A letter written to the Bible League Quarterly concerning Richard Cox and John Knox.
Sir: Writers of biography have always to guard themselves against presenting their subject so that he stands in exaggerated contrast to his fellow-beings. Knox, of course, is of great interest to students of the Reformation but in presenting him, John Brentnall has painted some of those around him in too sombre colours. For instance, Knox is mentioned as opposing Richard Cox as if Cox were in the wrong. Actually, after studying contemporary Latin, Dutch, French, English, Low German and High German sources on the so-called ‘Troubles at Frankfurt’, one can only conclude that Knox’s alleged opposition to Cox, and so-called Coxian opposition to so-called Knoxians, is a myth used by a later generation to draw distinctions between ‘Puritans’ and ‘Anglicans’ which did not exist in 1553-54 when the troubles began.
The only major collection of documents in English, including some, such as Calvin’s letters, loosely translated and edited, referring to the Troubles at Frankfurt is the book of that name published anonymously in 1575. These documents point to certain difficulties amongst the English Refugees which were gradually solved in mutual love and cooperation. Four Parker Society volumes of letters also give evidence concerning the Reformed character of the Anglicans at Frankfurt and we have the testimonies of Bullinger, Martyr, Calvin, Beza and Gualter etc. to back this up.
The 1575 documents, though initially critical of Cox, nevertheless, present him as one who sought for peace rather than discord and one who was prepared to accept any truly Reformed order of worship, including the Geneva model, to that end. Even William Whitingham who supported Knox against the Anglican Reformers until he went too far, wrote:
“And the Magistrates . . . . . . commanded that we should receive the French Order; which is according to the Order of Geneva, the purest Reformed Church in Christendom. Whereupon all agreed; and Doctor Cox with others, commending the same to the Congregation, gave thanks to the Magistrate in all our names. (P. 74, 1907 edition).”
There is no mention of Knox here, the reason for which we shall see below. Furthermore we read in the words of the Anonymous compiler:
“Dr Cox then spake to the congregation in this wise. ‘I have,’ said he, ‘read the French Order; and do think it to be both good and godly in all points’; and therefore wished them to obey the Magistrate’s commandment.” (p. 59).
The background to this was that Knox had appealed to the Magistrates to follow him in his negative attitude to the church’s wishes. This appeal to Caesar backlashed against him. The Magistrates told Knox to stop troubling the church and the city or go.
The records show that Knox rejected the invitation to become pastor at Frankfurt because, though the church offered him the freedom to use any of the available forms of worship, including the Order of Geneva, Knox refused point blank. He thus stayed on, until the Magistrates asked him to leave four months later, as a mere preacher but one who refused to officiate at the Lord’s Table. Thus we read:
“At length, it was agreed that the Order of Geneva which then was already printed in English, and some copies there among them, should take place, as an Order most godly, and farthest off from superstition. But Master Knox, being spoken unto, as well to put that Order in practice as to minister the Communion, refused to do either the one or the other.” (p. 42).
Eventually, at the instigation of Pastor Lever (whom Knox saw as his main opponent, not Cox), a new ‘Liturgy of Compromise was drawn up”. Knox agreed to this with the church majority (that is, he said that they could do what they liked and he would reserve his conscience) but after its acceptance by the church majority, Knox immediately began to object. It was this form which was a combination of the Prayer Book, the Strasburg liturgy and the Order of Geneva which scholars such as Wotherspoon and Sprott believe became the order of the English church at Geneva at the instigation of Calvin whilst Knox was in Scotland.
Furthermore, Knox was one of the authors of the 1552 Reformed Book or Book of Common Prayer and when the Scottish Lords invited Knox back to Scotland, he used that book himself for many years. Indeed it was first in the 1560s that Scottish orders of service came into use and these were not mandatory throughout Scotland until after Knox’s death. The Scottish Martyrs praised the Reformed nature of the 1552 Reformed Book. Note especially the highly positive testimonies to the Book of Common Prayer by John Rough, Knox’s co-pastor. It was his defence of the Prayer Book that cost him his life at Smithfield.
It must also be said that at this relative early date, Knox was far less established in Reformation patterns as other Anglicans at Frankfurt such as Bale, Coverdale, Whitehead, Grindal, Sandys, Foxe and Lever. Several of these had been in Christ at least a decade before Knox. Indeed, it is not difficult to point out a number of popish practices which still clung to Knox in his opposition to Anglican Reforms. Certainly the Anglicans at Frankfurt were able to point Knox to better ways, as they most demonstrably did. Even Knox’s Roman Catholic critics teased Knox for having one foot in Rome and one foot in the Reformed camp and listed over forty popish beliefs to which Knox still clung. Indeed, Knox’s supporters in England were castigated by the Swiss Reformers for their un-Reformed stand. Without the testimony of the Reformed Anglicans at Frankfurt, Wesel, Basle, Zurich, Aarau and Geneva who cradled Knox’s new theological thinking, there might well have been no real Reformation in Scotland.
Brother Brentnall has rather confused Knox’s chronology which needs to be kept to in any work on Knox so as to understand his progress better. This is particularly the case in understanding Knox’s very varied attitude to liturgies. Indeed, Brentnall is obviously incorrect in maintaining that Knox was anti-liturgical as Knox’s own writings prove him wrong.
Later history has done a great disservice to Cox and Knox and, at times, totally reversed their teaching. We must therefore learn to distinguish between myth, denominational propaganda and the historical facts.
I am enclosing per attachment a recent essay of mine on Cox. Should you or Bro. Brentnall wish to read further about this period then try my book ‘The Troublemakers at Frankfurt’. I have spent a couple of years rooting out material in Duisburg, Frankfurt, Wesel, Leipzig and Jena etc. and, I believe, nobody has ever been able to piece the entire story of Cox and Knox together like this. Dr Beckwith writes in his recent review of the importance of my book and the fact that it will cause scholars and church historians to rethink their positions. This might be an encouragement for Bro. Brentall to dig into the subject deeper and wider.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
George M. Ella
Other Recommended Articles: