On This Day

Each month we remember key figures from the past whose stories have contributed to the life of the church in Scotland and continue to provide encouragement and inspiration to us today.

This month we remember, among others, two social pioneers, a rebellious teenager, a famous cricketer, writers whose books broke new ground, a poet, a prison reformer, a nationally-known preacher, and a chocolate manufacturer.

1 October: Lord Shaftesbury

Anthony Ashley Cooper was a Anglican with a strong evangelical outlook. Elected a Member of Parliament, he put his efforts into improving the working conditions of factory workers and miners. He also saw the importance of workers' housing conditions both for the welfare of workers and for the health of the economy, and the increase at the time in low-cost urban housing was due to his influence. He was one of those behind the establishment of working men's institutes. He realised too the benefits of education for all and became very active in the Ragged Schools Union, which in its heyday enabled more 300,000 destitute children to be educated. Overseas, he championed the work of Florence Nightingale and for many years before his death in 1885 was a very active president of the British and Foreign Bible Society and a generous contributor to missionary societies.

3 October: Clare and Francis of Assisi

Francis was son of a wealthy merchant who dramatically renounced his social position, ostentatious life style, the knightly exploits of his peer group, and his inheritance to devote his life to the care of the poor and the sick. Both men and women began to follow his example, including Clare, the founder of the Poor Clares. Their guiding principles were the traditional ones of chastity, poverty and obedience, with the greatest emphasis given to poverty. However, what caused the Franciscan Order and movement to spread so rapidly all over Europe (reaching as far even as Berwick in 1235) was the joyous way these vows were observed by the founders, who became known as joculatores Dei, God's merry men. A visit to the Holy Land made him critical of the Crusaders. Liked as a preacher and singer of songs (a famous composition was the Canticle of the Sun which is still sung today in the guise of the hymn All creatures of our God and King), he is remembered also today for his concern for the environment and for creation. He died in 1266.

This day is also remembered by some as the World Day for Animals, perhaps because of the association of the day with St Francis.

4 October: Rembrandt van Rijn

Of Dutch Calvinist parentage, Rembrandt is one of the world's greatest artists, admired in particular for his technique, his use of light, and his realism. He was very productive as a painter and is especially noted for his portraits which sympathetically reveal the humanity of the sitter. His many notable biblical paintings tell of his profound appreciation of the Gospel. In them, his use of light and shade is often to the fore, and they have a touching down to earth quality without in any way diminishing the grace and glory of the theme; e.g. The Return of the Prodigal and The Woman taken in Adultery. He died in 1669.

6 October: William Tyndale

William Tyndale was an English Oxford-educated scholar who believed that people high and low should be able to read the Bible in their own language. He moved in the same circles as the European scholar Erasmus and the reformer Martin Luther and shared their radical ideas, so disturbing to many that he spent part of his life as a refugee, living at different times at Cologne and at Worms. While in exile, his well-known New Testament was printed, and much of the wonderful language of the King James version of the Bible came from that earlier translation. Some suggest he has had more influence on the English language than Shakespeare, not just in his use of existing words but in his coining of new words ('atonement' and 'beautiful' were two). His book The Obedience of a Christian Man (1528) was one of the things that led to his arrest and his burning at the stake as a heretic in Antwerp in 1536.

7 October: C. T. Studd

In his early days, Studd was known as an outstanding cricketer, playing in the England team. As a student at Cambridge he became very involved in an evangelical rival, and in due course became one of 'the Cambridge Seven' who undertook missionary work with the China Inland Mission, suffering great hardship as they preached the Gospel in the remoter areas of that country. Ten years later found him in America, helping bring about a considerable revival of interest in Christianity, and where he established the Student Volunteer Movement Another body he established was the Worldwide Evangelism Crusade, after serving in South India, in the Sudan and the Congo, where he died in 1931. He was often heard to say, "If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him."

8 October: Triduana

The life of this (some say) Colossian woman is more legend than fact but the legends are startling enough. A travelling companion of Regulus, she is said to have arrived with him in Scotland when he brought the bones of St Andrew to the country. Rather glamorous, she caught the attention of King Nectanevus who summoned her to join his entourage. Hearing that he wanted her for her beautiful eyes, the story goes that she plucked them out and sent them to the king but refused to have anything else to do with him. At the old Restalrig church is St Triduana's Well, where people used to go seeking a cure for blindness.

9 October: David Brainerd

David Brainerd was an eighteenth century American Presbyterian who was supported in mission work among native Americans by the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (the SSPCK). While he did not have much to show for his own work, his journal became renowned and affected the lives and work of some of the pioneers of the missionary movement. These included, in Scotland, Murray McCheyne (whose travels and writing did much to stimulate interest in Jewish mission) and the husband and wife team of John Wilson and Margaret Bayne in Bombay. Said to have "exhibited… benevolence and universal holiness as neither men nor angels saw", he died in 1747 aged just 29.

10 October: Tertullian of Carthage

Tertullian of Carthage converted to Christianity in Rome and became a leader of the church in North Africa. He was a memorable teacher who helped the church to self-understanding and gave it a vocabulary to speak about itself. He was influential also in establishing Latin as the ecclesiastical language. Impatient in nature, he reacted against what he saw as the increasing worldliness of the church and joined the Montanists, a sect known for its strictness and its fervency. Even this was too lax for him and after a time he left. In spite of this deviation from mainstream Christianity, he is still seen as one of the formative figures of the church in the West. He died sometime after 202.

Also on this day: William Guthrie was a renowned Covenanting preacher who drew vast crowds to his church at Fenwick in Ayrshire, and was influential in promoting Presbyterianism at a time when the country was still 'choosing' between that and an episcopal form of government (a struggle that was as much political as religious). He was suspended, however, by the Archbishop Burnett of Glasgow in 1664 and had to retire to his estate near Brechin. His book The Christian's Great Interest, translated into several languages and appearing in many editions, is still considered a Christian classic. It's message, succinctly and sweetly spelled out, is the importance of having salvation and being at peace in Christ. He was a peaceable, genial man know for his humour and country pursuits. He died in 1665.

11 October: Thomas Traherne

Thomas Traherne, an Anglican clergyman, was one of the group (which included John Donne) who were known as 'metaphysical poets'. When Dr Johnson gave them this title, he was not being entirely complimentary (he found them fanciful and extravagant), but their work is now much valued, for both their poetic beauty and for their insightful Christian content. His work exhibits a kind of Celtic mysticism, with his glorying in nature as well as in the innocence of childhood. Most renowned among his poems are The Rapture and An Hymn upon St Bartholomew's Day. Although he died in 1674, his poems and other writings were not actually published until 1903 and after.

Also on this day: Kenneth and Serf were together known as the 'apostles of Fife'. Kennoway (and its former High Street) are named after him as are a crop of places round St Andrews (such as Strathkinness). In the west, the parish church of Iona stands at Cill-Chainnich, and the island of Inchkenneth off Mull drew the admiration of Boswell and Johnson on their tour to the Hebrides. Cambuskenneth on the Forth may recall his name, and there are Kilchenzies in Ayrshire and Kintyre. The likelihood that these were mediaeval links rather than ones dating from his own time suggest that traditions surrounding this Irish school mate of Columba (and later companion in his Scottish mission) were deep seated. His probably date of death was 600.

12 October: Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry was a daughter of the wealthy Quaker Gurney family, who with great concern, wise judgement, and tireless energy was successful in improving prison conditions in Britain and Europe. Among her achievements were the segregation of the sexes, the proper classification of criminals, female supervision of women, better conditions for inmates etc. Acknowledged as a 'minister' by the Society of Friends, she likewise did a great deal to improve the British hospital system and the care of the insane. And all of this while raising a large family! She died in 1845. 

13 October: Comgan

Comgan was an Irish ruler who left his throne to become a missionary to Scotland. The village of Kirkcowan in Wigtownshire suggests the coast on which he landed (the other spelling of his name) and Kilchoan suggests work in the district of Loch Alsh. Turriff was another location where his memory lingers. A wooden statue which was believed to bear his image was taken to Edinburgh and ceremonially burned by reformers in 1600. It is not known when he died but he is believed to have travelled in Scotland in the first half of the eighth century.

16 October: Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley

Martyred in 1555, Latimer, a convert to Protestantism who became Bishop of Worcester, was a vigorous and colourful preacher, and one of 12 licensed to preach anywhere in England. His eloquence greatly advanced the Protestant cause and was effective in drawing attention to social injustices and corruption. Under the reign of Mary, he fell foul of those who opposed the Reformation and was excommunicated. Ridley, a Cambridge academic and Bishop of London, achieved many reforms in the church, for example the use of a communion table rather than an altar. Like Latimer he also preached against the social injustices of the time, so effectively that one of his sermons led to the founding of the now well-known London hospitals and institutions. He was a supporter of Lady Jane Grey against Mary Tudor, excommunicated, and burned at the stake with Latimer at Oxford. Latimer's words at the end to Ridley have become renowned: "We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England as I trust shall never be put out."

17 October: Regulus (Rule)

Because of his association with St Andrews in Fife, Scotland, many legends have been attached to this early Celtic monk and missionary. It is probably not true that he was the bringer of the relics of the nation's patron saint to St Andrews, and the story of the ship bearing these being wrecked off that part of the coast a story that grew up to heighten the profile of the new ecclesiastical see of St Andrews. If relics there were, they would have come via Bishop Acca of Hexham. Historians are still puzzled, however, about how the square St Rule's tower beside the cathedral ruins was given its name, quite apart from what it was for! The fourth century date of his life and death is probably too early. Some observe this Sunday as Hospital Sunday.

18 October: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

This is traditionally the day the church has remembered Luke the evangelist, but some churches remember all four gospel writers on this day.

19 October: Sir Thomas Browne

Sir Thomas Browne was a doctor who was better known as a writer. Having studied in England, he travelled widely on the continent of Europe, studying at various universities. His best known work, Religio Medici, was daring for its time, and remains interesting in ours, in that it tackled religious questions both from the point of view of a specialist in medicine as well as fearlessly asked the questions that people of his time were asking about the Christian faith. He died in 1682.

20 October: Henri Dunant

Henri Dunant from Switzerland was the founder of The Red Cross, the idea for which organisation came after he had been an eye-witness at the Battle of Solferino in 1859. Many other causes took his attention, including the abolition of slavery, the creation of a homeland for the Jews, disarmament, international arbitration, and the better treatment of prisoners of war. He also founded the Young Men's Christian Association. His activities effectively bankrupted him and for many years he lived in poverty and obscurity. However, in 1901 he was co-winner of the first Nobel peace prize. He died in 1910. 

21 October: Origen

Origen was from Alexandria and from a Christian home. He lost his father early on at a time of persecution of Christians. His early interest in ideas led to a professorship, his chief interest being Holy Scripture, but he made it is his business to be well versed in the rival philosophies of life that prevailed at the time so that he could be a better teacher. He was ordained at Caesarea during a visit, but was deposed by his own bishop who believed this to have been done irregularly, and concentrated thereafter on writing. His De Principiis as its title suggested was a basic statement of Christian faith and doctrine, at a time when people were still trying to put into words what they believed. He defended the faith not just in his writings but with his life, in that during the Decian persecutions he was imprisoned and tortured, dying not many years later, around 254.

22 October: Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich was renowned as a theologian and commentator on political and social issues. In Germany he held professorial chairs in various universities but his opposition to Hitler and to war (following his role as a Lutheran chaplain during World War 1) led to his departure for America where he became professor at Harvard, Union Theological Seminary and Chicago. His influential Systematic Theology illuminated and embraced modern culture as well as making Christian doctrine accessible to contemporaries. Some of his books, like The Courage to Be reached a large and often 'non-religious' public. Although some criticised him for being a 'Christian atheist', he was also described as "a God-intoxicated man who wanted to help his fellow human beings recapture a relevant and dynamic faith". He died in 1965.

24 October: United Nations Day

This is the anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Charter on 24 October 1945 and has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948.

26 October: Ronald Gregor Smith

Ronald Gregor Smith was a parish minister at Selkirk before being appointed editor of SCM Press - which publishes books on academic theology. In that role, he did much to disseminate the thought and work of such contemporary 'radical' thinkers and theologians as Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Tillich, Kierkegaard, Schliermacher and Buber, whose I and Thou he translated. He became well known and loved by generations of students for the ministry when he was one of the professors at Trinity College, Glasgow, revered for his scholarship but also for the responsible and active approach to the Christian faith that he taught and demonstrated. His two well known books are The New Man and The Free Man. He died in 1968.

Also on this day: William Temple was described as "the first theologian archbishop of Canterbury since Anselm". He was a man of great intellect as well as of great organising ability. He was one of the chain of influential Gifford lecturers, who year by year in the Scottish universities broke new ground in the contemporary understanding of the Christian faith and its role in society. One of his books, The Church and Social Order, illustrated his interest in social reform, shown from his early involvement in the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) – of which he later became president – to his later work in seeking Christian solutions to national and international politics and economics. He also played an influential part in shaping the British and World Councils of Churches. He died in 1944.

31 October: Martin Luther

On this day in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the main church at Wittenberg. These attacked the belief that the purchase of 'indulgences' would guarantee exemption from divine judgement and ensure reconciliation with God. For Luther and the later Reformers, the only reconciliation was through Jesus Christ, freely offered to all who believed in him and were baptised. Luther's actions and writings began the movement which influenced the shape the church was to take in Scotland after 1560.