Friday, January 3, 2014

Confessional Theonomy: Part 7: The Soldier's Catechism

The Soldier’s Catechism was a pamphlet issued in 1644 to parliamentarian soldiers—including Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army—during the English Civil War between Parliament and King Charles I. At 3 ½” by 5 ½” and twenty eight pages, it could be easily be carried by the soldier.[1]

Written by Robert Ram, minister of Spalding and chaplain in the parliamentarian army,[2] the booklet was said to have been “a powerful instrument in determining” the execution of King Charles I.[3] According to a one John Turner in 1684 in regards to Charles II, the Soldier’s Catechism “was without question none of the meanest instruments in bringing his royal father to the block."[4] And another author writes that it “was thought to have more to do with bringing King Charles’s head to the block than any other contemporary book or pamplet.”[5] 

According to its title page, The Soldier’s Catechism was “written for the encouragement and instruction of all that have taken up arms in this cause of God and His people; especially the common soldiers.” In two main sectionsthe justification of the Parliamentarian soldier, and the qualification of the Parliamentarian soldier—the catechism covers everything from a biblical basis for fighting in war, to the need for soldiers to suppress idolatry.

Major parts of the section on the justification of the Parliamentarian soldier:
  • the biblical basis for Christians fighting in war
  • which side in the war the soldier is on
  • a reconciliation of the soldiers' actions with Romans 13
  • the reason for taking up arms
  • the main goal of the war
  • the hopes for prevailing in the war
  • the necessity of fighting, despite the lamentable situation of Christians fighting Christians 
  • the authors of the war
  • hopes for future national reformation

Major parts of the section on the qualification of the Parliamentarian soldier:
  • the principal requirements of a soldier
  • why soldiers should hold to the Christian religion
  • why the army can expect God’s blessing, despite the fact that many in the army are ungodly
  • a justification for controlled iconoclasm
  • the importance of valor and course
  • the need for skill and cunning
  • how soldiers can become skillful
  • the proper behavior of commanders and officers to their soldiers, and vice versa
  • dealing with mutiny
  • dealing with cowardice
  • how soldiers should be encouraged and rewarded
  • why the soldiers should be honored

Q: What is it that you chiefly aim at in this war?
A: At the advancement of Christ's Kingdom and the purity of His ordinances.

Excerpts from The Soldier's Catechism
(language slightly modernized)

Question. What profession are you of?

Answer. I am a Christian and a solider.

Q. Is it lawful for Christians to be soldiers?

A. Yes doubtless: we have arguments enough to warrant it.

1. God calls Himself a man of war, and Lord of Hosts.
2. Abraham had a regiment of 318 trained men.
3. David was employed in fighting the Lord’s battles.
4. The Holy Ghost makes honorable mention of David’s Worthies.
5. God Himself taught David to fight.
6. The noble gift of valor is given for this purpose.
7. The New Testament mentions two famous centurions.
8. The Baptist does not require the soldiers to leave their professions, Luke 3:14.9. Many comparisons are taken from this calling in the New Testament.10. There have been many famous martyrs of this profession.

Q. What does our Savior mean then by those words? Matthew 5:39

A. 1. Christ there only forbids private revenge and resistance.
2. Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture: we know that other places of Scripture do warrant taking up of arms in some cases.

Q. How can you that are soldiers for the Parliament answer that place of Paul, Romans 13:1, 2, 3, & etc.

A. 1. That place requires not obedience to any unlawful Commands, neither doth any other place of Scripture, we are no further to obey man, than may stand with the will of God.

2. They are grossly mistaken which say the King is the highest power; Indeed, he is the highest person in his dominions, but the laws and courts of the kingdom are above him in power, and the King himself is limited and subject to the meanest court in the land: Therefore surely the high Court of Parliament must needs be the higher power, which not to obey, is to resist the ordinance of God.

3. Suppose the King were the higher power, yet if he shall intend or permit the ruin of his subjects, both nature and grace allows people to preserve themselves.

4. If the king be the higher power by constitution, yet is his power now in other hands by usurpation. The Queen, Ierman, Bristol, Digby, Cuttington, Windebanke, Porter, and many others, have for a long time, and do still manage the greatest affairs of the kingdom; so that it were a miserable thing to be subjected in conscience (as that text imports, if some men’s exposition might pass for orthodox divinity) to such enemies and incendiaries both of Church and Commonwealth.

Q. What is it that moves you to take up arms, and to engage yourself in this Civil War?

A. 1. The love I bear to my country.
2. The preservation of our Parliament, laws and liberties.
3. The defense of our religion against Popery.
4. The care of our posterity.
5. The general forwardness of all good people.
6. The consent, and provocation of all God’s ministers.
7. The command of the Parliament, which is the higher power.
8. The necessity that now lies upon all that fear God in the land.

Q. What is it that you chiefly aim at in this war?

A. 1. At the pulling down of Babylon, and rewarding her as she has served us, Psalm 137:8.
2. At the suppression of an anti-Christian prelacy, consisting of Archbishops, Bishops, &c.
3. At the reformation of a most corrupt, lazy, infamous, superstitious, soul murdering clergy.
4. At the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom and the purity of His ordinances.
5. At the bringing to justice of the enemies of our Church and State.
6. At the regulating of our courts of justice, which have been made the seats of iniquity and unrighteousness.
7. At the upholding of our Parliaments, which are the subjects' best inheritance, and the crown of our nation.
8. At the preservation, and continuing of the Gospel to our posterity, and the generations to come.  

Q. What are the principal things required in a soldier?

A. 1. That he be religious and godly.
2. That he be courageous and valiant.
3. That he be skillful in the military profession.

Q. How do you prove that our soldiers should be religious?

1. By Scripture: Deuteronomy 23:9, Luke 3:14.

2. Besides, there be many reasons to confirm it.
1. Because they lie so open to death.
2. They stand in continual need of God's assistance.
3. They fight for religion and reformation.
4. God hath raised them up to execute justice.
5. Men may be as religious in this profession as in any other.
6. We read of brave soldiers that have been very religious.
7. A well ordered camp is a school of virtue, wherein is taught,
1. Preparation to death, 2. Continencie, 3. Vigilance, 4. Obedience, 5. Hardness, 6. Temperance, 7. Humility, 8. Devotion, &c.

Q. Who do chiefly offend against this rule?

A. 1. Such soldiers as give themselves to whoring and uncleanness. 
2. Such as use to swear, and blaspheme the name of God.
3. Such as follow that swinish sin of drunkenness. 
4. Such as plunder and steal whatsoever they come near. 

Q. Is it well done of some of your Soldiers (which seem to be religious) to break down crosses and images where they meet with any?

A. 1. I confess that nothing ought to be done in a tumultuous manner.

2. But feeling God hath put the Sword of Reformation into the soldier’s hand, I think it is not amiss that they should cancel and demolish those monuments of superstition and idolatry, especially seeing the magistrate and the minister that should have done it formerly, neglected it.  

Q. But what say you to their tearing and burning the Books of Common Prayer, in every place where they come?

A. Much may be laid in their justification, who show themselves so zealous against that Book.

1.  It hath been the fomenter of a most lazy, lewd, and ignorant Ministry.
2. It hath been the nurse of that lamentable blindness and ignorance, which hath overspread many parts of this kingdom.
3. It is a great cause of our present calamities, for who are they that side with our Popish enemies, but Common-Prayer men?
4. It is become the most abominable idol in the land, people generally do dote upon it, as much as the Ephesians upon Diana and prefer it before preaching in many places, being strangely enraged for the want of it.
5. It is high time therefore to remove this Brazen Serpent, and grind it to powder, seeing it is the occasion of so much evil.
6. It is very likely therefore that God hath stirred up the spirits of some honest soldiers to be his instruments for the destruction of that idol.
7. It belongs to the Parliament soldiers, upon the matter, to remove all scandalous things they meet with, having covenanted, and engaged themselves to the work of Reformation.


[1] Robert Thomas Fallon, ed., The Christian Soldier: Religious Tracts Published for Soldiers on Both Sides During and After the English Civil Wars, 1642-1648 (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2003), 45.
[2] Julie Spraggon, Puritan Iconoclasm during the English Civil War (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 2003), 52.
[3] Oxford Journals (Firm), Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc.: Ninth Series—Volume V—January – June 1900 (London: John C. Francis, 1900), 3.   
[4] Preface by Walter Begley in Cromwell’s Soldier’s Catechism: Written for the Encouragement and Instruction of All that have Taken up Arms, Especially the Common Soldiers (London: Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, E.C., 1900), ix, x.
[5]   “The Publisher’s Circular,” June 7, 1902, in British Books, Volumes 23-24; Volumes 76-77, 667. 

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