Scotland

Although there is evidence to show that Christianity first came to Scotland during the Roman occupation, we have little information concerning it at that time. The first Christian missionary of whom we have any knowledge is Ninian,* who about 400 set up a church in the southwest at Whithorn, whence he carried on missionary work in the interior and up the east coast. In the sixth century other missionaries, mainly from Ireland, came to Scotland, the most famous being Columba,* who founded the monastery on the island of Iona,* off the west coast of Argyll in 563. The Celtic Church,* resulting from the work of these men, was different from that of Rome in the form of the tonsure, the date of Easter, and in not accepting the authority of the bishop of Rome. Endowed with strong missionary zeal but rather unorganized, they carried Christianity as far south as the River Thames, but in 663/4 at the Synod of Whitby* the king of Northumbria, Oswy, accepted the Roman supremacy, with the result that Celtic Christianity withdrew into Scotland and Ireland, eventually conforming to Roman practices and submitting to Roman authority.

The spread of Roman control in Scotland was brought to its culmination in the reign of Malcolm Canmore (1057-93), through the influence of his Anglo-Saxon queen, Margaret. Under her influence and that of their sons, monasticism spread rapidly through the country, and the church was gradually organized on a diocesan basis. As Scotland had no primate, however, the archbishop of York sought to bring the church under his control. To this the Scots objected, with the result that in 1225 Pope Honorius III granted the bishops the right to hold a council without a metropolitan. It was largely this anti-English attitude that made most of the clergy take a stand on the side of Scottish nationalism during the Wars of Independence (1296-1328) under Wallace and Bruce. They did so even against the orders of the pope, whom they defied for some twenty-five years. Even though they later submitted once again to papal authority, their relations with Rome were often strained, as indicated in their support of conciliarism and their violent opposition to the papal creation of the archbishopric of St. Andrews in 1472. Despite formal submission to Rome, therefore, the Scottish Church always adopted a rather independent attitude toward the central administration.


Since the sixteenth century there has been constant conflict in Scotland over the question of Christianity. Naturally the Roman Catholic minority has striven to maintain itself against the Reformed church. At the same time, there have been divisions to right and to left of the established church. The Scottish Episcopal Church has sought to maintain a position very similar to that of the Church of England, although not subordinate to Canterbury. On the other hand, the question of patronage by the landowners was a constant irritant that has caused a number of schisms, the most important and largest being that of the Disruption* of 1843 which led to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland.* At the same time, “moderatism” which grew out of the rationalistic Enlightenment of the eighteenth century has likewise caused many problems in all the Scottish churches. Nevertheless, with the disappearance of the Scottish Parliament in the Union of 1707, the Church of Scotland* became the only popular representative of the Scottish people. While it no longer holds that position, the Scottish churches probably still represent the people more effectively and fully than any existing political body, which is quite appropriate since Christianity has had a stronger influence upon Scotland than upon most nations.

G. Grub, An Ecclesiastical History of Scotland to 1861) (4 vols., 1861); J. Cunningham, Church History of Scotland (1882); A. Bellesheim, History of the Catholic Church of Scotland (1887); J. Dowden, The Mediaeval Church in Scotland (1910); A.R. MacEwen, A History of the Church in Scotland (to 1560) (1913, 1918); J.R. Fleming, A History of the Church in Scotland 1843-1929 (2 vols., 1927, 1933); A.B. Scott, The Rise and Relations of the Church of Scotland (1932); J.A. Duke, History of the Church of Scotland to the Reformation (1937); W.D. Simpson, Saint Ninian and the Origins of the Christian Church in Scotland (1940); J. Knox, History of the Reformation (ed. W.C. Dickinson, 1949); W.C. Dickinson and G. Donaldson, Source Book of Scottish History (3 vols., 1950-54); J.H.S. Burleigh, A Church History of Scotland (1960).