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Significant Scots
Peter Bissat


BISSAT, or BISSART, PETER, professor of the Canon Law in the University of Bononis, was born in Fife in the reign of James V., being a descendant of Thomas Bissat, who was Earl of Fife in the reign of David II. He received instructions in grammar, philosophy, and the laws, at the University of St Andrews, and afterwards perfected his education at that of Paris. Having then traveled into Italy, he was honoured by the University of Bononis with the degree of Doctor of Laws, and shortly after became professor of the Canon Law in that seminary, in which situation he continued for several years, "with great applause."

Bissat appears to have been a man of general accomplishment – a poet, an orator, and a philosopher; but his forte lay in the Canon Law. His various writings were published at Venice in 1565, in quarto, under the title, "Patricii Bissarti Opera Omnia, viz., Poemata, Orationes, Lectiones Feriales, et Liber de Irregularitate." The last of these compositions was a commentary on that part of the Canon Law which gives the reasons assigned by the Church of Rome for excluding certain laymen from the clergy.

[Of these, as detailed by Bissat, an abstract may be interesting to the British reader, now happily so little familiar with the systems of the Catholic Church. The primitive Christians, in admitting the clergy, observed exactly the rules laid down by St Paul in the first epistle to Timothy. Yet sometimes, as we learn from St Cyprian, at the pressing instance of the people, persons of noted merit, who refused through humility, were compelled to enter. By the canons, however, a man required to be a deacon before he could be a priest, and a priest before he could be a bishop. It was a general principle of the church, that the clergy should be chosen from the most holy of the laity, and, therefore, all liable to any reproach in their lives and conversations, were excluded. Agreeably to this principle, which agreed with the injunction of St. Paul, that they should be blameless and without reproach, the first council of Nice excluded all those, specifically, who, after baptism, had been guilty of any sort of crime, such as heresy, homicide, or adultery; nor was penance any palliative, seeing that the memory of the offence always remained; while it was to be expected that those whose lives were without stain should be preferred to those who had fallen. Thus all persons who had performed penance were excluded. Those also were deemed irregular, and not entitled to admittance, who had killed any person, by accident or in self-defence, or who had borne arms even in a just war; who had twice married or married a widow; or who engaged much in worldly affairs; all of which circumstances were held as derogating in some degree from the necessary purity of the individual. The only other moral disqualification was ignorance: the physical disqualifications were almost equally numerous. All deaf, dumb, or blind persons were excluded, as unable to perform their functions in a proper manner. All persons who were lame, or had any deformity calculated to create an aversion in the people, were declared unfit for orders. Madness and self-mutilation were disqualifications. All persons born out of wedlock were excluded, because, however innocent the individual in his own person, the associations which the sight of them was calculated to awaken, were not favourable to virtue. Slaves, servants, children, and monastic clergy without the consent of the superiors, were excluded.] 

Bissat died in the latter part of the year 1568.


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