{16}     Religious wars & Puritan revolution

ERA 5 << Modern Church (1): Reformation & Struggles (AD 1500–1700) >> SESSION 5

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 14-17

16.1  Thirty Years’ War in Germany [16181648]

        16.1.1  Background of this period

·         Rationalism: As a result of new scientific discoveries, rationalism dominated the field of philosophy. It was an attempt to construct a natural religion based on human reasoning. It led to doubts about Christian dogmas.

·         Academic theology: On the other hand, theologians zealously defended the teachings of the past. Their style became increasingly rigid, cold, and academic. Dogma was often substituted for faith, and orthodoxy for love.

·         Spiritualist reaction: Some spiritualists sought an alternative by emphasizing the spiritual dimension of the gospel, sometimes ignoring or even denying its relation to physical and political realities. Others—Pietists in Germany and Methodists in England—sought to cultivate a more intense and personal faith and piety.

·         Struggles: There were two fronts in the struggles: [1] political wars in Germany, France, and England, [2] religious battles for orthodoxies within Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism.

        16.1.2  Events leading to the war

·         Underlying factor: Protestant rulers organized the Evangelical Union [1608]. The Catholic rulers also organized the Catholic League [1609].

·         Phase 1 [Bohemian revolt, 1618–1622]—Protestants in Bohemia rebelled against their Catholic king. The Catholic League invaded Bohemia and started persecution. (80% of the population of Bohemia died.)

        16.1.3  The war

·         Phase 2 [Danish intervention, 1625–1629]—Denmark invaded Germany to help the Protestants. After 4 years of fighting, the Danish retreated. In Germany, thousands were forced to convert to Catholicism.

·         Phase 3 [Swedish intervention, 1630–1635]—Gustavus Adolphus, the king of Sweden, invaded Germany and won repeated victories [1630]. He did not force the conversion of Catholics.

·         Phase 4 [French intervention, 1636–1648]—The Catholic League was defeated but Adolphus was killed [1632]. The Spanish sent an army to support the Catholics but defeated by the Swedes and the French.

·         Peace of Westphalia: The agreement [1648] allowed religious freedom, as long as they were Catholics, Lutherans, or Reformed. Germany was devastated, half of the German population died in the war.

        16.2.1  Christians of the desert

·         Louis XIII [1610–1643]—After the assassination of Henry IV [1610], Louis XIII became king. His mother Marie de Medici was the temporary regent. She was surrounded by staunch Catholic Italian advisors.

·         Cardinal Armand de Richelieu (1585–1642)—He became the king’s trusted advisor and was in effect the ruler [1624]. He sent the French army to conquer all fortified cities of Huguenots, followed by extermination [1627]. Later, he granted an edict of toleration for the Huguenots.

·         Louis XIV [1643-1715]—He decided to stamp out Protestantism and forced conversion to Catholicism. He issued the Edict of Fontainebleau [1685] abolishing the Edict of Nantes, making it illegal to be Protestant. 400,000 Huguenots emigrated causing economic disruption which later caused the French Revolution.

·         Louis XVI [1774–1792]—Prosecution continued until Louis XVI decreed religious tolerance [1787], just before the French Revolution started in 1789.

16.3  Puritan Revolution in England [1640–1658]

        16.3.1  Puritan beliefs

·         Definition: Puritans were Anglicans with Calvinist ideas. They wanted to “purify” the church and to restore the pure practices and doctrines of the New Testament. They were against formalism in worship and practice.

·         Characteristics: They insisted on a sober life with little luxury. They condemned extreme fashions in dress, laxity in keeping Sunday, and the lack of consciousness of sin. In doctrine, they followed Calvin, Zwingli, or the Anabaptists. Cambridge University became the centre of their influence.

        16.3.2  Types of Puritans

·         [1] Episcopal: later became low church Anglicans; [2] Presbyterians: later formed the English Presbyterian Church [1572]; [3] Independents: later formed the Particular Baptists and English Congregationalism [1633]; [4] Separatists: wanted separation of church and state; a group migrated to America on the Mayflower [1620]. Another group organized the English Baptist Church [1612]. They were called General Baptists.

        16.3.3  Background leading to revolution

·         James I [1603–1625]—Elizabeth I was succeeded by the son of Mary Stuart [1603]. He was already King of Scotland and was later successful in uniting the two kingdoms. He published the King James Version [1611]. There were conflicts between James I and the Puritans. He called the Parliament twice in order to impose new taxes [1614, 1621] but was not successful. So he dissolved the Parliament.

·         Gunpowder Plot [1605]—It was a plan by some Catholics to blow up the Parliament and to kill the king. The plan was discovered and it led to the imprisonment of thousands of Catholics.

·         Charles I [1625–1649]—He gave concessions to English Catholics. He called and dissolved the Parliament 3 times. Because of his inability to raise taxes, he joined with the aristocracy to oppress the people.

·         Short Parliament: William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury [1633–1645] persecuted the Puritans. The Church of Scotland rebelled. Charles called the Parliament to raise funds to fight the rebellion [1640]. He dissolved the “Short Parliament” in 3 weeks but was forced to called the Parliament 6 months later.

        16.3.4  The Long Parliament & the Civil War

·         Long Parliament: The new parliament refused to be dissolved by the king and ruled England until 1660. They then discovered that the king was negotiating with the invaders to take the power back. The king planned to arrest the leaders of the Parliament but they recruited a militia to fight [1642].

·         Revolution: Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), a Puritan general crushed the king’s army. Charles I was convicted of high treason and beheaded [1649]. England became a republic with no king [1649–1653].

·         Westminster Confession [1644]—The Puritans met and wrote the Westminster Confession, and became the greatest doctrinal statement of the Reformed Church. It is based on the teaching of Calvin.

        16.3.5  Protectorate & restoration

·         Protectorate [1653–1658]—After a period of internal struggles, Oliver Cromwell took power and became “Lord Protector” and was the real ruler. He allowed religious freedom from all groups of Protestants.

·         Restoration [1660]—Cromwell died [1658] and the Parliament recalled Charles II [1660–1685] to his father’s throne. The new parliament restored the episcopacy and persecuted the Puritans, causing thousands of deaths.

·         James II [1685–1688]—Charles II confessed on his deathbed that he was a Catholic [1685]. His brother James II became king and continued to try to restore Roman Catholicism. The English rebelled [1689], and invited William, Prince of Orange and his wife Mary, James II’s daughter, to occupy the throne. They were fairly tolerant and religious freedom was finally granted to non-Anglicans in the Act of Toleration [1689].


[1] treasure our heritage

The Puritans and the Westminster Confession are great traditions for today’s evangelical Christians.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Persecutions forced the Puritans to establish a true Christian nation in North America, and it became an instrument of God today.

[3] avoid past errors

Religious wars like the Thirty Years’ War killed vast number of people. They should never be fought.

[4] apply our knowledge

There are 3 systems of church government: episcopal, presbyterian, congregation. None is divinely ordained.

[5] follow past saints

Milton and Bunyan used their literary gifts for the glory of God.