To most people John Knox and the Scottish Reformation are almost synonymous. They feel that he was the man who both originated and carried the Reformation through to its triumph in Scotland so that for the last four centuries Scotland has been a stronghold of Presbyterianism. The trouble with such a view is it does not realize that the Reformation in Scotland as elsewhere was the work of more than one man. While Knox was important for the effectuation of the major action, he himself realized, as one may see by even a superficial perusal of his History of the Reformation in Scotland, that the religious revolution came as the climax to a long historical development which only reached its peak in the year 1560. Thus to understand Knox’s part in the Reformation, one must go back a good many centuries in Scottish history.
Some of those who have attempted to explain the Reformation in Scotland have sought its origins in the by no means Protestant Columban Church of the sixth century, but there seems to be little connection between the two. From the days of Kenneth MacAlpine in the eighth century, the Scottish church became increasingly “Romish” in character until by the middle of the twelfth century practically all vestiges of the old Columban Church had disappeared. As one looks at it in 1200, one can see little difference in doctrine, worship, and government between it and the continental branches of the medieval church.
The first step in the direction of a break from Rome may have come during the War of Independence (1296–1328). Throughout Robert Bruce’s struggle with Edward II of England, the pope sided with the English king and used every means to make the Scottish clergy do the same. He was, however, completely unsuccessful, ...1
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