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, a Scots-born missionary in South Africa, the first ever Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to meet the Pope, a theologian who influenced both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and the inventor of the world's first calculator.

1 August: Lammas

Lammas is the old Scottish quarter day when rents were due, removals took place, and when hiring of labour would occur. Literally loaf mass/feast, it was the time when the first bread of the corn harvest was blessed. A Lammas Fair is still held at St Andrews and elsewhere.

Also on this day: Andrew Melville, the scholar and churchman whom many  consider more important for the Scottish Church than John Knox, was born at Baldovie, near Montrose and educated at the University of St Andrews. Like many 16th century Scots, he went on to study on the continent, at Paris, Poitiers (law) and Geneva (theology, under the renowned Beza). Returning to Scotland, he was to prove an able university administrator (he was principal of Glasgow University, then St Andrews) and effected much needed reforms. He is particularly remembered as a consolidator of Presbyterianism, speaking against royal attempts to institute bishops, insisting in the General Assembly of 1575 that there was no superiority allowed by Christ amongst ministers.

A leading contributor to the Church's Second Book of Discipline, he was an advocate of the doctrine of the 'two kingdoms', which saw church and state as separate though conjoined entities, expressed vividly on the famous occasion when he called James VI to his face God's sillie (i.e. simple) vassal. Obviously too strong for some tastes he was forced to flee, later becoming imprisoned (1607 to 1611) in the Tower of London. He was then allowed to go into exile, when he taught theology in France until his death there on this day in 1622. Melville was four times Moderator of the General Assembly, in 1578, 1582, 1587 and 1594.

Also on this day: John Morison was one of those who contributed to that historic collection, the Scottish Paraphrases. A feeling had grown that the psalms, as sole source of sung praise, had become restrictive and it was decided to make a collection of 'paraphrased' versions of scriptural passages other than the psalms, versified so that they could be sung. A collection of texts was sent down to presbyteries, who deliberated the matter for more than 30 years. To be fair, issues relating to Jacobites were much on the Church's mind at the time. Morison was born at Cairnie, Aberdeenshire (1756), and a graduate of Aberdeen, becoming a schoolmaster in Caithness. He was later ordained to Canisbay, where one of his predecessors had been the renowned cartographer Timothy Pont, and from there made valuable contributions to the statistical account and to the topographical history of Caithness. Among his several contributions to the paraphrases are the still much loved, Come, let us to the Lord our God with contrite hearts return (Hosea 6:1-4) and The race that long in darkness pined hath seen a glorious light (Isaiah 9:2-8). He died in 1798, an honorary doctor of divinity of his old university.

6 August: The Transfiguration

Today is the traditional date of remembrance of The Transfiguration when on a mountain top some of the disciples had a preview of the eternal glory of Christ (see Matthew 17:1-9). It is also the grim day on which the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, effecting another kind of transfiguration and ushering in another kind of world on earth.

8 August: Thomas à Kempis

Thomas à Kempis is credited as the author of one of the most celebrated devotional books of all time. His title is after his birthplace of Kempen, near Cologne in Germany, but he lived for more than 70 years in relative obscurity as a monk in a community of Augustinians in the Netherlands, copying manuscripts, writing, teaching novices. Like his many other writings, Imitatio Christi (the Imitation of Christ) is imbued with a deep sense of piety expressed in an attractive style and language. Two of the themes that dominate are that a life of austerity is required before one can come close to God, and the importance of Communion in remaining strong in the faith. He died in 1471.

9 August: Robert Moffat

Robert Moffat was a Scots born pioneer missionary in southern Africa. Originally a gardener, he moved to England where he was influenced by the Wesleyans and their missionary concern. In 1816 he was ordained and went to Cape Colony with the London Missionary Society to work among the Tswana people, eventually settling with his family at Kuruman, Bechuanaland, which became a centre for Christianity. There he translated the New Testament into Setswana – the first (1840) in any southern African language. His widely read English publications included Missionary Labours and Scenes in Southern Africa, and to the interested public in Britain he came to be regarded as the leading missionary in that part of the world, not least because of his great friendship with native African leaders, and his contacts with the Matabele and the Ndebele. On a visit to Britain in 1840 he persuaded David Livingstone (his future son-in-law) to go out to Africa. Returning to Britain in 1870, as celebrated as those today who promote the cause of Africa, he continued to advocate the cause of missions until his death aged 88 on this day in 1883.

10 August: Blane

Blane was a 6th century Celtic monk who gave his name to one of Scotland's cathedrals. A legend attached to him is similar to that of Kentigern, a mother pregnant but unwed cast adrift as a punishment in a boat without oars, but the frequency of this legend casts doubt on its authenticity. Born on the island of Bute, or indeed in an open boat, he is said to have been educated at the great monastery of Bangor in Ireland, returning to work with his uncle, Catan, in Scotland. His monastery was likely to have been, not on the site of Dunblane Cathedral itself, but on higher ground a little to the north of Scottish Churches House, the Scottish ecumenical centre and home of Action for Churches Together in Scotland. The place names of Blanefield and Strathblane suggest activity also in the Fintry Hills, north of Glasgow. Blane (or Blaan) died, perhaps at Kingarth on Bute, circa 590.

12 August: William Blake

William Blake died on this day in 1827 at the age of 70. This London born engraver, artist and poet was a man out of his time. He criticised his day's championing of reason and emphasized the insight, especially spiritual insight, that came from the development of the imagination. He also attacked the current conventional picture of the meek and humble Christ, feeling that this emptied the Gospel of its revolutionary content. His theological views were very individual, being intuitive rather than well-read, and his works and life evinced a great suspicion of the authorities and power structures of the day. He is remembered as a poet (Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience - which includes the well known Tiger, tiger, burning bright) and as an engraver (a set on the book of Job is his most famous), and will ever be celebrated as the author of Jerusalem, which has, set to Parry's music, become a national hymn within the UK.

13 August: Ira D. Sankey

Ira D. Sankey who died on this day in 1908 was the musician who accompanied his fellow American Dwight L. Moody in evangelistic tours to Britain in 1867 and then 1872 to 1875, and finally in 1881 to 1884. Sankey was singer, composer and organist, whose distinctive contributions added greatly to the success of these evangelistic occasions. One of Sankey's most famous compositions was a tune to the hymn by Scottish author Elizabeth Clephane, There were ninety and nine that safely lay, of particular interest because it was not composed in the normal sense but improvised during a meeting and remembered and written down later. His popular 'music hall' style compositions are still loved and sung, mostly taken from the great collections which appeared at the time, such as the Moody and Sankey Hymn Book (1873), Sacred Songs and Solos, and Redemption Songs.

17 August: The Scots Confession

The Scots Confession was approved by the Reformation Parliament on this day in 1560. Drawn up by six 'Johns': Knox, Willock, Winram, Spottiswoode, Row, and Douglas in supposedly six days, it has an attractive freshness and immediacy about it. Positive, warm, and evangelical in tone, in its 25 articles it asserts, inter alia, the real presence in the Sacrament, the supreme authority of God's Word, and the catholicity of the Church, made distinctive by three characteristics: the true preaching of the Word, the right administration of the Sacraments, and discipline - the outward form and expression of these characteristics. Confessions were common in the new reformed churches, both to show what beliefs were continuous with the old church and what doctrines and practices newly-discovered or newly-appreciated.

Other emphases in the Scots Confession included the doctrine of justification by faith (good works are done not to achieve acceptance by God but because of our acceptance by God), and the role of the civil magistrate as God's lieutenant. A document with a missionary quality to it, it is to be ranked in importance alongside the Arbroath Declaration and the National Covenant. The Confession (a Latin version was published in 1572) was accepted by Presbyterians and Episcopalians alike until the Westminster Confession of 1647, which may have superseded but did not abrogate it.

Also on this day: The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was a religious-civil agreement between the then powerful General Assembly and the hard-pressed English Commons desperate for an ally against Royalist forces in the English Civil War. To the English it was a pragmatic expedient later to be disregarded as the Parliamentarians became victorious. To many Scots with high and perhaps foolish hopes it was a holy pact not only to secure Presbyterianism in Scotland but to further it in Britain. It led in the short term to the Westminster Assembly of Divines and the Westminster Confession of Faith – the subordinate doctrinal standard of the Church of Scotland. In the long term, adherence to the Solemn League by Covenanters during the Restoration Period (1660 to 1689) led to much suffering and persecution. Burns was to write: "The Solemn League and Covenant, Now brings a smile, now brings a tear. But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs: If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneer."

18 August: Inan

Inan is associated with Beith and Irvine in Ayrshire. This 9th century Celtic saint was known as a 'confessor' and a 'doctor' (i.e. teacher in the church). He is said to have made pilgrimages to both Rome and Jerusalem. He lived at the time of Kenneth MacAlpin and died in 839 at Irvine, where his grave was a destination for pilgrims.

Also on this day: Marnock first appears as a boy who dared to touch Columba's cloak on a visit later in his life to Ireland. In spite of attempts to chase him away, Columba spoke to him and prophesied that he would be an eloquent preacher. In due course he became a monk, and like many at the time he 'went wandering' for Christ. Little is known but the proliferation of place names, such as Kilmarnock - 'Kil' meaning 'church of' - and Marnoch near Huntly echoing his name testify to an active and widespread life of evangelism. The Scottish town of Kilmarnock, however, remembers the saint annually on 25 October.

19 August: Alexander Henderson

Alexander Henderson has been described as the 'Second Reformer' (i.e. after John Knox) and occupies one of the highest places in the annals of the Church of Scotland. Born in Creich, Fife, in 1583, he distinguished himself at St Andrews University where for a time (and as an Episcopalian) he was a regent. Becoming minister at Leuchars, he in time, and probably after hearing Robert Bruce of St Giles preach, became a convinced Presbyterian.

For 25 years he was a diligent, quiet parish minister but 'cometh the hour cometh the man'. He emerged in 1637 to oppose Charles I's attempts to enforce episcopacy and a prayer book on the Scottish Church, organising the great National Covenant of 1638, of which he was co-author. "Incomparably the ablest man of us all for all things", he was elected Moderator of the Glasgow Assembly of that year, which overthrew Episcopacy. Minister in Edinburgh of Greyfriars' and then St Giles' he been described as "the greatest, wisest, and most liberal of the Scottish Presbyterians …a cabinet minister without office." Maybe not the most tactful, though! As chaplain to King Charles, he rebuked him for playing golf on Sunday. Though no republican, he led the opposition to the absolute rule of kings, not least in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, playing a significant role in the subsequent Westminster Assembly of Divines and the drafting of the Westminster Confession. While in Edinburgh he was responsible for the building of the college library. He died on this day in 1646.

Also on this day: Blaise Pascal was one of those rare authors who has written a book which has never gone out of print. Being born in France in 1623, the Auld Alliance probably saw to it that his works and his fame circulated in Scotland. But he was as notable as a pioneer scientist as a literary giant. At the age of 16 he astounded Descartes with his mathematics, going on to prove that nature abhors a vacuum, and to invent the syringe, the barometer, the hydraulic press, and the first calculator. He is also notable for his Christian commitment (he was something of a mystic) and his espousal of the reformed rediscovery of God's grace freely given. Against the prevailing view, he insisted that people could only be brought to God through Jesus Christ alone. The book in question is the Penseés, a brilliant and perceptive statement of the truth of Christianity. He died in 1662.

20 August: Rognvald

Rognvald was the Norse Earl of Orkney who in fulfilment of a vow began with his father the building of St Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall circa 1137. Something of a warrior, unlike his more saintly uncle Magnus, he was like him killed/martyred, in 1159 in Caithness. Never formally canonised but acclaimed a saint, it was said of him: "he had been a friend in need to many a man, liberal in money matters, equable of temper, steadfast in friendship, skilful in all feats of strength, and a good skald" (poet/bard).

Also on this day: Bernard of Clairvaux was of a noble Burgundian family who became a Cistercian monk, and who later at Clairvaux in Champagne established a reformed house of the order. He was a prominent figure in the mediaeval church and was sometimes described as 'the last of the Fathers' (a reference to earlier theologians like Augustine who established the intellectual foundations of Christianity). A studious and prolific writer with a fervent piety, he combined mystical absorption with concern for others and service to the institutional church, being an influential member of several church councils and a confidant of popes. Among the achievements of this very eloquent preacher and teacher (the 'mellifluous doctor', he was called) were the foundation of over 70 monasteries, the drawing up of the statutes for the Knights Templar, and the promotion of the Second Crusade (1147 to 1149). His warm piety and grasp of doctrine was an antidote to the dryness of scholasticism, though he did not hesitate to oppose with severity those with whom he disagreed. He died in 1153.

Also on this day: John White was a name to be conjured with for a great deal of the first half of the 20th century in Scotland. Born in Kilwinning in 1867, he was a brilliant student at Glasgow and proved himself to be a man of great vision and organizational ability. A considerable orator, he was successively minister of Shettleston, South Leith, and the Barony of Glasgow. His great achievement was the 1929 union between the old Church of Scotland and the United Free Church for which he had worked hard, and appropriately he was elected the first Moderator after the union. Another achievement, and this at a time of economic depression, was that of church extension of which he was a great advocate.

A chaplain in World War I, he was a staunch Tory, a patriot, and a great believer in the supremacy of the Church of Scotland and its Presbyterian structure, which partly explains his contribution to negative reactions towards Irish Roman Catholic immigrants, of which people have recently been made aware. John Baillie and others came to criticise his conservative stance as tending to alienate the Church from the working class. Made a Companion of Honour, he died in 1951.

Also on this day: William Booth of the Salvation Army was an ordained Methodist minister who resigned in 1861 to become an itinerant evangelist and helper of the poor in London.With his wife Catherine he organised the Christian Mission, later to be re-named the Salvation Army in 1878, of which he was the first general. With its basis in religious enthusiasm, a concern for the outcasts of society, and with an expansionist policy, it was organised along military lines. The 'Sally Army' is still noted for its uniformed personnel, its bands, its special appeal in joyous music, its personal testimonies, and free prayer, together with ambitious programmes of social concern in some 70 countries. Booth also co-authored a book (In Darkest England and the Way Out, 1890) which proposed a social programme for alcoholics, released prisoners, and the marginalised. The army, with its 3,000 welfare establishments, has adhered to this, generally seeing its work as an arm of the Church. Booth died in 1912.

24 August: Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day

Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day was a day of infamy in Christendom when, almost certainly at the instigation of the dowager Queen Catherine de Medici, fearful of Protestant influence over her sons, Roman Catholics turned on Huguenots (those of the French Reformed Church) in Paris on this day in 1572. Some 3,000 to 5,000 Huguenots, including many leaders, were butchered with rejoicing in Rome and Madrid. The knock-on effect led to a total of deaths through France of possibly 50,000. The savagery shocked Protestant Europe and helped perpetuate Christian division.

25 August: Michael Faraday

Michael Faraday although born in 1791 near London and spending his career as a notable experimental physicist in England, has a Scottish connection in that he, a devout Christian, was a member and preacher in a Glasite (Sandemanian) congregation, a sect which originated in Scotland and which sought a return to primitive Christianity. His contribution to the advancement of science included the discovery of electro-magnetic rotation, the isolation of benzene, the synthesis of chlorocarbons, and the definition of the laws of electrolysis. He died in 1867.

27 August: A. C. Craig

A. C. Craig ('Archie') was the first Moderator ever of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to meet the Pope, which gave rise to a much repeated joke. The apocryphal parting of the Pope and the Moderator is said to have ran: "So long, John! Arrivederci, Erchie!" However, Craig was distinguished for much more. He personified the very best of Scottish 20th century ministers: erudite and eloquent as a preacher, dedicated and diligent as a pastor. He was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his service during World War I. Appointed the first full-time chaplain in recent times of the University of Glasgow in 1930, his tenure of this office was a notable one and contained the seeds of the later ecumenical initiatives for which he became celebrated. He was general secretary of the British Council of Churches 1942 to 1946, deputy leader of the Iona Community 1946 to 1947, and then became lecturer in biblical studies in the University of Glasgow. He was active in negotiations for church union in Scotland and did much to establish the structures of co-operation which are now in place. He died in 1985, much honoured academically and held in great affection by many.

28 August: Augustine

Augustine was the greatest thinker, theologian and personality of the ancient church whose influence on both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism has been enormous and is still very significant. Born in North Africa in 354, he was a brilliant student first of rhetoric and law, then of literature, then of philosophy, which led him, absorbed with the problem of evil, to become a Manichaean, an heretical sect which believed human beings had the power to transform themselves. The influence of his mother Monica and others led him to 'mainstream' Christianity. Becoming baptised (387) he returned from his academic posts in Rome and Milan to North Africa where he lived a monastic life, ultimately being persuaded to seek ordination. He became bishop of Hippo circa 396 and it was as he led the dialogue with three influential heretical 'misreadings' of Christianity that he evolved the foundational statements that the church has drawn on ever since, statements both biblically based and the outcome of deep personal experience.

Though largely responsible for defining the doctrine of original sin, he viewed the world as fundamentally good but that salvation was due to grace alone and not to human efforts. He regarded the church as 'one' through the mutual love of its members, and 'holy' not on account of her members but because of her purposes. His City of God is a monumental commentary on life and doctrine, balanced by his great spiritual biography, The Confessions. He died in 430 as the vandals were besieging Hippo.

31 August: Aidan

Aidan was a 7th century monk of Iona sent to Northumbria at the request of King Oswald. He established a bishopric at Lindisfarne (Holy Isle) opposite the royal centre of Bamburgh. Lindisfarne with its church, monastery and divinity school whose students included Chad (first bishop of Lichfield), Cedd (who converted the East Saxons) and Eata (of Melrose) became second only to Iona in importance and fame. Aidan's missionary work extended over northern England and south west Scotland. He is noted for his close friendship with the king and his son and successor King Oswin. The Anglo-Saxon historian Bede praised him for his achievements, his learning, his piety and simplicity of life – despite Aidan being in the Celtic 'camp' with their different views about church festivals, church organisation etc. Aidan died in 631, supposedly of grief after Oswin's martyrdom. The influence of Lindisfarne was to wane after the Danish raids which began in 793.

Also on this day: John Bunyan who is forever associated with The Pilgrim's Progress, partly written in his second term in Bedford gaol, possibly the most famous allegorical novel of all time, which besides being readable yet combines psychological experience and deep biblical piety. Bunyan was a 'tinker' (a worker in metal) who had served in the Parliamentary Army and undergone a deep spiritual experience which is expressed in his Grace Abounding. A member of an independent congregation, his imprisonments were due to his unlicensed preaching during the Restoration period.

His many books are for the most part written in plain and attractive English, with strong biblical undertones, many having proven enduring and influential. A strong opponent of Quakerism and fearful of Romanism, his last years were spent in evangelistic work (nothing mattered to him but the soul's salvation) till in London on this day in 1688, like Mr Standfast in Pilgrim's Progress, "he passed over and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side".