IV. THE CONGREGATION OF JESUS CHRIST: 1557–60

His appeals to the Scots to throw off the yoke of Rome had combined with the preaching of other reformers, the influx of Protestants from England, the infiltration of Bibles and pamphlets from England and the Continent, the land-hunger of Scottish nobles, and their irritating displacement by powdered Frenchmen at the court, to raise the temperature of revolt to the bursting point. The populace of Edinburgh, firmly Catholic in 1543, bore most directly and resentfully the influx of supercilious Gauls during the regency of Mary of Lorraine. Everything was done to make life miserable for the intruders. Feeling rose on both sides, and as the clergy supported the French, the spirit of nationalism took on anti-Catholic overtones. Religious processions—in which effigies of the Virgin and the saints were carried and apparently worshiped, and relics were reverently displayed and kissed—aroused increasing ridicule and doubt. In September 1557, a group of enthusiastic skeptics seized the image of St. Giles, in the “Mother Kirk” of that name in Edinburgh, doused it in a pond, and later burned it to ashes. According to Knox similar iconoclastic sallies occurred in all parts of the country.

On December 3, 1557, a “Common Band” of anticlerical nobles—Argyll, Glencairn, Morton, Lome, and Erskine—met at Edinburgh (which had become the capital in 1542), and signed the “First Scottish Covenant.” They called themselves “Lords of the Congregation of Jesus Christ,” as opposed to the “Congregation of Satan”—i.e., the Church. They pledged themselves to maintain “the most blessed Word of God,” called for a “reformation in religion and government,” and demanded from the Regent the liberty to “use ourselves -in matters of religion and conscience as we must answer to God.” They resolved to establish reformed churches throughout Scotland, and announced that the Book of Common Prayer, prescribed for England under Edward VI, was to be adopted by all their congregations. The Catholic bishops protested against this bold schism, and urged Archbishop Hamilton to suppress it. Reluctantly he ordered the burning (April 28, 1558) of Walter Milne—an aged priest who had unfrocked himself, married, and taken to preaching the Reformed faith among the poor. The people had high respect for the old man; they voiced their horror at this last burning of a Scottish Protestant for heresy, and raised a cairn of stones over the site of his death. When another preacher was summoned to trial his defenders took up arms, forced their way into the Regent’s presence, and warned her that they would allow no further persecution of religious belief. The Lords of the Congregation notified the Regent (November 1558) that unless liberty of worship were granted they would not be responsible “if it shall chance that abuses be violently reformed.” 40 In that month they sent word to Knox that they would protect him if he returned.

He took his time, but on May 2, 1559, he reached Edinburgh. On May 3 he preached at Perth the sermon that let loose the revolution. It was a sermon, he tells us, “vehement against idolatry”; it explained “what idolatry and what abomination was in the Mass,” and “what commandment God had given for the destruction of the monuments thereof.” 41 The “rascal multitude,” as he describes it, got out of hand. When a priest in a neighboring church tried to celebrate Mass a youth cried out: “This is intolerable, that when God by His Word hath plainly damned idolatry, we shall stand to see it used in despite.” The priest, in Knox’s account, “gave the child a great blow, who in anger took up a stone, and casting at the priest, did hit the tabernacle and broke down an image; and immediately the whole multitude that were about cast stones, and put hands to the said tabernacle, and to all other monuments of idolatry.”42 The crowd poured into three monasteries, pillaged them, smashed the images, but allowed the friars to carry away whatever their shoulders could bear. “Within two days these three great places... were so destroyed that the walls only did remain.”43

The Regent was between fires. Her brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, advised her to imitate Mary Tudor and cut down the leading Protestants; while in and around Perth the victorious rebels were threatening to kill any priest who dared to say Mass.44 And on May 22 the Lords of the Congregation, now backed by their armed retainers, sent her an ominous ultimatum:

To the Queen’s Grace Regent, all humble duty and obedience premised: As heretofore, with jeopardy of our lives, and yet with willing hearts, we have served the authority of Scotland and your Grace... so now with most dolorous minds we are constrained, by unjust tyranny proposed against us, to declare unto your Grace, that except this cruelty be stayed by your wisdom, we will be compelled to take the sword of just defense against all that shall pursue us for the matter of religion .... This cruel, unjust, and most tyrannical murder intended against towns and multitudes was, and is, the only cause of our revolt against our accustomed obedience, which, in God’s presence, we faithfully promise to our Sovereign Mistress [Mary Queen of Scots], to her husband, and unto your Grace Regent; provided that our consciences may live in that peace and liberty which Christ Jesus hath purchased unto us by His blood .... Your Grace’s obedient subjects in all things not repugnant to God.—The Faithful Congregation of Jesus Christ in Scotland.45

At the same time the Congregation dispatched an appeal to the nobles to support the revolt; and another public letter warned “the generation of Antichrist, the pestilent prelates and their shavelings .... that if ye proceed in this your malicious cruelty ye shall be treated, wheresoever ye shall be apprehended, as murderers and open enemies of God .... Contract of peace shall never be made until ye desist from your open idolatry and cruel persecution of God’s children.” 46

Regent Mary entered Perth with what troops she could muster. But the friends of the Congregation gathered in armed array, and Mary, perceiving that she could not overcome them, signed a truce (May 29, 1559). Knox retired to St. Andrews, and, over archiepiscopal prohibitions, preached in the parish church against idolatry (June 11–14). Moved by his fervor, his hearers removed “all monuments of idolatry” from the churches of the city, and burned these images before the eyes of the Catholic clergy.47 The archbishop fled to Perth; but the forces of the Congregation, claiming that Mary had violated the truce by using French funds to pay her Scottish troops, attacked and captured that citadel (June 25). On the twenty-eighth they sacked and burned the abbey of Scone. If we may believe the sometimes imaginative Knox, a “poor aged matron,” watching the conflagration, said: “Now I see and understand that God’s judgments are just. Since my remembrance this place hath been nothing else but a den of whoremongers. It is incredible... how many wives have been adulterated, and virgins deflowered, by the filthy beasts that have been fostered in this den, but especially by that wicked man .. . the bishop.” 48

Mary of Lorraine, now so seriously ill that she momentarily expected death, fled to Leith, and tried to delay the victorious Protestants with negotiations until aid might come from France. The Congregation outplayed her by winning support from Elizabeth of England. Knox wrote the Queen a letter assuring her that she had not been included in his trumpet blast against female sovereigns. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s first minister, advised her to help the Scottish revolution as a move toward bringing Scotland into political dependence upon England; this, he felt, was a legitimate protection against Mary Stuart, who, on becoming Queen of France (1559), had claimed also the throne of England on the ground that Elizabeth was a bastard usurper. Soon an English fleet in the Firth of Forth blocked any landing of French aid for the Regent, and an English army joined the Congregation’s forces in attacking Leith. Mary of Lorraine retired to the castle of Edinburgh, and—having kissed her retinue one by one—died (June 10, 1560). She was a good woman cast for the wrong part in an inescapable tragedy.

Her last defenders, blockaded and starving, surrendered. On July 6, 1560, the representatives of the Congregation, of Mary Stuart, France, and England, signed the Treaty of Edinburgh, whose articles were to enter deeply into the later conflict between Mary and Elizabeth. All foreign troops except 120 French were to leave Scotland; Mary Stuart and Francis II relinquished claim to the English crown; Mary was acknowledged Queen of Scotland, but she was never to make war or peace without the consent of the Estates; these were to name five of the twelve men in her privy council; no foreigner or clergyman was to hold high office; and a general amnesty was to be declared, with exceptions to be specified by the Estates. It was a humiliating peace for the absent Queen, and a remarkable and almost bloodless triumph for the Congregation.

The Parliament that met on August 1, 1560, accepted, with only eight dissenting votes, a Confession of Faith drawn up by Knox and his aides and softened in some clauses by Maitland of Lethington. As still the official creed of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, some major articles should be commemorated:

I. We confess and acknowledge one only God... in three persons.

II. We confess and acknowledge this our God to have created man (to wit, our first father Adam), of whom also God formed the woman in His own image... so that in the whole nature of man could be noted no imperfection. From which honor and perfection man and woman did both fall, the woman being deceived by the serpent, and man obeying to the voice of the woman.....

III. By which transgression, commonly called Original Sin, was the image of God utterly defiled in man; and he and his posterity of nature became enemies to God, slaves to Satan, and servants to sin; in samekill that death everlasting has had, and shall have, power and dominion over all that has not been, are not, or shall not be regenerate from above; which regeneration is wrought by the Holy Ghost, working in the hearts of the elect of God an assured faith in the promise of God... by which faith they apprehend Christ Jesus.....

VIII. That same eternal God and Father... of mere mercy elected us in Christ Jesus... before the foundation of the world....

XVI. We most earnestly believe that from the beginning there has been, now is, and to the end of the world shall be, a Church, that is to say, a company and multitude of men chosen by God, who rightly worship and embrace Him by true faith in Christ Jesus .... out of which Church there is neither life nor eternal felicity. And therefore we utterly abhor the blasphemy of those that affirm that men which live accordingly to equity and justice shall be saved, what religion soever they have professed.....

XXI.... . We acknowledge .... two chief sacraments only .... Baptism and the Supper.... Not that we imagine any transubstantiation of bread into God’s natural body .... but, by the operation of the Holy Ghost.. . we believe that the Faithful, in the right use of the Lord’s Table, so do eat the body, and drink the blood, of the Lord Jesus.....

XXIV. We confess and acknowledge empires, kingdoms, dominions, and cities to be... ordained by God.... To kings, princes, and magistrates .... chiefly and most principally the conservation and purgation of the Religion appertains; so that not only are they appointed for civil policy, but also for maintenance of the true Religion, and for suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever.... .49

Pursuant to this Confession the Scottish Reformation Parliament repudiated the jurisdiction of the pope, made the Reformed creed and ritual compulsory, and forbade celebration of the Mass on pain of corporal punishment and confiscation of goods for the first offense, exile for the second, death for the third. But as the nobles who controlled the Parliament wanted land rather than blood, and did not take the Calvinist theology literally, the persecution of those Scots who still remained Catholic was kept comparatively mild, and never came to corporal punishment. Now that the nobles were allowed to reject purgatory as a myth, they claimed to have been cheated in some part of their patrimony by ancestral donations of land or money to pay priests to say Masses for the dead, who, on the new theology, were irrevocably saved or damned before the creation of the world. So the appropriation of ecclesiastical property could be pleasantly phrased as the restoration of stolen goods. Most of the Scottish monasteries were closed, and their wealth was taken by the nobles. At first no provision was made by the government for the Calvinist ministers; these had been used as ideological aides in the revolution, but the nobles had now lost interest in theology. Knox and his fellow preachers, who had risked and sacrificed so much for the new order, had expected the property of the Church to be applied to the support of the Kirk and its clergy. They petitioned Parliament for such an arrangement; they received no reply, but were finally allotted a sixth of the spoils. Finding this inadequate, they turned against the grasping aristocracy, and began the historic alliance of Scottish Presbyterianism with democracy.

Of all the Reformations, the Scottish shed the least blood, and was the most permanent. The Catholics suffered silently; their bishops fled; mos parish priests accepted the change as no worse than episcopal exactions and visitations. Rural districts lost their wayside crosses, ancient shrines of pilgrimage were deserted, the saints no longer provided easeful holydays. Many spirits must have mourned and idealized the past, many must have waited hopefully for the coming of their young queen from France. Much had been lost that had been gay and beautiful, much that had been brutal and merciless and insincere; much was to come that would be hard and dour. But the change had to be. When the recriminations died down, and men adjusted themselves to the new order, it would be a boon that some likeness of faith joined with converging lines of royalty to end the bitter wars between Scots and Englishmen. Soon the weaker nation would give the stronger land a king, and Britain would be one.

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