“…accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed…” This great truth of human nature, expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, was just as true for the Huguenots in 1572 and the Pilgrims in 1620, as it was in 1776 when it was penned by Jefferson. It also explains the long-suffering of the American people today as one group of elected officials after another has chipped away at our liberty and freedom for the past hundred years.
Early settlers in America can be divided into two groups, adventurers seeking fame and fortune, and those --- mostly families --- seeking the freedom to worship their God according to the dictates of their conscience, without persecution or molestation. It was the latter group that formed the nucleus of the greatest civilization the world has ever known. We can only imagine the personal trauma involved in uprooting families from their accustomed life and transporting them halfway around the world to face unknown dangers and hardships. We have already seen the physical hardships suffered by the Virginia colony. By considering the flight of the Pilgrims, we get a glimpse of the hardship on families and communities. In the early 1600’s it was unlawful for anyone to leave England without permission from the authorities. That permission was denied to Catholics and dissenters.
When a group of separatists, later known as Pilgrims, decided they could no longer live with the persecution they endured in England and began to make plans to depart for Amsterdam in 1607, they encountered many problems. Their first plans were discovered by the authorities and the entire group was imprisoned for a month. A year later, they decided to try again. They sold all their possessions and walked fifty miles to what they though was a secret rendezvous where a Dutch ship was waiting to transport them to Amsterdam.
While they were in the process of ferrying passengers out to the ship, the authorities again showed up. The ship was forced to depart with most of the men on board but without the women and children. The remaining men, women and children, left at the dock, were arrested and imprisoned --- again. It was several months before they were released and finally made their way across the English Channel to be reunited with their friends and families in Amsterdam. We can only imagine the anguish of the husbands and fathers aboard the ship as they watched helplessly while their wives and children were roughly placed under arrest. We can only image the distress of the wives and children as they watched their husbands and fathers sail away, never knowing when or if they would be reunited.
While many of the colonies such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were founded for religious reasons, others like Virginia and New York were started for purely commercial reasons. However, whatever the reasons were that brought settlers to America; the one trait common to all was their adherence to some form of the Christian religion.
In the colonies of the seventeenth century, those that were established for religious reasons were generally intolerant of dissenting views, enforcing draconian laws against “heretics”. By the dawning of the eighteenth century, the zealotry and exclusiveness of the religious communities was beginning to give way to a more tolerant, cooperative society. This progression from intolerance to tolerance to religious freedom can best be understood in the context of the times in which they lived.
Religion in Pre-Colonial Europe
Throughout human history, state and religion had always been inextricably linked for the supposed mutual benefit of both. Kings benefited from having their subjects believe they were the instruments of God for the maintenance of a civil society and religious leaders benefited by fostering that belief and having the protection of the King and the power of the state to force adherence to their religious dogma. By having only one official religion on which everyone agreed, internal harmony was maintained with subjects loyal to both the King and the religion. This allowed Kings to concentrate their efforts on expanding their power and on the seemingly continuous wars with other Kingdoms. Unfortunately, not everyone in power was worthy of that loyalty. Those holding ecclesiastical and political powers were often more interested in holding on to power and the privileges that went with it, than they were in truth, or the welfare of their charges.
This cozy relationship began to fall apart during the period we normally refer to as the “reformation period”, which was really the result of two major ecclesiastical rebellions against the authority of the Church of Rome. The Holy Roman Empire had dominated the entire “civilized” world since the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The power base of the Empire was centered in some three hundred German principalities or City States, with a small number of the most powerful ones choosing the Emperor. In 1517, an Augustinian Monk, named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, setting off the “protestant reformation”. Luther’s primary disagreement with the Church was the issuance of “indulgences”.
The second rebellion affecting the future development of religion in America came in 1534 when Henry VIII, King of England, renounced the Pope and declared himself to be the head of the church in England, ending the power of the Vatican in England and establishing the Anglican Church as the Church of England. However, there was little immediate change in the doctrine or practice of the English church. Both the protestant church developing in Germany and the Church of England continued with the same liturgy as that previously practiced by the Roman Catholic Church. The average worshiper would see little difference in the manner in which services were conducted.
Luther’s Protestantism soon spread outside Germany to Switzerland, a confederacy made up of thirteen City States or Cantons. The most important of these city-states was the canton of Zurich under the leadership of Ulrich Zwingli. In 1523, Zurich officially became the first protestant state outside of Germany. From there Protestantism spread throughout Switzerland. Zwingli’s Protestantism differed from Luther’s in that Zwingli believed both the Old and New Testaments should be taken literally and not interpreted based on some mysterious and allegorical meaning that could only be understood and explained by the clergy. He rejected all practices not contained in the literal meaning of the Scriptures, and even went a step further by insisting that the practices, beliefs and rules found in the literal meaning of the Old and New Testament Scriptures were to be followed absolutely and without questioning. Zwingli’s simple and uncomplicated theology became the historical basis for the protestant persecutions in the American colonies carried out by the Puritans and others.
Another contemporary of Luther and Zwingli was the radical lawyer and French theologian, John Calvin. Calvin would be the one to put the two central themes of Zwingli’s theology into practice. Sometime around 1530 Calvin left the Catholic Church and was forced to flee to Switzerland to escape persecution in France. He settled in Basel where he published the first edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536. Soon after its publication, Calvin was asked to come to Geneva and help build the reformed church there. He and Guillaume Farrell imposed a strict moral code on the citizens of Geneva derived from a literal reading of the Christian Scriptures, resulting in their expulsion from the city.
From Geneva, Calvin moved to Strasbourg where he finished writing his massive Institutes of the Christian Church and a number of Bible Commentaries. In 1540, a new administration in Geneva brought Calvin back to the city where he set about revolutionizing its social and religious structure. His first and most important innovation was the incorporation of the church into the city government. The government was restructured so that clergy was involved in all municipal decisions, especially the writing and implementation of laws, imposing a strict and uncompromising moral code on the citizens. Calvin established a hierarchy of government patterned after the New Testament church, with five “Pastors” who exercised authority over all religious matters in the city; a larger group of “Teachers” whose duty it was to teach doctrine to the inhabitants; twelve “Elders” chosen by the municipal council whose job was to oversee everything that went on in the city; and seven “Deacons” to care for the poor, widows, orphans, the elderly and the sick.
To one degree or another, all the mainstream protestant churches of today can trace their doctrine and practices back to Luther, Zwingli and/or Calvin. We can definitely see their influence on life in the colonies and many of their ideas found their way into our founding documents and were instrumental in establishing our form of government and many of the laws we follow today. Perhaps the most important idea from Zwingli and Calvin was their insistence that words have meaning and the Bible should be interpreted literally as written. Conservatives in the modern patriot movement, apply the same interpretative methods to our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence today.
Other important events of this era were the publication of the New Testament in German by Martin Luther in 1522, and the first English translation of the New Testament by William Tyndale in 1526. The last thing the King and the established Church wanted was a Bible in the common vernacular of the people; so naturally, Tyndale’s New Testaments were destroyed as soon as the Bishops got hold of them. However, human nature being what it is, the more distribution of the new Bible was resisted by government and the church, the more interested the people became and the more popular the Bible turned out to be. Tyndale’s biggest customer was representatives of the King who purchased as many copies as they could get their hands on in order to burn them. Of course, Tyndale only used the money he got from the King’s men to publish more Bibles. Tyndale was finally imprisoned for over a year before being strangled and burned at the stake in 1536.
Tyndale lost his life but won his battle. While Tyndale was in prison, two of his disciples, Myles Cloverdale and John Rogers printed the first complete Bible in English, released on October 4, 1535. In 1539, just three years after having Tyndale put to death, the Archbishop of Canterbury hired Myles Cloverdale, at the behest of Henry VIII to print the “Great Bible” in the English language, not out of a sense of piety, but to spite the Pope. As head of the Church of England, Henry wanted the Bible printed in English instead of Latin as the Catholic “Vulgate” version was. A copy of the Great Bible was distributed to every church in England and chained to the pulpit for public use.
Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary“) ascended the throne in 1553 on the death of Edward VI, determined to return England to Roman Catholicism. During her reign, 300 “heretics” were put to death, most of them burned at the stake. Among those martyred were the Former Archbishop of Canterbury and John Rogers, both instrumental in the printing of the Great Bible. Hundreds more protestants, including Myles Cloverdale and John Foxe, fled England to Germany and Switzerland. The church at Geneva, sympathetic to the exiled Englishmen, determined to produce a Bible in English for their benefit. It was completed in 1560 and became known as the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible became the first Bible brought to America and was the one in use by both the Pilgrims and the Puritans. After the death of “Bloody Mary” in 1558, things in England returned to “normal” under Elizabeth I, and many of those in exile began to return.
In 1604, a group of clergy approached James I, successor to Elizabeth I, with a request for a new English language Bible. They were unhappy with the popularity of the Geneva Bible and used the age of the “Great Bible” and the “Bishop’s Bible” which had been in use for many years as “pulpit Bibles”, as an excuse for printing a new edition. The Bishops disliked the Geneva Bible because of its many marginal notes critical of established church doctrine. Seven years later the King James Bible of 1611 was published. A year after its large “pulpit version” was printed and chained to every pulpit in England; a second edition was published in a normal size so that individuals could have their own personal copy of the Bible in their language.
The widespread popularity of the Geneva Bible and the accessibility of the King James Bible had a profound effect on Christendom. As the common people began to study the Bible for themselves, they began to question both “the divine right of Kings” and the “authority of the church”. They discovered that many of the things taught by the established Church for centuries were quite different from what the Bible actually taught. Unable to trust the church for “truth” they began to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. While protestant groups in other parts of Europe were rebelling against the Catholic Church, dissenters in England were rebelling against the Church of England. It was the voluntary exile of these dissenters from England to the American colonies that laid the groundwork for the American culture and its future form of government.
The popular romantic myth that settlers came to America looking for religious freedom is just that: a popular myth. Those colonists who came for religious reasons, for the most part, simply wanted to “do it their way”. Religious intolerance among the “Anglican” Protestants and the “Catholic” Protestants was carried out with only a little less zeal than that practiced by the established churches of Great Britain and Europe. While religious freedom could be found nowhere in the colonies, other than the small colony of Rhode Island, before the establishment of a new government in 1789, a measure of religious tolerance was practiced among the more secular colonies from the beginning.
Philosophy of Evil Socialism In America By Jerry McDaniel Chapter 5 Seeds of Religious Liberty
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Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."