{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

·         Religion for political goals: Many of those involved in religious wars used the conflicts for political and personal ends. A typical example was Henry IV of France who changed his religion 5 times in order to save his life or to achieve his political goals. Similarly, German princes made use of religion in order to further their political goals.

·         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: The Peace of Augsburg ending the previous religious wars did not last. Except Lutherans, all other Protestants were still considered heretics and subject to persecution. Religious freedom was basically granted only to the rulers. Furthermore, ecclesiastical territories would remain Catholic even if the bishops became Protestant.

·         Alliances: Protestant rulers organized the Evangelical Union [1608]. The Catholic rulers also organized the Catholic League [1609]. But the Evangelical Union did not include all Protestants and was weaker.

·         Phase 1 [Bohemian revolt, 1618–1622]—The Protestants in Bohemia rebelled against their Catholic king Ferdinand II [1618]. The Bohemians invited Frederick, elector of Palatinate, to be king. Ferdinand sought help from Maximilian of Bavaria, and the Catholic League invaded Bohemia. Frederick was deposed and persecution started in Bohemia and Palatinate. (The war decimated 80% of the population of Bohemia.)

        16.1.3  The war

·         Phase 2 [Danish intervention, 1625–1629]—England, Holland, and Denmark joined in a Protestant League [1625], and Denmark invaded Germany. Ferdinand raised his own army under the command of Albert of Wallenstein. After 4 years of fighting, Bohemia and Denmark agreed to the Treaty of Lubeck [1629] which terminated Danish involvement in Germany. In Germany, thousands of forced conversions to Catholicism followed.

·         Phase 3 [Swedish intervention, 1630–1635]—Gustavus Adolphus, a staunch Lutheran, became the king of Sweden [1611]. He was afraid that the Hapsburgs would attempt to conquer Sweden. Sweden invaded Germany and won repeated victories [1630]. They treated the native population with kindness and respect and they did not force the conversion of Catholics. Adolphus assured the Germans that he was not fighting the war for Swedish gain. He got financial support from France and also armies from German princes.

·         Phase 4 [French intervention, 1636–1648]—Both the Catholic League and Wallenstein were defeated at Lutzen but Adolphus was killed [1632]. Wallenstein tried to negotiate but was murdered by Ferdinand. Spanish Hapsburgs sent an army to support the Catholics and France sent an army to support the Protestants. The Swedes and the French defeated the imperial Hapsburg army.

·         Peace of Westphalia: The agreement ending the long war was signed [1648]. France expanded her territory to the Rhine and Sweden received lands on the Baltic and North Sea. German princes were given greater powers. All princes and citizen were allowed religious freedom, as long as they were Catholics, Lutherans, or Reformed. Religious tolerance grew, out of an increasing indifference to religion. It was a step in the development of the modern secular state.

·         Impact: Germany was devastated, about one-third to two-thirds of the German population died in the war. The Holy Roman Empire became a geographical term, having lost its former political significance.


        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 [1624]. He regarded the Hapsburgs as the main rival so he supported the Protestants in Germany. In France, however, he was concerned about the fortified Huguenot cities. This led to the siege of La Rochelle [1627]. Then, the French army conquered all fortified cities followed by extermination. Afterwards, Richelieu issued an edit of toleration for Protestants. Richelieu died [1642] and was succeeded by Jules Mazarin who followed similar policies so the Huguenots had relative peace.

·         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 in France.

·         Exile: A mass exodus of 400,000 Huguenots followed. It caused economic disruption which was one of the causes of the French Revolution. Still, some Protestants stayed behind worshipping in the wilderness and called themselves “Christians of the desert”. When caught, very few agreed to “reunite” with Catholicism and they were executed or sent to life imprisonment.

·         Radical wing: Persecution led to the development of a radical and visionary wing, claiming that the end of the world was near. Some turned to armed rebellion and they attacked the royal army. This ended in 1709.

·         French Reformed Church: The church was founded under the leadership of Antoine Court (1696–1760). They advocated a return to the Reformed tradition of worship centred on careful exposition of the Bible. A seminary in exile was founded [1726] in Lausanne, Switzerland. The pastors were trained there and returned to France to work.

·         Louis XVI [1774–1792]—Prosecution continued until Louis XVI decreed religious tolerance [1787]. By that time, the Bourbon dynasty was already near its end.


16.3  Puritan Revolution in England [1640–1658]

        16.3.1  Puritan beliefs

·         Definition: During Elizabeth I’s reign, there were Anglicans with Calvinist ideas. They were called Puritans because they insisted on the need to “purify” the church and to restore the pure practices and doctrines of the New Testament.

·         Practices: They were against formalism in worship, such as the use of the sign of the cross, priestly garments, and the celebration of communion with kneeling at an altar. They also opposed the use of saints’ days, clerical absolution, the custom of having godparents in baptism.

·         Lifestyle: They insisted on a sober life with little luxury. Extreme fashions in dress, laxity in keeping Sunday, and the lack of consciousness of sin were all condemned. They were against things that they considered licentious, such as the theatre, because immorality was often depicted, and also because of the “duplicity” implicit in acting.

·         Governance: The opposed the episcopal system as it was not found in the Bible. Some preferred church governance by elders. Some (called Independents) preferred independence of individual congregations. They learned from the example of Geneva that it was not necessary for the church to be subservient to the state.

·         Doctrine: They generally followed the teachings of Calvin, Zwingli, or the Anabaptists. Some of them accepted only adult baptism. They were led by William Ames (1576–1633) and William Perkins (1558–1602). Cambridge University became the centre of their influence.

o        Perkins: He represented the moderate wing of Puritanism. He strongly opposed any separation from the established church. He stressed the importance of Christian experience. He was interested in the “order of salvation”. He introduced the art of casuistry—applying general ethical principles to specific cases of conscience.

        16.3.2  Types of Puritans

·         [1] Episcopal: wanted a purified practice within the Anglican Church, eventually became low church Anglicans;

·         [2] Presbyterians: wanted a Presbyterian church government, led by Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603), eventually formed the English Presbyterian Church [1572];

·         [3] Independents: wanted a congregation church government, led by Henry Jacob (1563–1624), including Oliver Cromwell, poet John Milton (1608–1674), and John Bunyan (1628–1688), eventually formed the Particular Baptists and English Congregationalism [1633];

o        Milton: He is most famous for his poem Paradise Lost [1667]. It tells the story of the Fall of man; it influences how the English-speaking world read and interpret the Bible.

o        Bunyan: He is most famous for his Christian allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress [1678]. It puts the common struggles of a Christian life into stories. It has been translated into more than 2000 languages.

·         [4] Separatists: wanted separation of church and state and congregational church government, led by Robert Browne (1550–1633). Some separatists moved to Leiden, Holland [1608]. A group migrated to America in the Mayflower [1620]. Another group led by John Smyth (1565–1612) and Thomas Helwys (1550–1616) came under the influence of the Mennonites. They returned to England and organized the English Baptist Church [1612]. They were called General Baptists because they held to Arminian doctrine of general rather than particular (or limited) atonement, believing that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for everyone.

        16.3.3  Background leading to revolution

·         Middle class: The success in Elizabeth’s measure in favour of trade had created a powerful merchant class. They resented the king’s favouritism for the nobility. Puritans won the support of the middle class.

·         Elizabeth I [1558–1603]—She had an act passed against the Puritans [1593]. They could be imprisoned for failure to attend the Anglican church.

·         James I [1603–1625]—Elizabeth was succeeded by the son of Mary Stuart [1603]. He was already King James VI of Scotland. He eventually was successful in uniting the two kingdoms. He was also known for the publication of the King James Version of the Bible [1611].

·         Conflict: James I was not trusted by Protestants because of his Catholic mother. Further, he was a homosexual, he wavered between stubborn rigidity and weak flexibility, and he spent vast amounts on superfluous matters. The conflict between James I and the Puritans included: [1] episcopal vs. presbyterian form of church government, [2] legal authority of common-law courts of England vs. the extra-legal court system of the Tudors, [3] sovereignty of monarch vs. Parliament, [4] authority to levy taxes by the king vs. by 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.

·         Parliament vs church: Richard Bancroft (1544–1610), archbishop of Canterbury, affirmed that episcopal hierarchy was an institution of divine origin [1604]. Puritans saw it as a step reverting back to Catholicism. Puritans had many members in the House of Commons and they appealed to the king against Bancroft’s canons but conciliation failed. A new series of canons, clearly anti-Puritan, was approved by the church [1606]. The Parliament responded by attacking some church authorities.

·         Parliament vs king: James I convoked the Parliament in order to impose new taxes [1614]. He was not successful and he dissolved the Parliament. Later, he called the Parliament again [1621], hoping to impose new taxes by promising that part of the proceeds would go to support German Protestants. He was unsuccessful again because of his plan to marry his son to a Spanish princess. So he again dissolved the Parliament.

·         Charles I [1625–1649]—He became king [1625] and married the sister of French King Louis XIII. 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 and the bishops to oppress the people. There were no Parliament between 1629 and 1640.

·         Short Parliament: William Laud (1573–1645) became archbishop of Canterbury [1633]. His measures against Puritans were both harsh and cruel. Laud tried to impose Anglican liturgy in Scotland [1637]. The Church of Scotland rebelled and reorganized on a presbyterian basis. Charles called the Parliament in order to raise funds to fight the Scottish 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 delayed their decision on fighting the rebels. Instead, they dealt with those who tried to destroy Puritanism. They passed a law establishing that the assembly could not be dissolved by the king without its own agreement [1641], thus named the “Long Parliament” which was not replaced until 1660. They then discovered that the king was negotiating with the invaders to undo the power of the Parliament.

·         Conflict: The king planned to arrest the leaders of the Parliament but they escaped to London and continued its session with the support of the people. The House of Commons then passed a law excluding the bishops from the House of Lords, with the assent of the king. They also ordered a militia be recruited. The king then decided to attack the Parliament and the Royalists withdrew from Parliament [1642].

·         Westminster Confession [1644]—The Puritan factions drew closer together. In its effort to attract the Scots, Parliament abolished the episcopacy and confiscated the bishop’s properties. [1643] The famous Westminster Assembly of 151 Puritans was called to discuss religious matters [1643–1649]. They met in more than 1000 sessions. They opted for the presbyterian form of government and wrote the Westminster Confession, and the Longer Catechism and the Shorter Catechism [1647]. These documents became the greatest doctrinal statement of the Reformed Church.

o        Calvinism: The Confession reflected 17th-c British Calvinism which differed slightly from the teaching of Calvin.

o        Covenants: One difference was covenant theology which uses the idea of covenant as an organizing principle in theology. It contrasted the covenant of works between God and Adam before the Fall, and the covenant of grace between God and the church.

o        Assurance of salvation: Another difference was on the assurance of salvation. Both Luther and Calvin included the assurance of salvation in saving faith. In the Confession, assurance of salvation is distinct from saving faith. Personal assurance is only possible so it becomes normal for those with saving faith to lack assurance.

o        Quote: Shorter Catechism: “Q.1: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

·         Revolution: Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), a devout Independent Puritan, led the military and crushed the king’s army at Naseby. They found proof that Charles had been encouraging foreign Catholic troops to invade England. Charles tried to negotiate with the Scots but was imprisoned [1646]. The army, controlled by the Independents, purged their enemies from the Parliament. Those who were left were described as the “Rump Parliament” which tried Charles on high treason and he was beheaded [1649]. The Parliament declared a republic called Commonwealth of England [1649–1653].

        16.3.5  Protectorate & restoration

·         Protectorate [1653–1658]—After a period of internal struggles, Oliver Cromwell took power and became “Lord Protector”. He defeated the Irish rebellion and the Scottish royalist outbreak. While there was a Parliament, Cromwell was the real ruler.

·         Religious freedom: Cromwell’s religious policies were fairly tolerant, allowing freedom for Presbyterians, Baptists, and even moderate advocates of episcopacy. He tried to reform the customs and favoured the middle class in his economic policies.

·         Restoration [1660]—Cromwell died [1658] and his son did not want to be the successor. Parliament then recalled Charles II [1660–1685] to his father’s throne. The new parliament restored the episcopacy and persecuted the Puritans. In Scotland, the restoration brought Presbyterian rebellions, causing thousands of deaths.

·         Baptist Confession: There were many nonconformist groups growing during the Cromwell Protectorate. One was the Baptists. Like the Congregationalists, they believed in the autonomy of the local congregation. They saw the church as a voluntary gathering of believers. Like the Anabaptists, they rejected infant baptism. Yet they were different from the Anabaptists for allowing Christians to become magistrates and for accepting war. Some of their leaders met in London and agreed on a confession of faith [1644]. Later, they modified the Westminster Confession and published the Second London Confession [1677]. It was later accepted by most Baptist congregations [1689]. In the U.S., it was adopted by the Baptist Association and was known as the Philadelphia Confession [1742]. It has become the most authoritative of the Baptist confessions.

·         James II [1685–1688]—Charles II confessed on his deathbed that he was a Catholic [1685]. His brother and successor James II continued to try to restore Roman Catholicism. The English rebelled (Glorious Revolution) [1689], and invited William, Prince of Orange (William III [1689–1702], different from William “the Silent”) 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]. In Scotland, Presbyterianism became the official religion [1690].



[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.



        Why was the 17th-c described as the age of dogma? What new movements were the reaction to this?

o        At the insistence of orthodoxy, theologians defended the teachings of the 16th-c but without new ideas. Their style was increasingly rigid, cold, and academic. However, this is understandable as the theologians were still in the process of building and solidifying the foundation of Protestantism.

o        The reaction was seen in rationalism and in pietism (as represented by the Pietists in Germany and the Methodists in England). These led to liberal theology later.

        What were the results of the Catholic-Protestant Thirty Years’ War?

o        Thousands of people (mostly Protestants) died. [Some historians believe that the population of Germany was reduced from 19 million to 6 million by the war.]

o        Yet the religious convictions of the people did not change by much.

o        It led to the development of the modern secular state as people were fed up with religious battles.

o        It led to the principles of tolerance in Germany.

        What were the results of persecution of the French Huguenots?

o        France sustained huge economic loss because of the exile of Huguenots; this possibly leading to the French Revolution.

o        Voltaire formulated his philosophical ideas after defending the Protestants (not because of religious reasons but against intolerance) and they became the foundation of ideas for the French Revolution.

o        Protestants left behind were forced to worship secretly.

o        It led to the radicalization of some Huguenots, leading to armed rebellion.

o        It forced the founding of the French Reformed Church in Lausanne.

        What were the emphases of the Puritans? Were they Biblical?

o        Emphases:

          emphasis on purifying the church and restoration of practices and doctrines of the Bible

          against formalism in worship

          insistence on sober life with little luxury

          opposed episcopal church government

o        Their emphases were all Biblical, though perhaps slightly too rigid. Their position on church government was correct but should be more flexible.

        What churches today came from the heritage of the Puritans? How did they affect other churches today?

o        Many of today’s churches originated from Puritanism: Presbyterian and Reformed churches, congregational churches including the Baptists.

o        Puritan ideals still have influence in most evangelical churches. Their emphases on following the practices in the Bible, on simple life, on simplistic worship become standard practice.

        What 2 works of Puritan literature are still influential today?

o        John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (a popular book on devotion and meditation)

o        John Milton’s Paradise Lost (influencing how the English-speaking world read and interpret the Bible)