Dealing with a Holy War at a distance of four centuries is perilous business. With a pen and not a camera as the medium, partisanship is almost inevitable. Lights tend to be heightened, shades darkened, events and individuals judged in isolation or by modern standards.

This applies especially to the Scottish Reformation. Great and deep was the evil; proportionately violent was the remedy. It came late to this backward little country which had barely been touched by the Renaissance. Luther and Henry VIII were both dead, and even Calvin’s course was nearly run before reform swept through the land where Hamilton and Wishart, harbingers of a new day, had paid the price of defiance to Rome.

Quintin Kennedy, no rebel himself, lamented the church’s corruption in 1558 and told how vacant benefices were coveted by great men: “If they have a brother or son … nourished in vice all his days, he shall at once be mounted on a mule, with a sidegown and a round bonnet, and then it is a question whether he or his mule knows best to do his office. What wonder is it … the poor simple people, so dearly bought by the blood and death of Christ, miserably perish, the Kirk is slandered; God is dishonoured.”

Knox and his colleagues ridiculed priestly pretensions, tore aside the veil and exposed the tricks of the scene which lay behind. More positively, they taught four chief principles:


1. Holy Scripture is the sole and sufficient rule of faith and practice. Claiming to hold the key of knowledge, Rome obscured it in a dead language and stressed those utterances of Fathers, councils, and popes which furthered her own ends. The Reformers declared that such things were of value if they coincided with Scripture, that the Gospel was ...

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