Church History

By Turrell, James | Church History, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Church History


Turrell, James, Church History


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Book Reviews and Notes

David George Mullan and John McCallum have offered fresh perspectives on the process of reformation in early modern Scotland. While the cultural turn in reformation historiography has lagged in Scotland behind that in England (see, for example, Michael F. Graham, "The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland by Margo Todd," The Sixteenth Century Journal 35 [Summer 2004]: 637-38), Mullan and McCallum, each in their own distinct way, are part of this renewed approach.

McCallum's is in some ways the more straightforward. Taking a discrete geographic area and chronological period under examination, he relies heavily (though not exclusively) on kirk session records and other official, institutional records to map the process and progress of the reformation in Fife. Fife, he argues, is an appropriate object for study because of the quantity of records surviving, the importance of the region, and the variety of types of parishes (5-6).

McCallum's chief argument is that the process of reformation was a gradual one, both in terms of the provision of qualified ministers (and therefore preaching) and in terms of the imposition of reformed discipline in the parishes. Initially, reformed clergy might serve several parishes at once (13), and there might be long interim periods between ministers, in which a parish would have no one to preach or provide the sacraments unless they shared a minister with a neighboring parish (16). In several parts of Fife, it was only in the 1590s that the majority of parishes had their own ministers (17-23). Most of these ministers, even in the early period of the reformation, were university graduates (often but not always in theology) and had served an apprenticeship under a senior, reformed minister (145).

The provision of reformed discipline in the parishes was likewise a gradual process, with kirk sessions being slow to take root outside of St. Andrews in the first twenty years of the reformation (47). The mere existence of the sessions did not guarantee that all violators were being addressed. Even in St. Andrews itself, "it took until the end of the sixteenth century to establish a thorough and strict system of parish discipline" (51), and it was not until the 1630s that an effective system of discipline was in place in rural parts of Fife (71). McCallum offers careful analysis of the kirk sessions themselves, discussing their membership, the typical offenders they disciplined, and the effectiveness of that discipline. The kirk sessions, in McCallum's estimation, did not have particular biases shaped by class or gender, but treated infractions as they were detected, and in general McCallum finds that the disciplinary system was accepted by all, even those who fell afoul of it (214, 219, 227-30).

McCallum also examines parish worship, using the kirk session records to portray both the patterns of worship activities and the efforts to ensure attendance at them. The picture that emerges is of a didactic, word-based liturgy, week in and week out, punctuated by rare celebrations of the Lord's supper. Most parishes did not, until quite late, meet the church's standard of quarterly communions (81-2).

It is only by the 1620s and 1630s that McCallum is willing to see "most of the features of a reformed church" present (233). …

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