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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 2 — Scotland's first preacher and martyr, Patrick Hamilton

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A Martyr Needed — Patrick Hamilton — His Lineage — His Studies at Paris and Marburg — He Returns to Scotland — Evangelizes around Linlithgow — is Inveigled to St. Andrews — St. Andrews in the Sixteenth Century — Discussions with Doctors and Canons — Alesius — Prior Campbell — Summoned before the Archbishop — His Brother Attempts his Rescue — Hamilton before Beaton — Articles of Accusation — Referred to a Commission — Hamilton's Evening Party — What they Talk about — His Apprehension — His Trial — His Judges — Prior Campbell his Accuser — His Condemnation — He is Led to the Stake — Attacks of Prior Campbell — Campbell's Fearful Death — Hamilton's Protracted Sufferings — His Last Words — The Impression produced by his Martyrdom

The first step in the preparation of Scotland for the task that awaited it was to form its tribes into a nation. This was accomplished in the union of the Pictish and Scottish crowns. The second step was the establishment of its nationality on a strong basis. The arms of Wallace and Bruce effected this; and now Scotland, planted on the twin pillars of Nationality and Independence, awaited the opening of a higher drama than any enacted by armies or accomplished on battlefields. A mightier contest than Bannockburn was now to be waged on its soil. In the great war for the recovery in ampler measure, and on surer tenure, of the glorious heritage of truth which the world once possessed, but which it had lost amid the superstitions of the Dark Ages, there had already been two great centers, Witternberg and Geneva; The battle was retreating from them, and the Protestant host was about to make its stand at a third center, namely Scotland, and there sustain its final defeat, or achieve its crowning victory.

The Reformation of Scotland dates from the entrance of the first Bible into the country, about the year 1525. It was doing its work, but over and above there was needed the living voice of the preacher, and the fiery stake of the confessor, to arouse the nation from the dead sleep in which it was sunk. But who of Scotland's sons shall open the roll of martyrdom? A youth of royal lineage, and princely in mind as in birth, was chosen for this high but arduous honor. Patrick Hamilton was born in 1504. He was the second son of Sir Patrick Hamilton, of Kincavel, and the great-grandson, both by the father's and the mother's side, of James II. [1] He received his education at the University of St. Andrews, and about 1517 was appointed titular Abbot of Ferne, in Ross-shire, though it does not appear that he ever took priest's orders. In the following year he went abroad, and would seem to have studied some time in Paris, where it is probable he came to the first knowledge of the truth; and thence he went to pursue his studies at the College of Marburg, then newly opened by the Landgrave of Hesse. At Marburg the young Scotsman enjoyed the friendship of a very remarkable man, whose views on some points of Divine truth exceeded in clearness even those of Luther; we refer to Francis Lambert, the ex-monk of Avignon, whom Landgrave Philip had invited to Hesse to assist in the Reformation of his dominions.

The depth of Hamilton's knowledge, and the beauty of his character, won the esteem of Lambert, and we find the ex-Franciscan saying to Philip, "This young man of the illustrious family of the Hamiltons... is come from the end of the world, from Scotland, to your academy, in order to be fully established in God's truth. I have hardly ever met a man who expresses himself with so much spirituality and truth on the Word of the Lord." [2]

Hamilton's preparation for his work, destined to be brief but brilliant, was now completed, and he began to yearn with an intense desire to return to his native land, and publish the Gospel of a free salvation. He could not hide from himself the danger which attended the step he was meditating.

The priests were at this hour all-powerful in Scotland. A few years previously (1513), James IV and the flower of the Scottish nobility had fallen on the field of Flodden. James V was a child: his mother, Margaret Tudor, was nominally regent; but the clergy, headed by the proud, profligate, and unscrupulous James Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, had grasped the government of the kingdom. It was not to be thought that these men would permit a doctrine to be taught at their very doors, which they well knew would bring their glory and pleasures to an end, if they had the power of preventing it. The means of suppressing all preaching of the truth were not wanting, certainly, to these tyrannical Churchmen. But this did not weigh with the young Hamilton. Intent upon dispelling the darkness that covered Scotland, he returned to his native land (1527), and took up his abode at the family mansion of Kincavel, near Linlithgow.

With the sword of Beaton hanging over his head, he began to preach the doctrines of the Reformed faith. The first converts of the young evangelist were the inmates of the mansion-house of Kincavel. After his kinsfolk, his neighbors became the next objects of his care. He visited at the houses of the gentry, where his birth, the grace of his manners, and the fame of his learning made him at all times welcome, and he talked with them about the things that belonged to their peace. Going out into the fields, he would join himself to groups of laborers as they rested at noon, and exhort them, while laboring for the "meat that perisheth," not to be unmindful of that which "endures unto eternal life." Opening the Sacred Volume, he would explain to his rustic congregation the "mysteries of the kingdom" which was now come

nigh unto them, and bid them strive to enter into it. Having scattered the seed in the villages around Linlithgow, he resolved to carry the Gospel into its Church of St. Michael. The ancient palace of Linlithgow, "the Versailles of Scotland," as it has been termed, was then the seat of the court, and the Gospel was now brought within the hearing of the priests of St. Michael's, and of the members of the royal family who repaired to it. Hamilton, standing up amid the altar and images, preached to the polished audience that filled the edifice, with that simplicity and chastity of speech which were best fitted to win his way with those now listening to him. It is not, would lie say, the cowl of St. Francis, nor the frock of St. Dominic, that saves us; it is the righteousness of Christ. It is not the shorn head that makes a holy man, it is the renewed heart. It is not the chrism of the Church, it is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that replenishes the soul with grace. What doth the Lord require of thee, O man? To count so many beads a day? To repeat so many paternosters? To fast so many days in the year, or go so many miles on pilgrimages? That is what the Pope requires of thee; but what God requires of thee is to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly. Pure religion, and undefiled, is not to kiss a crucifix, or to burn candles before Our Lady; pure religion is to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, and to keep one's self unspotted from the world. "Knowest thou," he would ask, "what this saying means? Christ died for thee?" Verily that thou shouldest have died perpetually, and Christ, to deliver thee from death, died for thee, and changed thy perpetual death into his own death; for thou madest the fault, and he suffered the pain." [3]

Among Hamilton's hearers in St. Michael's there was a certain maiden of noble birth, whose heart the Gospel had touched. Her virtues won the heart of the young evangelist, and he made her his wife. His marriage was celebrated but a few weeks before his martyrdom. [4]

A little way inland from the opposite shores of the Forth, backed by the picturesque chain of the blue Ochils, was the town of Dunfermline, with its archiepiscopal palace, the towers of which might almost be descried from the spot where Hamilton was daily evangelizing. Archbishop Beaton was at this moment residing there, and news of the young evangelist's doings were wafted across to that watchful enemy of the Gospel. Beaton saw at a glance the difficulty of the case. A heretic of low degree would have been summarily disposed of; but here was a Lutheran with royal blood in his veins, and all the Hamiltons at his back, throwing down the gage of battle to the hierarchy. What was to be done? The cruel and crafty Beaton hit on a device that but too well succeeded. Concealing his dark design, the primate sent a pressing message to Patrick, soliciting an interview with him on points of Church Reformation. Hamilton divined at once what the message portended, but in spite of the death that almost certainly awaited him, and the tears of his friends, who sought to stay him, he set out for St. Andrews. He seemed to feel that he could serve his country better by dying than by living and laboring.

This city was then the ecclesiastical and literary metropolis of Scotland. As the seat of the archiepiscopal court, numerous suitors and rich fees were drawn to it. Ecclesiastics of all ranks and students from every part of the kingdom were to be seen upon its streets. Its cathedral was among the largest in Christendom. It had numerous colleges, monasteries, and a priory, not as now, gray with age and sinking in ruin, but in the first bloom of their architecture. As the traveler approached it, whether over the long upland swell of Fife on the west, or the waters of the German Ocean on the east, the lofty summit of St. Regulus met his eye, and told him that he was nearing the chief seat of authority and wealth in Scotland.

On arriving at St. Andrews, Hamilton found the archbishop all smiles; a most gracious reception, in fact, was accorded him by the man who was resolved that he should never go hence. He was permitted to choose his own lodgings; to go in and out; to avow his opinions; to discuss questions of rite, and dogma, and administration with both doctors and students; and when he heard the echoes of his own sentiments coming back to him from amid the halls and chairs of the "Scottish Vatican," he began to persuade himself that the day of Scotland's deliverance was nearer than he had dared to hope, and even now rifts were appearing in the canopy of blackness over his native land. An incident happened that specially gladdened him. There was at that time, among the Canons of St. Andrews, a young man of quick parts and candid mind, but enthralled by the scholasticism of the age, and all on the side of Rome. His name was Alane, or Alesius — a native of Edinburgh. This young canon burned to cross swords with the heretic whose presence had caused no little stir in the university and monasteries of the ancient city of St. Andrew. He obtained his wish, for Hamilton was ready to receive all, whether they came to inquire or to dispute. The Sword of the Spirit, at almost the first stroke, pierced the scholastic armor in which Alesius had encased himself, and he dropped his sword to the man whom he had been so confident of vanquishing.

There came yet another, also eager to do battle for the Church — Alexander Campbell, Prior of the

Dominicans — a man of excellent learning and good disposition. The archbishop, feeling the risks of bringing such a man as Hamilton to the stake, ordered Prior Campbell to wait on him, and spare no means of bringing back the noble heretic to the faith of the Church. The matter promised at first to have just the opposite ending.

After a few interviews, the prior confessed the truth of the doctrines which Hamilton taught. The conversion of Alesins seemed to have repeated itself. But, alas! no; Campbell had received the truth in the intellect only, not in the heart. Beaton sent for Campbell, and sternly demanded of him what progress he was making in the conversion of the heretic. The prior saw that on the brow of the archbishop which told him that he must make his choice between the favor of the hierarchy and the Gospel. His courage failed him: the disciple became the accuser.

Patrick Hamilton had now been a month at St. Andrews, arguing all the time with doctors, priests, students, and townspeople. From whatever cause this delay proceeded, whether from a feeling on the part of Beaton and the hierarchy that their power was too firmly rooted to be shaken, or from a fear to strike one so exalted, it helped to the easy triumph of the Reformed opinions in Scotland. During that month Hamilton was able to scatter on this center part of the field a great amount of the "incorruptible seed of the Word," which, watered as it was soon thereafter to be with the blood of him who sowed it, sprang up and brought forth much fruit. But the matter would admit, of no longer delay, and Patrick was summoned to the archiepiscopal palace, to answer to a charge of heresy.

Before accompanying Hamilton to the tribunal of Beaton, let us mention the arrangements of his persecutors for putting him to death. Their first care was to send away the king. James V was then a youth of seventeen, and it was just possible that he might not stand quietly by and see them ruthlessly murder one who drew his descent from the royal house.

Accordingly the young king was told that his soul's health required that he should make a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Duthac, in Ross-shire, whither his father had often gone to disburden his conscience. [5] It was winter, and the journey would necessarily be tedious; but the purpose of the priests would be all the better served thereby. Another precaution taken by the archbishop was to cause the movements of Sir James Hamilton, Patrick's brother, to be watched, lest he should attempt a rescue. When the tidings reached Kincavel that Patrick had been arrested, consternation prevailed at the manor-house; Sir James, promptly assembling a body of men-at-arms, set out at their head for St. Andrews.

The troop marched along the southern shore of the Forth, but on arriving at Queensferry, where they intended to cross, they found a storm raging in the Frith. The waves, raised into tumult in the narrow sea by the westerly gale, would permit no passage; and Sir James, the precious hours gliding away, could only stand gazing helplessly on the tempest, which showed no signs of abating. Meanwhile, being descried from the opposite shore, a troop of horse was at once ordered out to dispute their march to St. Andrews. Another attempt to rescue Patrick from the hands of his persecutors was also unsuccessful. Duncan, Laird of Ardrie, in the neighborhood of St. Andrews, armed and mounted about a score of his tenants and servants, intending to enter the city by night and carry off his friend, whose Protestant sentiments he shared; but his small party was surrounded, and himself apprehended, by a troop of horsemen. [6] Hamilton was left in the power of Beaten.

The first rays of the morning sun were kindling the waters of the bay, and gilding the hilltops of Angus on the other side of the Tay, when Hamilton was seen traversing the streets on his way to the archiepiscopal palace, in obedience to Beaton's summons. He had hoped to have an interview with the archbishop before the other judges had assembled; but, early as the hour was, the court was already met, and Hamilton was summoned before it and his accusation read. It consisted of thirteen articles, alleged to be heretical, of which the fifth and sixth may be taken as samples. These ran: "That a man is not justified by works, but by faith alone," and "that good works do not make a good man, but that a good man makes good works." [7] Here followed a discussion on each of the articles, and finally the whole were referred to a committee of the judges chosen by Beaten, who were to report their judgment upon them in a few days. Pending their decision, Hamilton was permitted his liberty as heretofore; the object of his enemies being to veil what was coming till it should be so near that rescue would be impossible.

In a few days the commissioners intimated that they had arrived at a decision on the articles. This opened the way for the last act of the tragedy. Beaten issued his orders for the apprehension of Patrick, and at the same time summoned his court for the next day. Fearing a tumult should he conduct Hamilton to prison in open day, the officer waited till night-fall before executing the mandate of the archbishop. A little party of friends had that evening assembled at Patrick's lodgings. Their converse was prolonged till late in the evening, for they felt loth to separate. The topics that engaged their thoughts and formed the matter of their talk, it is not difficult to conjecture. Misgivings and anxieties they could not but feel when they thought of the sentence to be pronounced in the cathedral tomorrow. But with these gloomy presentiments there would mingle cheering hopes

inspired by the prosperous state of the Reformation at that hour on the Continent of Europe. When from their own land, still covered with darkness, they turned their eyes abroad, they saw only the most splendid triumphs. In Germany a phalanx of illustrious doctors, of chivalrous princes, and of free cities had gathered round the Protestant standard. In Switzerland the new day was spreading from canton to canton with an effulgence sweeter far than ever was day-break on the snows of its mountains. Farel was thundering in the cities of the Jura, and day by day advancing his posts nearer to Geneva. At the polished court of Francis I., and in the halls of the Sorbonne, Luther's doctrine had found eloquent expositors and devoted disciples, making the hope not too bold that the ancient, civilized, and. powerful nation of France would in a short time be won to the Gospel. Surmounting the lofty banner of snows and glaciers within which Italy reposes, the light was circulating round the shores of Como, gilding the palaces of Ferrara and Florence, and approaching the very gates of Rome itself. Amid the darkness of the Seven Hills, whispers were beginning to be heard, "The morning cometh."

Turning to the other extremity of Europe, the prospect was not less gladdening. In Denmark the mass had fallen, and the vernacular Scriptures were being circulated through the nation. In Sweden a Protestant king filled the throne, and a Protestant clergy ministered to the people. In Norway the Protestant faith had taken root, and was flourishing amid its fjords and pine-covered mountains. Nay, to the shores of Iceland had that blessed day-spring traveled. It could not be that the day should break on every land between Italy's "snowy ridge" and Iceland's frozen shore, and the night continue to cover Scotland. It could not be that the sunrise should kindle into glory the Swiss mountains, the German plains, and the Norwegian pine-forests, and no dawn light up the straths of Caledonia.

No! the hour would strike: the nation would shake off its chains, and a still brighter lamp than that which Columba had kindled at Iona would shed its radiance on hill and valley, on hamlet and city of Scotland. Whatever tomorrow might bring, this was what the future would bring; and the joy these prospects inspired could be read in the brightening eyes and on the beaming faces of the little company in this chamber, and most of all on those of the youthful and noble form in the center of the circle.

But hark! the silence of the night is broken by a noise as of hostile steps at the door. The company, startled, gaze into one another's faces, and are silent. Heavy footsteps are now heard ascending the stair; the next moment there is a knocking at the chamber door. With calm voice Hamilton bids them open the door; nay, he himself steps forward and opens it. The archbishop's officer enters the apartment. "Whom do you want? " inquires Patrick. "I want Hamilton," replies the man. "I am Hamilton," says the other, giving himself up, requesting only that his friends might be allowed to depart unharmed.

A party of soldiers waited at the door to receive the prisoner. On his descending, they closed round him, and led him through the silent streets of the slumbering city to the castle. Nothing was heard save the low moaning of the night-wind, and the sullen dash of the wave as it broke against the rocky foundations of the sea tower, to the dungeons of which Hamilton was consigned for the night.

It is the morning of the last day of February, 1528. Far out in the bay the light creeps up from the German Ocean: the low hills that run along on t. he south of the city, come out in the dawn, and next are seen the sands of the Tay, with the blue summits of Angus beyond, while the mightier masses of the Grampians stand up in the northern sky. Now the sun rises; and tower and steeple and, proudest of all, Scotland's metropolitan cathedral began to glow in the light of the new-risen luminary. A terrible tragedy is that sun to witness before he shall set. The archbishop is up betimes, and so too are priest and monk. The streets are already all astir. A stream of bishops, nobles, canons, priests, and citizens is roiling in at the gates of the cathedral. How proudly it lifts its towers to the sky! There is not another such edifice in all Scotland; few of such dimensions in all Christendom. And now we see the archbishop, with his long train of lords, abbots, and doctors, sweep in and take his seat on his archiepiscopal throne. Around him on the tribunal are the Bishops of Glasgow, Dunkeld, Brechin, and Dunblane. The Prior of St. Andrews, Patrick Hepburn; the Abbot of Arbroath, David Benton; as also the Abbots of Dunfermline, Cambuskenneth, and Lindores; the Prior of Pittenweem; the Dean and Sub-Dean of Glasgow; Ramsay, Dean of the Abbey of St. Andrews; Spens, Dean of Divinity in the University; and among the rest sits Prior Alexander Campbell, the man who had acknowledged to Hamilton in private that his doctrine was true, but who, stifling his convictions, now appears on the tribunal as accuser and judge.

The tramp of horses outside announced the arrival of the prisoner. Hamilton was brought in, led through the throng of canons, friars, students, and townspeople, and made to mount a small pulpit erected opposite the tribunal. Prior Campbell rose and read the articles of accusation, and when he had ended began to argue with Hamilton. The prior's stock of sophisms was quickly exhausted. He turned to the bench of judges for fresh instructions. He was bidden close the debate by denouncing the prisoner as a heretic. Turning to Hamilton, the prior exclaimed, "Heretic, thou saidst it was lawful to all men to read the Word of God,

and especially the New Testament." "I wot not," replied Hamilton, "if I said so; but I say now, it is reason and lawful to all men 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." "Heretic," again urged the Dominican, "thou sayest it is but lost labor to call on the saints, and in particular on the blessed Virgin Mary, as mediators to God for us."

"I say with Paul," answered the confessor, "there is no mediator between God and us but Christ Jesus his Son, and whatsoever they be who call or pray to any saint departed, they spoil Christ Jesus of his office."

"Heretic," again exclaimed Prior Campbell, "thou sayest it is all in vain to sing soul-masses, psalms, and dirges for the relaxation of souls departed, who are continued in the pains of purgatory. "Brother," said the Reformer, "I have never read in the Scripture of God of such a place as purgatory, nor yet believe I there is anything that can purge the souls of men but the blood of Jesus Christ." Lifting up his voice once more Campbell shouted out, as if to drown the cry in his own conscience, "Heretic, detestable, execrable, impious heretic!" "Nay, brother," said Hamilton, directing a look of compassion towards the wretched man, "thou dost not in thy heart think me heretic — thou knowest in thy conscience that I am no heretic."

Not a voice was there on that bench but in condemnation of the prisoner. "Away with him! away with him to the stake!" said they all. The archbishop rose, and solemnly pronounced sentence on Hamilton as a heretic, delivering him over to the secular arm that is, to his own soldiers and executioners — to be punished.

This sentence, Benton believed, was to stamp out heresy, give a perpetuity of dominion and glory to the Papacy in Scotland, and hallow the proud fane in which it was pronounced, as the high sanctuary of the nation's worship for long centuries. How would it have amazed the proud prelate, and the haughty and cruel men around him, had they been told that this surpassingly grand pile should in a few years cease to be — that altar, and stone image, and archiepiscopal throne, and tall massy column, and lofty roof, and painted oriel, before this generation had passed away, smitten by a sudden stroke, should fall in ruin, and nothing of all the glory on which their eyes now rested remain, save a few naked walls and shattered towers, with the hoarse roar of the ocean sounding on the shingly beach beneath, and the loud scream of the sea bird, as it flew past, echoing through their ruins!

Escorted by a numerous armed band, Hamilton was led back to the castle, and men were sent to prepare the stake in front of St. Salvator's College. [8]

The interval was passed by the martyr in taking his last meal and conversing calmly with his friends. When the hour of noon struck, he rose up and bade the governor be admitted. He set out for the place where he was to die, carrying his New Testament in his hand, a few friends by his side, and his faithful servant following. He walked in the midst of his guards, his step firm, his countenance serene.

When he came in sight of the pile he halted, and uncovering his head, and raising his eyes to heaven, he continued a few minutes in prayer. At the stake he gave his New Testament to a friend as his last gift. Then calling his servant to him, he took off his cap and gown and gave them to him, saying, "These will not profit in the fire; they will profit thee. After this, of me thou canst receive no commodity except the example of my death, which I pray thee bear in mind. For albeit it be bitter to the flesh, and fearful before man, yet is it the entrance to eternal life, which none shall possess that denies Christ Jesus before this wicked generation."

He now ascended the pile. The executioners drew an iron band round his body, and fastened him to the stake. They piled up the fagots, and put a bag of gunpowder amongst them to make them ignite. "In the name of Jesus," said the martyr, "I give up my body to the fire, and commit my soul into the hands of the Father."

The torch was now brought. The gunpowder was exploded; it shot a fagot in the martyr's face, but did not kindle the wood. More powder was brought and exploded, but without kindling the pile. A third supply was procured; still the fagots would not burn: they were green. Turning to the deathsman, Hamilton said, "Have you no dry wood? " Some persons ran to fetch some from the castle; the sufferer all the while standing at the stake, wounded in the face, and partially scorched, yet "giving no signs of impatience or anger." So testifies Alesins, who says, "I was myself present, a spectator of that tragedy." [9]

Hovering near that pile, drawn thither it would seem by some dreadful fascination, was Prior Campbell. While the fresh supplies of powder and wood were being brought, and the executioners were anew heaping up the fagots, Campbell, with frenzied voice, was calling on the martyr to recant.

"Heretic," he shouted, "be converted; call upon Our Lady; only say, Salve Regina." "If thou believest in the truth of what thou sayest," replied the confessor, "bear witness to it by putting the tip of thy finger only into the fire in which my whole body is burning." [10] The Dominican burst out afresh into accusations and insults. "Depart from me, thou messenger of Satan," said the martyr, "and leave me in peace." The wretched man was unable either to go away or

cease reviling. "Submit to the Pope," he cried, "there is no salvation but in union to him." "Thou wicked man," said Hamilton, "thou knowest the contrary, for thou toldest me so thyself. I appeal thee before the tribunal-seat of Jesus Christ." At the hearing of these words the friar rushed to his monastery: in a few days his reason gave way, and he died raving mad, at the day named in the citation of the martyr. [11]

Patrick Hamilton was led to the stake at noon: the afternoon was wearing, in fact it was now past sunset. These six hours had he stood on the pile, his face bruised, his limbs scorched; but now the end was near, for his whole body was burning in the fire, the iron band round his middle was red-hot, and the martyr was almost burned in two. One approached him and said, "If thou still holdest true the doctrine for which thou diest, make us a sign." Two of the fingers of his right hand were already burned, and had dropped off. Stretching out his arm, he held out the remaining three fingers till they too had fallen into the fire. The last words he was heard to utter were, "How long, O Lord, shall darkness overwhelm this realm? How long wilt thou suffer this tyranny of men? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

We have given prominence to this great martyr, because his death was one of the most powerful of the instrumentalities that worked for the emancipation of his native land. It was around his stake that the first decided dawn of Scotland's Reformation took place. His noble birth, the fame of his learning, his spotless character, his gracious manners, his protracted sufferings, born with such majestic meekness, and the awful death of the man who had been his accuser before the tribunal, and his tormentor at the stake, combined to give unusual grandeur, not unmingled with terror, to his martyrdom, and made it touch a chord in the nation's heart, that never ceased to vibrate till "the rage of the great red dragon" was vanquished, and "the black and settled night of ignorance and Christian tyranny" having been expelled, "the odour of the returning Gospel" began to bathe the land with "the fragrancy of heaven." [12]


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