On This Day

Each month we remember key figures from the past whose stories have contributed to the life of the church in Scotland and continue to provide encouragement and inspiration to us today.

This month we remember, among others, an African-American who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a German born composer and a 19th century Highland minister.

4 April: Ambrose

Ambrose was born of Roman diplomatic parents circa 339, is known as one of the four traditional ‘doctors’ (authoritative teachers) of the Latin Church, not just for his writings but for the stand he took against intemperate and cruel actions of state, such as the persecution of heretics and the massacre of civilians. However his writings fearlessly condemned philosophies which ran counter to Christianity, such as Arianism, still followed within the church mainstream (Ambrose’s predecessor as Bishop of Milan held Arian views – the belief that Christ was not equal with God but a subsequent creation by God, leading to the Council of Nicaea 325). It was not until he was to become a bishop that this lawyer and administrator was baptised. Some know him as ‘the Father of Church Song’ for his many hymns, such as O Trinity, O blessed Light (Church Hymnary: Third Edition 56). He died in 397.

7 April: Robert Raikes

Robert Raikes was born in Gloucester in 1735, where he in time inherited from his father the ownership of the local newspaper. Through its pages he campaigned for many good causes. One of his concerns was the miserable condition and woeful ignorance of many children in an emerging industrial society. It led him to start the first Sunday school in 1780 - an idea which spread widely and began seriously in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow by 1786, advocated by such journals as The Scots Magazine. Raikes’ schools did not confine themselves to religious knowledge but included more general subjects. There was great opposition from conservatives who feared the results of educating ordinary people and who believed that Sundays should be given over entirely to worship. He died in 1811.

9 April: William Law

William Law was born in 1686, and led a life of which, although upright, the details are easily forgotten. However, according to some, his A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life is second only to Pilgrim’s Progress in the post-reformation spiritual classics stakes. Some regard his style as vigorous and readable, his advice simple but convincing. In his hands, the virtues of temperance, humility and self-denial, together with meditation and asceticism, became appealing. John and Charles Wesley were among those who were influenced by his writing. Less convincing to many was his eloquent appeal against theatrics, his "absolute unlawfulness" of the Stage Entertainment of 1726. He died in 1761.

Also on this day: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who has been described by some asa brilliant and influential German Protestant theologian whose writings and whose life appealed equally to scholars and ‘people in the pew’, in the decades after the ending of the Second World War and still today. With a concern for Christian unity and international peace, he was particularly noted for his emphasis on the role of Christianity in a secular world, a stance that was expressed in his opposition to Nazism and ratified by his imprisonment and execution. Some have described his Letters and Papers from Prison is a spiritual classic. His execution, accused of complicity in a plot against Hitler, happened just before the end of hostilities in 1945.

13 April: Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr was said to be a very early influence in the emerging Christian church. Born in Samaria circa 100, he tried and tested a number of philosophical systems before finding the Christian faith the most satisfying. He was the first Christian to attempt to reconcile faith and reason, and his 'Apology' stresses the reasonableness and greater morality of Christianity. It also takes an inclusive position over salvation for those outside the church, believing that traces of the truth are to be found in other, earlier philosophies. His writings are also of great interest for their descriptions of early Christian practice in baptism and Holy Communion. Denounced as Christians, he and his associates refusing to sacrifice to the gods were scourged and beheaded. The date of his death was circa 165.

14 April: George Frederick Handel

German born George Frederick Handel(1685), was a composer noted for his operas, instrumental compositions, and biblical oratorios, his most famous being Messiah (1742). A sociable, cultivated and devout man, Handel spent most of his working life in Britain. When cost prevented the staging of his operas, Handel turned to oratorio, but into this static form he was able to infuse all the drama that characterised stage productions, bringing to life the biblical narrative. Beethoven said of him: "Go and learn of him how to achieve great effects with simple means," and Haydn,hearing the Hallelujah Chorus in Westminster Abbey, exclaimed: "He is the master of us all." He died in 1759.

15 April: Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States of America. Self-educated, he went from log cabin to White House. A man of high principle, straightforward in speech and action, according to many he is especially famed as the liberator of the slaves. Though having a deep knowledge of Scripture, he was not a member of any Church; however, he was a regular worshipper in the Presbyterian Church and famously declared that he often went on his knees because he had nowhere else to go. A Lincoln pew is preserved in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. Assassinated in 1865, he came to be regarded not only as a martyr but as one of the greatest American presidents.

16 April: Donan

Donan was a monk of the sixth and seventh centuries whose name lives on in a number of places on the west coast of Scotland, including several Kildonans (‘church of’), although there is a connection too with Auchterless on the east where his staff are said to have been preserved up until the Reformation in the 16th century. He is thought to have been known to Columba and established a large monastery on the island of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, which was to become the scene of a massacre when all 52 of the inhabitants were attacked and killed in their refectory. No reason is known for this.

Also on this day:Magnus stood out against his contemporaries for his dislike of the warring and violence that was part of their daily lives. As joint earl of Orkney, Magnus was on friendly terms with other rulers, including Henry I of England who gave him ships and men. Tension between him and his cousin Hakon came to a head in 1116 when the latter succeeded in capturing him, and had him killed. Magnus was not so much a Christian martyr (Hakon himself claimed to be Christian) but he continued to be respected in death as he had been in life. The cathedral at Kirkwall was built soon after by his nephew Rognvald to shelter his remains.

18 April: John Foxe

John Foxe was born in 1516, was a Puritan scholar whose Book of Martyrs (as it was popularly known), published in 1563 and enlarged in 1570, recorded Protestant sufferings at the English Reformation. Written in vivid prose and widely read, it did much to reinforce Reformation ideas and foster opposition to Spain. A fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, Foxe was one of those who fled to the continent on the accession of Queen Mary, where he met John Knox. When he returned to England, he was ordained though remained a strongCalvinist. He died in 1587. Image of John Foxe courtesy of British Acadamy John Foxe Project, to find out more about the John Foxe Project visit www.shef.ac.uk.

Also on this day: Molios was connected with Lamlash, on the Isle Arran, and from him the town derives its name, and with Holy Island just off the coast. He was of an Ulster royal house but was said to have made a second visit to Scotland to avoid being made king. In the controversy over the date of Easter, he took the Roman side against the Celtic. Other places in the west of Scotland carry versions of his name. He is also remembered in Ireland.

19 April: Philipp Melanchthon

Philipp Melanchthon was an important German humanist scholar who became a friend of Luther and later assumed his mantle and advocating Protestant doctrine e.g. Loci Communes (1521) the earliest systematic exposition of Reformation doctrine. Many believe that his biblical commentaries broke new ground, treating scripture in the same way as the classics, as documents to be read without elaborate metaphorical interpretation. Even in the infancy of the Reformation, he was already seeking reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, of which his composition of the Augsburg Confession was a part. He lived from 1497 to 1560.

21 April: Maelrubha

Maelrubha was born near Derry in 642 of an Irish family whose exploits were legendary, but of a Pictish mother. He was related to Columba. At first a monk in Ireland, he followed the trend to cut himself off and travel as a missionary. He finally settled in the Applecross/Torridon area of Scotland from which he founded many daughter churches. There is also a dedication to him in the parish of Muckairn, on Loch Etive, and a nearby hamlet, Ballindeor carries the meaning of the homestead of the keeper (dewar) of the saint's ’taff. He has been described as one of the most important missionaries of the early British church.

23  April: Toyohiko Kagawa

Toyohiko Kagawa was of Samurai family, born in 1888. Enrolling in a Bible class primarily to learn English he became Christian. Educated at the Presbyterian Seminary in Tokyo and then at Princeton in New Jersey, he returned to Japan as an evangelist and social reformer, working initially in the slums of Kobe drawing attention to the plight of poor Japanese. He worked for universal suffrage in Japan, and was a founder of the Japanese Federation of Labour. A pacifist who apologised for Japan’s policy in China, he suffered imprisonment. After the Second World War he worked for the democratisation of his country and for woman’s rights. A significant 20th century Christian and a considerable scholar, he wrote novels as well as books on sociology and religion, a total altogether of more than 150 books. He died in 1960.

24 April: Archibald Charteris

Archibald Charteris was born in 1835 in Wamphray, Dumfriesshire. After ministering in Ayrshire, Galloway and Park Church, Glasgow, he became professor of biblical criticism and biblical antiquities in Edinburgh. He founded the influential Life & Work Committee (which, for example, held mission weeks in many parishes, and provided spiritual and social care for migratory fisherfolk, etc.), and then Life & Work magazine in 1879.

He pioneered the Young Men's Guild and the Woman’s Guild and was chief promoter of the restoration of the office of deaconess. He was described as: "the gentlest man in the Assembly" and it was said of himthat: "perhaps to no one else does the Church of Scotland owe a greater debt of recovery of vitality (after the 1843 Disruption) of evangelical mission, of devoted and purposeful activity." He was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1892, and died in 1908.

28 April: John MacDonald

John MacDonald was a 19th century Highland minister and preacher who led many evangelistic campaigns inGaeldom often preaching to thousands. He was often compared to the English evangelist George Whitfield and was dubbed'the Apostle of the North'. He edited a Gaelic edition of the Shorter Catechism, wrote hymns in Gaelic, and was responsible for having a church built on St Kilda. He died in 1849.

29 April: Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena was born in that Italian town circa 1347. A connection with Scotland is found in the district of south Edinburgh known as Sciennes, where once was a Dominican convent of nuns of the order she founded. It was founded in 1517 by Lady Seton whose husband was killed at Flodden. By all accounts Catherine herself was a woman of intelligence who was able to combine piety with political involvement. The reverence with which she was held in Scotland gave rise to the founding of other convents and chapels in her name, one of the latter becoming ultimately Shotts Parish Church.

Also on this day: Brioc was a fifth century peregrinus, a travelling missionary, whose name survives across the Celtic world. In Scotland he is associated with Rothesay but he can be traced also to Montrose and Kirkcudbright.

30 April: James Montgomery

James Montgomery was born in Irvine in 1771, the son of a Scots-Irish Moravian minister. He gave up training for the ministry and for some time moved around England, taking a variety of jobs. Eventually he settled in Sheffield and became editor of a local newspaper known for its radical views. For this he was twice fined and imprisoned. He was an eloquent advocate of the foundation of Bible societies, of foreign missions, and of the abolition of slavery. Some believe his fame rests on his many hymns, some 100 of which are still in use, such as Angels from the realms of glory, Hail to the Lord’s anointed, Standup and bless the Lord and a series of fine hymns on the life of prayer (e.g. Lord, teach us how to pray aright). He once said of his hymn writing that he: "lay in wait for his heart to catch the highest emotions." He died in 1854.