The church and the highlands

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the church and norman davie

In my last contribution to this Review, I promised to treat of the relations between the Church of Scotland and David I. The subject is surrounded

-with not a few difficulties, and can only be ap­proached "per ignes suppositos cinei'i doloso"—a result which is due, not so much to the obscurity which surrounds the subject, considerable though that may be, as to the partisan manner in which it is wont to be canvassed. In the following observations I shall endeavour to be impartial. Whether my efforts in that direction will be crowned with success, I must leave it to my critics and readers to decide. For my own part, I am not particularly concerned whether I succeed or fail. My experience is, that the man who begins by being impartial, ends by pleasing no one. And perhaps, after all, this is the happiest consumma­tion to arrive at.

It seems to me that those who go about to prove that David I. assimilated the constitution of the Scottish Church to that of Rome have been grievously mistaken in their man. Not long ago it was the English Saint Margaret who, with the assistance of her husband, was supposed to have accomplished that reform. That position, however, being proved plainly untenable, the advocates and spokesmen of the Protestant persuasion in Scot­land have since endeavoured to entrench them­selves behind King Davie. Now, apart altogether from a certain loss of prestige which a retreat of this kind is apt to create, the manoeuvre here spoken of is, I contend, very bad tactics, being calculated to result, if in not a positive sauve qui peut on the part of those who partake in it, at all events but a repetition of their former uncere­monious retreat. In other and more homely words, the idea of making King David the first 41 Romaniser" in Scotland is untenable, and bodes ill as well for those who are foolish enough to believe in it as for those by whose counsels it was embraced. If the Protestants, as, judging by the uncertainty of their conduct, and the vacillation of their standpoint, would really seem to be the case, are at a loss for a peg on which to expose their arguments, why, in the name of all that is sensible, have they not bethought them of King Nectan? This King of the Picts certainly expelled vast numbers of Columban clergy from his dominions, in obedience, theine is evert/ reason to believe, to the express commands of Rome. The erection of King Nectan into a species of indirect Protestant hero, though, it is true, a trifle belated, might yet serve them a good turn. Another point in King Nectan's favour, from the Protestant point of view, is that he seems to have entertained some scruples about attending Mass—at least, so I was recently gravely informed in a Protestant book—and though at first sight it may seem difficult to reconcile his pusillani­mous conduct in connexion with Rome with his alleged distaste for the Mass, yet, undoubtedly, the opportunity here presented of having a fling at the Universal Church, via the person of King Nectan, is far too good for the average Protestant to neglect r more especially as, whatever may have been the case in former and less enlightened times, such opportunities are nowadays exceedingly scarce.

Certainly King Nectan is the first king we read of in Scottish history as " reforming" the Church, or, as we may better express it, as correcting the abuses therein, so far as his sovereign authority applied, and sufficed, for that laudable purpose. He certainly expelled from his dominions great numbers of Columban monks, whose irregular fives and lax " orders" constituted one of the most grievous scandals of the times. The establishment in their stead of " Romish monks " is an historical fiction which does not yet appear on the scene, though later we shall find it figuring to much apparent effect in many a Protestant tome. King Nectan, however, was certainly the first ruler of Scotland, so far as we know at present, who laid his royal axe to the tree of " Popish superstition and idolatry," if by that expression we are to understand, as history and common-sense tell us we must understand, simply the purging of the Church from certain scandals and abuses, which left absolutely untouched and unimpaired the ritual and faith of the Church, which in the time of King Nectan was as " Romish " in essence and spirit as it now is.

The mantle of King Nectan, after various vicis­situdes, which I need not recapitulate here, de­scended at last on the shoulders of King David. We have already seen in what manner that sovereign laid the foundations of the future feudal kingdom of Scotland. It is now proper for us to inquire in what spirit and by what means he undertook to play the part of reformer touching the Church.

The discussion of this question may be con­veniently discharged under two heads, the first being the condition of the Church when David came to the throne. The second is, how far the constitution of the Church was affected by the King's partiality, if not positive bias, in favour of the feudal system.

Every one knows that when David mounted the throne of Scotland, he found the Church a monastic institution. The tribal system of government still obtained; and its ecclesiastical counterpart was at the root of the Church's organisation. Ever since the introduction of Christianity into Scotland this form of Church government had obtained. It is sufficiently established that David was the first monarch to found ecclesiastical Sees, and to break down the monastic in favour of the parochial system.

The monastic system of ecclesiastical organisa­tion was, in theory at all events, admirably adapted to the exigencies of the Celtic polity. It completely dovetailed, as it were, into the political system by. which the country was governed; and being that system under which the unspeakable blessings of Christianity were first made known to us, we have every reason to regard it with affection, and to venerate its memory. It was not, however, in any sense a peculiarly Celtic product, though, doubtless, some of its later features owed their existence to native inspiration. To regard it, therefore, as some seem disposed to regard it, as an integral part of militant Celticism, if I may so put it, seems to me a grievous mistake. The -constitution of the primitive Church necessarily partook of the character of that system of ec­clesiastical organisation which was acknowledged elsewhere, at the time that Christianity was in­troduced. People seem to forget that Christianity was not indigenous to these Isles; but was brought here from abroad—from, pace our Protes­tant friends, Rome itself. Consequently, this being so—Christianity not being a native product, as it were—we should, under these circumstances, naturally expect to find the constitution of the native Church in harmony with some plan which was recognised elsewhere; which is, indeed, exactly what we do find. Thus, the monastic Church of Ireland and Scotland, Celtic though it was in some of its unessential details, was, nevertheless, in absolute conformity with models inspired and sanctioned by Rome. How it could be otherwise, the writer, for his part, is unable to see. The Church was certainly introduced from Rome. Rome established it. Rome inspired its founders and authorised, as it blessed, their labours. And in good time and in due season, when the primi­tive organisation of the Church had outgrown, if not outworn, its original usefulness, and failed to respond to the requirements of the times, Rome again stepped in, and changed its organisation.

I do not pretend to say but that the monastic system had obvious advantages, and that its genius was distinctly agreeable to the Celtic polity. But the fact is, that the political growth of the Celtic people failed to keep pace with that of the Church. The consequence was that, after a time, abuses began to appear. The monasteries fell into the hands of lay coarbs, who cared nothing for religion, and were only concerned with the power and the profit which their office might bring. The inevit­able tendency of Celtic institutions in the direction of heredity here operated in a manner which was singularly disastrous to all concerned. The monas­teries fell from their former high estate; and as a consequence the clergy shared in the general deterioration. The most frightful scandals and abuses prevailed; and even those monasteries which preserved their usefulness and character for religion began to tremble for their existence, by reason of the rapaciousness and lawlessness with which they were surrounded. "Whoever shall come against it," cried St. Columba in a spirit of prophecy, on parting from St. Drostan at Deer, "let him not be many-yeared, victorious." And

328 The Church and Norman Davie I

the Gaelic entries in that remarkable compilation] known as the Book of Deer bear ample testimony to] the fears under which the successors of St. Drostam laboured. The struggles of the Celtic peopll against a numerous host of implacable enemies,! joined to their deplorable feuds among themselves,] necessarily retarded their political growth, and] accustomed them to sights and scenes to which, in] happier times, and under different conditions, they] were fortunately strangers.

Such, briefly, was the condition of the Church of Scotland when David came to the throne. Th| monastic organisation had broken down in several] important directions, not on account of its own] inherent weakness, but by reason of the failure of] the political system under the host of difficulties by which it was confronted to cope with the exigencies] of the existing situation. The monastic system of Church government was, under the Celtic polity^ far too intimately connected with the political] system to withstand the shock, when that system] was assailed, and began to decay. Had it not been] for the breakdown of the latter, it is possible that] the monastic system might still be the system ofj ecclesiastical organisation favoured and observed by the Church to this very day. The monastic] system is not an antiquated, discredited system, as! one might suppose from the observations of many] Protestant writers, who have written on the subject] of the Celtic Church. On the contrary,-it is very] much alive in the world of religion at the present! moment; and its power for good is probably as great as ever it was. The Jesuits, than whom] there are no more pious, zealous and successful J propagators of religion, live under a modified j system of monastic government; and it would be

The Church and Norman Davie 329

easy to show the immense advantages which, in a country like Scotland, the monastic system pos­sesses over the parochial, though it is not the intention of the writer here to treat of that topic. 'But, as I have said, the Celtic Church failed by reason of the inability of the body politic to sur-i mount the difficulties which confronted it. What 'might have happened had the monarch who intro­duced the change been a second Nectan or a 'Caennmor, instead of the first David, it is im­possible, of course, to say. But since it was neither David's wish nor design to reform the system of government which he found in being when he came to the throne, but to supplant it I by another, the monastic system of ecclesiastical [organisation was bound to depart along with the political regime with which it was so closely and intimately connected.

The importance of the changes made by David have, it appears to me, been vastly exaggerated, , so far as the personnel of the Church was concerned. [Protestant writers have wished to make it appear that the alterations effected by David and his successors involved the destruction of the native Celtic Church, which until recently, taking ad­vantage of the popular ignorance on the subject, they were somehow apt to claim as their own. It cannot, apparently, be too often insisted on, ' especially in view of the vitality which characterises [this error, that the Celtic Church was but a branch of the Catholic Church of the day; and that in Scotland, as in Spain, or France, or Italy, its supreme act of worship consisted in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The points on which it differed from the Churches of those countries— such as the celebration of Easter, the shape of

the tonsure, etc.—were points of discipline, and were in nowise connected with acts of faith, or articles of dogma, which then, as now, were the same in the Catholic or Universal Church all the world over. The change effected by David was merely a change of external organisation. No sovereign on earth could possibly have achieved more, if he wished to remain within the pale of the Church. Surely no one can pretend that the political changes effected by David altered the racial character of the Celtic people, however much they may have been prejudicial to their just aspirations? Similarly with the Church: David's reforms did not destroy the Celtic Church by changing its organisation from a monastic to a parochial one. Neither did his patronage, if I may so express myself, of Norman and other foreign ecclesiastics affect the personnel of the Celtic clergy. The suppression of the Culdees1 was the inevitable consequence of the change in Church organisation; and was further precipitated by their own lax conduct. The vast majority of the clergy remained, however, absolutely unaffected by the sovereign's reforms. To read some Pro­testant authors, one might imagine that David flooded the land with Norman and English ec-
1 Much needless sympathy has been expended, perhaps for not very creditable reasons, on the Culdees, who at one time were supposed to have been a sort of confraternity of embryo John Knoxes. Historical science, thanks largely to the labours of the late Dr. Beeves, now knows that they were at first anchorites, who later crystallised into small congregations, when they much degenerated from their pristine usefulness, and their original strict practice of virtue. Por an interesting account of these Culdees, the curious reader is referred to an article by the late Bishop MacDonald in the Scottish Beview, now, unfortun­ately, defunct.

clesiasties, who, consequently, monopolised all the important offices in the Church, which at once lost its Celtic character, and ceased to be national, by reason of David's innovations. David, no doubt, did introduce a number of foreign churchmen into Scotland—he was particularly prodigal in that re­spect in regard to the Sees which he founded— but his partiality for Normans and English, however reprehensible it may strike us, was scarcely to be exercised at the expense of common-sense, with which, according to his admirers, this prince was so liberally endowed. The same considerations which forced extreme caution and moderation on David with regard to the introduction of the feudal system, inspired and controlled his conduct with respect to the Church. His people were mainly a Gaelic-speaking people, excessively jeal­ous and suspicious of anything having the appear­ance of novelty, or suggesting foreign interference. Consequently, whatever his private desires and sentiments may have been, he was obliged, by force of circumstances, to proceed with much circumspection, and but slowly. Moreover, he was an extremely religious man, and would assuredly have shrunk from putting his people to the inexpressible spiritual inconvenience of appointing them pastors who knew not a word of their lan­guage, even if the Gaelic population had sanctioned so monstrous a proceeding, which, of course, they would never have done. The introduction of David's own chosen ecclesiastics into the Church of Scotland was, therefore, like his political reforms, but partial; and was probably intended to facilitate the passage of the innovations which he made. He could not have done more had he wished it, his situation as sovereign over a mixed population

332 The Church and Norman Davie

being what, undoubtedly, it was. At any moment the King, whether he liked it or not, might have been obliged to throw himself on the exclusive support and protection of his Gaelic subjects, whose consent to the political measures which he introduced with so much address, with so great an appearance of moderation, and in such specious disguises, he found it so difficult to obtain; and whose resentment and indignation, once thoroughly roused, might have involved himself and his house in irretrievable ruin. The keynote as regards David's policy in Church and State was moderation —or rather caution necessitated by the exigencies of his situation. As Celts, we may well deplore the concatenation of circumstances that called hnri to the throne, seeing that his policy resulted in the introduction of the thin end of that wedge which was ultimately to cleave Scotland in twain. But his relations with the Church are on a totally different footing, and for reasons which are suffi­ciently apparent. With the system of government which he found in Scotland when he mounted the throne, David was more or less free to do as he pleased. It was of native growth ; and if it did not find favour in his eyes, we can but deplore or rejoice in the circumstance, just as our respective judgments, or it may be our passions, incline us. But the Celtic Church was not indigenous to the soil. Christianity was introduced amongst us] when the political machinery was already in being. The Celtic Church, so far as its organisa­tion was concerned, was not a native Church; and when the time came, Rome, its author and ruler, changed it, just as Rome may change it again, should circumstances seem to necessitate that measure. But, whether altered or not, the


Seumas a Ghlinne

Clatholic Church of Scotland will remain substanti­ally the same. She is still largely Celtic.1 She is the true heir of line of the Churches founded by St. Patrick and St. Columba. Look around you, and say if modern political Scotland is the proper representative and true heir of line of the Scotland for which our Gaelic ancestors fought and bled.

H. M.


An aithne dhuibh an Apuinn? Ciod an Apuinn 'tha thu ciallachadh : an i Apuinn-a-Mhèinearaich, no Apuinn-Mhic-Iain-Stiubhart ? Gun teagamh, 's i Apuinn-Mhic-Iain-Stiubhart tha'm bheachd ! Matà, 's ann dhomhsa's aithne. Nach ann a rugadh mi, 'thogadh mi agus a chaidh m'àrach. Cha'n 'eil ceum eadar Clach-Tholl, agus an t-Innean air nach 'eil mi glè eòlach. Rachinn, 's mo shùilean dùinte suas Achadh-nan-Conn ann a Gleanna-Comhan nunn •thar Gleann-lic-na-Muidhe, sios Gleann-Creran ra­thad Choire-Mhinn; dh'fhagainnMàm-Mucaidh agus Màm a Staing, agus Sallachail air mo lamh-dheas. Chuminn air mo cheum eadar an Eileirig agus Gleann-Iubhair, gus a faighinn aoidheachd ann a Fas-na-Cloiche. Bheirinn sùil, 's an dol seachad air a Mheinn, agus air Glasdrum mo shinnsearachd. Tha Tarra-Phocain agus Druim-a-Mhuich air taobh thall na h-aimhne, ach fàgaidh sinn a sìd iad. Eachinn ceum thar an rathaid aig Creag-Chuir-railean, suas ri aodan a bhruthaich, agus chuirinn a

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