17 November 2012

Pilgrims, Puritans, and the Bible

Geneva Bible
Religion was an integral part of life in England. By law, church attendance was required; nonattendance meant fines, imprisonment, or worse. During the reigns of the Tudor and Stewart monarchs (see timeline, below), the Church of England's religious foundations changed based upon who ruled at the time.

When King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England in 1534, he was not seeking religious reform. However, of his children, Edward VII was heavily influenced by his Protestant regents; Mary was adamantly Catholic; and Elizabeth was a moderate Protestant, more interested in the country’s stability than in Puritan extremes. Some of England’s subjects followed the state religion regardless which one it was, while others practiced their religion in secret or were openly opposed to the state religion.

Power of the Word

One of the tenants of the Protestant Reformation was bringing people closer to God through the Scriptures, not through the rituals and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. During the 16th century, English exiles translated the Bible into English. Even King Henry VIII created the Great Bible, otherwise known as the Chained Bible, to be read in the Churches of England. It was available to parishioners, but often chained to a desk to prevent its removal from the church.

The settlers of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies typically used the Geneva Bible, with its Calvinist/Puritan annotations that served as a study guide, even though the 1611 Authorized King James Bible was available before they left for New England. The Geneva Bible was more in line with their beliefs.

Below is a timeline of important Biblical, Puritan, and Separatist publications set against the backdrop of English history, including the reigns of the monarchs. 

Timeline of Religious Publications & English History
Henry VIII

1509-1547: reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547)
1517: Martin Luther posts Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg, Germany, which sparks the Protestant Reformation
1525: William Tyndale’s New Testament published in English
By 1526: at the White Horse Tavern in Cambridge, some people discuss how the Scriptures should be the foundation of the Church
1530: Tyndale’s Pentateuch (first five books of Old Testament) published; Tyndale’s books banned after disapproval from English churchmen
1533: Henry VIII banishes wife Catherine of Aragon from the court and secretly marries Anne Boleyn
1534: Act of Supremacy declares King Henry VIII head of Church of England, not pope; King Henry VIII excommunicated by Roman Catholic Church
1536: Tyndale convicted of heresy and executed for writing against King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage; John Calvin (1509-1564) first publishes his Institutes of the Christian Religion in Latin
1539: Great Bible, the first English translation authorized by King Henry VIII, published, based on revisions to Tyndale’s New Testament and Pentateuch, plus remaining books translated from Latin Vulgate and German
1547-1553: reign of Edward VI (1537-1553) and his Protestant regents
Mary I
1549: The Book of Common Prayer (and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons) first published
1553-1558: reign of Mary I (1516-1558); Queen Mary, known as Bloody Mary, re-establishes Roman Catholicism as state religion, persecuting and killing so-called heretics; many Protestants flee to Europe
1558-1603: reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
1558: Bishops’ Bible becomes the new authorized Bible, replacing the Great Bible
1560: Geneva Bible published by English exiles in Switzerland, with annotations espousing Calvinist and Puritan beliefs, based largely on Tyndale’s English translations
1563: John Foxe publishes The Book of Martyrs, an account of suffering and death under Bloody Mary’s rule, and how the Church of England should be “purified” of non-Scriptural elements
1580: Robert Browne publishes Reformation Without Tarrying for Anie, concluding that purifying the Church of England didn’t work, that it was time to Separate
1581: Robert Browne and Robert Harrison start Separatist congregation in Norwich
1603-1625: reign of James I (and VI of Scotland) (1566-1625)
1607-1609: John Robinson, William Brewster, William Bradford, and other Separatists emigrate to Holland
1611: Authorized King James Version of Bible published
1620-1640: Great Migration to New England
1620: Separatists (Pilgrims) and Strangers settle Plymouth Colony
1625-1649: reign of Charles I (1600-1649)
1629-1630: Winthrop fleet arrives in Massachusetts Bay Colony
1642: King Charles I disbands Parliament
1642-1651: English Civil Wars between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers)
Charles I
1649: King Charles I beheaded; son Charles exiled
1649-1653: the Commonwealth
1653-1659: the Protectorate rule of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) and Richard Cromwell (1626-1712)
1660: Restoration of the Monarchy
1660-1685: reign of Charles II (1630-1685)
1678: Paul Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress published
1685-1688: reign of James II (1633-1701)
1688: Glorious Revolution; King James II deposed
1689-1702: reign of William III of Orange (1650-1702) & Mary II (1662-1694)
1702-1714: reign of Anne (1665-1714)
1707: Acts of Union joined the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain

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