William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

. (page 13 of 37)
Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 13 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the rites of religion were suspended throughout the land. If
Scotland at length placed itself under Papal protection, it did
so in order to escape subjection to English metropolitans.

MedicBval Scotland. 95

The clergy, on almost all occasions, helped to preserve the
stability of the State by giving their support to the throne,
whether the contest was with Rome, with England, or with
overbearing Scottish barons. During many generations the
Medieval Church exercised an unbounded ascendency over
the minds and conduct of our ancestors; and its influence,
in those rude and turbulent times, was, on the whole, greatly
beneficial to the nation. With all its errors and shortcomings,
the Church was for a lengthened period zealous in restraining
the vicious, caring for the poor, civilising the people, and
teaching them to fear God, and to prepare for a life beyond
the present. Its bishops and abbots were frequently chosen to
fill high offices of state, for which they alone were fitted by
education and training. Amongst its clergy of all ranks
there were not a few men of saintly lives, and eminent useful-
ness in their day. But in course of time, the Church declined
in purity and zeal. Amongst the causes of this declension
were the great wealth of the clergy, and the law of celibacy by
which they were bound. The War of Independence also was
injurious to religion. The clergy — especially the higher orders
of them — while taking part in that patriotic contest, neglected
their proper functions ; and the relaxation of discipline which
ensued gained strength from the disorganised state of society
resulting from the same struggle. By-and-by, church benefices
came to be bought and sold at the Roman Court; and all
attempts to put a stop to this evil failed. From the reign of
James III. the Monks were seldom, if ever, allowed to exercise
their canonical right of electing their Abbots, or Cathedral
Chapters their Bishops ; and the sovereigns, adopting the
Papal practice, disposed of these offices for pecuniary or
other considerations to persons who, in too many cases,
were unworthy of them, and unable to perform the duties
they involved. This led the way to further abuses. Pluralities
abounded : livings were held in commendam ; and the spiritual
interests of the people were disregarded. Bishoprics and

g6 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

Abbacies were made use of as a provision for the natural sons
of the sovereign and nobles. Preaching was almost entirely
neglected, except by the Friars. Attempts were made to
remedy this evil by some good men, such as Bishop Kennedy
of St Andrews, who preached regularly throughout his diocese,
and obliged the parochial clergy to remain at their churches,
and attend to their duties. But such cases were rare. The
Monastic Orders, too, were becoming more and more de-
generate ; and the nobles were beginning to hanker after their
immense possessions. Thus the Church, which in the twelfth
century had been assimilated to the Roman model, had, at the
commencement of the sixteenth, sunk, even more than its Celtic
predecessor, from a state of purity and energy into one of
corruption and decay. My successor will tell you further of the
evils which now prevailed : but the darkest night is followed
by the dawn of a new day ; and he will also tell you of the
introduction of evangelical doctrines, for which some had
already suffered martyrdom. Though the Church still presented
an aspect of external unity, there were everywhere symptoms
of approaching change. Not only in Scotland, but throughout
Europe the established religion was fast losing its hold on the
conscience and intellect of the people. All things seemed
tending towards some great crisis. On the 9th of September
15 13, King James IV. and his bastard son, the youthful Arch-
bishop of St Andrews — appointed to that high office when only
sixteen years of age — with the flower of the Scottish nobility,
lay dead on the field of Flodden ; and the fires of persecution
were rekindled in the following reign. The year of Flodden
witnessed another event of wider import — the elevation of
Leo X. to the papal throne — which proved the commencement
of a new Chapter of surpassing interest and importance in the
history of Western Christendom.





By the Rev. Alexander F. Mitchell, D.D.,
Professor of Ecclesiastical History in the University of St Andrews.

T CANNOT, like my predecessors, complain of the length of
-■■ the period of which I have to treat. But events of the
greatest interest and importance are crowded into it. With the
exception of the introduction of Christianity into the world,
the Reformation of the sixteenth century is the most glorious
revolution that has occurred in the history of our race; and
that period of earnest contending and. heroic suffering which
prepared the way for it, and the story of the men who,
by God's grace, were enabled to bear the brunt of the battle,
and at last to lead their countrymen on to victory, will ever
have a fascination for all in whose hearts patriotism is not
extinct nor religion dead.^

By the time at which Reforming influences began mani-
festly to shew themselves, that grand mediaeval organisation

^ Authorities consulted : Theiner's Monumenia, Robertson's Concilia, rare
treatises of Alesius ; Knox, Calderwood, Spottiswood, Petrie, M'Crie, Cook,
Lee, Lorimer, Cunningham, D'Aubigne, &c.


98 Sf Giles* Lectures.

which had supplanted the simpler arrangements of the old
Celtic Church, had exhausted its life powers, and shewn unmis-
takable signs of deep-seated corruption as well as hopeless
decay. Whatever good it may have been honoured to do in
previous times in preserving knowledge of God and things
divine in the midst of ' a darkness which might be felt,' in
promoting civilisation, alleviating the evils of feudalism, and
providing institutions which, with a purified Church and revived
Christian life, were to be a source of blessing to many genera-
tions — yet now it had grossly failed to keep alive true devotion,
or to give access to the sources at which the flame might be
rekindled ; it had failed to provide educated men for its ordi-
nary cures, to raise the masses from the rudeness and ignorance
in which they were still sunk, and even to maintain that
hearty sympathy with them and that kindly interest in their
temporal welfare which its best men in its earlier days had
shewn. It continued to have its services in a language which
had for ages been unintelligible to the bulk of the laity, and
was but partially intelligible to not a few of its ordinary priests.
It had no catechisms or hymn-books bringing down to the
capacities of the unlettered the truths of religion, and freely
circulated among them.^ It did not, when the invention of
printing put it in its power, make any effort to circulate among
them the Holy Book, that they might read therein, in their own
tongue, the message of God's love. No doubt it had its
pictures and images, its mystery plays and ceremonies, which it
deemed fit books for children and the unlearned. But it forgot
that these children were growing in capacity, even if allowed
to grow untrained ; that ' to credulous simplicity was succeeding
a spirit of eager curiosity, an impatience of mere authority, and
a determination to search into the foundation of things ; ' and
that if it was to maintain its place, it must not only keep

^ The one catechism which at the last it ventured to issue was ' not to be
put into the hands of lay persons without permission of the ordinary.'

Pre-Reformation Scotland. 99

abreast but ahead of advancing intelligence and morality. So
far from doing this, it began greatly to decline just as the laity
began to rise, and let slip the golden opportunity it got of
itself initiating needed reforms during the century which
followed the councils of Constance and Basel. It never
grappled as it ought with the problem of the education of the
masses; and what was done for those in more fortunate
circumstances was done more by the efforts of noble-minded
individuals than by any corporate action. It never grappled as
it ought with the problem of easing the burdens which had
long been so galling to the peasantry and poorer burgesses.

Not only had the life powers of the Mediseval Church been
exhausted and decay set in, but corruption — positive and
gross corruption — had reached an alarming height. There was
indolence and neglect of duty, especially the neglect of
preaching by the higher ecclesiastics and ordinary parish
priests ; the conferring of benefices on unqualified men and
minors; luxury, avarice, oppression, simony, pluralities, and
' crass ignorance ; ' and above all, that celibate system, which
nothing would persuade them honestly to abandon, though it
proved to be a yoke they could not bear, and was producing
only too generally results humiliating and disastrous to them-
selves and to all who came under their influence.^ The harsh
methods to which men themselves so vulnerable resorted to
maintain their position, the shameless cruelties they perpetrated
on men of unblemished conduct and deeply religious character,
could not fail in the end to turn the tide against them,
and arouse feelings of indignation which on any favourable
opportunity would induce the nation to sweep them away.

The corruptions in the doctrine of the Church were hardly
less notable than those in the lives of its clergy. The sufficiency
and supremacy of the written word of God were denied, and
co-ordinate authority was claimed for tradition. The blessed

^ Robertson's Concilia, pp. xc. cxl. 283, 289.

loo Sf Giles^ Lectures.

Virgin and the saints departed were asserted to share the office
which Scripture reserves for the one Mediator between God and
man. Penances and external acts of work-righteousness were
thought to co-operate in the pardon of sin with the ' one
obedience ' by which ' many are made righteous.' The sacra-
ments were asserted to produce their effect ex opere operato,
not by the working of God's Spirit in them that by faith receive
them. The hteral transubstantiation of the bread and wine in
the Lord's Supper was maintained. The doctrine of a pur-
gatory after this hfe and the virtue of masses for the dead were
persistently taught. The Roman Church was held to be the
mother and mistress of the Churches, and its head the Vicar
of Christ.

Yet, even in these degenerate days, there were those among
the ministers of the Church who wept in secret over the abom-
inations that were done, and longed for the dawn of a better
day — who, in their parishes or cloisters or colleges, sought to
prepare the way for it, and succeeded in doing so with many
of their younger comrades, and only made up their minds
to abandon the old Church when all their efforts for its revival
proved vain. Nay, the men who initiated or carried to a suc-
cessful issue the struggle for a more thorough reformation — the
martyrs, confessors, and exiles — were almost all from the ranks
of the priesthood of the old Church, from the regular as well
as from the secular priesthood ; from the Dominican and Fran-
ciscan Monasteries as well as from the Augustinian Abbeys ; and
from none more largely than the Priory of St Andrews and
its daughter College of St Leonard's. At least twenty priests
joined the reformed congregation of St Andrews in 1559-60,
and among them more than one who had sat in judgment on
the martyrs and assisted in their condemnation.

How was the great revolution which was to bring the Church
back from these corruptions of life and doctrine prepared for ?
Scotland had had no Grosteste, no Anselm or Bradwardine
among its mediaeval prelates — no Wicliffe among its priests.

Pre-Reformation Scotland. * loi

But the earnest contendings of the latter for the reformation of
the Church of England, could not fail to be heard of here.
His poor priests, when persecuted in the South, naturally-
sought shelter among the moors and mosses of the North.
The district of Kyle and Cunningham was 'an ancient
receptacle of the servants of God,' where their doctrines
were cherished till the dawn of the Reformation. In 1406-7,
one of these priests is found teaching as far North as Perth,
and for his teaching accused and condemned to a martyr's
death. A similar fate is said to have befallen another in
Glasgow about 1422; and in 1433 P^^^ Craw or Crawar, a
Bohemian, for disseminating similar opinions, was burned at
the market cross of St Andrews. These were not in all pro-
bability the only grim triumphs of Laurence of Lindores, who
during so many years 'gave no rest to heretics,' but they are all
of which records have been preserved. The facts that every
Master of Arts in the university of St Andrews had to take an
oath to defend the Church against the Lollards, and that the
Scottish Parliament in 1425-6 enjoined that every bishop
should make inquiry anent heretics and Lollards, speak
even more significantly of the alarm they had occasioned
than these sporadic martyrdoms. And in the very close of the
century, and in the old haunt, we find no fewer than thirty
processed, but through the kindness of the king more gently
dealt with. Three of the most resolute — namely, Campbell
of Cessnock, his noble wife, and a priest who officiated as
their chaplain and read the New Testament to them, were
released when at the stake.

It has not been very clearly ascertained how or when the
opinions and writings of Luther were first introduced into
Scotland. Chief among its doctors at that time was John
Major, who taught with distinguished success in Paris as well
as at home. He was a true disciple of D'Ailly and Gerson,
and trained many to testify against the immorality and ignor-
ance of the clergy. In the year 1523, Patrick Hamilton, having

102 St Gilei Lectures.

studied in Paris and Louvain, and taken the degree of M.A.
in Paris, was admitted as a member of the faculty of Arts in
the University of St Andrews. At that time he was probably
more Erasmian than Lutheran, though of that more earnest
school who were ultimately to outgrow their teacher, and
find their congenial home in a new Church. He associated
chiefly with the younger canons of the Priory and the mem-
bers of St Leonard's College. Skilled in the musical art, he
set himself to improve the service of praise, and composed a
chant in nine parts, which was performed in the cathedral,
and is said to have greatly delighted the hearers. He
talked much of recalling philosophy to its fountains in Plato
and Aristotle, and abandoning the scholastic subtleties which
Major so greatly affected. He sought the imposition of hands,
that he might be authorised to preach the pure word of God
to the people, as well as to defend its teaching in the schools.

The years 1525 and 1526 were very unquiet years in
Scotland, various factions contending with varying success for
the possession of the person of the young king. In 1525 the
Parliament passed its first act against strangers introducing the
new opinions ; and two years after, in consequence of a letter
from the Pope, urging the young king to keep his realm free
from heresy, the act was extended to natives of the kingdom.

In 1526 the Primate, having taken keen part in the political
contentions of the day with the faction which lost, had to
escape for a time from St Andrews, and disguised as a shepherd,
to tend a flock of sheep for three months on the hills of Fife.
It was at this juncture that copies of Tyndale's translation of
the New Testament were brought over from the Low Countries
by the Scottish traders. Most of them are said to have been
taken to St Andrews, and put in circulation there in the
absence of the Archbishop. Hamilton, who had long treasured
the precious saying of Erasmus : ' Let us eagerly read the
Gospel ; yea, let us not only read, but live the Gospel,' seized
the golden opportunity to impress the saying on others, and

Pre-Reforjuation Scotland. 103

invite longing souls to quench their thirst at those wells of
living water which had so marvellously been opened to them.
His conduct could not long escape the notice of the returned
Archbishop. I do not suppose that the latter was naturally-
cruel, nor after his recent misfortunes likely, without considera-
tion, to embroil himself with the Hamiltons, with whom in the
tortuous politics of the times he had often acted. But he had
those about him who were both less timid and more cruel. He
was himself ambitious and crafty, and about this very time
was exerting all his influence to obtain special favours from
the Pope. He knew that there was no more certain way to
counteract the opposition of the king and to secure what he
sought than by zeal against heretics. Still, he was anxious to
perform the ungrateful task in the way least offensive to the
Hamiltons. He would rather, if he could, rid the kingdom
of the Reformer without imbruing his hands in his blood.
And that result he attained by the summons he issued.

Hamilton, yielding to the counsels of friends and opponents,
made his escape to the continent. His original intention was to
visit Luther and Melanchthon at Wittenberg, as well as Frith,
Tyndale, and Lambert at Marburg. At the time he arrived on
the continent, however, the plague was raging at Wittenberg.
So he went to study at Marburg, and publicly disputed
those theses that most fully and systematically set forth the
main doctrines which he taught, and for which at last he
suffered. He was warmly beloved there, and urged to
remain. But his heart yearned to return to his native land,
and once more proclaim in it the truths which had now
become to him more precious and engrossing than before. His
faith had been confirmed, and his spirit quickened by living for
a time among earnest and decided Christians; and in the
autumn of 1527 he set out once more for his own country, pre-
pared for any fate that might await him, not counting even life
dear unto him if he might finish his course with joy, and bear
faithful witness to his Master's truth, where before he had

164 'S*^ Giles^ Lectures.

shrunk back from an ordeal so terrible. He appears first to
have resorted to his native district, and made known to rela-
tives, friends, and neighbours that Gospel of the grace of God
which gave strength and peace to his own spirit. In his dis-
courses and conversations, he dwelt chiefly on the great and
fundamental truths which had been brought into prominence
by the Reformers, and avoided subjects of doubtful disputation.
His own gentle bearing gained favour for his opinions, and it
won for him the heart of a young lady of noble birth, to whom
he united himself in marriage.

Archbishop Beaton, if not at the king's express desire, then
certainly, from his own wariness, did not at first venture
formally to renew his old summons. He invited the Reformer to
St Andrews to a friendly conference with himself and other
chiefs of the Church ' on such points as might seem to stand in
need of reform.* Hamilton accepted the invitation. At first
he was well received ; ' all displayed a conciliatory spirit ; all
appeared to recognise the evils in the Church; some even
seemed to share on some points his own sentiments.' He left
the conference not without hope of some other than the sad
issue he had anticipated. He was permitted for nearly a month
to move about with freedom in the city, to dispute in the schools,
and privately to confer with all who chose to resort to him at
the lodging which had been provided for him. It was evi-
dently the intention of those who were determinedly opposed
to him, that he should have ample time allowed him to
express his sentiments fully and unmistakably, and even should
be tempted by dissemblers to unbosom himself in private on
matters as to which he refrained from saying much in public
— on the many alterations required in doctrine, and in the
administration of the sacraments and other rites of the Church.

At length the mask was thrown aside, and he was once more
summoned before the ecclesiastical authorities in continuation
of the former process. It is said that the Archbishop still
desired that he should again save himself by flight ; but he and

Pre-ReformatioTi Scotland. 105

his friends took the credit of the terrible deed as promptly as
if they had planned and intended it from the first. They also
assembled their armed retainers, that they might be able to hold
their prisoner when once seized, against all attempts to rescue
him. On 28th February he was seized, and on the 29th was
brought out for trial, in the Abbey church or cathedral.

Among the articles with which he was charged, and the truth
of which he maintained, the most important were, * that a man
is not justified by works but by faith; that faith, hope, and
charity are so linked together, that he who hath one of them
hath all, and he that lacketh one lacketh all ; and that good
works make not a good man, but a good man doeth good
works.' On being challenged by his accuser, he also affirmed
it was not lawful to worship images nor to pray to the saints,
and that it was 'lawful to all men, that have souls, to
read the word of God, and that they are able to understand
the same, and in particular the latter will and Testament of
Jesus Christ' These truths, which have been the source of
life and strength to many, were then to him the cause of con-
demnation and death ; and the same day the sentence was
passed, it was remorselessly executed. ' Nobly,' I have said else-
where, ' did the martyr confirm the minds of the many godly
youths he had gathered round him, by his resolute bearing, his
gentleness and patience, his steadfast adherence to the truths
he had taught, and his heroic endurance of the fiery ordeal
through which he had to pass to his rest and reward.' The
harrowing details of his six long hours of torture have been
preserved for us by Alesius, himself a sorrowing witness of the
fearful tragedy, * He was rather roasted than burned,' he
tells us. It may be, his persecutors had not deliberately
planned thus horribly to protract his sufferings; though such
cruelty was not unknown in France either then or in much
later time. They were as yet but novices at such revolting
work, and all things seemed to conspire against them. The
execution had been hurried on before a sufficiency of dry wood

io6 Sf dies' Lectures.

had been provided for the fire. The fury of the storm, which
had prevented the martyr's brother from crossing the Forth
to rescue him, was not yet spent. With a wind from the east
sweeping up the street, it would be a difficult matter in such
a spot to kindle the pile and keep it burning, or to prevent the
flames, when fierce, from being so blown aside as to be almost
as dangerous to the surrounding crowd as to the tortured victim.
They did so endanger his accuser, ' set fire to his cowl, and
put him in such a fray, that he never came to his right mind.'
But through all his excruciating sufferings, the martyr held fast
his confidence in God and in his Saviour, and the faith of many
in the truths he taught was only the more confirmed by witness-
ing their mighty power on him.

The Archbishop thought that by this cruel deed he had
extinguished Lutheranism. The university of Louvain applauded
his deed, and so also did Major, the old Scottish Gallican, then
residing at Paris, and preparing for the press his commentary on
the four Gospels. But, according to the well-known saying,
' the reek of Patrick Hamilton infected all on whom it did blow;'
his martyr death riveted for ever in the hearts of his friends the
truths he had taught in his life. This was especially the case
with the younger alumni in the colleges, and the less ignorant
and dissolute inmates of the Priory and other monastic estab-
hshments in the city where he suffered. As at a future period
they made sure of detecting a stern Covenanter, if he refused
to admit that the killing of Archbishop Sharp was to be
regarded as murder, so they thought it sufficient mark of an
incipient Lutheran if they did not get him to acknowledge that
Patrick Hamilton deserved his fate. One on this sole charge,
and that he had a copy of the English New Testament, was
subjected to long imprisonment and a violent death ; another,
for simply preaching, as Major would, of the corruptions of
the clergy, had to escape for his life; and a third, whose
history, after being long forgotten, has been again brought to

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 13 of 37)