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My past several posts have looked at the liturgy and Communion from the early days of the Church through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy, Zwingli’s rite in Zurich, the German liturgy in Strasbourg and Calvin’s rites in Strasbourg for the Huguenots and later in Geneva.

Today’s post takes a brief look at John Knox’s Reformed rites for the English speakers in Frankfurt, Geneva and, later, the Scots.

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

John Knox in brief

Space prohibits a full account of John Knox’s turbulent life and times.

A few descriptive terms about the man come to mind which I shall suppress.

Knox supporters in North America find it inexplicable why those of us who are not Presbyterians could not admire him. Yet, the facts show that he was contentious and disagreeable from the start. No doubt he was very nice to his family, friends and followers.

However, for the English, he goes against what they appreciate as moderation in spirit and personality.

Even Calvin advised him in Frankfurt to

avoid contention.

Calvin carefully chose his battles — principally about Communion frequency — even if he fell foul of the Geneva city council. However, Geneva invited him to return from Strasbourg in 1541.

Knox, on the other hand, was a firebrand at every opportunity. Sadly, a few lay Presbyterians and their supporters have adopted Knox’s unfortunate manner in their online discourse. Look to Calvin, friends. He was much more measured in his speech and relationships.

Knox’s litany of self-imposed trouble included many episodes.

His first sermon to the garrison at St Andrews pronounced the Pope as the Antichrist.

Two months later in June 1547, Mary of Guise (Queen Mother and Regent to Mary, Queen of Scots) asked the French to intervene at St Andrews. The French took as prisoners a group of Protestants, including Scottish nobles and Knox. They all became galley slaves. Knox was freed in February 1549.

Knox settled in England where he became a chaplain to Edward VI in 1550. Prior to that, as a licensed minister in the Church of England, he was sent to Berwick upon Tweed, where he promptly modified the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to make it a more Protestant rite. He met his first wife Margery Bowes at this time and, although he married her, he did so without her family’s consent.

Knox’s fiery preaching was highly popular among influential English Protestants. His clerical star continued to rise in subsequent parish appointments in England. When Mary Tudor succeeded Edward VI, Knox’s allies told him to flee the country.

In 1554, he sailed for France and continued his travels until he reached Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin gave non-committal replies to his contentious questions about female and ‘idolatrous’ rulers, referring him to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. Bullinger gave him no quarter. Undeterred, Knox published a diatribe in July of that year verbally attacking Mary Tudor, her bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

In September 1554, a group of English exiles invited Knox to Frankfurt to be their minister. Calvin encouraged him to go. Knox found a congregation torn between using the BCP and those who favoured a more Protestant version of it. It was about this controversy that Calvin advised Knox and his colleague William Whittingham to avoid contention. A new group of refugees arrived, including Richard Cox, who had substantial input to the BCP. Cox informed Frankfurt’s authorities of Knox’s pamphlet attacking Charles V. The authorities told Knox to leave the city, which he did on March 26, 1555.

Knox returned to Geneva, where he was put in charge of a new church.

Meanwhile, his mother-in-law wrote him asking him to return to his wife, who was living in Scotland. He went home in August 1555.

Knox’s warm welcome home by Scottish Protestant nobles saw off opposition from the Scottish bishops who found him deeply worrying and arranged a hearing with him in Edinburgh. Accompanied by his powerful allies, he appeared in front of them on May 15, 1556. The bishops cancelled the hearing and granted Knox the freedom to preach in Edinburgh. Knox’s friends among the nobility persuaded him to write to Mary of Guise, the Regent for Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox wrote a letter calling for her support of the Reformation and deposing her bishops. Mary of Guise ignored it.

Meanwhile, his new congregation in Geneva called. They had elected him their pastor on November 1, 1555. He returned to the city in September 1556. This time, he took his wife and mother-in-law with him.

The next two years were blissful for Knox. He felt at home in Geneva. Life and spirituality were unsurpassed.

But that wasn’t good enough.

In the summer of 1558, unbeknownst to Calvin, Knox anonymously published a diatribe called The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women. Even given the general misogyny of the time, Knox went way over the top in attacking women rulers to the point where he could have been charged with sedition. He took strong issue with Mary I of England and Mary of Guise. Wikipedia says:

In calling the “regiment” or rule of women “monstruous”, he meant that it was “unnatural”. The pamphlet has been called a classic of misogyny. Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate “how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard”.[55]

A royal proclamation banned the pamphlet in England.

The pamphlet came back to bite him when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne. Geneva’s English speakers felt comfortable returning home now that they had a Protestant Queen. Knox left Geneva in January 1559 for Scotland. He should have arrived long before May 2 of that year, but Elizabeth I, aware of the pamphlet and deeply offended, refused to give him a passport to travel through England!

Not long afterward, Scottish authorities under Mary of Guise pronounced Knox an outlaw. He and a large group of Protestants travelled to Perth because it was a walled city they could defend in case of a siege. Once there, Knox preached an inflammatory sermon in the Church of St John the Baptist during which a small incident sparked a riot. The result was a gutted church. Not only that, but the mob went on to loot and vandalise two nearby friaries.

Later, safe in St Andrews, Knox preached there. Another riot broke out which resulted in more vandalism and looting.

Knox cannot be personally blamed for the Protestant uprisings occurring all over Scotland that year, but did he ever appeal for calm and godliness? Hmm.

On October 24, 1559, the Scottish nobility deposed Mary of Guise of the Regency. She died in Edinburgh Castle on June 10, 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh was signed, which resulted in French and English troops returning home.

During the rest of that year the Scottish Parliament, Knox and a handful of fellow clergymen devised the Book of Discipline for the new Protestant church. Knox’s wife Margery died in December 1560. He was left to care for their two little boys.

Mary Queen of Scots returned from exile on August 19, 1561. She and Knox had several personal confrontations over his inciting rebellion, her right to rule as a woman and her impending marriage. He told her he owed her no allegiance. He continued his fiery sermons in the pulpit of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

On March 26, 1564, Knox married a 17-year old member of the nobility, Margaret Stewart. He was 50 years old. She bore him three daughters.

Near the end of the decade a complex civil war broke out involving nobles from both sides of the religious question. Knox moved around Scotland during this time, although he returned to Edinburgh as and when he could. He wrote his History of the Reformation in Scotland during these years.

In July 1572, he was able to freely preach once again at St Giles. However, he had grown progressively weaker. He died on November 24, 1572, surrounded by his family and friends.

Knox is the founder of Presbyterianism.

Knox’s liturgy

The following is taken from Maxwell’s book and describes a typical Knox liturgy from his book The Forme of Prayers (p. 123, 124).

Knox largely borrowed from Calvin but Maxwell notes a BCP influence as well. As with Calvin’s liturgy, there is no Peace.

The format is as follows for a Communion service, still divided into the Liturgies of the Word and the Upper Room:

– Confession of sins;

– Prayer for pardon;

– Psalm in metre;

– Prayer for illumination;

– Scripture reading (only one, although there were sometimes separate Scottish Readers Services before the Liturgy of the Word which included more Psalms as well as Old and New Testament readings [p. 124]);

– Sermon (lengthy, as was the Scripture reading; together, they could last over an hour [p. 124);

– Collection of alms;

– Thanksgiving and intercessions;

– Lord’s Prayer;

– Apostles’ Creed, spoken;

– Offertory, including presentation and preparation of elements and a sung Psalm;

– Words of Institution;

– Exhortation;

– Prayer of Consecration which included adoration, thanksgiving, anamnesis and Doxology;

– Fraction;

– Ministers’ Communion;

– People’s Communion, apparently given by assistant ministers because the celebrant read the account of the Passion of Christ during this time;

– Post-Communion thanksgiving;

– Psalm 103 in metre;

– Aaronic or Apostolic blessing.

The readings appear to have been through one book of the Bible at a time until concluded — ‘in course’. The sermons were always about the readings given (p. 124).

The Forme of Prayers was never intended to be used as uniformly as England’s BCP was. Knox allowed for local variations on prayers and parts of the rite.

Although Knox sought to abolish kneeling and feasts of the Church calendar, these seem to have continued in some Scottish churches.

Communion policy

Communicants walked to the Lord’s Table where a separate Communion Table with chairs was installed (p. 126).

The people took their places and sat down to receive the Sacrament.

An Act passed by Scotland’s General Assembly in 1562 indicated that the Sacrament was received quarterly in the large towns and less frequently in the countryside (p. 125). Clergy were fewer outside of the former. Furthermore, people at that time were still used to infrequent Communion, perhaps only annually.

This custom of the Communion Table disappeared in the early part of the 19th century, when English Nonconformist procedure was adopted. This is reminiscent of the Zwinglian practice of receiving Communion in the pews, although people remained standing for this in Britain.

Long-lasting liturgy

Introduced to Scotland in 1560, Knox’s The Forme of Prayers — or Book of Common Order — was used for over 80 years, despite attempts to revise it (p. 127). It was replaced in 1645 by the Westminster Directory.

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180px-John_Calvin_-_Young WikipediaThis series has been examining liturgy and Holy Communion from the Church’s earliest days through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy and Zwingli’s rite in Zurich.

Source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Yesterday’s post looked at the German rite in Strasbourg which Martin Bucer revised further in the 1530s making it more Protestant and more austere.

By the time he invited John Calvin to Strasbourg in 1538, Bucer’s liturgy had changed considerably from that of the late 1520s.

Calvin and the Supper

It should be noted that, at the time he went to Strasbourg, Calvin was at odds with Geneva over the frequency of Communion.

Calvin had always advocated weekly Communion, but he had to acquiesce to the city council in this matter.

Even when he returned to Geneva in 1541, Calvin could not change local government’s mind. Their Zwinglian policy of quarterly Communion was practically set in stone.

Calvin came up with a plan whereby Communion Sundays could be staggered in Geneva’s churches, which would have allowed communicants to receive the Sacrament more often. However, the council turned down the suggestion (p. 117).

Calvin was diligent about advocating frequent Communion, not only in his Institutes but also in personal correspondence. In 1555, he wrote to the magistrates of Bern whose policy was for the Sacrament to be given only three times a year, versus Geneva’s four (p. 118):

Please, God, gentlemen, that both you and we may be able to establish a more frequent usage. For it is evident from St Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive Church; and that continued for a long time in the ancient Church, until this abomination of the mass was set up by Satan, who so caused it that people received communion only once or twice a year. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the Apostles.

In 1561, he expressed his dissatisfaction with Geneva’s Communion policy:

I have taken care to record publicly that our custom is defective, so that those who come after me may be able to correct it the more freely and easily.

Calvin’s time in Strasbourg

Bucer invited Calvin to minister to the French Protestants — Huguenots — seeking refuge in Strasbourg, which was German-speaking.

Calvin lived in the city from 1538 to 1541, at which time he returned to Geneva.

He approved of Bucer’s liturgy, which a friend had translated into French (p. 113). Calvin adopted most of it for the Huguenots.

His French Communion liturgy for Strasbourg (pp 114, 115):

– Introduced a Scripture verse at the beginning of the service: Psalm 124:8;

– Replaced the standard Kyrie and Gloria with sung Kyrie responsorials to a metrical version of the Ten Commandments;

– Retained the Gospel reading (Bucer’s only Bible reading);

– Added a paraphrased Lord’s Prayer whilst retaining the standard Lord’s Prayer (before and after the Consecration Prayer);

– Moved the sung Apostles’ Creed just before the Consecration Prayer;

– Added the Nunc Dimittis just before the final blessing;

– Retained the Aaronic Blessing at the dismissal.

The Peace had disappeared from Bucer’s liturgy. Calvin did not reinstate it either in Strasbourg or, later, in Geneva.

The Geneva liturgy

Upon his return to Geneva, the city council asked Calvin to simplify his liturgy further (p. 115).

In 1542, he made the following changes (pp. 114, 115):

– Removal of the Absolution after the Confession of Sins;

– Replacement of the Ten Commandments with a metrical Psalm;

– Omission of the Nunc Dimittis.

Communicants approached the Holy Table where they stood or knelt to receive the Supper (p. 119).

Calvin’s Genevan rite spread to other Reformed churches on the Continent. Even with minor local variations, the rite was recognisably his.

Tomorrow: Early Reformed rites in Scotland

Not so long ago, most Reformed (Calvinist, including Presbyterian) churches had Communion — Supper — services once a month.

Today, that tradition is changing, with more churches embracing a weekly Supper.

Those churches which have not yet done so say that the frequency of the Supper might diminish its significance to the congregation. Along with this is the rationale that, during the service, congregants will choose to reflect on either the preaching or the Supper but not both. Others say that their church’s tradition has always been for a quarterly or monthly Communion service. All of these are reasonable.

However, there is also a poor excuse, which is that the distribution of the Supper takes too much time! This lady, commenting on a Gospel Coalition post exploring the subject, supports frequent Communion. She rightly takes issue with the ‘not enough time’ excuse, pointing out:

this is the one thing the Lord commanded we do to remember Him and what He did. If you don’t have the time, please feel free to cut out the collection of money, the silly dramas [some Reformed churches feature short plays during their services], the endless singing about how great God makes you feel (not Glory to God in most contemporary Christian music), the light show, the “howdy” (greeting…where everyone walks around talking about anything but Jesus). You can’t spare 10 minutes out of the weekly hour to remember what Jesus did for you? SHAME!

However, there are deeply rooted historical reasons why Communion has been infrequent in Reformed churches.

Calvin, Zwingli and Knox

John Calvin believed in weekly Communion:

the Lord’s Table should have been spread at least once a week for the assembly of Christians, and the promises declared in it should feed us spiritually.

However, he was unable to persuade the Geneva City Council of this principle. At this time in history, large European cities often legislated on matters spiritual as well as temporal. The Council approved monthly Communion.

In Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli took the view that the Sacrament was but a mere memorial of the Last Supper and offered no means of grace. Appalled, Martin Luther took strong exception to this and told Zwingli that ‘another spirit’ moved through him.

Nonetheless, Zwingli set a quarterly Communion observance for his followers: one Sunday in the autumn, followed by Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

John Knox promoted the Geneva pattern of Communion in his Order of Geneva (1556). Six years later, the First Book of Discipline adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1562) was issued. It called for a Zwinglian quarterly observance in Scottish cities and twice a year in countryside churches.

Communion Seasons

By the 18th century, Presbyterians in Scotland received the Sacrament rarely. Many only received it annually for the following reasons: suspicion of clergymen, lack of ordained ministers and a shortage of bread because of widespread poverty.

Scottish Presbyterian Communion tokenThese annual commemorations of the Supper turned into what were called Communion Seasons. The faithful began by fasting on a Thursday, attending a church service on Saturday where they received their Communion tokens, receiving the Sacrament the following day and a thanksgiving service on Monday.

If these remind us of revivals, that is indeed how they turned out. The same weekend format was adapted for American revivals, with a certain amount of religious enthusiasm.

Presbyterianism in Colonial America

By the end of the 18th century, Presbyterians in the American colonies held opposing views with regard to the frequency of Communion.

Whilst the 1787 Directory of Worship for American Presbyterianism stipulated the annual Communion Season, a Scottish-educated minister in New York City disagreed. In his 1797 book, Letters on Frequent Communion, John Mitchell Mason argued that the showmanship of the revivalist approach detracted from traditional Presbyterian piety. He advocated weekly Communion as a consistent means of grace.

Reformed Communion historically

There was one issue with frequent Communion, not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in the Reformed congregations.

Those wishing to receive the Sacrament were required to attend preparatory classes at their church in the days before each Communion Sunday. Ministers and elders gave tokens to those whom they had deemed worthy. The recipients were then required to present the token at the service.

These circumstances made frequent Communion services impractical.

Today’s experience

Although Communion tokens have long been history, Reformed clergy and congregations still struggle with the frequency of Communion services.

The Revd P Aasman of the Canadian Reformed Church in Grand Valley, Ontario, explains that his denomination’s Book of Praise contained a lengthy Communion liturgy and now has a shorter form. However, he writes, even then, congregations are reluctant to participate more often:

Both of these things (the length of the form and the manner of celebration) support infrequent communion and, therefore, need to be adjusted before positive change can be made.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is concerned that their congregations might have a Zwinglian view of the Sacrament as a memorial with little to no means of grace. OPC elders D. G. Hart and John Muether posit that increased frequency of Communion services are not guaranteed to alter those perceptions where they exist. Whilst they conclude that these services should ideally be weekly, they also warn:

weekly communion might tempt partakers toward a deadening familiarity with the sacrament …

Personally, as a former Catholic, now Anglican, I would agree that frequent reception of Communion, sadly, does become overly familiar and loses its significance. That is a terrible admission to make, however, it is true. I have also seen it in other Catholics during my time. When I first became an Episcopalian, my church had monthly Communion services. (That said, the 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were always for Holy Communion as were Wednesday evening services.) I felt better prepared spiritually for less frequent Communion. I could also concentrate more on the readings and sermons during Morning Prayer Sundays. My weakness, but no doubt others’, too.

I spent quite a bit of time seeing how often Presbyterian churches have a Communion service. Here are but three examples in the PCA: one has it quarterly (the Supper elements have been prepared by the same family line for 150 years!), another has it monthly and a third has one weekly.

It will be interesting to see what the future brings in this regard.

Geneva (photo courtesy of FriendlyPlanet.com)

Geneva today, yet as Calvin would have known it (photo courtesy of FriendlyPlanet.com)

If you want to see a city that epitomises John Calvin, visit his adopted home of Geneva, Switzerland.

Most native Swiss living in the French cantons were brought up in the Calvinist tradition.  However, probably only those aged 45 and over have actually ever attended church and, even then, not on a regular basis.  Nonetheless, their mindset reflects Calvinist principles.  I used to travel there on business, so got to know a few of my Swiss ex-colleagues rather well. 

As I mentioned in my earlier post, those raised in a Calvinist atmosphere strive for perfection.  It was no different with my esteemed colleagues.  If I had tuppence for every time I heard them say ‘perfectly’ or ‘Swiss precision’, I could afford to retire along Lake Geneva.  This isn’t to disparage them.  It’s to say they were always neatly dressed and clean. They took pride in their surroundings.  Furthermore, they took their work seriously.  It’s no accident that Geneva is known for its watchmakers. 

switzerland-geneva-40e8adfb9b015926

My colleagues did everything they could to see that I was suitably entertained during my stay.  When we dined, we had no excess in food or drink, but I always felt sated.  Portions were just right.  We talked and we laughed, but everything was balanced.  There was no drunkenness, no gossip — just a cordial group of people in a pleasant atmosphere.

The Geneva that I knew had an understated elegance about it.  Nothing ornate, just balanced beauty.  I enjoyed going for walks in the evening.  There were always buildings to gaze at and window displays to admire. People were reserved, yet polite and helpful. It was a safe and pleasant city with a quiet chic.  Its cleanliness reminded me of the way Canadian cities used to be. 

Although I have wanted to return, I haven’t yet, for fear that it might have gone ‘bling’.  That would break my heart.  I wonder if, as the Swiss move further away from church, this European treasure will become like other cities: dirty, crass and violent.  Those solid principles of Calvinism, the right stuff that made this city and its surrounds, will be lost permanently.  I can only hope that I am wrong.

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