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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter I.—The Hamilton Period, a. d. 1515—1543.
Section 1. Commencement of the Reformation


The year 1525 marks the commencement of the Scottish Reformation. The writings of Luther and his followers had then begun to find their way into the country, and were exciting discussion among the educated part of the community, on the errors and abuses of the Church. The Bishops were already in a state of alarm, and procured the passing of an Act in the Parliament which met in Edinburgh, in July of that year, by which it was ordained "That no manner of persons, strangers, that happen to arrive with the ships within any part of this realm, shall bring with them any books or works of Luther or his disciples, or shall dispute or rehearse his heresies or opinions, unless it be to the confusion thereof, under the pain of escheating their ships and goods and putting of their persons in prison. And that this Act be published and proclaimed throughout this realm, at all ports and burghs of the same ; so that they may allege no ignorance thereof."

The preamble of the Act boasted that the realm of ^Scotland and its lieges had "firmly persisted in the holy faith since the same was first received, by them, and had never as yet admitted any opinions contrary to the Christian faith, but had ever been clean of all such filth and vice." But the bishops should have remembered that for ages the early Church of Scotland had carefully distinguished between the Christian faith, and what they termed the holy faith of Rome ; and that in the preceding century, the Lollards of Kyle, and Fife, and Perth, had loudly protested against the corruptions of primitive truth and order which Tiad been introduced by the Church of the Popes. Could the Archbishop of Glasgow be ignorant that in days so recent as those of James IV., numerous descendants of the Lollards of Kyle had been arraigned for heresy before the tribunal of that See, and were only saved from the extreme censures of the Church by the interposition of the King 1 Were the Bishops not aware that Lollardism and Lutheranism were very much alike. At all events they were doomed to see the nation become very much ashamed of that immaculate faith of which they boasted in its name; and sink deep in the mire of that heretical pravity of which they spoke with such arrogant contempt.

Foremost among the Anti-Lutheran Bishops was old Gavin bar, of Aberdeen; "and foremost among the Lutheranizing communities of the kingdom, was his own ancient cathedral city. Not a month had elapsed from the passing of the above Act, when he obtained from the boy-king, James V. and his Council, a warrant to the Sheriffs of the city and county of Aberdeen, setting forth "that sundry strangers and others within that diocese were possessed of Luther's books, and favoured his errors and false opinions"—and charging them straitly to make immediate inquisition after such persons, and "to confiscate their goods to the King's use and profit." The Bishop thus signalized his diocese as the first in the kingdom where the Reformation struck its roots. A quarter ot a century before, his predecessor, Bishop Elphinston, had made Aberdeen the chief seat of classical learning in the country by founding King's College, and introducing into it the study of Roman literature under the Presidency of Hector Boyce, the fellow-student and correspondent of Erasmus. And already the young institution had begun to bear fruit. Admiration of Erasmus led the way at Aberdeen, as it did in all the universities of Europe, to admiration of Luther. Boyce felt keenly, and spoke strongly, of the need of Church-reform; and it was no wonder that many of his scholars became professed Reformers. He could have little sympathy with the persecuting zeal of Elphinston's successor. No Lutheran preacher could have expressed himself more warmly regarding the corrupt and disordered state of the Scottish Church than he was doing at that very time, in his History of Scotland—a work which he published in the following year, 1526. "How different," says he, "is the state of matters at the present day, from what it was in the days of James I.—that Maecenas of Scottish letters! No eloquence can paint it in sufficiently vivid colours, nor deplore it in terms of adequate force. Instead of the best and the most learned men being sought out to fill the highest offices of the Church, the most indolent and the most wicked of mankind have been allowed by degrees to get possession of them—seizing them with ambitious hands, and preying voraciously upon a people who are half-devoured by their extortions. They leave nothing for men of merit to enjoy. Nay, with all their might they oppose the interests of learning, lest, if the nation should once begin to desire a better state of things, they should be compelled to abandon their vices, and to let the spoil which they have clutched escape out of their hands. These evils call for Reform. Let those whose duty it is to see them remedied look to it. A feeling of just indignation, and a becoming commiseration for the condition of my native church, have compelled me to call their attention to this duty. It was no marvel that Luther found sympathising readers at Aberdeen, when such sentiments as these came from the Principal's chair of King's College.

Nor did Aberdeen stand alone in this early zeal for a Reformation. The seaports of Montrose, Dundee, Perth, St. Andrews, and Leith, were all more or less infected with the same spirit. The Scottish traders and "skippers" were in truth the earliest pioneers of the Reformation. In their annual voyages to the ports of Flanders, the Netherlands, and Lower Germany, they found Lutheran books and ideas everywhere in circulation; and they imported them with their merchandise into their own country. Nor was it only the exciting tracts of Wittemberg which they found exposed to sale in those crowded marts; William Tyndale had markets for his English Testaments in Antwerp, in Middleburg, and in Hamburg, where they were eagerly bought up by British traders, and secretly conveyed into England and Scotland. Halket, an agent employed by Cardinal Wolsey to put a stop to the English importation of the dangerous book, informed his master, in a letter still extant, that many copies of it had been bought up by Scottish merchants, and were conveyed into Leith and Edinburgh, and most of all into St. Andrews.

Yes! St. Andrews itself, the seat of the primacy—the ecclesiastical and literary capital of the kingdom—was beginning to Lutheranize. How little did the primate, James Beaton, busy with political faction and intrigue, suspect such a danger ! And how little did the dissolute Prior of St. Andrews, Patrick Hepburn, busy with guilty intrigues of another kind, suspect it! To all outward appearance, the ancient city of St. Andrew was in the very zenith of its glory. Never before had it been so magnificent in architecture, nor its streets so thronged with churchmen and academics. The College of St. Leonard's had just been added to the cluster of its schools. The Monastery of the Blackfriars had been recently rebuilt with great splendour; and some architectural works at the Priory, designed and partially executed by John Hepburn the last prior, had been finished in a style of great magnificence by Patrick, his successor. The halls of the University were crowded with students, attracted by the fame of John Major—a doctor of the Sorbonne, and one of the chief scholastic professors of the age. The Archbishop's courts were filled with suitors, and his exchequer enriched, by the sale of privileges and dispensations, with an ever-flowing stream of gold. The Vatican of Scotland appeared to have reached its highest and palmiest estate. And yet the axe was even now laid to the root of the tree; already the little cloud was seen in the horizon, no bigger than a man's hand, which was ere long to cover the whole firmament of the church with deadly storm. Luther and Tyndale were at the Primate's Castle-gate, and they were more than a match for all the power and policy of the Beatons, and the Hepburns, and the Dunbars of the Episcopate. The word of God was already in men's hands ; and the Spirit of God was beginning to move in men's hearts ; and these were soon to show themselves mighty to the pulling down of the strongholds of error and superstition.

The Reformation of the Church of Scotland had begun.


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