research in focus

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RESEARCH IN FOCUS

This section introduces on-going research into anti-Catholicism in British history. Researchers from a range of academic disciplines discuss the broad themes of their research, the questions which they are investigating, and the problems which they face.

 
 

Our first entry for Research In Focus comes from Dr. Simon Lewis, Institute of Historical Research.

Anti-Methodism and Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England

It has often been stated by scholars – most notably, Linda Colley – that it was anti-Catholicism which forged ‘English identity’ for much of the eighteenth century. Anti-Catholicism was certainly virulent during this period. Indeed, Roman Catholics were not covered under the terms of the 1689 Toleration Act, and it was not until 1791 that they were legally entitled to worship freely. During times of conflict with Roman Catholic powers, it certainly appeared – at least on the surface – that English Protestants were united against this ‘other’. Nevertheless, the reality was far more complexed. What we must remember is that, throughout the eighteenth century, English Protestants were extremely divided amongst themselves. In fact, the charge of ‘popery’ was a polemical tool which Protestants often hurled at each other.

High Church Anglicans – most of whom, politically, were aligned with the Tories – associated Dissenters with the regicidal actions of their Puritan ancestors. Another common claim among High Churchmen was that, by attempting to erode the powers and privileges of the established Church, Dissenters were playing into the hands of the Papacy. Thus, Dissenters were often labelled as crypto-papist schismatics. On the other hand, Dissenters and Low Church Anglicans often claimed that their High Church opponents were ‘popish’ and despotic tyrants, who were guilty of ‘priestcraft’. By the late 1730s, another controversial religious group had arrived on the scene – the Methodists. These evangelicals – who included such figures as John Wesley (1703-1791) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) – stirred up a great deal of controversy through their various practices, such as open-air and itinerant preaching. According to Wesley and Whitefield, most contemporary Anglican divines had departed from the Church’s Reformed roots by preaching ‘popish’ moralistic doctrines, and indulging in the kinds of sinful recreational pursuits which had been condemned by the Reformers.

The Methodist movement met with much hostility in the form of tracts, sermons, novels, poems and occasionally even mob violence. Unsurprisingly, many anti-Methodist authors were High Church clergymen, who viewed evangelical itinerants as the latest in a long line of anarchic and ‘enthusiastic’ Protestant sects. Their attacks on Methodism were often filled with references to sixteenth-century Anabaptists and seventeenth-century Puritans. While both Wesley and Whitefield remained Anglican clergymen throughout their lives, it was often argued that, by condemning their Anglican brethren, evangelicals were separatist Dissenters in all but name. Thus, like Dissenters, Methodists were often accused of being ‘popish’ schismatics, who – under the veil of being ultra-Protestants – were intent on toppling the Church of England. One High Church Tory divine who opposed both Dissenters and Methodists was Zachary Grey (1688-1766), a Cambridge divine. In A Serious Address to Lay-Methodists (1745), Grey cited numerous alleged instances where Catholics had posed as Protestant sectarians. Most notably, Grey cited the story of ‘Faithful Commin’, a Dominican friar, who had apparently gained the trust of a Puritan congregation in Elizabethan England by declaring that the Reformation had not gone far enough.

Dual comparisons to Puritans and Catholics sometimes found their way into pieces of anti-Methodist visual satire. For instance, a 1739 work, entitled Enthusiasm Display’d, contained a drawing of a bare-legged Whitefield, surrounded by his female admirers. On the ground, there is a rosary, which has clearly dropped from Whitefield’s hand. Yet, the accompanying text also alludes to Puritanism by stating ‘what was Peter’s once is Whitefield’s now’. ‘Peters’ was intended as a reference to the New Model Army chaplain, Hugh Peter (1598-1660), who was executed following the Restoration because his preaching was seen by contemporary Royalists as something which had fuelled the Regicide. Clearly, the anonymous author was portraying Whitefield as both a Puritan and a crypto-papist.

Courtesy of the  Library of Congress

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The most famous comparison between Methodism and Roman Catholicism was undoubtedly a three-volume work by George Lavington (1684-1762), the bishop of Exeter, entitled The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared (1749-51). Unlike Zachary Grey and many other anti-Methodist authors, Lavington was not of a High Church/Tory persuasion. As a fairly ‘ultra-Protestant’ Whig, Lavington was relatively sympathetic towards the plight of Protestant Dissenting groups. So, what did Lavington despise about Methodism? To Lavington, Methodism represented a shift towards a priestly and ‘popish’ pre-Reformation form of Christianity.

Amongst Lavington’s numerous grievances was his argument that the Methodist ‘class’ system – in which lay Methodists were expected to confess their sins before their class leader – was reminiscent of the Catholic confessional. Furthermore, Lavington likened the ascetic regimen practiced by many Methodists – in particular, Wesley – to the ‘popish’ monasticism of Roman Catholic Saints. For example, Lavington argued that, like Wesley, St. Nereus had been ‘such a lover of poverty, that he frequently besought Almighty God to bring him to that State as to stand in need of a Penny.’ Similarly, St. Francis of Assisi had always worn ‘Apparel of the vilest sort.’ Lavington was particularly keen to highlight the asceticism of the sixteenth-century Jesuit founder, Ignatius Loyola, who had ‘made the Women weep, tear their Hair, and charming Faces, and throw away their vain Ornaments.’ Where Wesley had undergone a ‘heart-warming’ conversion experience in 1738, Loyola had similarly claimed to encounter faith through ‘a sudden light’. Finally, Lavington attacked Wesley’s tendency to pray for the dead – a practice which many Protestants viewed as an acknowledgement of Purgatory’s existence. In response to this argument, Wesley claimed that, when he prayed for the dead, he was only praying for the faithful departed, who remained in an imperfect state until Judgement Day.

So, what does an examination of Methodism and anti-Methodism tell us about the religious culture of eighteenth-century England? Clearly, there was not one form of anti-Catholicism, but several. Wesley and Whitefield believed that many of their Anglican brethren had neglected the Reformation’s emphasis on faith, and embraced a ‘popish’ and moralistic emphasis on good works instead. Methodists, in turn, were charged with ‘popery’ by their opponents. Yet, there was no homogeneous way in which this charge was deployed by anti-Methodist authors. High Church divines, such as Grey, portrayed Methodists (and Dissenters) as anticlerical separatists, who were aiding the Papacy by attempting to topple the Church of England. Ironically, however, those of a Low Church persuasion, such as Lavington, viewed Methodism as a priestly and superstitious High Church movement, which was determined to return various ‘popish’ practices – such as monasticism, praying for the dead and the confessional – into mainstream Anglicanism. Evidently, Methodism meant different things to different people. Given that Methodism’s origins lay both in High Church Anglicanism and Puritanism – two extremes that had traditionally been at loggerheads – it is unsurprising that it was perceived in different ways by different Protestant groups. All the individuals and groups described in these discussions deployed the charge of ‘popery’ as a means of describing something which they perceived to be contrary to modernity. However, there was clearly no unifying conception of exactly what, in a religious sense, ‘modernity’ meant. Anti-Catholicism in eighteenth-century England did not consist of a united struggle against a Catholic ‘other’. Rather, it formed part of a divided struggle for Protestant identity. 

OUR SECOND ENTRY FOR RESEARCH IN FOCUS COMES FROM CLARE LOUGHLIN, A PHD STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH WORKING ON THE FOLLOWING TOPIC:

pRESBYTERIANS, EPISCOPaLIANS, AND THE PROBLEM OF 'POPERY' IN SCOTLAND C.1690-1745

Anti-Catholicism was pervasive in eighteenth-century Scotland. The revolution of 1688–90 saw the overthrow and exile of the Catholic James VII, and sparked severe anti-Catholic violence across Scotland. The Catholic chapel at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh was ransacked by an angry mob, along with the houses of prominent Catholic families. Pope-burning processions took place in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Priests and Jesuits, who had operated with unprecedented freedom under James VII, were either captured and imprisoned, or forced to flee abroad. The revolution also had a profound impact on Scottish Protestantism. Since 1660 the Church of Scotland had been governed by bishops, but Episcopacy was disestablished in 1689 when the hierarchy refused to accept the legitimacy of William and Mary. Presbyterian government was permanently re-established in 1690. There was ongoing confessional conflict between these two groups: Presbyterian authority was precarious outside of the south and west of Scotland, and Episcopalian ministers often held on to their parishes despite vigorous Presbyterian efforts to remove them from kirks. In 1712, the establishment of official toleration for loyal Episcopalians presented a further challenge to Presbyterian dominance.

 

A key question of my research is how this animosity among Protestants affected responses towards Catholicism. The Catholic mission began to recover in the 1690s, particularly in the Highlands, the north-east and the south-west. In the half-century that followed, ministers bewailed this apparent ‘increase of popery’, and embarked on missionary efforts to eradicate Catholicism. Historians have interpreted these endeavours as an almost exclusively Presbyterian phenomenon, driven by wider political fears of Jacobitism. Of course, most Catholics in Scotland were Jacobites, and fears of a Stuart restoration were real and palpable. Nevertheless, I would suggest that this focus has produced a one-dimensional view of how Protestants understood the Catholic threat. It has obscured other Presbyterian fears of ‘popery’, and has led to a neglect of Episcopalian attitudes towards Catholics. Alongside political loyalty, Presbyterian anti-Catholic efforts were underpinned by fears over the prevalence of ‘idolatry’ and ‘superstition’. Missionaries were trained in the so-called ‘popish controversie’ in order to counter Catholic doctrines and persuade laity to accept Protestant theology. As for Episcopalians, their attitude towards Catholics outside the Stuart monarchy was decidedly ambiguous, and ministers engaged in determined efforts to convert ‘papists’.

 

Given these  dynamics, my research attempts to evaluate how far an irenic, ecumenical Protestantism was sought as the most effective response to the ‘increase of popery’, or whether more confessional approaches emerged in proselytising efforts. Uncertainty over how far Scottish Protestants could work together to eradicate ‘popery’ emerged at an early stage. For instance, Scotland’s principal missionary body, the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), was established in 1708 as a joint venture between Presbyterians and Episcopalians. Its charity schools were open to all children, ‘Popish as weil as Protestant of all denominations’.[i] In practice, however, the Society’s schools were emphatically Presbyterian. All schoolmasters had to subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith, which usually excluded Episcopalians from the enterprise. Frustrated, some Episcopalians claimed that the schools were merely a front to bring up children ‘in an aversion to Episcopacy’.[ii] While both sides were committed to saving souls from ‘popery’, this sat in tension with competing visions of Protestantism.

 

That Presbyterians and Episcopalians were divided over how to respond to the Catholic threat should not surprise us. A growing body of scholarship on the eighteenth century has demonstrated the limits of anti-Catholicism as a unifying factor in Protestant thought. It is increasingly recognised that ‘popery’, far from solely denoting adherents to the Roman Catholic Church, was also a polemical device that Protestants deployed against one another. Scotland was no exception to this trend: historians have illustrated how Presbyterians and Episcopalians frequently appropriated traditional anti-Catholic tropes in their own religious arguments, particularly claims of ‘persecuting’ behaviour.[iii] Scottish religious discourse thus mirrored debates over ‘popery’ between Anglicans and dissenters in England.

 

However, Scottish Protestantism was not only divided between Presbyterians and Episcopalians. As the eighteenth century progressed, there was increasing fragmentation and schism within these two confessions. Episcopalians split in 1689 over loyalty to the exiled Stuarts; the non-juring (pro-Jacobite) Episcopalians experienced further division from the 1720s over the introduction of primitive, and supposedly ‘popish’, Eucharistic ceremonies. Presbyterianism struggled with division almost from the moment of its re-establishment. Numerous hard-line Presbyterians refused to acknowledge the established Church unless it renewed the Covenants of 1638 and 1643. At the same time, a series of theological and ecclesiastical controversies within the established Church culminated in 1733 with the foundation of the Associate Presbytery, the first permanent Presbyterian schism.

 

This fractious religious environment had a significant impact on Scottish anti-Catholic discourse. Rather than Presbyterian-Episcopalian division, it was this internal fragmentation that increasingly drove the rhetoric of anti-popery. In particular, two dominant interpretations of ‘popery’ emerged. For some, the essence of ‘popery’ lay in attempts to trample upon individual conscience and the ‘liberty of private judgement’ – that inalienable Protestant right to make up one’s own mind in religious matters. Episcopalians invoked ‘private judgement’ in defence of the primitive Eucharistic ceremonies: Bishop Archibald Campbell argued that to force individuals to act against their conscience was ‘the handle to Introduce a Popish Usurpation’.[iv] ‘Popish’ tyranny over conscience was also identified by Presbyterians arguing for the freedom to dissent from Church decisions: one preacher denounced the general assembly as a ‘Tridentine Conventicle’ that suppressed free religious enquiry.[v] Ranged against this vision of ‘popery’ were desires to uphold orthodoxy and unity. In this context, ‘popery’ consisted of undermining Church authority, which provided Catholics with a dangerous opportunity to reap a ‘plentifull harvest’.[vi] Far from serving the cause of Protestant unity, ‘popery’ intensified the existing fractures within Scottish Protestantism.

 

More than empty rhetorical slurs, the ways in which ‘popery’ was deployed in the first half of the eighteenth century throws into sharp relief a deeper struggle to determine ‘true’ Scottish Protestantism, and the precarious balance between Christian liberty and a unified Church. Anti-Catholicism in Scotland was pervasive, but it was also contested. When the very nature of Protestantism was in question, how did Protestants perceive their religious enemy? This is something that I hope my PhD research can begin to answer.

 

[i] National Records of Scotland [NRS], SSPCK General Meeting Minutes, GD95/1/1, p. 31.

[ii] NRS, Aeneas Morison to Archibald Campbell, 1712, CH12/12/816.

[iii] Alasdair Raffe, The Culture of Controversy: Religious Arguments in Scotland 1660–1714 (Woodbridge, 2012), esp. chapter 4; Christopher A. Whatley, ‘Reformed religion, regime change, Scottish whigs and the struggle for the soul of Scotland’, Scottish Historical Review, 112 (2013), 66–99; David Parrish, Jacobitism and anti-Jacobitism in the British Atlantic World, 1688–1727 (Woodbridge, 2017).

[iv] NRS, Archibald Campbell to John Ogilvie, 21 December 1723, CH12/12/291.

[v] James Hog, The Sober Verity ([Edinburgh?], 1722), 16.

[vi] NRS, College of Episcopal Bishops to James Gadderar, 29 March 1723, CH12/12/128.

OUR THIRD ENTRY COMES FROM RYAN MALLON, WHO HAS RECENTLY SUBMITTED HIS PHD THESIS - ‘A GODLY NATION: SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN DISSENT AFTER THE DISRUPTION’ - AT QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, BELFAST

Anti-popery and Presbyterianism in mid-nineteenth century Scotland

In Scotland the mid-nineteenth century was a tumultuous period for relations not only between Protestants and Catholics but also between Protestants themselves, particularly within Presbyterianism, the country’s dominant religion. In May 1843 the Established Church of Scotland effectively split in two following a decade of conflict between the British government and the Kirk’s evangelical faction, which opposed state interference in the spiritual affairs of the Church. These non-intrusionists, led by arguably the greatest churchman of his age Thomas Chalmers, formed the Free Church of Scotland during what became known as the ‘Great Disruption’. Accounting for roughly a third of the Scottish population, the creation of the Free Church in 1843 marked the death knell of the traditional belief that the Established Church represented the nation as a whole. According to the 1851 Religious Census, only thirty-two percent of Scottish churchgoers attended the Established Kirk. While that particular census had its flaws, its results nevertheless emphasised the increasing religious pluralism of post-Disruption Scotland. Alongside the Established Church and the new Free Church, a third major Presbyterian denomination had emerged by the mid-nineteenth century in the form of the United Presbyterian Church. This church was established in 1847 following the merger of two older seceding denominations, the United Secession and Relief churches, and represented nearly twenty percent of Scottish churchgoers. Taking into account the various smaller Presbyterian and non-Presbyterian dissenting bodies, including Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and a growing Roman Catholic population, Scottish religion was more diverse and multidenominational than ever. Within Presbyterianism, this new pluralist landscape led to a struggle in the post-Disruption period to claim Scotland’s religious heritage and identity as the Established, Free, and United Presbyterian churches each emphasised their own position as the true national kirk and representative of Protestantism in Scotland.

At the same time, a renewed and almost unprecedented surge of anti-popery engulfed Scottish public discourse. In 1845 the Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel proposed a measure to increase from £9,000 to £26,000 the annual government stipend afforded to the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth, County Kildare. Politically Peel viewed the endowment as central to his attempts to placate Catholic agitation in Ireland, offering recognition that the Roman Catholic Church could provide a stabilising influence on Irish society. Religious advocates of the bill, particularly within the Church of England, believed that by endowing Irish priests efforts could therefore be made to ‘purify’ the apparent errors of Romanism that would eventually result in Catholic conversion to Protestantism. However, Peel’s decision unleashed a wave of Protestant opposition throughout Britain. Between February and June 1845, ten-thousand petitions against the grant collected over one and quarter million signatures. Public meetings were held across the country as Liberals, Conservatives, High Churchmen, and voluntaries united to condemn the bill. Along with the repeal of the Corn Laws a year later, the controversy played a major role in bringing down Peel’s ministry, and according to Morgan O’Connell, the son of the Irish reformer Daniel O’Connell, even threatened the future of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The anti-papal fervour of 1845 was redoubled five years later following Pope Pius IX’s restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of bishops in England. This apparent act of ‘Papal Aggression’ on Protestant Britain reawakened the anti-Maynooth agitation, incited communal violence in Liverpool, Dunfermline, and Greenock during 1850 and 1851, and resulted in the promulgation of numerous ‘militant’ Protestant organisations such as the Glasgow Protestant Laymen’s Association, the Scottish Reformation Society, and the London-based Protestant Alliance.

Pius IX

Pius IX

In Scotland, the anti-popery movement of the mid-nineteenth century shaped and was shaped by the shifting religious identities of the post-Disruption period. John Wolffe has argued that the campaign reflected the existing theological and institutional divisions within British Protestantism.  On the surface at least Scotland’s Presbyterian churches appeared united in their opposition to Maynooth and the Papal Aggression. This was especially the case within the dissenting churches. Protestant organisations such as the Scottish Reformation Society, founded by the leading Free Church anti-Catholic James Begg, were at least nominally cross-denominational and emphasised the need for unity in the fight against Rome. This display of unity within Presbyterianism was perhaps most evident in the electoral alliance formed within the Scottish Liberal Party after 1845. Deployed mainly between members of the dissenting Free and United Presbyterian churches, this political pact was based almost solely on a common opposition to the Maynooth endowment and proved spectacularly successful. At the general elections of 1847 and 1852, the anti-Maynooth alliance dominated the vote in the burghs, sweeping aside their Whig and Tory opponents and effectively redrawing traditional party lines in Scotland. The staggering success of the alliance was encapsulated in the shock defeat of the famed Whig historian and prominent advocate of the Maynooth grant Thomas Macaulay at the hands of the Free Church businessman Charles Cowan at Edinburgh in 1847, a victory that symbolised both the narrow political agenda of the coalition and the unified strength of its supporters. The alliance’s emphasis on the single-issue politics of the anti-Maynooth campaign, and its effect on political allegiance in Scotland, led one commentator to describe the coalition’s ideal candidate as one ‘who, when asked whether he were Whig or Tory, replied – “Sir, I am a Presbyterian”’.

However, the rhetoric of Protestant unity in the anti-popery movement often served as a smokescreen for intra-Presbyterian divisions. First, the Established Church of Scotland was often side-lined or even absent in the Scottish anti-Catholic movement. Groups such as the Scottish Reformation Society were dominated by members of the Free and United Presbyterian churches, while the few Established Churchmen willing to indulge in militant anti-popery often preferred to participate in English organisations such as the Protestant Alliance. While institutional anti-popery represented a distinct Scottish and Presbyterian defence of British Protestantism, the anti-Maynooth alliance was also viewed by dissenters as an opportunity to challenge the political and religious establishment in Scotland. To these dissenters, the safeguarding of Britain’s civil and religious liberties from the authoritarian threat of popery went hand-in-hand with their struggle against the apparent erastian character of its state churches. Second, ideological divisions remained even within the dissenting churches that continuously threatened to overshadow their united front. While Free Churchmen, who despite leaving the state kirk maintained their support for the principle of established churches, opposed the Maynooth grant on the grounds that the British government should not endow the religious ‘error’ of popery, the voluntaries of the United Presbyterian Church viewed the campaign as part of their wider movement to end all state endowments of religion. Combined with divisions on other major issues such as national education and lingering personal animosities following years of intra-Presbyterian rivalry, tensions over these disparate motives ultimately resulted in the collapse of the dissenting political alliance in the mid-1850s.

            The gulf between rhetoric and reality in the anti-popery movement of the mid-nineteenth century largely mirrored the pre-existing divisions within Scottish Presbyterianism. At the 1860 tercentenary of the Scottish Reformation, each of the three major Presbyterian churches presented itself as the true reformed Church of Scotland, claiming the country’s Protestant heritage, and resistance to Roman Catholicism, as its own. In the post-Disruption period, anti-Catholicism not only represented the defence of British Protestantism but also an opportunity to claim Scotland’s Presbyterian character in an increasingly pluralist religious landscape.

Our fourth entry comes from Karie Schultz, a PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast, History

 

The reception of Catholic political thought in the Scottish Revolution, 1638-1651

 

Between 1638 and 1649, the Scottish Covenanters waged a series of civil wars against King Charles I to resist his imposition of bishops and ‘popish’ ceremonies on the Scottish kirk. For the Covenanters, excessive royal oversight of the church undermined the Reformed faith and threatened to compromise the stability of the post-Reformation kirk. Within this context, Covenanters and their Protestant royalist enemies frequently deployed anti-Catholic rhetoric in treatises defending or condemning resistance to the king, arguing that adherents of the opposing political position embraced ‘Jesuitical’ or ‘papist’ views. At the same time that they accused their enemies of adhering to Catholic views, leading royalists and Covenanters drew favourably and unapologetically upon medieval and Counter-Reformation Catholic scholars to develop their own ideas about the law of nature, the origin of the commonwealth, and the boundaries of political authority. Scottish Reformed theologians frequently adopted Catholic political ideas despite being ardently anti-Catholic in their rhetoric. My research explores this multifaceted engagement with Catholicism in Scottish political discourse through four case studies: The Aberdeen Doctors, John Maxwell, Samuel Rutherford, and Archibald Johnston of Wariston. The former two cases illustrate the reception of Catholic thought amongst Scottish royalist authors, while the latter two illustrate the same amongst the Covenanting leadership. Investigating the different uses of Catholic political thought by these authors challenges the notion that ‘anti-Catholicism’ was a universal and monolithic sentiment in seventeenth-century Scotland. Rather, the intellectual relationship between Scottish Protestants and continental European Catholic authors reveals a more strategic and nuanced approach to anti-Catholicism by leading Covenanters and royalists as they incorporated multi-confessional thought into their own political discourse.

One of the main ways Covenanters and royalists encountered Catholic political thought favourably was through university education. Although the Aberdeen Doctors, Maxwell, Rutherford, and Wariston represented different perspectives on the legitimacy of resistance, they shared a common educational background. They all attended one of the six Scottish universities in the early seventeenth century where they were instructed according to a framework of political doctrines drawn from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. These doctrines pertained to ideas about virtue, the role of law and magistrates, and the natural human inclination to form political societies. In their final year, they discussed the political and ethical doctrines they had been taught in public defences. The content of these defences was recorded and printed in Latin-language Theses philosophicae. These theses reveal that works by Catholic scholastics, such as Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus, were regularly used as tools to integrate non-Christian classical political and legal thought into a Christian framework that needed to ascribe a role to the church in the civil kingdom. Catholic authors were thus viewed as useful scholarly sources rather than confessional ones in the education of key Covenanters and royalists, providing one plausible explanation for the positive handling of Catholic political thought amongst the Reformed later in the 1640s.

Samuel Rutherford,  Lex, Rex: or, the law and the prince  (London, 1644)

Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex: or, the law and the prince (London, 1644)

John Marshall,  Sacro-Sancta regnum majestas  (Oxford, 1644)

John Marshall, Sacro-Sancta regnum majestas (Oxford, 1644)

Yet, the Covenanters’ and royalists’ favourable use of Catholic political thought cannot be attributed solely to their humanist education, for there seems to be a level of intentionality and strategy behind their engagement with this thought. One of the main emerging themes of my research is that Covenanters and royalists relied on different strains of Catholic thought regarding the origins of commonwealths and the role of law. Covenanters such as Rutherford and Wariston used Thomist natural law theory (developed by Aquinas) to argue that humans voluntarily enter society and elect their own magistrates for protection. Furthermore, the prince was responsible for enforcing both tables of the Decalogue (or the Ten Commandments), one of which dealt with proper worship. Human reason revealed that God exists but the regulations for true worship could be known only through revelation. The prince had a duty to enforce true worship in the commonwealth according to Scripture. If he failed to do so, he could legitimately be deposed. Thomist natural law expanded the space for human autonomy in the temporal kingdom, enabling the Covenanters to justify resistance. Since Charles had imposed improper worship by introducing popish practices to the kirk, his subjects could depose him for failing to uphold his duty as magistrate. Royalists (such as Maxwell and the Aberdeen Doctors) used Catholic political thought to a different end. They drew upon absolute sovereigntists including Jean Bodin, William Barclay, and Adam Blackwood to minimise human agency in the temporal kingdom and attribute control over civil affairs to God alone. They used a different strain of Catholic political thought to illustrate that God ordained kings directly and that magistrates could not be held accountable to the law or to the people. Thus, Scots on both sides of the war justified their political allegiance by inserting themselves into various inter-Catholic conversations about society, law, and political authority.

Despite this positive reception, anti-Popery still fuelled Scottish political discourse to a great extent. Royalists and Covenanters alike vocally disparaged the Catholic position that the Pope could intervene in the temporal kingdom when matters of salvation were concerned. Another area of anti-Popery in Scottish political discourse pertained to the conciliarist tradition. Some medieval Catholic conciliarists had argued that the Pope might be deposed by a General Council. Royalists such as Maxwell accused the Covenanters of applying this strictly Catholic idea to the civil kingdom when arguing that inferior magistrates could legitimately depose their superiors, making an ecclesiological debate a constitutional one within a Protestant kingdom. Covenanters and royalists alike were careful to distance themselves from doctrines defending papal authority, and fear about the Pope’s power in civil affairs still characterised Scottish intellectual life. Ultimately, however, the appearance of ‘anti-Catholicism’ in the writings of Scottish Reformed authors requires qualification as Covenanters and royalists simultaneously drew upon and rejected elements of Catholic political thought to justify or condemn resistance to the king. Despite the prevalence of anti-Catholic rhetoric, there was also an important acceptance of Catholic political ideas that added a multi-confessional dimension to early modern Scottish political thought.

 

Email: kschultz01@qub.ac.uk