Was King James I
a Closet Roman Catholic?

A review of,

King James & Papal Opposition

by Stephen A. Coston, Sr.
author of King James: Unjustly Accused?

Keywords: King James I, Roman Catholic

"I am no papist (as I said before)."
--King James VI,
Basilicon Doron, p. 13, c. 1598


It is often asserted that King James I was a "closet Catholic". Was he? What does the extant historical record say? These are the questions that Stephen Coston answers in his new work, "King James & Papal Opposition". True to form, Mr. Coston appeals to valuable primary source documentation in order to educate and convince his readers. At the end of his introduction, Mr. Coston states,

"As the evidence is clear, speaking for itself, I will...begin and end by appealing to the evidence. I am not asking you to consider what I think James might have believed, I am not requesting you consider the opinions of what some scholars think James may have held to, I am asking you to consider what James actually believed, wrote, and did. In short I appeal to the facts of history -- will you listen?"

In Papal Opposition, Mr. Coston handily proves his thesis--not only was King James not a Roman Catholic, but he actually opposed the errors of Rome. Mr. Coston's selection and arrangement of the King's prolific writings gives us a picture of a bold Christian King who fought to keep a bloody papacy off his back while its recusants lived in his kingdom. Mr. Coston does not stop at King James' writings. He includes those of high-ranking papists who considered King James "a heretick" king. Complementing the rich, relevant primary source documentation found in Papal Opposition is Mr. Coston's insightful historical commentary. He does not second-guess King James but rather helps the reader to put King James' actions and words in context of the political/religious climate of the time.

Mr. Coston's appeal to primary source documentation is refreshing in a time when revisionist historians seek to re-write history based on rumor, speculation, and wishful thinking. Our historians oftentimes plagerize one anothers work, not taking time to go back and do real research. It seems Mr. Coston was made for such a time as this. His ability to locate, synthesize and analyze primary source data, is probably the most important aspect of his work. The full title of this work is

King James & Papal Opposition
Or Royal Opposition to Papal Authority
During the Reign Of James
VI of Scotland & I of England

Papal Opposition is a short work, consisting of 76 pages, but boy is it power packed. For those that love "the faith which was once delivered to the saints", this work will probably ellicit more than a few hearty "amens". Papal Opposition is illustrated with beautiful artwork by Richard Neumeier which transports the reader back to a stylistic 17th century England.

The Premise

Mr. Coston gives this overview of Papal Opposition:

"...this article will be citing three primary categories of works of James to establish my premise, which is, that King James was not a Roman Catholic. The first section will be...a review of James personal correspondence. The second section will be devoted to a listing of the pertinent Royal Proclamations of James. The third and final segment will be a review of James political writing." (p. 6 of Papal Opposition)

This review will not begin to touch on all the writings and compelling points found in Papal Opposition. We'll give some highlights and then trust that the interested reader will read this well documented work for himself.

Was King James a Papist?

His Majestie King James was not only Protestant but he actually opposed the Pope and wrote vehemently against the errors of Roman Catholicism. King James knew well the spiritual and temporal dangers of Romanism. His English predecessor, Elizabeth I, was staunchly Protestant and also knew well of Catholic intrigues, murders, and plots. Elizabeth's own predecessor and half-sister was known as "Bloody Mary". Bloody Mary was a Catholic queen determined to restore Romanism to England. In the process, she killed 300 faithful Protestants who refused to bow the knee to the pope and his henchmen. In the providence of God, Bloody Mary had no children, hence, no heir to the throne.

What did King James say about...

The lore of Catholic saints?"I am loathe to believe all the tales of the legended saints." Concerning the supposed miracles they performed in response to prayers to them, King James called them but "tricks".
Catholic relics? (adoring dead saints' body parts)"For relics of Saints; If I had any such that I were assured were members of their bodies, I would honorably bury them, and not give them the reward of condemned mens members, which are only ordained to be deprived of burial; but for worshipping either them or images, I must account it damnable idolatry...I quarrel not the making of images, either for public decoration, or for mens private uses; but that they should be worshipped, be prayed to, or any holiness attributed unto them, was never known of the Ancients. And the Scriptures are so directly, vehemently and punctually against it, as I wonder what brain of man, or suggestion of Satan durst offer it to Christians...But the Scripture forbiddeth to worship the image of any thing that GOD created...the image of GOD is not only expressly forbidden to be worshipped, but even to be made. The reason given, that no eye ever saw God; and how can we paint his face...Let them therefore that maintain this doctrine answer it to CHRIST at the latter day, when he shall accuse them of Idolatry...But Christ's cross must have a particular privilege (say they) and be worshipped...Nay, rather (saith He) Blessed are those that hear the Wor of God, and keep it."
Purgatory?"As for Purgatory and all the trash depending thereupon, it is not worth the talking of; Bellarmaine [Romanist Cardinal] cannot find any ground for it in all the Scriptures...But as for me I am sure there is a Heaven and a Hell...for the elect and reprobate...Heaven and Hell are there revealed to be the eternal home of all mankind, let us endeavor to win the one and eschew the other."
The infallibility of the Pope?"...so I utterly deny that there is an earthly monarch thereof, whose word must be a Law, and who cannot err in his Sentence, by an infallibility of Spirit...Christ did not promise before his ascension to leave Peter with them to direct and instruct them in all thins; but he promised to send the Holy Ghost unto them for that end...But how they are now come to be Christs Vicars, nay, Gods on earth, triple crowned, Kings of heaven, earth and hell, judges of all the world, and none to judge them; heads of the faith, absolute deciders of all controversies by the infallibility of their spirit, having all power both spiritual and temporal in their hands; the high bishops, monarchs of the whole earth, superiors to all emperors and kings; yea supreme vice-gods, who whether will or not cannot err; how they now come is say to the top of greatness I know not but sure I am we that are kings have greatest need to look into it. As for me, Paul and Peter I know, but these men I know not...but I am sure none will condemn for an heretic save such as make the Pope their God, and think him such a speaking Scripture as they can define heresy no otherwise...Rome shall be the seat of the Antichrist--Rome is the Seat of the Antichrist."

King James laboured to prove the Pope to be the Antichrist out of scripture--"And this opinion no Pope can ever make me recant..." "Having now made this digression against the Antichrist, which I am sure I can better fasten upon the Pope, than Bellarmine can do in his pretended Temporal superiority over kings." "...Popery...is indeed, the mystery of iniquity."

Praying to Mary?"And first for the blessed virgin Mary, I yield her that which the Angel Gabriel pronounced of her...I reverence her as the Mother of Christ,...But I dare not mock her and blaspheme God, praying her to command and control her Son, who is her God and her Savior, nor yet not I think that she hath no other thing to do in heaven, than to hear every idle mans suite, and busy herself in their errands; while requesting, while commanding her Son, while coming down to kiss and make love with Priests, and while disputing and brawling with Devils. In heaven she is in eternal glory and joy, never to be interrupted with any worldly business, and there I leave her with her blessed Son our Savior and her in eternal felicity."
Forced celibacy of priests?"By their Fornication is meant both their spiritual fornication of Idolatry, and also their corporal fornication; which doth the more abound amongst them, as well by reason of the restraint of their Churchmen from marriage, as also because of the many Orders of idle Monastic lives amongst them, as well for men as women, and continual experience proves that idleness is ever the greatest spur to lechery."
Sacrament of
confession to priests?
"...how damnable this doctrine is..."

The Romanist response to King James comments?

"King James is no Catholic, neither is he a Christian."

King James responded by saying he was saved without the aid of Rome and a Catholic in the true historic sense of the word (Mr. Coston's explains that the word "Catholic" refers to the "universal" body of believers, not the Romanist perversion). Catholic Inquisitors and Cardinal Bellarmine (the pope's champion) called King James a heretick king. King James said that since he was never a Catholic he could not be termed a heretick.

"...not only having ever been brought up in that Religion which I presentl profess...and so cannot be properly an heretic, by their own doctrine, since I never was of their Church."

--King James,
Basilicon Doron, p. 15

"I am sure none will condemn for an heretic save such as make the Pope their God."

--King James,
Basilicon Doron, p. 36

But wasn't King James baptized as a Catholic?

King James mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was a well known papist. The king never knew his mother--she was arrested when he was one year old and spent 19 years in prison in England under Elizabeth I where she was finally executed for treason. Because Mary had King James baptized under Romish rites, Cardinal Bellarmine said,

"In our supernatural birth in Baptism we are to conceive of a secret and implied oath, which we take at our new birth, to yield obedience to the spiritual prince, which is Christ's vicar."

King James retorted,

"It is to be wondered at, whence this fellow had this strange new Divinity, which surely was first framed in his own fantastic brain. Else let him make us a catalogue of his authors, that hold and teach, that all Christians, whether infants or of age, are by virtue of an oath taken in their Baptism, bound to yield absolute obedience to Christ's vicar the Pope, or baptized in any but in Christ."

Gentle reader, this is but a small sampling of the quotes you will find in King James & Papal Opposition, but it should be more than enough for any objective person to see that King James was no papist.

In spite of this overwhelming evidence, detractors of King James, in a last ditch effort, appeal to King James' statement,

"I acknowledge the Romane Church to be our Mother Church."

In Papal Opposition, Mr. Coston puts this phrase back in the context in which it was spoken and then goes on to define the term "mother church". Essentially, the Church of England, of which King James was head, came forth from the "Church" of Rome during the reign of King Henry VIII. Most of us are familiar with the womanizing Henry's spurned request for a divorce. As a result, he broke with Rome and became head of the Church of England. Hence, the Roman church was "mother church" of the Church of England.

Spiritual and Political Importance of King James' anti-Papal stance.

"James did more to thwart and repel Jesuit and Papal influence upon the Church of England than any other peer of his time."   --Stephen Coston

King James opposed Romanism on two fronts. First of all, Romanism was (and is) against the scriptures.

"The doctrine which is taught in the Church of God, ought to be taken out of the word of God...For controversies in matter of religion let the Scripture be the judge."

--King James, Papal Opposition, p. 34

King James considered himself a father to his subjects and he cared about their spiritual health, not wanting them to go to perdition riding on the superstitions of Rome. It must be noted that King James was a soulwinner. This can be seen in the king's own writings and those of his contemporaries who noted that he attempted to spread his religion throughout the realm.

Second of all, King James opposed Romanism because it is anti-monarchal and pro-pope. During the Dark Ages when Rome was in its monstrous glory, Papists enforced (to the bloodshed of multitudes) subjection to the Pope since their "traditions" state that the pope has temporal and spiritual sovereignty over the WHOLE world. Popes deposed kings, took lands, executed Bible believers, and encouraged recusancy (even in the time of King James) and murder of kings. The most cursory look at history will find Rome at the center of lechery, whoredom, corruption, scandal, intrigues, and murder.

King James is often criticized for his belief in the Divine Right of Kings but the critics overlook the importance of His Majestie's stand...

"With respect to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, this doctrine was the principal force restraining the authority of the Popes in James' time and thereafter...[W]ithout the doctrine of the Divine Right, Roman Catholicism would have dominated history well beyond its current employment in the Dark Ages. Furthermore, Divine Right made it possible for the Protestant Reformation in England to take place, mature and spread to the rest of the globe."
--Stephen Coston, personal correspondence, 1999

"James...refused to accept or endorse any jurisdictional intrusion into the ancient vested authority of the Crown in ecclesiastical matters.

"It was James' concerted opinion that only the authority of a king, backed by the unified support of fellow Protestant princes could realistically challenge the usurped authority of the Pope. The doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and their supremacy over any Pope was near and dear to the heart of James as the historical documents reveal. Furthermore, the well know axiom of James 'No Bishop, No King' was similarly expressive of his attachment to Royal direction over ministerial matters. Any perceived degradation to this dogma was strenuously opposed by James."

--Stephen Coston, Papal Opposition p. 23

Did King James hate and persecute Catholics?

Catholics opposed King James' accession to the English throne before he ever wrote one proclamation restricting them...He was a Protestant Prince which was enough for assasination. In spite of their numerous errors, King James did not hate them. Even when the Catholic conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot were found, King James told his people in his speech to Parliament in 1605,

"For although it cannot be denied, That it was the only blind superstition of their errors in religion, that led them to this desperate devise; yet does it not follow, that all professing that Romish religion were guilty of the same..."

In spite of their numerous intrigues, King James treated them amicably.

"How many did I honor with Knighthood of known and open Recusants? How indifferently did I give audience, and access to both sides, bestowing equally all favors and honors on both professions: How free and continual access had all ranks and degrees of Papists in my Court and company? And above all, how frankly and freely did I free Recusants of their ordinary payments? Besides, it is evident what strait order was given out of my own mouth to the judges to spare the execution of all Priests, (nothwithstanding their conviction), joining thereto a gracious Proclamation whereby all Priests that were at liberty and not taken might go out of the country by such a day..but time and paper will fail me to make enumeration of all the benefits and favors that I bestowed in general and particular upon Papists, in recounting whereof, every scrape of my pen would serve but for a blot of the Pope's ingratitude and injustice, in meeting with so hard a measure for same. So as I think I have sufficiently, or at least with good reason wiped the tears from the Pope's eyes, for complianing upon such persecution, who if he had been but politically wise, although he had no respect to justice and verity, would have this compliant of his...and for the main untruth of any persecution in my time, it can never be proved that any were or are put to death since I came to the Crown for cause of conscience except that now this discharge given by the Pope...let the blood light upon the Pope's head, who is the only cause thereof."

--King James, page 19 of Papal Opposition

Mr. Coston notes, "James walked a tight line. He had to be fair and show mercy to Roman Catholics on one hand, yet he also had to keep them in check and punish the evil they did. Consequently, many Roman Catholics still revile his name to this day, and many would-be Protestants chastise him as being soft on Roman Catholics."

Ah, but there is sooo much more...

Papal Opposition is such a meaty treatise overflowing with rich quotes from His Majestie King James that I am loathe to end this review for inadequacy of treatment. But alas! all is not lost, gentle reader. You may order a copy of Papal Opposition for yourself. It's worth every penny and it will be a most appreciated volume on your shelf...

The Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Papal Persecution [of King James]
  3. James' Personal Correspondence
  4. Roman Catholic/Jesuit Conspiracies against the life of King James
  5. King James vs. Cardinal Bellarmine & Cardinal du Perron
  6. James the converter of Papists? [King James was a soulwinner]
  7. The Conspiracy theory of Rapin & Ross [rumors that King James wanted to join the papists]
  8. Modern Jesuit Perspectives on James.

Read Papal Opposition to find out--

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Keywords: King James I, Romish, King James VI of Scotland, King James I of England, Roman Catholic, Catholic, papist, Romanist.