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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 1 — The darkness and the daybreak

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English and Scottish Reformations Compared — Early Picture of Scotland — Preparation — The Scots become a Nation — Its Independence Secured — Bannockburn — Suppression of the Culdees — Establishment of the Church of Rome -- Its Great Strength — Acts against Lollards and Heretics in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries -- Martyrdom of John Resby -- Bible Readers — Paul Crawar Burned — The Lollards of Kyle — Hector Boece — Luther's Tracts Enter Scotland — The Bible Introduced — It becomes the Nation's One Instructor — Permission to Read it

England, in reforming itself, worked mainly from the political center. Scotland worked mainly from the religious one. The ruling idea in the former country was the emancipation of the throne from the supremacy of the Pope; the ruling idea in the latter was the emancipation of the conscience from the Popish faith. The more prominent outcome of the Reformation in England was a free State; the more immediate product of the Reformation in Scotland was a free Church. But soon the two countries and the two Reformations coalesced: common affinities and common aims disengaged them from old allies, and drew them to each other's side; and Christendom beheld a Protestantism strong alike in its political and in its spiritual arm, able to combat the double usurpation of Rome, and to roll it back, in course of time, from the countries where its dominion had been long established, and over its ruins to go forward to the fulfillment of the great task which was the one grand aim of the Reformation, namely, the evangelizing and civilizing of the earth, and the planting of pure churches and free governments.

From an early date Scotland had been in course of preparation for the part it was to act in the great movement of the sixteenth century. It would beforehand have been thought improbable that any very distinguished share awaited it in this great revolution of human affairs. A small country, it was parted by barbarism as well as by distance from the rest of the world. Its rock-bound coast was perpetually beaten by a stormy sea; its great mountains were drenched in rains and shrouded in mist; its plains, abandoned to swamps, had not been conquered by the plough, nor yielded aught for the sickle. The mariner shunned its shore, for there no harbor opened to receive his vessel, and no trader waited to buy his wares. This land was the dwelling of savage tribes, who practiced the horrid rites and worshipped, under other names, the deities to which the ancient Assyrians had bowed down.

Scotland first tasted of a little civilization from the Roman sword. In the wake of the Roman Power came the missionaries of the Cross, and the Gospel found disciples where Caesar had been able to achieve no triumphs. Next came Columba, who kindled his evangelical lamp on the rocks of Iona, at the very time that Mohammedanism was darkening the East, and Rome was stretching her shadow farther every year over the West. In the ninth century came the first great step in Scotland's preparation for the part that awaited it seven centuries later. In the year 838, the Picts and the Scots were united under one crown. Down to this year they had been simply two roving and warring clans; their union made them one people, and constituted them into a nation. In the erection of the Scots into a distinct nationality we see a foothold laid for Scotland's having a distinct national Reformation: an essential point, as we shall afterwards see, in order to the production of a perfect and catholic Protestantism.

The second step in Scotland's preparation for its predestined task was the establishment of its independence as a nation. It was no easy matter to maintain the political independence of so small a kingdom, surrounded by powerful neighbors who were continually striving to effect its subjugation and absorption into their own wealthier and larger dominions. To aid in this great struggle, on which were suspended far higher issues than were dreamed of by those who fought and bled in it, there arose from time to time "mighty men of valor." Wallace and Bruce were the pioneers of Knox.

The struggle for Scotland's political independence in the fourteenth century was a necessary preliminary to its struggle for its religious Reformation in the sixteenth. If the battle of the warrior, "with its confused noise, and garments rolled in blood," had not first been won, we do not see how a stage could have been found for the greater battle that was to come after. The grand patriotism of Wallace, and the strong arm of Bruce, held the door open for Knox; and Edward of England learned, when he saw his mailed cavalry and terrible bowmen falling back before the Scottish battle-axes and broadswords, that though he should redden all Scotland with the noblest blood of both kingdoms, he never should succeed in robbing the little country of its nationality and sovereignty.

It is now the twelfth century; Iona still exists, but its light has waxed dim. Under King David the Culdee establishments are being suppressed, to make way for Popish monasteries; the presbyters of Iona are driven out, and the lordly prelates of the Pope take their place; the edifices and heritages of the Culdees pass over wholesale to the Church of Rome, and a body of ecclesiastics of all orders:, from the mitred abbot down to the begging friar, are brought from foreign countries to occupy Scotland, now divided into twelve dioceses, with a full complement of abbeys, monasteries, and nunneries. But it is to be noted that this establishment of Popery in the twelfth century is not the result of the conversion of the people, or of their native teachers: we see it brought in over the necks of both, simply at the will and by the decree of the monarch. So little was Scottish Popery of native growth, that the

men as well as the system had to be imported from abroad.

If in no country of Europe was the dominant reign of Popery so short as in Scotland, extending only from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, in no country was the Church of Rome so powerful when compared with the size of the kingdom and the number of the population. The influences which in countries like France set limits to the power of the Church did not exist in Scotland. On her lofty height she was without a rival, and looked down upon all ranks and institutions — upon the throne, Which was weak; upon the nobles, who were parted into factions; upon the people, who were sunk in ignorance. Bishops and abbots filled all the great posts at court and discharged all the highest offices in the State. They were chancellors, secretaries of State, justiciaries, ambassadors; they led armies, fought battles, and tried and executed criminals. They were the owners of lordships, hunting-grounds, fisheries, houses; and while a full half of the kingdom was theirs, they heavily taxed the other half, as they did also all possessions, occupations, and trades. Thus with the passing years cathedrals and abbeys continued to multiply and wax in splendor; while acres, tenements, and tithings, in an ever-flowing stream, were pouring fresh riches into the Church's treasury. In the midst of the prostration and ruin of all interests and classes, the Church stood up in overgrown arrogance, wealth, and power.

But even in the midst of the darkness there were glimmerings of light, which gave token that a better day would yet dawn. From the Papal chair itself we hear a fear expressed that this country, which Rome held with so firm a grasp, would yet escape from her dominion. In his bull for anointing King Robert the Bruce, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, John XXII. complains that Scotland was still defiled by the presence of heretics.

From about this time the traces of what Rome styles heresy became frequent in Scotland. The first who suffered for the Reformed faith, so far as can be ascertained, was James Resby, an Englishman, and a disciple of John Wicliffe. He taught that "the Pope was not Christ's Vicar, and that he was not Pope if he was a man of wicked life." This was pronounced heresy, and for that heresy he had to do expiation in the fire at Perth. [1] He was burned in 1406 or 1407, some nine years before the martyrdom of Huss. In 1416 the University of St. Andrews, then newly founded, ordained that all who commenced Master of Arts should take an oath to defend the Church against the insults of the Lollards, [2] proof surely that the sect was sufficiently numerous to render Churchmen uneasy. A yet stronger proof of this was the appointment of a Heretical Inquisitor for Scotland. The office was bestowed upon Laurence Lindores, Abbot of Scone. [3] Prior Winton in his Metrical Chronicle (1420) celebrates the zeal of Albany, Governor of Scotland, against Lollards and heretics. [4] Murdoch Nisbet, of Hardhill, had a manuscript copy of the New Testament (of Wicliffe's translation doubtless), which he concealed in a vault, and read to his family and acquaintance by night. [5]

Gordon of Earlston, another early favorer of the disciples of Wicliffe, had in his possession a copy of the New Testament, in the vulgar tongue, which he read at meetings held in a wood near to Earlston House. [6] The Parliament of James I, held at Perth (1424), enacted that all bishops should make inquiry by Inquisition for heretics, and punish them according to the laws of "holy Kirk," and if need were they should call in the secular power to the aid of "holy Kirk." [7]

In 1431 we find a second stake set up in Scotland. Paul Crawar, a native of Bohemia, and a disciple of John Huss, preaching at St. Andrews, taught that the mass was a worship of superstition. This was no suitable doctrine in a place where a magnificent cathedral, and a gorgeous hierarchy, were maintained in the service of the mass, and should it fall they too would fall. To avert so great a catastrophe, Crawar was dragged to the stake and burned, with a ball of brass in his mouth to prevent him from addressing the people in his last moments. [8]

The Lollards of England were the connecting link between their great master, Wicliffe, and the English Reformers of the sixteenth century. Scotland too had its Lollards, who connected the Patriarch and school of Iona with the Scottish Reformers. The Lollards of Scotland could be none other than the descendants of the Culdee missionaries, and such of the disciples of Wicliffe as had taken refuge in Scotland. [9] In the testimony of both friend and foe, there were few counties in the Lowlands of Scotland where these Lollards were not to be found. They were numerous in Fife; they were still more numerous in the districts of Cunningham and Kyle; hence their name, the Lollards of Kyle. In the reign of James IV (1494) some thirty Lollards were summoned before the archiepiscopal tribunal of Glasgow on a charge of heresy. They were almost all gentlemen of landed property in the districts already named, and the tenets which they were charged with denying included the mass, purgatory, the worshipping of images, the praying to saints, the Pope's vicarship, his power to pardon sin — in short, all the peculiar doctrines of Romanism. Their defense appears to have been so spirited that the king, before whom they argued their cause, shielded them from the doom that the archbishop, Blackadder, would undoubtedly have pronounced upon them. [10]

These incidental glimpses show us a Scriptural Protestantism already in Scotland, but it lacks that spirit of zeal and diffusion into which the sixteenth century awoke it. When that century came

new agencies began to operate. In 1526, Hector Boece, Principal of King's College, Aberdeen, and the fellow-student and correspondent of Erasmus, published his History of Scotland. In that work he draws a dark picture of the manners of the clergy; of their greed in monopolizing all offices, equaled only by their neglect of their duties; of their promotion of unworthy persons, to the ruin of letters; and of the scandals with which the public feeling was continually outraged, and religion affronted; and he raises a loud cry for immediate Reformation if the Church of his native land was to be saved.

About the same time the books and tracts of Luther began to enter the seaports of Montrose, Dundee, Perth, St. Andrews, and Leith. These were brought across by the skippers who made annual voyages to Flanders and the Lower Germany. In this way the east coast of Scotland, and the shores of the Frith of Forth, were sown with the seeds of Lutheranism. [11] By this time Tyndale had translated the New Testament into English, and he had markets for its sale in the towns visited by the Scottish traders, who bought numerous copies and carried them across to their countrymen.

When the New Testament entered, a ray from heaven had penetrated the night that brooded over the country. Its Reformation had begun. The Bible was the only Reformer then possible in Scotland. Had a Luther or a Knox arisen at that time, he would have been consigned before many days to a dungeon or a stake. The Bible was the only missionary that could enter with safety, and operate with effect. With silent foot it began to traverse the land; it came to the castle gates of the primate, yet he heard not its steps; it preached in cities, but its voice fell not on the ear of bishop; it passed along the highways and by-ways unobserved by the spy. To the Churchman's eye all seemed calm — calm and motionless as during the four dark centuries which had gone before; but in the stillness of the midnight hour men welcomed this new Instructor, and opened their heart to its comforting and beneficent teaching. The Bible was emphatically the nation's one great teacher; it was stamping its own ineffaceable character upon the Scottish Reformation; and the place the Bible this early made for itself in the people's affections, and the authority it acquired over their judgments, it was destined never to lose. The movement thus initiated was helped forward by every event that happened, till at last in 1543 its first great landing-place was reached, when every man, woman, and child in Scotland was secured by Act of Parliament in the right to read the Word of God in their own tongue.


Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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