Allen B. Robertson
Keeping the Kirk: Scottish Religion at Home and in the Diaspora,
edited by Stuart MacDonald and Daniel MacLeod. University of Guelph, Centre for Scottish Studies, 2014.
Publisher's Book Profile
Paper: xi+250pp. $45.00
This is the third volume in the Guelph Series in Scottish Studies. The nine articles are succinctly introduced by Daniel MacLeod who prepares the stage for subjects set in Scotland and in Canada. Ostensibly religion is the main theme though the contributing scholars cover topics which include family, education, penal ministry, and the persistence of Scottish memory in succeeding generations in the diaspora. It can be well said that the only way to fully appreciate the Scots immigration experience and cultural survivals is by being properly informed of contemporary events at the time of exodus from the mother country. One is called as well to reappraise generally held assumptions for which in-depth analysis can result in putting aside older interpretations. The very title of this book of essays might lead one to take for granted that Kirk is exclusively reserved for the Presbyterian assemblies but the articles give due attention to the old religion of the Pre-Reformation era and the unreconstructed Catholics who later through emigration had greater freedom to practice what had become a minority faith in their homeland. The British North American context contains articles that acknowledge the activity of Scots in the Maritimes and in Upper Canada or Ontario. Finally the British Atlantic world serves to alert one to the current interest in trans-Atlantic studies. That is the essence of MacLeod's introductory essay, "Thinking locally, Acting globally: Considering Scottish Religion."
The first pivotal article engages the past in the generation immediately prior to the Reformation's arrival in the north of the British Isles. Alison More's "Preaching, Reform, and Catholic Identity in Sixteenth-Century Scotland: The Case of Johannes Royardus" is a corrective to the long-held assumption that the Reformation appealed to the masses by bringing in a strong sermon tradition to spread the Word of God and offer instruction in Christian living. Propaganda from the Protestant side depicted the pre-John Knox Scotland as one in which priests lacked education and the motivation to give sound moral education. More redresses this picture by appealing to surviving books of model sermons or postils. The Scottish monarchy had interested itself in Catholic teaching with the introduction of Observant Franciscans from the continent to revive the vigor of the Church. A Flemish member of the order, Johannes Royardus (ca.1476-1547) was among those who answered the call of James V. The former's influence came from his collection of model sermons which were to aid priests, alert them to their own need for personal reform, and to serve the cause of catechetical instruction for the laity.
Education was vital for maintaining the faith. More notes that during the late 1500s-early1600s upwards of two hundred Scots men sought schooling at colleges in Rome, Paris, Madrid and Douai. Those who returned to Scotland as priests carried a commitment to catechetics. They were receptive to such texts as Royardus' postils (which were sermons based on scripture following the liturgical year). Hence a lack of higher schools of teaching in the country itself did not mean that one could not achieve an advanced theological training. More is careful to point out that, "Royardus's sermons were focussed on strengthening cohesion and understanding within the Church rather than attacking the doctrines of any one group of Reformer." Positive reinforcement had more appeal than shrill denunciations. The popularity of Royardus was pointed out in Margaret Lane Ford's survey of over 4,300 books of the period when his book of sermons, "were among the books most frequently owned by religious houses of any order between 1544 and 1548." (pg. 28)
The potent mix of religion and state did eventually give the victory to the Protestant Reformation movement in Scotland. More's essay however shows that it was not a foregone conclusion, that there was no uniform Scots populace willing to convert wholesale, and that the spirit of reform and revival was already present albeit in a Catholic context. The challenge has always been to hear the original voices of the Catholic Church beneath the propaganda of the dominant Presbyterian apologists. To a certain extant the same may be said of Canadian studies where the nineteenth century entrepreneurs and politicians of Scottish background who would shape part of the Canadian historical process, whether Sir John A. Macdonald or William Dawson, were Protestants with the consequent result being the eclipse of Catholic Scots visibility in national studies. A reappraisal is overdue.
More hopeful for the state of shared studies is attention to the role of women in the successful transmission of faith and culture. The male hierarchy of Presbyterianism or Roman Catholicism has too often pushed women into a hazy background. Janay Nugent's "'The Mistresse of the Family hath a special hand': Family, Women, Mothers, and the Establishment of a 'godly community of Scots'" is a strong example of revisionist examination of gender roles in Scottish society. She astutely observed that while the household as with the Kirk was patriarchal the women of the family had a position not without influence as married persons responsible for education, morals and support of orthodox doctrine. These aspects have been obscured by earlier analyses based on church court records. Nugent sought a corrective to that restricted approach by seeking to "deepen our understanding of the reforming process by examining the complexities of how family study was perceived, constructed, and enforced." (pg. 41) This is not to expect a submerged feminist presence during the Reformation and later. Rather, as Nugent observed, wives and mothers were caught up in support of a theology which reinforced the gendered role of piety, submissiveness and faith. Their authority was bound by these attributes and shaped their own self-perceptions.
The agenda of the Reform leadership, male dominant, was to reshape the Scottish nation into a body of believers in accord with calvinist doctrine as presented by Knox. Sermons, books and theological discourse were the primary vehicles yet these did not reach the level of success hoped for by their proponents. Therefore the domestic church - the family - was recognized as the auxiliary means of disseminating the Reform cause. The heads of households had the special responsibility to have the Kirk reflected within the family setting. Wives as mothers were encouraged to pursue that formation while remaining supportive of and submissive to their husbands. The paradox of authority and deference made for a complex family dynamic.
It may be pointed out that such a study is not wholly foreign to this side of the Atlantic. John Demos's A Little Commonwealth (1970) explored the same themes in the colonial setting for Congregationalism which in turn has informed eastern Canadian monographs on New England Planter society in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Expansion of the field for reappraisal of Scots and Irish Presbyterian society in the Maritime provinces can yet be informed by these earlier works and that of Nugent's on Scots women. The studies of George Rawlyk and David Bell, among others, into Maritime evangelical origins among New Light Congregationalists, Baptists and Wesleyan Methodists have noted the social inversion of revivalism wherein women and youths became leaders of the movement. The phenomena of female preachers in the early 1800s is relevant to the rise of women's missionary societies where the formerly male dominant church structures were being refashioned internally. The nuances of Nugent's Scots Reformation strategy for women as guardians and mentors in the faith offers a comparative path for analysis in related religious history in British North America and certainly that is the open door for further studies in the Rawlyk tradition of scholarship. Presbyterian women among Scots and Irish immigrants to Nova Scotia, for example, would have found themselves in the same paradox as Nugent's article with respect to authority and submission. Any variations on that theme, the extent to which it actually was realized in Nova Scotia, and when it may or may not have declined are all questions to be posed and answered.
The transitional article in Keeping the Kirk occurs with R. L. Robertson's, "Religious Networks and Scottish Missions in the British Atlantic World." Migration and settlement beyond the motherland led to calls for spiritual assistance (Protestant and Catholic) and inspired the formation of missionary outreach associations. The roots of the last lay in the perceived need to reform and civilize the Highland regions of the early 1700s. Robertson therefore begins with the birth of the Society in Scotland for propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK). The work spread rapidly to North America under two faces - one benevolent, the other imperialist; the former to assist in education, literacy (initially with Gaelic Bibles) and encouragement for economic improvement; the latter moved to homogenize British colonists into English-speaking, London-oriented, loyal populaces. Robertson's setting in time is the early 1700s hence more relevant to the "Thirteen Colonies" development. The activity of the SSPCK with its intimate links with London and the colonies did establish a model of operation which would extend into the later part of the eighteenth century. That included its evangelical, non- conformist orientation apart from the established Church of the State as centred at London. Yet, akin to the role of women in the Reform church of Nugent's article, there was the paradox of support to Presbyterians in diaspora while conformity to the dominant state's insistence on loyalty so potentially weakening the Scots identity abroad.
The SSPCK's own records offer a rich source of investigation as Robertson rightly notes which permits insight into the interlocking relationship between Scottish and English Reform bodies. The minutes and correspondence show as well the impact of not setting up missionaries under Presbyterian synods in colonial America but rather in linking with educational and government support such as the Harvard Divinity School and Governor William Shirley. The intellectual leadership within the SSPCK - many of whom Robertson observed were to be active in the Scottish Enlightenment - in part determined this preferential network. The emphasis on an educated clergy remained a strong force in Scottish ecclesiastical history from the Reformation onward. Scots abroad expected that their ministers would be erudite and thoroughly grounded in theological studies. Fifty years later the same would remain true in what is now Maritime Canada when settlers put out the call for ministers to Scotland by both Scots and Irish Presbyterian communities. Here by contrast while the Presbyterian communities avowed loyalty to the state it did not avert tension with the Church of England when the former held to the position that establishment in Scotland should have translated into equal recognition in Nova Scotia. Those conflicts would be very public in the early nineteenth century with government funding for denominational schools. Pictou Academy would be both a rallying cause and a flash-point even among the Presbyterians of Pictou itself (Burger and anti-Burger factions). For a later period one may compare as well the work of Laurie Stanley on the Glasgow Colonial Missionary Society and its work among English- and Gaelic-speaking Scots in the province. The picture was complex for continuing Scots immigration reinforced the cultural and religious ties to the homeland as well as bolstering its active expression in Nova Scotia which to some extent meant that missionaries were less "foreign field workers" and more extra-ordinary extended parish workers with the inconvenience of the Atlantic in between.
Daniel W. MacInnes plants our attention firmly in British North America with his insightful account, "The Legacy of Highland Heather Priests in Eastern Canada." It is an account of the suppression and survival of Catholicism in the Highlands of Scotland through the dedication of priests willing to endure deprivation and threat of penal laws. Ultimately economics would deplete the Catholic populace with massive out-migration. As the people moved so too did the priests needed to minister to them. MacInnes explores the contours of priestly formation in Scotland and at Scots colleges on the Continent, as well as the failure of the Quebec hierarchy to understand the special needs of the Gaelic-speaking Scots of eastern Canada. Though a brief article there is a well articulated outline of internal and external challenges including the doctrinal implications of Jansenism and Ultramontanism. It highlights as well the often downplayed reality of anti- Catholic penal laws in British North America outside of Quebec (Lower Canada). The two great rebellions of 1715 and 1745 together with the armed occupation of Scotland which followed Culloden left their impress notably among Scots Catholics. MacInnes suggest, as have other historians, that the quiescence of Highland immigrants was in part a reaction to the legacy of oppression at home in contrast to, as MacInnes offers for contrast, the vocal Irish Catholics of Halifax. That legacy had lasting effects with ramification into the Twentieth-century.
The decline of the Highland clan system with its disconnect between chief and clansmen, accelerated after the 1745 Jacobite uprising, left a vacuum which the "Heather Priests" began to fill and took into the diaspora overseas with them. (The term "Heather Priests" as applied by historians is descriptive of the geography over which the priests had to journey to minister to dispersed congregations.) Their adherence to their people and efforts to serve in the Gaelic language led to a shift of bonds formerly extant between chief and clan members. This phenomena of clerical leadership is not confined to Catholicism; other examples are to be found in Canada including the Maritimes. Afro-Nova Scotian churches often provided the community leadership with response to political and economic challenges in lieu of political representatives in governmental bodies. The Catholic example is more graphic in its centralized episcopal structure. A sub- text for MacInnes consists of the degree to which the impetus of the Heather Priests carried on the agendas of the bishops who came to be appointed for eastern Nova Scotia-Cape Breton Island (the see moving between Antigonish and Arichat). The bishops were the primary movers as well in the placement of promising seminarians in overseas colleges especially at the Scots College in Rome. Ultramontanism with it emphasis on Roman liturgical conformity however did not always take into consideration the legacy of Scots Catholic hardships and how that legacy carried on in the settlements of the Scots overseas. The potential for disconnect between hierarchy and people is one element of the story which MacInnes was careful not to neglect. Further examination of episcopal direction for the Antigonish diocese has been furthered by recent biographies of bishops and comparative studies for the Halifax episcopacy. James Cameron's and Peter Ludlow's work for the former are matched by studies undertaken by Peter McGuigan and Terrence Murphy for Halifax. Daniel MacInnes has raised issues which can now be carried onward in the field as it applies to Catholicism among Scots and Irish of Nova Scotia.
In "Children of the Scottish Enlightenment? The Cultural Baggage of the Ministers of Early Nova Scotia" by Barbara Murison one has a complimentary article to MacInnes on Heather Priests. It is the interplay of Scottish legacy in education and cultural shifts and the carriers of both to Nova Scotia in the person of early Presbyterian missionaries which makes this a fascinating discussion. Murison has taken aim at providing a revisionist appraisal of the influences on leading ministers such as James MacGregor and Thomas McCulloch. Her focus is the assumption that studies at Scottish colleges where lecturers leading in or products of the Scottish Enlightenment movement meant that the men who went on to the ministry were actually carriers of Enlightenment ideas. To set the stage she looked at the situation in Scotland to review the idea of transmission before looking for evidence of the same among those ministers who answered the call for spiritual leaders in Nova Scotia. As a case study for Enlightenment concepts Murison looked at slave holding in Scotland and in Nova Scotia in the eighteenth century. The highly publicized debate over the slave holding of the Reverend Daniel Cock of Truro is the prism through which to view shifting ideas over liberty and freedom. A study by Barry Cahill of the print debate of the late 1780s is criticized for not highlighting the history of slave ownership in Scotland. One may acknowledge that reference to the latter would have enhanced the Cahill analysis yet Cahill's legal lens is not to be overlooked. Similarly Murison could have added to her own work with citations for other slave-holding studies in the Maritimes such at those by Amani Whitfield for Prince Edward Island, Gary Hartlen on slavery in colonial Liverpool, Nova Scotia, or A. B. Robertson's "Slaves, Apprentices and Indentured Servants in Eighteenth Century Nova Scotia" to place the Scots ministry in a broader context.
The intellectual formation of Scots ministers and how that translated into action and influence in Nova Scotia is certainly a valid line of enquiry. Studies of trans-Atlantic print culture (cf. Fiona Black and A. B. Robertson) combined with Murison's identification of leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment can lead to a search for books and pamphlets advertised for sale in Nova Scotia newspapers as well as extant lists of private libraries. Caution is to be used as to whether a text in a person's possession necessarily means that the ideas are endorsed just as Murison warns one about teachers and how ideas may have shaped the mental formation of students. On the other hand the presence of books offers a tangible documentation of the knowledge of ideas. The Scots ministers of Nova Scotia did not exist in a vacuum even in the backwoods of what became present day Colchester and Pictou counties. Accounts of actions and writings of these individuals where available are the material for tracing transmission of Enlightenment values. Here Murison is on the right track in a field which can continue to yield valuable correctives to our understanding of early Presbyterianism on this side of the Atlantic as well as how some of these writings were received among the ministry in Scotland itself.
A study dealing with a later period in Scottish church work in a field too infrequently overlooked is that by Darren Tierney in "'I was in Prison and you came to visit me': Establishing a Scottish Catholic Prison Mission, 1845-c.1890." The movement is linked to the current social ideals of "self-help, improvement and respectability" (pg. 143) and the broader context of prison reform and social change as an outcome of the Industrial Revolution's legacy of working class impoverishment. Tierney's starting date is only fifteen years after Catholic Emancipation when the last legal disabilities were removed [both in the United Kingdom and in British North America]. The aspiration for respectability by Catholics was a motivating factor in many fields of endeavour including that of prison mission work. On the other hand Tierney using the insights of Michel Foucault focuses on the shift from capital punishment (post-1839 Prisons Act) to confinement which allowed space for reform programmes to reorient the prisoner for release back into the public sphere. Here is the compliment to respectability. The article seeks to demonstrate, in addition, that the Catholic Church in Scotland was not a marginal fact in the country's life; it was an integral part of its social advance as the nineteenth century marched to its conclusion.
One finds that the advance of Catholic outreach was subject to penal regulations regarding chaplains. It took several acts of government to gradually open up doors, quite literally, for priests to enter prisons, offer services (Mass), and instruction. Tierney points out that a disproportionate number of inmates were Catholics, partly the result of large-scale migration from Ireland into Scotland. Not all workers were able to find employment - either male or female - and desperation led to illegal activity (theft and prostitution). This resulted in a harsh public opinion of Catholics among the general public which was one of the challenges for respectability for the Church in a predominantly Protestant realm. Moreover that opinion was openly revealed as hostile when there was a government move to ensure that Catholic priests might receive a salary as prison chaplains and the exemption of Catholic prisoners from having to attend to Protestant ministerial workers; cries of re-establishment of the Catholic Church in Scotland to the detriment of Protestantism killed the legislation. Hence the work of reformation among Catholic prisoners was done in an atmosphere of subliminal anti- Catholicism. Emancipation did not mean the end of discrimination. Tierney is to be praised for contributing to an understudied field while keeping it in the broader context of Scottish social and cultural reality.
A fascinating study by Iain Whyte into slavery and relations between the Free Church of Scotland and American Presbyterians opens up several considerations with implications for studies of the same in Canada. "'Send Back the Money!': The Free Church of Scotland in Hot Water, 1845-1847" examines the Free Church under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Chalmers in the 1843 Great Disruption or secession movement with its outreach to Presbyterians in the United States for assistance. Whyte's theme comes from the donation of monies to assist the ministers of the Free Church which originated in the southern States, that is, from a slave-owning society and compliant Presbyterian Church adherents. Anti- slave trade societies or Abolitionists based in Scotland and the United States seized on the contradiction of a Church which had broken away from civil subjugation only to receive monies raised in part from unfree labour. No less an orator than Frederick Douglass made tours of the British Isles in the abolitionist cause who soon raised the cry, "Send the Money Back!"
Contradiction and contention created awkward positions among the various church leaders. There was the desire to maintain ties to the Scots and their descendants in the United States who were wont to support the Free Church. Nonetheless the anti-slavery legacy of the late eighteenth-century resurfaced to shine a glaring light on links to slave-owning Presbyterians. Setting aside the more strained attempts to justify the relationships the heart of the matter lie in how to consider a unity while advocating the eradication of chattel-ownership. Abolition of slavery in the British Empire was a secular governmental reality. Should one, as some radical activists promoted, completely cut all ties to Presbyterian congregations which did not openly denounce slavery as an institution, or was it politic and Christian to keep lines of communication in order to influence American society? Was there a legitimate via media? Questions such as these were pertinent to the previous history of Scottish ports whose merchants previously had traded with the West Indies while slavery was at its heyday, and those who maintained economic connections to the Americas, notable the Southern States whose cotton exports continued to be crucial until superseded by other source countries. The Maritime provinces in the same period likewise had similar histories. Halifax Irish merchants, for example, were part of the West Indian and trans-Atlantic trade networks. Irishmen and their descendants who decried the lack of full freedoms for Ireland made economic advances in trading the produce and manufactures of slave-plantations of the Caribbean. The post-slave trade abolition years did not alter that relationship nor did it see a decline in emerging contacts with southern American ports for states which were part of the Free Church controversy of the 1840s. The same complexity of relationships and historical re- evaluation which Whyte offers in "Send Back the Money!" have a bearing on developments here as well.
Politics and gender form the central discourse of Kenneth Baxter's examination of interwar Scotland (1920s-30s). It is a rather challenging article as it both discloses the rise of women in active political elections while at the same time showing that the parties which some women chose while offering more outlet than the mainstream Protestant churches of Scotland were inherently racist and anti- Catholic. Baxter is careful to offer the background to the rise of the Scottish Protestant League and the Protestant Action Party. Both organizations willingness to field women candidates with success in the early 1930s is significant relative to the dominant political organizations of the day. The legacy of the suffragettes (only alluded to by Baxter) and emergence of votes for women as an outcome of the First World War (which could have been expanded in the article) had opened the way for fuller participation in civil society by women where the body politic or religious organizations were sufficiently receptive. Largely absent from the analysis is reference to the Great Depression which was surely a leading factor in susceptibility to radical political factionalism. In this instance the "other" who was deemed to be threatening the status quo, employment opportunities and "traditional Protestant values" of Scotland were the Irish immigrants who by their numbers greatly enhanced the proportion of Catholics in industrial and other urban centres of the land.
Baxter relates that the Church of Scotland as well as other leading Protestant religious bodies had in the 1920s been less than enthusiastic about the increase of Catholicism and had explicitly viewed the Irish as a danger to Scottish national identity. This set of views a century later appears on the face of it rather bizarre when Celtic identity in general is seen almost as a pan-Celtic survival movement intent on preserving the languages, cultures and traditions of the Gaels, Irish, Welsh, Manx and Bretons. To a large extent this is a diaspora perspective which has overly romanticized the Celtic factor; it does not accord with the reality of past relations between peoples within the British Isles. Kenneth Baxter's article highlights such a past which needs to be seriously evaluated. One might remind modern day readers of Nova Scotia's own internal internecine rivalries between the Scots Catholics of Antigonish diocese and the Irish Catholics of Halifax epitomized in the stormy relationship between Bishop Fraser and Bishop Walsh in the early Victorian period. Similarly, one needs to confront the fact that women as well as men were subject to the infusion of suspicion of "the Other" even in the midst of their own struggles to attain equality in society. Both Iain Whyte and Baxter present studies of Church and gender in the Old Country which remove the rosy window panes through one may be accustomed to using in historiographical studies.
It is most suitable that the concluding article to this body of essays addresses the issue of memory, the Scottish diaspora andv. Stuart Macdonald's "Loss of Memory in the Diaspora: The Debate around the Relocation of the Statue of Margaret Wilson at Knox College, Toronto" is perhaps in its way a parable of how vigilance can wane and the new over-write the old whereby the past is made invisible. Is what is lost of value? Do the concerns of today take precedence? And when do public symbols loss their potency? What exactly do we cling to when a symbol of the past either to a person or event is threatened? Macdonald addresses some of these issues in the controversy of the 1990s at Knox College, Toronto, concerning a statute of Scots Covenanter martyr Margaret Wilson (died 1685). The six foot statute depicted a woman naked to the waist tied to a stake just as Wilson was to have had done to her at low tide along with Margaret McLachlan who both drowned without recanting their sectarian beliefs. Macdonald carefully recounts the debates over the sentences of death, lack of contemporary accounts and conversion of the event into that of revered Protestant martyrdom. A statue created in the Victorian era eventually came as a gift to Knox College. From there one is presented with the subsequent history of Margaret Wilson's image, the gradual decline in appreciation of what the statue commemorated, and how in the 1990s it became the central point of debate over depictions of "violence toward women." In spite of debate over the interpretation and intervention by the Presbyterian Church of Canada - Knox College being a premiere seminary for the denomination - Margaret Wilson's statute was relegated to an out of the way room away from regular public gaze.
The debate over "political correctness" and decisions made without accurate historical information colour the entire issue. From a Catholic perspective the matter would be viewed as almost incomprehensible since from earliest times martyrs came to be shown in paintings and carvings with the implements of their deaths. Margaret Wilson at the stake would be regarded as such a representation - especially if a Catholic sufferer for faith - as a brave woman defiant even in the face of impending death, not as a gratuitous icon of violence toward women. For Stuart Macdonald the fact that the latter outcry occurred at all is part of the web of failing memory and rewriting of the past. He points out that educated defenders of Margaret did not recognize that aspects of the Reform tradition of the Presbyterian Church had eroded thereby permitting the controversy to arise at all. The very idea of Scottish tradition and unbroken faith lineage had become more apparent than real. The crux of the article throws out the challenge to Scots of the diaspora - which Scotland are we linked to, or what time period? Does our celebration of Scots heritage exist only in a romantic, imaginative fantasy? After all, we of the diaspora are now descendants, not immigrants, who have been born for several generations in Canada. Questions about tribal identity arise since one may argue that Canada is so diverse geographically that there are several Canadas within the political boundaries which makes it difficult to seize on identifiable icons.
Ethnicity and mother country legends are portable and capable of being moulded. This is not to say that all links are imaginary. In eastern Canada where Gaelic is yet spoken the cultural attachments continue to make vivid the past into the present. Oral tradition supplements Scottish consciousness. The Celtic music revival had fed on that heritage and expanded it. Nonetheless just as with Margaret Wilson's statue is our understanding in general being recreated in a way which would have been recognizable to the immigrant ancestors? Have we become hollywood Bravehearts and Lord of the Dance re-enactors? Diaspora Scots need to ask and answers these questions being fully aware of current identity issues in Scotland itself.