John Rough and Henry Balnaves, attempted to persuade Knox to become a preacher. The latter would have none of it, as he was convinced that he had not been called to such a service. Knox was later convinced, although unwillingly, with the argument that a flock could also be used to issue a call to a recognized leader to preach.3
Knox's first sermon was the culmination of a debate between the Protestant Rough and the Catholic Annand. Knox supplied Rough with notes, but Annand was getting the better of the argument. This persuaded Knox to stand up and take the challenge of presenting his views against the Catholic church in a sermon. His first sermon, setting the tone for the rest of his ministry, was an attack on papal authority as representative of the Antichrist or the "beast" from his chosen text, Daniel 7:24-5. Knox based this upon the argument that the doctrine of the Pope and the Catholic church was not in line with God's laws. It followed that all against God was for Satan, and hence the Pope was in greater agreement with Satan than with God. These bold initial assertions were substantiated with later debates and more sermons, with the radical departure
3 Dawson, Jane E.A. 2004. 'Knox, John (c.1514 -- 1572)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
within the church of administering the communion in a Protestant rather than a Catholic manner. The reform, which was only in its infancy at the time, however came to an end by political upheaval during July, when a French fleet recaptured St. Andrews Castle.
After their capture, Knox and the other commoners were used to serve on the galleys while the nobles were held prisoner in French castles. It is a significant fact that Knox was seen as a spiritual leader even by the nobles. This is a testament not only to the power of his faith, but to the charisma he was able to project during his sermons as well as his personal encounters with people. Knox became very ill during their return to Scottish waters. It was feared that he would die, but the preacher predicted that he would hold sermons in his beloved St. Andrews Parish Church again before he died.4 When relating the events during this time, it is significant that Knox concentrated on the Protestants and their faith, relating personal events only when it has direct bearing on the faith in question. This is also a time during which Knox, despite his hardship, had sufficient time to reflect and read about issues of faith. Here he also had time to more fully develop the ideas begun during his first sermons. He was for example very concerned with the battle between Satan and God, and the respective followers of each. In his writings to the protestants in St. Andrews this was a theme he frequently used.
Knox used the Old Testament particularly as substantiation for his belief that contemporary politics were a manifestation of the battle between light and darkness. This is shown in the language that he uses to encourage, admonish and describe his ideas. He even paralleled his own experiences with the writings of especially Isaiah and Jeremiah. He had supreme confidence in his own ability to understand the Scriptures in relation to himself and his world.
4 Dawson, Jane E.A. 2004. 'Knox, John (c.1514 -- 1572)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
It was also during his imprisonment that Knox further developed his feelings regarding the Catholic Church. His personal experience served as a stronghold for his growing faith and confidence both in his message and in his personal calling to preach this message. Knox thus integrated his personal experiences with what he saw as biblical truth unencumbered by the doctrines and laws of the Catholic faith.
Upon his release during February 1549, Knox was sent to Berwick as a preacher. Here Knox was reunited with some of his East Lothian friends. It is also here that his ministry, based upon both his faith and charisma, became an icon of good Christianity. He for example improved the behavior of the soldiers in the town, removing the worst of the violence and promoting peace. More specifically he also collected a number of committed protestants. With them in mind he composed "A Confession and Declaration of Praiers" 5. His experience in the galleys served him well in these writings, as he was able to assure his readers of God's continued presence regardless of apparently insurmountable hardship.
With the basis of his earlier thoughts on Catholicism and his oppositions to it, Knox further developed his reformation doctrines. One of the basic areas of his attack on Catholicism was the Roman Catholic Mass. At Berwick, Knox then demonstrated his rebellion by giving his communicants bread instead of wafer while they were sitting rather than kneeling. This was also the basis of his role in protestant campaign, which was led by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Knox further demonstrated his fervor for following biblical teaching as presented by the scriptures alone by accusing the Catholic church of outright idolatry through the practice of its Mass when summoned before the council of the north in April 1550. Here it was also clarified
5 Hodges, Miles. 2001. John Knox. History: the Reformation http://www.newgenevacenter.org/biography/knox2.htm
that Knox's thought, based upon Old Testament doctrinal practices as it was, identified as idolatry any practice within the Church that was not directly identified with God. One component of this was then his views on the communion. He denied the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, substituting the spiritual absorption of the body and blood of Christ for the actual physical event. Knox thus proved himself to be an extremist, in that he allowed no gray areas between true worship and full-fledged idolatry. For him it was a situation of either being completely for God or completely for the devil. In that the Catholic church did not agree with his views, Knox concluded that they were necessarily on the side of the devil.
This is also a time during which Knox's personal life took an interesting turn. Marjory Bowes was the fifth daughter of a woman who found…