William Chambers.

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

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Many churches and altars received his name : some places
bear it still.

The Roman occupation of Britain ended in 410 a.d. From
this time, for many years, all historical information ceases.
It does not seem that Ninian's years in Galloway were

36 Sf Gilei Lectures.

many. There is mention of the name of Palladius, a Bishop
sent by Pope Celestine in 430. By this time Ninian was
gone. But his work remained, for a while : and it reached
beyond what is now called Scotland, Ireland comes near to
Galloway : and the inhabitants of Ireland were the only race
then called Scots. Into that country the Church of St Ninian
extended : A Church closely connected with the Gallican, and
doubtless recognising the Bishop of Rome as its head.

No detail remains of St Ninian's work or worship. There
is no trustworthy account of what like man he was. We are
told, indeed, that he wrought many miracles : and we may
believe that the story is true that he, like many great religious
workers, and like the Master of all such, gained strength for
his work by seasons of lonely prayer. Like St Regulus at St
Andrews, he chose a cave by the sea-side for his oratory : one
such is still pointed out in the parish of Glasserton. We do
not know his methods of evangelising. It would be profoundly
interesting if we knew exactly how he set himself to his great
work. No doubt he worked by many hands and many voices
besides his own. He built his church : he gathered around him a
company of men like-minded : these pervaded the thinly-peopled
region round, and they penetrated far. How did they tell their
story to the ignorant heathen : how did they explain the errand
on which they came : what did they say ? Did they reason
with these reasonless creatures, offering them something better
than they knew as yet : or, prophet-like, speaking with author-
ity, did they command the poor pagan what to think and what
to do ? One thing seems plain, as concerning the conversion
of tribes and peoples in those days : the missionary-preacher
aimed at the conversion of chiefs and kings. These being
gained, those under their authority followed their lead. There
is something curious, and something touching, in the simple-
minded fashion in which old chroniclers take it for granted that
when the king was persuaded to be baptised, his subjects as of
course followed. The surprise of both chief and missionary-

Early Christian Scotland. 37

saint would have been extreme, had any subject presumed to
think for himself. Some survival of that old way, even into
recent days, may be traced in the undoubting expectation of
certain proprietors of the soil, that their tenants should vote, in
matters political, as the proprietors might decide ; and should
even undergo very rapid conversion of views when the proprie-
tors did so. But the conversion of large numbers to Christian-
ity was a simple thing, and a rapid thing, in St Ninian's days.
Only get one, and you got many. Draw the one : many would
run after him. Conversion is a very different work, in an age
wherein individual souls must be dealt with : each soul thinking
for itself.

So rapid and wide must have been the work of conversion to
the better faith, when in this same dimly-discerned age, Scotland
sent Ireland her great missionary St Patrick ; and all Ireland was
converted in twenty-one years. About the year 372 Patrick
was born, possibly at Kilpatrick near Dumbarton, of which
place his father is said to have been Provost. At the age of
forty-five Patrick was consecrated a Bishop : ' Patricius, a sinner
and unlearned, but appointed a Bishop in Ireland,' is the good
man's description of himself His work lies beyond our range :
and our range is too wide already. Indeed, little is certain
concerning the Apostle of Ireland save that he was Scotch (as
we now understand the word) by birth : that he did a great
work in Ireland, with which country his name is indissolubly
linked; and that he died about the year 458, having returned
to die at the place where he was born.

You will think that the men and the events of that distant time
look dim in the twilight of fable. But the light grows less. A
hundred years pass between the death of St Ninian and the
coming of the next great missionary-saint ; — Columba. St
Palladius, already named, possibly did his work in Scotland and
in Ireland. He is called by some the first Bishop in Scotland :
and one Servanus is named as his friend and associate. Tradition
says Palladius died at Fordoun in Kincardineshire. But it is

38 S^ ales' Lectures.

waste of time to dwell upon a period of which it is to be con-
fessed that we know nothing for certain. This seems sure :
that the work of St Ninian had been done too quickly to last ;
and that after Ninian and Patrick died, Scotland mainly
relapsed into heathenism.

The work hitherto had been done by Churches, and a Secular
Clergy. For that age, and that race, the system had been in
great degree a failure. Another organisation came in God's
Providence : and the Monastic rule succeeded where the
Secular had failed.

Only the utmost prejudice, founding on the utmost ignorance,
will deny the good work done by Monasteries and a Monastic
Clergy in their day of purity, energy, and self-devotion : or will
deny that they were admirably fitted to do the work they did.
The Christian Church needed not only dissemination, but also
strong centres. A Mission, set down amid a great surrounding
Heathen population, demands these yet : It is impossible to
imagine a case in which human nature more urgently needs
the strengthening and comfort of the companionship of those
like-minded. The Monastery, placed in a Heathen land, with
its brethren reckoned in those days sometimes by hundreds, was
in fact a Christian colony, into which converts were gathered
under the name of Monks. And the Monks did good work
in divers ways. They spread a zone of cultivated land around
them, reclaimed from the morass and the forest. We remark time
by time how beautiful is the landscape still abiding round the
ruins of some ancient religious House, not always remembering
what hands made it so. The Monasteries were quiet havens
amid surrounding tempests. Amid the terrible insecurity of
life, and the utter disregard of right and wrong, which we can
discern to have been characteristics of Heathenism, here was
comparative security, here were truth and righteousness. The
Monasteries were places of Education : they were schools : the
only schools for many a day. And while Printing was yet un-
known, here a constant work went on of multiplying copies of

Early Christian Scotland. 39

Holy Scripture : but for which the Bible might almost have
perished. Nor need we forget, Ave who miss it so sadly, the
ever-recurring hour of prayer and praise : the Psalms, notably,
from beginning to end, kept familiar as they are to very few of
us. The Monastery, in the age of which we are thinking, was
no more than a gathering of rude huts, with a wattled chamber
for a church, and a turf wall surrounding the settlement to keep
off in some measure the invasion of savages. Yet it had its
devout and earnest hearts : its masterful and statesman-like
mind in its place of rule : It gave the mutual help and en-
couragement that come of brotherhood. It was a Base of
Operations : the very best that could have been, then and there.
Its analogues abide in the changed circumstances of the world :
mankind will not readily part with them. The Heads and
Fellows (supposing them to be what they ought to be) of a
great University : the quiet learning, the elevated devotion, the
available store of preaching and missionary and consultative
power, of the ideal Cathedral Close : the workers (taking them
for what they ought to be) of a modern Mission set down far
in the depth of African heathenism and savagery, tilling the
soil, curing the body, caring for the soul : the Brotherhood in
faith and feeling and work after which many earnest men have
longed, when constrained to work on in isolation, and which is
aimed at by Unions and Societies and Guilds beyond number-
ing : the Quiet Days (let us not say Retreats) in some peaceful
scene, where continual worship and kindly counsel strengthen
the weary minister and advise the perplexed and lift up all
hearts to God and send back to labour with fresh hope and
energy : all these and more were in the Monastic System, while
it was kept up to the purity of its idea.

You will say, the Monastic System soon fell far below its
ideal. You will say, Monasteries were abused : and the day
came when they did evil and not good. True : and then they
went down and were swept away. But the abuse and degrada-
tion of a thing in itself good is not peculiar to any age or

40 S^ ales' Lectures.

system. So he will judge who has seen the occasional working
of what in this country are called Church Courts : who has
heard a devoted clergyman, of undoubted Presbyterianism,
declare in a loud voice that if his Presbytery then adjourned
and never met again, the interests of religion within its bounds
would not suffer at all : who has heard another clergyman,
venerable by character and years, and devoted to the Church
of Scotland, say how on his way to the Presbytery he visited a
dying man and promised to see the dying man again on his
way back ; but that certain hours of that Court's deliberations
wholly unfitted him to be of any use to any Christian soul. I
might quote a much more vehement testimony, borne by an
eminent preacher : but it is better not. And I might add a
great deal more : but I will not. God forgive us all our many
shortcomings in temper and speech. God forbid that what
was intended for His glory and for the good of souls should
ever be so perverted that it too must go.

At Clonard, in Ireland, there was a monastery of three
thousand monks : a great training-school of missionaries, a
great starting-point of missionary work : founded by St Finnian.
St Finnian had twelve chief disciples, who filled the land with
religious settlements, and who were known as the Twelve
Apostles of Ireland. The names of eleven of these good men
are of little concern to us : but the name of the twelfth must
never be forgotten in Scotland. His name was Colum : the
name was latinised into Columba : as a Colon of wider fame
became Columbus. He was born on December 7, 521 a.d. at
Gartan in Donegal : both father and mother were of royal
descent. It is remarkable to what a degree Bishops and
Abbots in those days were of royal race. Strict hereditary
succession to worldly dignities and property was unknown
among the Celts of that period. Two paths were open to
energetic ambition. Should it be temporal king : or should it
be spiritual leader? To such as Columba the latter path
seemed the preferable. To rule a devoted community, which

£arly Christian Scotland. 41

exercised a wonderful sway over men's hearts and souls, even
though it lived an austere life in a settlement of rude huts of
wattles and clay, had its attraction. And Columba, though
mainly known to us as a religious leader, was deeply concerned
likewise in the state affairs of his day.

As Scotland gave St Patrick to Ireland, so Ireland gave St
Columba to Scotland. It remains a debated question. What
brought St Columba here at all. Some would say, pure mis-
sionary and evangelistic zeal. But it appears at least as likely
that he had made his own country too hot to hold him. There
are terrible stories of the temper of the Apostle of lona. He
was a Saint : but there was in him a certain infusion of that
which some folk call Devil : though like a certain great Duke,
with whom it was likewise so, he became very mild and gentle
when he grew old. I must tell you the story shortly. A great
battle was fought in Connaught in 561 a.d. There was terrible
slaughter. A Synod of the Saints of Ireland decided that
Columba was responsible for all this evil : and that he must needs
win from Paganism as many souls as had perished in battle ere
he could be reinstated. Besides the work assigned to him, the
penance was imposed of perpetual exile from Ireland. He
sailed away, with twelve disciples. He landed first upon
Colonsay. But, ascending a hill, he found Ireland was still in
view; and he must go farther. Finally, in 563 a.d., being now
in his forty-second year, he arrived with his followers at a small
island, separated by a narrow channel of a mile in breadth
from the greater land of Mull. The island has been variously
known. It was I, it was la, it was Ily : these words each
signifying T/ie Is/and: but it came to bear the musical and
never-forgotten name of lONA, The Island of the Waves. On
Whitsun-Eve, in that year the Twelfth of May, St Columba
landed at lona : which was to be his home for six and thirty
years. Christianity was there before him. He found two
Bishops: Bishops of that singular kind of Collegiate Church
which had arisen in Ireland in St Patrick's days : a Collegiate

42 Sf Giles^ Lectures.

Church of Seven Bishops, apparently co-ordinate. We do not
know how they got on together. These two Bishops were
willing to welcome Columba. But he refused to recognise the
validity of their orders : and apparently reasoned the matter
with them. The result was one very unusual in ecclesiastical
controversy. The two Bishops saw they were wrong : and
they departed, leaving the island to the Saint. Speedily
Columba succeeded in gaining a grant of Hy : apparently
from one King Connall : to whom it probably did not belong.

Pilgrims without number have in recent years visited lona.
Those who have thoroughly explored it say it is a pleasanter
island than hasty visitors know it for. It has picturesque bays :
quiet dells : green hills : plains not unfruitful. It is three
miles and a half in length : a mile and a half in breadth.
Divers isles are in sight : Mull looked like the mainland. Did
Columba resolve to abide here; and to christianise the lands
he saw? As with lesser men, probably he was guided by
circumstances : probably his way opened before him as he went
on. From that stand-point St Columba did in fact christianise
all Scotland north of the Forth and Clyde. For a hundred
and fifty years the Church of St Columba was in truth the
National Church of Scotland.

I suppose it would not do, in speaking of the place, the
man and the work, to omit a famous passage known to many
who otherwise have little knowledge of either. In the autumn
of 1773 A.D., Johnson, attended by Boswell, came to Icolmkill,
77/1? Island of Cohunba of the Churches. They found no conve-
nience for landing, and were carried by Highlanders to the strand.

' We were now treading that illustrious island which was once
the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans
and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and
the blessings of religion, . . . That man is little to be envied,
whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plains of
Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer amid the
ruins of lona.'

Early Christian Scotland. 43

Dr Johnson records that even Boswell was ' much affected '
by the sight of the ruins. And he hazarded the conjecture
that in the revolutions of the world, lona 'may be sometime
again the instructress of the Western regions.' It may .be
appointed so. I have heard the most renowned of modern
Anglican preachers, looking upon the ruins of St Andrews
Cathedral, say : ' This church will be rebuilt, stone for stone.'
It does not appear likely, in these days of payment by results.
One could but say Amen, Amen.

What-like Church was the Church of St Columba ? Was it
Episcopal? Was it Presbyterian? Was it neither one nor
other ?

It was an Episcopal Church of a peculiar type. The system
was essentially Monastic. There were no territorial Bishops.
There were no Bishops' Sees. There were indeed Bishops,
who were recognised as of a higher grade spiritually ; but who,
anomalously, were placed under the authority of the Abbot.
They could do what the Abbot could not. They could ordain :
but they must ordain as they were ordered. And in St
Columba's own day, there was no Bishop at lona at all. Any-
thing which needed a Bishop to do, Columba got done in
Ireland. When the days came in which St Columba's rude
buildings of wattles and wood gave place to the Cathedral
of red granite from Mull and to the divers halls and apartments
of a fully-equipped monastery, and in which lona was recog-
nised as the Mother-Church of many fair daughter-establish-
ments ; still all the Province, and even the Bishops, were
subject to the Abbot of Hy. The case seems strange : but it
has its analogous cases to this day. Higher spiritual rank may
be freely admitted in theory, while yet the holder of it shall be
kept in his proper place ; and that a humble one. You may
have known the resident Chaplain in a noble family which held
very high views of the spiritual powers of the priesthood, believ-
ing that whosesoever's sins they remit are remitted and whose-
soever's sins they retain are retained, yet declare himself in

44 -5"/ Giles" Lectures,

public to be no more than a humble retainer of that great
House. And the only excuse for the expression of a humility
thus approaching to the abject, was, that the lowly priest's
statement of his own position was severely true.

No traces remain of the buildings which Columba raised
more than thirteen hundred years since. We know their
general character. There was an earthen rampart which
inclosed all the settlement. There was a mill-stream : a kiln :
a barn : a refectory. The church, with its sacristy, was of oak.
The cells of the brethren were surrounded by walls of clay, held
together by wattles. Columba had his special cell, in which he
wrote and read : two brethren stationed at the door waited his
orders. He slept on the bare ground, with a stone for his
pillow. The members of the community were bound by
solemn vows. They bore the special tonsure which left the
fore part of the head bare. It looked well in front, we are
told ; but unsatisfactory in profile. The brethren were arranged
in three classes : the Seniors, the Working Brothers, the Pupils.
Their dress was a white tunic, over which was worn a rough
mantle and hood of wool, left its natural colour. They were
shod with sandals ; which they took off at meals. Their food
was simple : consisting commonly of barley bread, milk, fish
and eggs, with seals' flesh. On Sundays and Festivals the fare
was somewhat better.

It does not appear that Daily Service was maintained in the
church. The Psalter was repeated continually, but from this
the Working Brothers were excused. The chief service was
the Communion, celebrated each Sunday : also on Festal
Days. Easter was the great Festival of their Christian year.
They used the sign of the Cross many times. They fasted on
Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent. A peculiar form of austerity
practised by some was to remain in cold water till they had
repeated the entire Psalter. They lived a life of rule, and of
constant self-denial. The unreasonable yet natural belief was
ingrained with them, as with others beyond number, Roman

Early Christian Scotland. 45

and Protestant, Christian and Heathen, that the less they
pleased themselves the more they pleased God : and that
God, in His moral government, would never be hard on
tortured creatures, who had been so awfully hard upon them-

But for Coluniba's purpose it was not enough that he and his
brethren should so live. No doubt, the fame of their sanctity
and austerity would spread around them. But what did the
holy men of lona do, beyond being thus holy? They found
access, first, to the neighbouring Picts; both teaching and
exemplifying better things than the savage race had known
before. After two years St Columba gained a hold upon the
king of that region, Brude, who dwelt near the river Ness. On
his first visit, the king kept his gates shut against the Saint :
but Columba made the sign of the Cross, the bolts flew back,
and he and his companions entered. The king, in anger,
drew his sword : but the same sacred sign made over his hand
withered it into helplessness, till he became a Christian. Then
the hand, now to be used to better purposes, was restored to
him. The king being won, his people at once followed. Who
were they, that they should know better than their Master?
And might not he do what he liked with his own? The
magicians were banished from Court : and Columba took
their place, ruling the monarch both for his own good and
the kingdom's. It was a supernatural power to which king
and subjects bowed. For they believed that Columba wrought
many miracles : uttered many prophecies : and was visited
oftentimes by angels. The Saint was a despotic ruler, but a
beneficent one. Nor was he lacking in worldly wisdom : in
all its manifestations : from the highest and largest sagacity
of the statesman, down to the homely tact which is service-
able in daily life.

In twelve years from his coming, Columba had done much.
The community of lona was large : it was zealous : it was
docile ; it was incorruptible. The Saint now began to found

46 Sf Giles' LecUires.

monasteries in neighbouring islands. He chose his agents
wisely. They loved him sincerely, yet he inspired too a
salutary fear. In 584 a.d. King Brude died : but Columba's
influence was so established that there was no falling off
through the loss of his royal protector. He pushed on his
outlying settlements to near the river Tay, And Cainnech
(the Saint of Kilkenny) founded a monastery in the Eastern
corner of Fife, at a spot by the sea called Rig Monadh,
the Royal Motmt. Afterwards there arose here the great
church and monastery of St Andrews : hence for long named

In 597 A,D. St Columba was seventy-seven years old. At
the end of INIay, carried in a litter, he visits the Working
Brethren, busy on the other side of the island. He speaks to
them with the gentleness which had been growing : and which,
pleasant as it was, they were almost afraid to see. He tells
them he would wilHngly have died in April, in the first of
Spring : but that he was glad this had been denied him, lest
his removal should have made the Easter Festival a season of
mourning to them. Then, turning to the East, he blest the
island and all its inhabitants : and from that day no venomous
serpent could harm man or beast therein.

On Sunday June 2 he was celebrating the Communion as
usual : when the face of the venerable man, as his eyes were
raised to heaven, suddenly appeared suffused with a ruddy
glow. He had seen an angel hovering above the church and
blessing it: an angel sent to bear away his soul. Columba
knew that the next Saturday was to be his last. The day
came : and along with his attendant, Diormit, he went to
bless the Bam. He blest it, and two heaps of winnowed
corn in it : saying thankfully that he rejoiced for his beloved
monks, for that if he were obliged to depart from them, they
would have provision enough for the year. His attendant
said : ' This year, at this time, father, thou often vexest us, by so
frequently making mention of thy leaving us.' For like humbler

Early CJiristian Scotland. 47

folk, drawing near to the great change, St Columba could
not but allude to it, more or less directly. Then, having bound
his attendant not to reveal to any before he should die what he
now said, he went on to speak more freely of his departure.
' This day,' he said, ' in the Holy Scriptures is called the
Sabbath, which means Rest. And this day is indeed a Sabbath
to me, for it is the last day of my present laborious life, and on
it I rest after the fatigues of my labours : and this night at
midnight which commenceth the solemn Lord's Day, I shall
go the way of our fathers. For already my Lord Jesus Christ
deigneth to invite me : and to Him in the middle of this night
I shall depart, at His invitation. For so it hath been revealed
to me by the Lord Himself.'

Diormit wept bitterly : and they two returned towards the
monastery. Half-way, the aged Saint sat down to rest, at a spot
afterwards marked with a cross : and, while here, a white pack-
horse, that used to carry the milk vessels from the cowshed to
the monastery, came to the saint, and laying its head on his
breast, began to shed human tears of distress. The good man,
we are told, blest his humble fellow-creature, and bade it
farewell. Then, ascending the hill hard by, he looked upon
the monastery, and holding up both his hands, breathed his
last benediction upon the place he had ruled so well ; pro-

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 8 of 37)