As we join our fellow Protestants in commemorating the Reformation this year, we rightly look with them to Wittenberg and Geneva. But we also look to Edinburgh. The family of Reformed Presbyterian churches charts its descent from the Reformation in Scotland, where the story begins somewhat later than the rest of Europe. Although the light of the Reformation arrived there later, it would arguably shine there the brightest and the longest.
A Nation in Need of Reform
Scotland’s medieval church was notoriously corrupt, with much popular satire directed against her often-promiscuous and illiterate clergy. It wielded great economic power over a weak king and squabbling nobles. It possessed almost half the nation’s wealth and wielded an even greater spiritual power through its sacraments. As an extremely poor nation on the edge of Europe, Scotland, by the mid-16th Century, had become a political satellite of France and a pawn in her struggle against Protestant England. However, Scotland’s trade ties with continental Europe and her steady stream of students to and from established educational centers like Paris and Wittenberg would open the door to the new ideas that were stirring Europe.
One of these students was Patrick Hamilton. As a young priest, he came under the power of the gospel by reading Tyndale’s English Bible and banned Lutheran literature, eventually going to study with Martin Luther in Wittenberg. Upon his return, ...