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Biographia Scoticana Scots Worthies by John Howie


Christianity seems to have made its appearance in Scotland in a very early period, being, according to some writers, propagated in this kingdom by the Apostles themselves; some saying that Simon Zelotes, others that Paul was some time in this part of the world; but as this opinion is not supported by proper vouchers, it merits only the regard due to conjecture, not the attention which an undoubted narrative calls for.

Another, and more probable account, is, that during the persecution raised by Domitian, (who was the twelfth and last Caesar, about A. D.96.) some of the disciples of the apostle John fled into our Island, and there taught the religion of Jesus. It does not seem that Christianity made any very rapid progress for a considerable time. The first account of the success of the gospel that can be depended on, is that about A. D.203. King Donald I. with his Queen, and several courtiers were baptized, and continued afterwards to promote the interest of Christianity, in opposition to Pagan idolatry. But the invasion of the Emperor Severus soon disturbed this king's measures, so that for the space of more than seventy years after, religion was on the decline, and the idolatry of the Druids prevailed; they were an order of Heathen priests, who performed their rites in groves of oak trees; this was a species of Paganism of great antiquity, being that kind of idolatry to which the Jews were often revolting, of which mention is made in the lives of Ahab, Manasseh, &c. in the books of the kings. These Druids likewise possessed a considerable share of civil power, being the ordinary arbitrators in almost all controversies, and highly esteemed by the people; this made it a very difficult task to establish a religion so opposite to, and subversive of that institution: but the difficulties which Christianity has in every age and country had to encounter, have served its interest, and illustrated the power and grace of its divine Author. These Druids were expelled by king Cratilinth, about the year 277, who took special care to obliterate every memorial of them; and from this period we may date the true aera of Christianity in Scotland, because from this time forward, until the persecution under the emperor Dioclesian, in the beginning of the fourth century, there was a gradual increase of the true knowledge of God and religion, that persecution became so hot in the south parts of Britain, as to drive many, both preachers and professors, into Scotland, where they were kindly received, and had the Isle of Man (then in possession of the Scots) given them for their residence, and a sufficient maintenance assigned them. King Cratilinth built a church for them, which was called the church of our SAVIOUR, in the Greek, {soter}, and is now by corruption SODOR, in Icolumbkil, one of the western isles. They were not employed, like the Druidical priests, in whose place they had come, in settling the worldly affairs of men, but gave themselves wholly to divine services, in instructing the ignorant, comforting the weak, administering the sacraments, and training up disciples to the same services.

Whether these Refugees were the ancient Culdees or a different set of men, is not easily determined, nor would be very material, though it could. The Culdees (from cultores Dei, worshippers of God) flourished at this time, they were called {mona'choi}, or Monks, from the retired religious lives which they led; the cells into which they had retired, were, after their deaths, mostly converted into churches, and to this day retain their names, as Cell or Kill or church of Marnock; Kil-Patrick, Kil-Malcolm, &c. The Culdees chose superintendents from among themselves, whose office obliged them to travel the country, in order to see that every one discharged his duty properly: but they were utter strangers to the lordly power of the modern Prelate, having no proper diocese, and only a temporary superintendency, with which they were vested by their brethren, and to whom they were accountable. It was an institution, in the spirit of it, the same with the privy censures of ministers among Presbyterians.

During the reigns of Cratilinth, and Fincormac his successor, the Culdees were in a flourishing state: but after the death of the latter, both the church and state of Scotland went into disorder. Maximus the Roman Praefect, stirred up the Picts to aid him against the Scots, who were totally defeated, their King Ewing, with most part of the nobility, being slain. This overthrow was immediately succeeded by an edict commanding all the Scots, without exception, to depart the kingdom against a certain day, under pain of death. This drove them entirely into Ireland and the western isles of Denmark and Norway, excepting a few ecclesiastics, who wandered about from place to place. This bloody battle was fought about the year 380, at the water of Dunne in Carrick.

After an exile of 44, or according to Buchanan, 27 years which the Scots endured, the Picts became sensible of their mistake, in assisting the Romans against them, and accordingly strengthened the hands of the few who remained, and invited the fugitives back into their own land. These were joined by some foreigners, and returned with Fergus II. (then in Denmark) upon their head, their enterprise was the more successful, that at this time many of the Roman forces were called home. Their king was crowned with the usual rites in his own country, and the news of his success drew great numbers to him, in so much that he recovered all the country out of which the Scots had been expelled: most of the foreign forces returned home, except the Irish, who possessed the country of Galloway for their reward. This successful undertaking happened about the year 404, or as others would have it, 420.

The Culdees were now recalled out of all their lurking places, restored to their livings, and had their churches repaired; at this time they possessed the peoples esteem to a higher degree than ever: but this tranquility was again interrupted by a more formidable enemy than before. The Pelagian heresy had now gained considerable ground in Britain, it is so called from Pelagius a Monk at Rome; its chief articles are, 1. That original sin is not inherent.2. That faith is a thing natural.3. That good works done by our own strength, of our own free-will, are agreeable to the law of God, and worthy of heaven. -- Whether all, or only part of these errors then infected the Scottish church, is uncertain; but Celestine, then bishop of Rome, embraced this opportunity to send Palladius among them, who, joining with the orthodox of south Britain, restored peace to that part of the church, by suppressing the heresy. Eugenius the second, being desirous that this church should likewise be purged of the impure leaven, invited Palladius hither, who obtaining liberty from Celestine, and being enjoined to introduce the hierarchy as opportunity should offer, came into Scotland, and succeeded so effectually in his commission, as both to confute Pelagianism and new-model the government of the church.

The church of Scotland knew no officers vested with pre-eminence above their brethren, nor had any thing to do with the Roman pontiff, until the year 450. Bede says, that |Palladius was sent unto the Scots who believed in Christ, as their first bishop.| Boetius likewise says, |that Palladius was the first of all who did bear holy magistracy among the Scots, being made bishop by the Great Pope.| Fordun in his chronicle, tells us, that |before the coming of Palladius, the Scots had for teachers of the faith, and ministers of the sacraments, Presbyters only, or Monks, following the customs of the primitive church.|

But we are not even to fix the aera of diocesan Bishops so early as this, for there were no such office-bearers in the church of Scotland, until the reign of Malcolm II. in the eleventh century. During the first 1000 years after Christ, there were no divided dioceses, nor superiorities over others, but they governed in the church in common with Presbyters; so that they were no more than nominally bishops, possessing little or nothing of that lordly dignity, which they now, and for a long time past have enjoyed. Spotiswood (history page 29.) himself testifies, that the Scottish bishops before the eleventh century, exercised their functions indifferently in every place to which they came. Palladius may be said to have rather laid the foundation of the after degeneracy of the church of Scotland, than to have built that superstructure of corruption and idolatry which afterwards prevailed, because she continued for near two hundred years in a state comparatively pure and unspotted, when we cast our eyes on the following times.

About the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh century, a number of pious and wise men flourished in the country, among whom was Kentigern, commonly called Mungo, some of these persons were employed by Oswald a Northumbrian king, to instruct his people; they are represented by Bede, as eminent for their love to God and knowledge of the holy scriptures: the light of the gospel by their means broke into other parts of the Saxon dominions, which long maintained an opposition to the growing usurpation of the church of Rome, which after the middle of this century was strenuously supported by Austin's disciples.

Beside these men, the church of Scotland at this time sent many other worthy and successful missionaries into foreign parts, particularly France, and Germany. Thus was Scotland early privileged, and thus were her privileges improven: But soon the gold became dim, and the most fine gold was changed.

Popery came now by degrees to show her horrid head; the assiduity of Austin and his disciples in England, was attended with melancholy consequences to Scotland, by fomenting divisions, corrupting her princes with Romish principles, and inattention to the lives of her clergy, the Papal power soon came to be universally acknowledged. In the seventh century a hot contest arose betwixt Austin and his disciples on the one part, and the Scots and northern Saxons on the other, about the time of keeping Easter, immersing three times in baptism, shaving of priests, &c. which these last would not receive, nor submit to the authority that imposed them; each refused ministerial communion with the other party, until an arbitral decision was given by Oswy king of the Northumbrians, at Whitby in Yorkshire, in favours of the Romanists, when the opinions of the Scots were exploded, and the modish fooleries of Papal Hierarchy were established. This decision, however, was far from putting an end to the confusion which this dissention had occasioned; the Romanists urged their rites with rigour, the others rather chose to yield their places than conform: their discouragements daily increased, as the clerical power was augmented, In the year 886, they obtained the act exempting them from taxes, and all civil prosecutions before temporal judges, and ordaining that all matters concerning them should be tried by their bishops, who were at this time vested with those powers, which are now in the hands of commissaries, respecting matrimonial causes, testaments, &c. They were likewise by the same statute impowered to make canons, try heretics, &c. and all future kings were ordained to take an oath at their coronation, for maintaining these privileges to the church. The convention of estates which passed this act was held at Forfar, in the reign of that too indulgent prince, Gregory.

Malcolm III. Alexander, David, &c. successively supported this dignity by erecting particular bishopricks, abbeys, and monasteries; the same superstitious zeal seized the nobility of both sexes, some giving a third, others more, and others their whole estates, for the support of pontifical pride and spiritual tyranny, which soon became insupportable, and opened the eyes of the nation, so that they discovered their mistake in raising the clerical authority to such a height. Accordingly, we find the nobles complaining of it to Alexander III. who reigned after the middle of the thirteenth century, but he was so far from being able to afford them redress, that when they were excommunicated by the church on account of this complaint, to prevent greater evils, he was obliged to cause the nobility satisfy both the avarice and arrogance of the clergy, who had now resolved upon and begun a journey to Rome, with a view to raise as great commotions in Scotland, as Thomas Becket had lately made in England.

The Pope's power was now generally acknowledged over Christendom, particularly in our nation, for which, in return, the church of Scotland was declared free from all foreign spiritual jurisdiction, that of the |Apostolic fee only excepted.| This bull was occasioned by an attempt of one Roger bishop of York, in the year 1159, to raise himself to the dignity of Metropolitan of Scotland, and who found means to be Legate of this kingdom, but lost that office upon the remonstrance of the Scottish clergy: which likewise procured the above bull in their favours, with many other favours of a like nature at this time conferred upon them, by all which they were exempted from any other jurisdiction than that of Rome, in so much that we find pope Boniface VIII. commanding Edward of England to cease hostilities against the Scots, alledging that |the sovereignty of Scotland belonged to the church;| which claim seems to have been founded in the papal appointment for the unction of the Scots kings, which was first used on king Edgar, A. D.1098. and at that time regarded by the people as a new mark of royalty, but which, as it was the appointment of the Pope, was really the mark of the beast.

There were now in Scotland all orders of Monks and Friars, Templars, or Red Monks, Trinity Monks of Aberdeen, Cisternian Monks, Carmelite, Black and Grey Friars, Carthusians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jacobites, Benedictines, &c. which shows to what a height Antichrist had raised his head in our land, and how readily all his oppressive measures were complied with by all ranks.

But the reader must not think that during the period we have now reviewed, there were none to oppose this torrent of superstition and idolatry; for from the first appearance of the Romish Antichrist in this kingdom, God wanted not witnesses for the truth, who boldly stood forth for the defence of the blessed and pure gospel of Christ: Mention is first made of Clemens and Samson, two famous Culdees, who in the seventh century supported the authority of Christ as the only king and head of his church, against the usurped power of Rome, and who rejected the superstitious rites of Antichrist, as contrary to the simplicity of gospel institutions. The succeeding age was no less remarkable for learned and pious men, to whom Scotland gave birth, and whole praise was in the churches abroad; particularly Joannes Scotus, who wrote a book upon the Eucharist, condemned by Leo IX. in the year 1030, long after his death. In the ninth century, a convention of estates was held at Scoon for the reformation of the clergy, their lives and conversations being at that time a reproach to common decency and good manners; not to say, piety and religion. The remedies provided at this convention, discover the nature of the disease. It was ordained, that church-men should reside upon their charge; that they should not intermeddle with secular affairs, but instruct the people, and be good examples in their conversations; that they should not keep hawks, hounds, nor horses for their pleasure, &c. And if they failed in the observance of these injunctions, they were to be fined for the first, and deposed for the second transgression. These laws were made under King Constantine II. but his successor Gregory rendered them abortive by his indulgence. The age following this, is not remarkable for witnesses to the truth, but historians are agreed, that there were still some of the Culdees who lived and ministred apart from the Romanists and taught the people that Christ was the only propitiation for sin, and that his blood could only wash them from the guilt of it, in opposition to the indulgences and pardons of the Pope. Mr. Alexander Shields says, that the Culdees transmitted their testimony to the Lollards and Pope John XXII. in his bull for anointing King Robert Bruce, complains that there were many heretics in Scotland; so that we may safely affirm there never was any very great period of time without witnesses for the truth and against the gross corruptions of the church of Rome. Some of our kings themselves opposed the Pope's supremacy, and prohibited his Legates from entering their dominions; the most remarkable instance of this kind is that of Robert Bruce. After his having defeated the English at Bannock-burn, they became suppliants to the Pope for his mediation, who accordingly sent a Legate into Scotland, proposing a cessation of arms, till the Pope should hear and decide the quarrel betwixt the two crowns, that he might be informed of the right which Edward had to the crown of Scotland; to this king Robert replied, |that the Pope could not be ignorant of that business, because it had been often explained to his predecessors, in the hearing of many cardinals then alive, who could tell him if they pleased, what insolent answers pope Boniface received from the English, while they were desired to desist from oppressing the Scots: And now (said he) when it hath pleased God to give us the better by some victories, by which we have not only recovered our own, but can make them live as good neighboors, they have recourse to such treaties, seeking to gain time in order to fall upon us again with greater force: But in this his holiness must excuse me, for I will not be so unwise as to let the advantage I have slip out of my hand.| The Legate regarding this answer as contemptuous, interdicted the kingdom and departed; but K. Robert paying little regard to such proceedings, followed hard after the Legate, and entering England, wasted all the adjacent countries with fire and sword.

In the beginning of the fifteenth century, the reformation from Popery began to dawn in Scotland; at this time there was pope against pope, nay sometimes three of them at once, all excommunicating one another; which schism lasted for about thirty years, and by an over-ruling providence contributed much to the downfal of Antichrist, and to the revival of real religion and learning in Scotland, and many parts in Europe; for many embracing the opportunity now afforded to them, began to speak openly against the heresy, tyranny, and immorality of the clergy. Among those who preached publicly against these evils were John Huss, and Jerome of Prague in Bohemia, John Wickliff in England, and John Resby, an Englishman and scholar of Wickliff's in Scotland, who came hither about the year 1407, and was called in question for some doctrines which he taught against the Pope's supremacy; he was condemned to the fire, which he endured with great constancy. About ten years after, one Paul Craw a Bohemian and follower of Huss, was accused of heresy before such as were then called Doctors of theology. The articles of charge were, that he followed Huss and Wickliff in the opinion of the sacrament of the supper, who denied that the substance of bread and wine were changed by virtue of any words, or that auricular confession to priests, or praying to saints departed were lawful. He was committed to the secular judge, who condemned him to the fire at St. Andrews, where he suffered, being gagged when led to the stake, that he might not have the opportunity of making his confession. -- -- Both the above-mentioned martyrs suffered under Henry Wardlaw bishop of St. Andrews, who founded that university, 1412; which might have done him honour, had he not imbrued his hands in innocent blood.

These returnings of the gospel light were not confined to St. Andrews, but Kyle, Carrick, Cunningham, and other places in the west of Scotland were also thus favoured about the same time; for we find that Robert Blackatter, the first arch-bishop of Glasgow, anno 1494, caused summon before King James IV, and his great council at Glasgow, George Campbel of Ceffnock, Adam Reid of Barskimming, and a great many others, mostly persons of distinction, opprobriously called the Lollards of Kyle, from one Lollard an eminent preacher among the antient Waldenses, for maintaining that images ought not to be worshipped; that the relicts of saints should not be adored, &c. But they answered their accusers with such constancy and boldness, that it was judged most prudent to dismiss them with an admonition, to content themselves with the faith of the church, and to beware of new doctrines.

Thus have we brought this summary of church-affairs in Scotland, down to the time of Mr. Patrick Hamilton, whose life stands upon the head of this collection: for he was the next sufferer on account of opposition to Romish tyranny and superstition in our country.

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