In 1588 some sailors from the fleeing Spanish Armada are said to have been shipwrecked off a Scottish coastal town. The inhabitants gave them food and shelter; proved to them from Scripture that the pope was Antichrist; and arranged a treaty with the Spaniards whereby the said town gained commercial advantages over the rest of Britain. The modern Scot is as hospitable (and would have you believe that his commercial instinct is still as highly developed), but he no longer goes around smelling out Jesuit plots and hurling indelicate epithets at an elderly Italian ecclesiastic. The Scottish policy, indeed, might now be summed up by slightly amending Thomas Boston’s words: “Remember, I pray you, this is a very ill-chosen time to live at a distance from Rome.”

How has this developed? In April 1961 some 35 Church of Scotland ministers and elders attended as individuals a day-conference with Roman Catholics in Sancta Maria Abbey, Nunraw. This was not known till two months later. A further meeting took place in Edinburgh in January this year. In March the moderator visited the Vatican. In April representatives of Glasgow Presbytery met with Roman Catholic delegates in a Glasgow convent.

The historic question naturally arises. Stands Scotland where she did? “The theological gulf between Rome and Protestantism,” writes Anglican scholar J. I. Packer, “remains just as great as it was four centuries ago, if not, indeed, greater (for papal infallibility and the Man-doctrines have been promulgated since then).” True, but is this sufficient reason for us to retreat into our “citadel of spiky Presbyterianism” and refuse to give the other side a hearing?

Rome is anxious to explain to “separated ...

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