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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 3, Chapter 16 - Epochs of Revival in Columban Church


We resume our brief sketch of the Columban Church during the pre-reformation ages. By the opening of the tenth century, King Constantin had established the ecclesiastical presidency, or if the reader prefer it, the "Primatial See," at St Andrews. Cellach, as we have seen was "EPOSCOP" of Alban.1 He was president, or abbot, or bishop of the Scottish Church; for it matters little by which of these titles we designate the occupant of that ecclesiastical post. He held the same rank and authority at St Andrews which Columba did at Iona, only with vastly diminished prestige and influence. The writers of an earlier day would have styled him "abbot"; but those of whose lot it fell to chronicle the events of these times were beginning to be more familiar with the lofty Roman designations than with the humble Columban appellatives, and they speak of him as "bishop." What doubtless helped to bring about this change of title was that by this time the temporal possessions of the abbacies were being usurped by laymen, who assumed along with the title of abbot, leaving the alternative title of presbyter or bishop to the ecclesiastic who performed the spiritual duties of the abbacy. Cellach stood alone as president or bishop of Alban, for as yet there was no hierarchy in the country, nor for two hundred years after. A Roman pall had not been seen north of the Tweed, although in 638 that badge of episcopal authority had been sent by Honorius I. to Paulinus of York. We are not told who consecrated the "Bishop of Alban." Certainly Cellach’s consecration did not come from Rome, for the Romans repudiated the orders of the Scottish clergy. The "Presbyters of Iona" ordained Aidan, Finan, and Colman, who were sent to evangelise in Northumbria, and who are spoken of by Bede as "bishops." May not the Presbyters or Culdees of St Andrews have consecrated Cellach? The author of the "History of the Catholic Church of Scotland" makes an important admission when he tells us that, "if the consecration was canonically performed, three bishops must have assisted at it."2 In those days when there was but on bishop in Scotland, it would not be easy to bring together three bishops in on e place, unless indeed they were such bishops as were the evangelists we have named above to whom Bede gives the title of bishop, though no hands but those of the "elders of Iona" had been laid upon their head.3 If we shall grant this, the difficulty involved in Cellach’s consecration vanishes. Neither Bede or Bellesheim can pronounce the supposition inadmissible or even improbable, for in the Church of Rome, as in the Presbyterian Church, Presbyter and Bishop are on a level, inasmuch as both are comprehended in the same "order." The Church of Rome adheres in this point to the pattern shown to her in the New Testament when she makes her highest church officer the presbyter. The Pope himself is of the "order" of presbyter. It is a remarkable fact, not often adverted to, that in the Church of Rome there are seven orders of clergy, or church-officers, and the highest of these seven orders is the presbyter. So is it in the Roman Church to this day. The presbyter had been made to develop or branch out into several grades or ranks which take precedence the one of the other, but all are comprehended in the same order, and that order is the PRESBYTER. When we think how Rome professes to reverence the primitive constitution of the Church, and claims to follow it, we are entitled to hold this admission her part as a presumption at least in favour of the presbyter as the highest church-officer in New Testament times.

In noting the glimpses obtained of the Columban Church as we pass on in our historic survey we marked, as specially significant, the recall of the Columban clergy by Kenneth Macalpin, and their re-establishment in the eastern parts of Scotland and also in the Lothians. This we must regard as a national acknowledgment that the fathers of the men whom we now see brought back had suffered wrong when King Naiton, a century before, had driven them out of his dominions. It also warrants the conclusion that the conformist clergy, who remained in Pictland when their more faithful brethren took their departure, despite the influence of the court in their favour, had made but small way in the affections of the people. Their Roman tonsure, in the eyes of their flocks, was the ignominious badge of their servitude to a foreign master, and the heart of the nation still turned to the exiles beyond Drumalban as the true sons and servants of that Church which, in the days of Columba, had led their fathers out of the darkness of Druidism. The light, they remembered, had first shone upon them, not from Rome but from Iona.

The next noteworthy event in the history of the Columban Church is the enlargement of its liberties under King Gregory. The loss of the Church’s purity has ever been accompanied by the loss of her liberty. The experience of the Columban Church under Naiton formed no exception to this rule. When the Pope shore the heads of its clergy, the King taxed their lands. The first demanded spiritual homage, the latter imposed feudal burdens, and exacted lay-services. King Grig appears to have lifted off this heavy yoke, and at the same time enlarged, doubtless, their ecclesiastical immunities and freedom of action. Thus they found escape from the "Pictish bondage" in which Naiton had been the first to shut them up, and in which his successors, following his example, had retained them. This change in their position must have greatly reinvigorated them in spirit; it would fall like a dew upon their dead bones, and we can imagine with what activity and zeal they now gave themselves to the work of restoring to Scotland the aspect it had worn in better times, but which had been sorely defaced during the degenerate days which had of late passed over the country.

If we may reason from our experience in later times, part of the "bondage" in which the Pictish rulers held the Church was the interdiction of her councils. Those whose policy it has been to cripple or to overthrow the Church have commonly begun by denying to her pastors the liberty of meeting together for the purpose of holding mutual consultation, and taking combined action. The precedent of this policy is probably as old as King Naiton’s days. If so, this restriction would come to an end with the rest of the Pictish thraldom. Accordingly, the next event which fixes our eye in this rapid survey of the fortunes of the Columban Church is the assembling in council of the clergy and laity of the Scottish Church on the Mote Hill at Scone. That this was a truly national gathering does not admit of doubt, for the highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities lent it their sanction. The King and Bishop were there.

We have already given considerable space to this Council, but it comes again before us as one of the revival epochs of the Columban Church. A "General Assembly" like this was truly a phenomenon in the tenth century. What we see on the Mote Hill is no assemblage of individual men, no gathering of clan or tribe in obedience to the summons of chief or mormaer. It is an organised body, conscious of inherent powers to meet and deliberate and act. The source whence these powers spring is the "Faith" which is the common possession of the nation. This is the constituent principle of the council: it is this which has given it being, and the object of its meeting is the re-exhibition, in some form or other, of that Faith. Lord Hailes was of opinion that the Council met to compile and emit a "Confession of Faith." There is nothing improbable in this. Only, if such a manifesto was issued, it would not be a lengthy and systematic document like those known to the age of the Reformation, but a brief, simple, and elementary compend such as were common in the days of the primitive Church. The very holding of the Council, with its three days’ discussion, was itself a national Confession of Faith. It would turn the mind of the people to the subject, and when the members returned to their homes they would publish in city and glen what had been said and done on the Mote Hill of Scone.

Betwixt King Constantin and Malcolm Canmore there is an interval of about an hundred and fifty years. The Dane on the north and the Saxon on the south kept Alban during that period full of distractions. If battle ceased at the one extremity of the kingdom, it was sure to break out at the other. The sons of the soil were drafted away to fight on distant battle-fields, and we fear that the warlike virtues rather than the Christian graces were the object of cultivation in those days. As the famous gathering on the Mote Hill receded into the distance, and the names and orations of its members became only a tradition, an ebb would set in in the spiritual impulse which it had originated, and the Christian life would decline. It does not surprise us, therefore, that the Scottish Church passes out of view till the "Big head" ascends the throne, when it comes in sight once more, and is seen standing on its defence before Queen Margaret and the theologians of Lanfranc in the palace of Dunfermline. The silence of the Romish annalists, who have sung loud peans over the perversion of the little community in Iona, justifies us in saying that no great secession to the Romish Church had taken place meanwhile, and that the great bulk of the Columban clergy continued faithful to their ancient creed. The scandal their forms of worship gave to Queen Margaret, accustomed from her youth to the imposing ceremonials of Canterbury, and the accusations she brought against them, appear to us a tribute to their fidelity and constancy.

Nor does it appear that Queen Margaret gained any great victory as the result of this conference. Bishop Turgot, it is true, tells us that the Columban pastors answered nothing, by which we understand the bishop to mean, that they answered nothing which he could recognise as an answer to Margaret’s arguments, or which he judged it prudent to record. He tells us also that from this time the eucharistic customs in Scotland were reformed, that is, in the Roman sense, but we have indubitable evidence that this was not the fact. Margaret’s success lay in another direction. She could not convert the nation, or bend the obduracy of its benighted clergy, but she could build a magnificent cathedral, and install under its superb roof the Roman worship with becoming pomp. This she did. And further, she could do much by her zeal and tact, her high character, and her profuse charities, seconded as she was by the power of a husband who was passionately devoted to her, to turn the tide of fashion, which sways in religion as in other things, and bring men over from a church which clothed her clergy in woollen garments, and celebrated her eucharist at wooden tables, to a church that dressed her priests in robes of silk, and celebrated her festivals at marble altars, with the rich accompaniments of gold and silver vessels, of smoking thurifers, and intoned litanies and chants.

Turgot informs us that in the place where Margaret’s nuptials were celebrated, that is, in Dunfermline, "she erected a noble church, which she dedicated to the Holy Trinity; and she decorated it with many ornaments, among which not a few of her gifts, which were designed for the most holy service of the altar, consisted of vases of solid and pure gold. She also introduced the crucifix into the Church, having presented one to this church richly ornamented with gold and silver, intermixed with precious stones, and similar crucifix she left to other churches as marks of her piety and devotion, of which the church of St Andrews affords an instance, where a beautiful crucifix which she there erected is still be seen." 4

The transference of the Scottish population in a body from the Columban fold to the Church of Queen Margaret could be accomplished in only one of two ways. The first was a royal edict enjoining conformity in creed and worship, and enforcing it by the sword. Malcolm Canmore was to humane and magnanimous a prince to think of anything so harsh and tyrannical. And had he attempted it he might have found the summary conversion of a people who had been long under Columban teaching, a task, more difficult even than his ancestor Kenneth MacAlpin found the subjugation of the Picts and their union with the Scots. The second way was to send preachers of the new faith over the land to persuade the people that Queen Margaret’s was the better religion, and that the Columban faith was a worn out creed, which was now abandoned by the whole of Christendom, except by themselves. But where were these preachers to be found? If they wish to make any conversions they must discourse in Gaelic, for the Scots of that day understood no other tongue. To preach in Gaelic was precisely what the missionaries at Margaret’s service could not do. King Malcolm could not act as interpreter to a whole nation, although his zeal to second his Queen’s wishes for the conversion of the Scots made him willingly undertake this office at the conference in his own palace. Queen Margaret, therefore, was obliged to be content with having inaugurated her project of converting Scotland, leaving it to the slow but sure working of time, to the seductions and blandishments of the Court, to the powerful attractions of a sensuous worship, and to the example and influence of her Saxon followers, which were crowding every day in greater numbers into the country, to complete the change which she had begun, and the issue of which would be to add the land of Columba to the long roll of kingdoms which were already subject to the Papal sceptre.

What a happiness for Margaret to think that she should be the instrument chosen for accomplishing so great a work! What an honour to be the saviour of the country in which she had first set foot as a stranger, and to have her name linked in all time to come with one of the more brilliant triumphs of the faith, and one of the greatest victories of the Church! For such would be the suppression of the great Columban uprising to be accounted at Rome. This were object worthy of the holiest ambition: this were crown meet for the brow of the greatest saint—a crown of such surpassing brightness that, compared with it the crown of Scotland, in Margaret’s estimation was but a worthless bauble.


FOOTNOTES

1"There are two lists of the Bishops of St Andrews given to us," says Dr Skene, "one by Bower, who was Abbot of Inchcolm, and the other by Wyntoun, who was Primate of Lochleven. These lists agree, and in both Cellach is given as first Bishop of St Andrews."—Celtic Scotland, ii. 324; Scotichronicon, B. vi. c. 24; Wyntoun, Chron., B. vi. c. 9. In the Legend of St Andrew, it is said of the Bishops of St Andrews—"Sic et nunc quoque in vulgari et commune locutione Ecop Alkban, id est, Episcopi Albaniae appellantur."—Chron. Picts and Scots, p. 191.

2 Bellesheim, History of Catholic Church of Scotland, i. 102.

3Bede, Hist. Eccles., lib. iii. c. 22.

4Vita S. Margaretoe, cap. iv.