The Reformation In Scotland

Chapter VII --The Reformation In Scotland

The crisis of the Scotch Reformation occurred soon after the accession of Elizabeth. It may be located in the year 1560, when the practice of the Romish religion was made a penal offense.

In Scotland the Reformation was naturally accompanied by much of storm and violence. The government had scarcely passed beyond the feudal stage. The nobles divided the power with the throne. A commonalty possessed of any direct political significance was unknown in Scotland up to the middle of the sixteenth century. The hardy spirit and Bible doctrines of John Knox and his co-laborers first wrought into the Scotch commons the temper which made them a real factor in the State. Hitherto the mass of the people had ranked as retainers of the feudal lords, and had been rather the instrument of their jealousies and ambitions than a check upon their caprices. Civil disturbance was consequently an ever recurring event. Nearly the whole history of the Stuart dynasty down to the era of religious revolution was a history of ineffectual struggle with faction. James I. was assassinated. James II, had repeated experience of rebellion. James III. was slain in his flight from the battle-field. James V. died of chagrin and despair under the humiliations which the resentment of the nobles had brought upon him. 1 His death occurred in 1542, a few days after the birth of that most ill-fated of all the Stuarts, Mary, Queen of Scots. Thus the record continues until new causes of agitation blend with the old.

One of the incentives to a rupture with the Romish Church was the corrupt state of the clergy. In very few districts of Europe were the lower ranks of ecclesiastics equally distinguished for superstition and ignorance, while their superiors, besides grasping after a chief place in worldly grandeur and rule, set an example of unblushing profligacy. Such dignitaries as the primates Beaten and Hamilton, in brazen disregard of decency, neglected even to take the trouble to conceal their immoralities. "They dared their amours in the face of the world, as if proud of the soundness of their taste for beauty, and of the rank and birth that had become prostrate to their solicitation." 1 Burton, History of Scotland, iii. 22.

Another incentive not less powerful, at least with the nobles, was the great wealth in the hands of ecclesiastics. The clergy are said to have possessed about half the property of the realm. The nobles, with their instincts for plunder, naturally looked with covetous eyes towards this spoil. Froude's emphatic words on this point may be accepted without any great discount: "The gaunt and hungry nobles of Scotland, careless most of them of God or the devil, were eying the sleek and well-fed clergy like a pack of famished wolves." 2 History of England, vii. 108.

A third motive-power was the teaching and hearty conviction of men devoted to gospel truth. Here was the true leaven of the movement, the spiritual might which gave to Europe and to civilization a regenerated Scotland.

As in England, so also in Scotland, remnants of the Lollard sect were at hand to give a welcome to the reform movement. 3 M'Crie, Life of Andrew Melville, p. 4 Tyndale's New Testament also reached the latter country nearly as soon as the former. The beginnings thus made were improved upon by a young nobleman, Patrick Hamilton, who during a sojourn in Germany had been confirmed in an enthusiastic love for the principles of the Reformation. It was only for a brief space, however, that he was allowed to act the part of the confessor and the advocate. The fire of his martyrdom was kindled in 1528. In the midst of the flames he was heard to pronounce these words: "How long, O Lord, shall darkness cover this realm? How long wilt thou suffer the tyranny of men? Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 1 John Knox, History of the Reformation in Scotland, edited by Laing, i. 18, Calderwood, History of the Kirk of Scotland, i. 75-80, ed. 1842. The burning took place under the auspices of Archbishop Beaten, uncle of the more famous Cardinal of the same name, who succeeded him in the see of St. Andrews. Among the rewards which the prelate gained by the transaction was a congratulatory letter from the Louvain doctors. 2 Calderwood, i 80-82. It proved to be, however, a poor discretion which dictated the congratulation. The heroic death of Hamilton awakened a wide-spread interest. Others were found equal to the fiery ordeal, and the names of about half a score of witnesses who suffered in the next fifteen years are recorded. 3 Knox's History, i. 36-66. A cessation of severities occurred during the first years of the regency of Arran, but it was soon apparent to the Protestants that it was perilous ground upon which they stood. In 1546 a distinguished evangelist, George Wishart, was sent to the stake. His cruel fate greatly stimulated the animosity which for years had been accumulating against Cardinal Beaten, as a would-be usurper, Libertine, and persecutor; and a few weeks later the ambitious primate was murdered by a band of conspirators at St. Andrews.

The castle of St. Andrews remained for a time in the hands of those who had taken vengeance upon the Cardinal. Thither, in 1547, came John Knox, expecting, as his own account indicates, to find the stronghold a refuge from molestation and danger. He was accompanied by the sons of Hugh Douglas, who had been placed under his instruction. Pressed by a very urgent summons, Knox added the office of preacher to that of teacher. But his ministrations were brought to a sudden close. The castle was taken by the French. Knox experienced the hardships of a prisoner on board a galley ship for nearly two years (1547-1549). The next ten years of his life, except an interval of less than a year in Scotland, mere divided between England and the Continent. A considerable time was spent in Geneva. It was from this place that he issued his treatise, entitled the "First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regimen of Women." As Knox afterwards explained, his publication had reference chiefly to the bloody rule of Mary in England. But no discrimination was expressed, and the only conclusion left to he drawn was that, in the view of the Reformer, the government of a country by a woman is to be accounted a monstrosity. Naturally, at a later date, such a manifesto was a poor recommendation for Knox, both to the virgin Queen of England and to the Queen of Scots.

In character Knox was well suited to the stern work of religious revolution. He was distinguished by the same vigor, decision, and determination as Calvin. With less of intellectual breadth and penetration, he combined a larger gift of popular eloquence. His bold and incisive address penetrated the minds of his countrymen much as did the burning words of Luther the minds of the Germans. As one wrote to Cecil, the single voice of Knox was more inspiriting to the Scots than five hundred trumpets blustering in their ears. He well deserved the eulogy which the Regent Morton pronounced over his grave: "Here lies one who never feared the face of a man." His conscientiousness, personal force, and undaunted courage must ever commend him to the appreciation of healthy minds. At the same time, his biography can hardly fail to produce an impression of a certain uncharitableness, intolerance, and harshness. Even so great an admirer as M'Crie writes of him: "A stranger to complimentary or smooth language, little concerned about the manner in which his reproofs were received, provided they were merited, too much impressed with the evil of the offense to think of the rank or character of the offender, he often uttered his admonitions with an acrimony and vehemence more apt to irritate than to reclaim." 1 Life of John Knox, ii. 255. He dwelt too much in the sphere of the old dispensation, and gave too literal an application to the historical precedents which he found recorded there. He was intolerant on principle. It should be stated to his credit, however, that his intolerance respected not mere trifles, but that which be had reason to regard as of serious consequence.

As Knox returned to Scotland, in 1559, he found the country in a state of great excitement. Repressive measures, particularly the burning, the year before, of an aged evangelist, Walter Mill, had stirred up intense feeling. Strong suspicion was entertained that French power would be used to crush altogether the friends of the Reformation. The words of Knox were in no wise calculated to calm the agitation. A storm of iconoclasm broke out, and-churches were spoiled of their ornaments, and cloisters were destroyed. Knox cannot be charged with having directly inculcated the outbreak of violence. It was the work of the "rascal multitude," to use his own phrase. But there is little ground for supposing that he lamented much more than the irregularity of the proceeding, especially if he really uttered the remark, that "the best way to keep the rooks from returning was to pull down the nests."

This rude purgation was never undone. Aid supplied from England gave the Protestant lords the advantage in the contest with the Regent (Mary of Guise, the widow of James V. ), and the French were compelled to evacuate the country. A Parliament convened in 1560, shortly after the Regent's death, abolished the Roman Catholic religion. The saying or hearing of mass was made punishable with death for a third offense.

1 Knox regarded the mass as coming under the Old Testament law against idolatry, and participation in it, therefore, worthy of a capital infliction. It should be noticed, however, that there was no haste to find victims under the law. "I never read nor heard of an instance," says M'Crie, "in the time of our Reformer, of a person being put to death for performing any part of the Roman Catholic worship." (Life of Knox, ii, 129.)

A new ecclesiastical establishment took the place of the old. It did not however become heir to more than a fragment of the accumulated wealth of the Church. The avarice of the landed gentry crowded aside the grand educational and charitable schemes of Knox, and made spoil of a great part of the property which should have been devoted to the higher needs of the nation.

Such was the theatre upon which Mary Stuart, daughter of the deceased Regent and widow of the French King, Francis II., came to act the sovereign. She arrived in 1561, in the nineteenth year of her age. Sad exchange to her for the gay and brilliant life which she had led in the polished court of France! Six years of rule passing into trouble and tragedy, an abdication in Lochleven castle, nineteen years of imprisonment in England, and death by the executioner's axe,-such were the fortunes awaiting her.

Nothing more ill adjusted than Mary Stuart to her position could well be imagined. Brought up a Roman Catholic at a Romish court, she was set over a realm in which the practice of the Romish religion was made a capital offense. Even the private exercise of her religion was regarded as a thing most offensive and alarming. Knox declared that a single mass was to him a more fearful thing than if ten thousand armed enemies were landed in the realm for the express purpose of suppressing religion. 1 Knox's History, ii. 276. The manner, too, in which he addressed Mary herself, and commented on her conduct, was far from expressive of a delicate regard for her conscience and pleasure. To be told by him that he was willing to endure her rule as Paul endured that of Nero, to have it declared to her face that her Church was "a harlot, polluted with all kinds of spiritual fornication, both in doctrines and manners," 2 See Knox's account of his first interview with Mary (ii. 277-286), probably as unique a dialogue as ever occurred between subject and sovereign. to be charged from the pulpit with delighting more in fiddlers and flatterers than in the company of wise and grave men, to be remembered in public petitions, to the effect that God would deliver her from the bondage and thralldom of Satan, and thus save her and the realm from the vengeance appointed to idolatry, -- all this must have appeared to the high-spirited Queen as a strange adjunct to sovereignty. In fine, her position was as capital an irony on the principle of hereditary rule as can well be found.

It is a poor task in the historian to excuse the rudeness of Knox. At the same time, he ought not to be censured too unsparingly. He early gained the conviction that this fascinating Queen was bent upon acting the part of a Roman sorceress to charm back the nation to its cast-off idolatries and superstitions.

1 In October, 1561, Knox wrote to Cecil: "The Queen neither is, neither shall be, of our opinion; and in very deed her whole proceedings do declare that the lessons of the Cardinal [the artful Charles of Lorraine] are so deeply printed in her heart that the substance and the quality are like to perish together. I would be glad to be deceived, but I fear I shall not."

Nor can it be alleged that he was mistaken in his surmise. In her first years, it is true, under the discreet guidance of her half-brother, the Earl of Murray, she gave no open manifestation of a purpose to change the religion. While she declined to give a formal sanction to the reform measures which had been adopted in Parliament, she announced that ecclesiastical affairs were to remain undisturbed. But this much of concession was simply the dictate of necessity. Her purpose--as indicated by her correspondence with her uncles of the house of Guise, with the Pope, and with Philip II., as also by the measures to which she resorted as soon as a favorable crisis appeared--was the restoration of the Roman Catholic religion.

Ranke, History of England, i. 264-269; Mignet, Histoire de Marie Stuart, pp. ll4-119 in English translation; Burton, History of Scotland, iv. 218, 302.

This scheme too did not seem altogether a wild undertaking, considering the light scruples of many of the nobles and the promise of aid from the Roman Catholic powers on the Continent. There was need, in short, of every particle of the vigilance and decision of Knox, whatever portion of his asperity might have been dispensed with.

The opportunities of Mary were not a little enhanced by the misconduct of the nobles. In 1565, Murray and some others, complaining that the Queen, without consulting Parliament, had married Lord Darnley and entitled him King, and convinced also that this union with one whose faith, if anything, was Romanism, contained a threat against their religion, made a show of resistance to the Queen's authority. It was an ill-devised scheme, which resulted in the banishment of the discontented lords, and thus greatly strengthened the hands of Mary. A few months later a still greater offense was perpetrated against the Queen in the assassination of her secretary, the Italian Rizzio. Here the chief culprit was the royal consort. Darnley, who was a man of signal worthlessness, was displeased because Mary withheld from him the crown matrimonial, and he was also excited to jealousy by her kindness to Rizzio. Taking advantage of this ill humor, some of the more unscrupulous nobles, who hated the foreigner as an intriguer and upstart, joined with Darnley in planning his murder. The deed as executed was conspicuous for its barbarity, and was better fitted to stamp the perpetrators with infamy than to help their cause. If it weakened the Queen at the moment, and disconcerted her projects, the discredit which it brought upon the opponents of her policy might have been utilized erelong to increase her ascendancy.

But at this stage Mary forfeited her opportunity. Influences more potent than religious zeal or political ambition seem to have mastered her. Revenge and love joined in urging her on to a deed of hell. Filled with a mortal hatred of the husband who had comported himself so outrageously, and giving herself over to a mad passion for Bothwell, she became a participant in the plot for the murder of Darnley (Feb. 10, 1567). Such at least was a wide-spread belief at the time, and it is supported by a long array of historical particulars, as well as by the written evidence of the famous "casket letters."

1 Serious doubt respecting the guilt of Mary would probably never have arisen were it not that her came has been supported by two eloquent advocates, namely, her personal charms and her extreme misfortunes. In some minds religions prejudice has served as a third advocate. The best that the defenders of the Queen of Scots can do is to indulge in a piece-meal challenge of the evidence. The force of the general concurrence of particulars, upon which as historical judgment rests, they cannot break. This is well illustrated by Mignet, who, though he writes in a temper quite other than that of hostility to the Queen of Scots, finds overwhelming proof of her guilt. Compare Burton and Ranke. On the genuineness of the "casket letters," purporting to be letters of Mary to Bothwell, Ranke offers this very decided opinion: "No human being could have invented them" (History of England, i. 273).

This dark affair sealed the overthrow of the Queen of Scots. In the castle of Lochleven, where she was confined, she signed her abdication in favor of her infant son James, it being understood that during his minority Munay should act as Regent. Though escaping her prison the next year, the attempt to recover her power proved fruitless, and she took refuge in England, there to spend the remainder of her days a prisoner. Once upon English soil, Mary, as we have seen, became the centre of Roman Catholic plots, in certain of which she herself participated to the extent of her ability. That she should be got rid of in some way seemed to have become a political necessity. The chief question concerning Elizabeth's treatment of Mary antedates the execution. Was it right for her to detain, imprison, and hold responsible to her tribunals the princess of another realm?

A few words about the constitution of the Scottish Church may fitly close the section. The question of polity, which became in after times a burning question, does not seem to have occasioned much discussion in the time of Knox. His familiarity with the Genevan model naturally influenced his conceptions, and at the settlement of the Church, in 1560, an essentially Presbyterian system was inaugurated. While the country was divided into districts, and superintendents were appointed over these, their standing was not that ordinarily pertaining to bishops. The superintendents had no special prerogatives to ordain, and were under the authority of the general assembly. Their appointment was probably due to the great lack of competent ministers. The same face explains also the provision for readers, or those qualified only to read the appointed service. At first this class was much in excess of the preachers. The officers, to whom a more regular or permanent character was attached, were these four,-- pastor, teacher, ruling elder, and deacon. In the class of teachers, or doctors, the professors of the universities were included. The ruling elder assisted the pastor in government and discipline. The function of the deacon concerned the management of temporalities. The kirk session, or meeting of the officers of a single congregation, the presbytery, the provincial synod, and the general assembly, formed the ascending series of official meetings. All the factors in this scheme were not, indeed, distinctly organized at the start, but they soon made their appearance.

The first innovation in the direction of episcopacy occurred in 1572, the year that Knox died. This was dictated by temporal considerations, the main impulse being the desire of the nobles to bring within reach the revenues attached in law to the old bishoprics. Incumbents were accordingly appointed to the vacant sees, with the expectation that they would share the revenues with their patrons; and common rumor says that the noble patrons realized their expectation. The new bishops were little more than bishops in name. Popular irony compared them to stuffed calves set up to make the cow give her milk. A definite opposition to them soon began, and a party was formed with whom a Presbyterian or anti-prelatical polity was a matter of principle as well as of preference. This party found an able leader in Andrew Melville, a man superior to Knox in erudition and literary talent, and scarcely inferior to him in contagious courage and resolution. Under his influence, the assembly declared, in 1580, for the abolition of diocesan episcopacy as "unlawful and without warrant in the Word of God." From this time the drift of sentiment in the Scottish Church was no doubt averse to any affiliation with an episcopal system. But the government, in the person of James, entertained a contrary preference. After some advances and retreats, James finally succeeded, in 1610, in inaugurating in Scotland a genuine episcopacy, with such Anglican attachments as apostolic succession and a Court of High Commission. During the period under review the Scotch Confession, adopted in 1560, was in force. This shows the hand of Knox, as does also the Book of Common Order, which was the authorized prayer-book of the Scottish Church for about a hundred years. The Confession, as a whole, is more acceptable to the softened dogmatism of our time than its substitute, the elaborate doctrinal exposition by the Westminster Assembly. The prayer-book, in comparison with the English, shows the influence of the more simple liturgy of the Reformed Churches on the Continent.

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