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, a world explorer who opened up much of Africa, the founder of the Boys' Brigade and a 19th century Scottish churchman.

1 May: David Livingstone

David Livingstone was born in Blantyre in 1813. As a boy he started work in a cotton factory then decided to become a missionary and qualified as a doctor. Though intended originally for China, he went out under the London Missionary Society to Africa. He was seen by many for his determination, courage, endurance, vision and ability. Many believe he is one of the world's greatest explorers, opening up much of central Africa for missionary influence and for trade. A fierce opponent of the slave trade, he is regarded by many Africans as a great liberator. Livingstone died while searching for the source of the River Nile and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London. He died on this day in 1873. To find out more about David Livingstone visit Wholesome Words Christian Biography Resources website at www.wholesomewords.org.

2 May: Athanasius

Athanasius was born in Alexandria, Egypt, about 296 to Christian parents and became a great and fearless opponent of Arianism, the belief that Christ was not equal with God but a subsequent creation by God. His writings in defence of orthodoxy and the incarnation of Christ were authoritative and ultimately the issue split the church. He was one of the drafting committee at the Council of Nicea in 325 which produced the famous Nicene Creed. Arianism, however, proved attractive since and had its staunch supporters, and as a result Athanasius found himself having to live in exile for 17 of his 46 years as Bishop of Alexandria. He died on this day in 373.

9 May: Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus was born to devout parents circa 329. His father was Bishop of Nazianzus, Cappadocia, now modern day Turkey. Though often drawn to the ascetic life he was influenced by his father and became a priest, going on to become Bishop of Sasima and Patriarch of Constantinople. He became a close friend of Basil the Great with whom he assembled an anthology of Origen's works. Often given the title 'The Theologian', Gregory devoted himself to scholarship and was one of those who first developed the doctrine of the Trinity, now embraced as a way of preventing too narrow an understanding of God. He died circa 390.

Also on this day: Zinzendorf, who was a German aristocrat and former lawyer who effectively re-founded the Moravian Church. He established a community, 'Herrenhut', on his estate though his zeal led to troubles with the Saxon government and exile. Ordained a Lutheran pastor he became a Moravian bishop and many saw him as instrumental in founding Moravian settlements not only in Europe (including Britain) but in America. A prolific writer and a man who sought an ecumenical Protestant movement, his emphasis on 'feeling' influenced continental theology. Zinzendorf died in 1760 at Herrnhut.

10 May: William Alexander Smith

William Alexander Smith was born in Thurso in the North of Scotland in 1854, the son of an officer in the dragoons. His father died when he was only 13 and he moved to Glasgow to be brought up by his uncle and became an apprentice in the family wholesale business. Having a military background, Smith joined the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers but also became a Free Church member after an evangelistic rally by Moody and Sankey. He became a Sunday School teacher at the North Woodside mission and, challenged by the boys' behaviour, felt that his own experience of military discipline would do them good and founded what became the Boys' Brigade in October 1883 with a vision for: "the advancementof Christ's kingdom among boys and the promotion of habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self respect, and all that tends to a true Christian manliness." Though modelled on somewhat military lines, the B.B. is not militaristic, Smith resisting inducements to incorporate the movement into the Army Cadet Force. He was knighted for his work and at his funeral in 1914 over 150,000 lined the route of his cortege. Sir William Smith died on this day in 1914 after being suddenly taken ill at a Boys' Brigade meeting in London. He was buried in Glasgow. Further information about William Alexander Smith and the Boys Brigade can be found on the Boys' Brigade website at www.boys-brigade.org.uk.

13 May: Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich was born about 1342 and may have been a Benedictine nun before becoming an anchoress, a religious recluse living apart from the rest of the world. She chose to confine herself to a cell attached to the church in Norwich now called St Julian's church. After recovery from a period of illness, she experienced 16 revelations and these became the basis for her Revelations of Divine Love, many see it as a masterpiece of religious writing notable for its depth of perception and theology and its beautiful and sincere language. Revelations of Divine Love is also reputed to be the first book ever written in English by a woman. She died in 1430.

20 May: General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

The General Assembly, which meets each year in Edinburgh, has the authority to make laws determining how the Church of Scotland operates. It also is the highest court of the Church (the other courts being the kirk session and the presbytery) in which cases can be heard in matters of litigation.

21 May: The Marquis of Montrose

The Marquis of Montrose, otherwise James Graham, was an educated and much travelled aristocratic elder of the Kirk, poet and leading politician who helped draw up the National Covenant (1638) and did much to enforce it. He continued to prove himself an able soldier in the Bishops' Wars (1639 and 1640) but, also very much a royalist, he began to support Charles I and with much clan and Irish help he conducted campaigns in Scotland in support of the crown. Though defeated at Philiphaugh in 1645 by the Covenanting army, he returned later to Scotland in support of Charles II but was captured and executed in Edinburgh in 1650. After the Restoration in 1660, his embalmed heart and bones were buried at St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.

22 May: The Emperor Constantine

The Emperor Constantine was the first Roman emperor to adopt Christianity as a religion. The story goes that he had a vision of a flaming cross inscribed: "In this sign conquer", during a battle against his rivals at the Milvian Bridge, near Rome in 312. After the battle had been won he instituted new toleration to previously persecuted Christians and Christianity became the state religion in 324. He addressed the great Council of Nicaea in 325. His mother, Helena, became the first 'tourist' to the Holy Land. Although attributing his success to his conversion and going on to establish Constantinople as a new Christian capital in the East, building many churches, his later years were somewhat bloodthirsty. He was baptised only just before his death in 337.

Also on this day:The Disruption in 1843 was the cataclysmic event at which a large portion of the established Church broke away to form the Free Church. The causes were several but a main issue was the question of the relationship of state to Church. Following other reunions, the two greath 'halves' of the Reformed Church in Scotland came together in 1929 to re-form the Church of Scotland.

Also on this day: Thomas Boston of Ettrick was born in 1676 in Duns, in the Scottish Borders. He was ordained to Ettrick parish church in 1707 on the day of the union between England and Scotland. He petitioned the General Assembly of 1721 along with 11 others against an act passed the previous year condemning The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher which, although expressing an earlier orthodox reformed doctrine had run foul of an increasingly stern version. Many believe he is best remembered for his sermons which were later published under the title of Human Nature in its Fourfold State – for long a standard exposition of Calvinism to which he gave warmth and new life. He died on 20 May 1732.

23 May: Savonarola

Savonarola was a nobleman from Ferrera in Itay. A Dominican preacher, in morals if not in theology a precursor of the Reformation, who won great acclaim and influence in Florence as a radical genius at variance to the wealth and spirituality of the powerful de Medici family. For a time, under Savonarola, Florence became a theocracy with strict acts against frivolity and vice, his followers urged to give up worldly possessions and finery and burn them in a 'bonfire of vanities'. Though he had earlier received papal support, his Puritanism, his claim to visions, his apparent sedition ultimately led to this amazing and able man being burnt at the stake in 1498.

Also on this day: William of Perth, a baker to trade in his native city, was said to have laid aside every 10th loaf he made for the poor. He took a vow to visit the Holy Land and set off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his adopted son. On his way to Cantebury he was robbed and murdered near Rochester, Kent. With miracles recorded at his tomb, he was in 1256 declared a saint and a martyr. He has a shrine in Rochester Cathedral. He died about 1201.

24 May: David I

David I was the son of Malcolm Canmore (King of Scotland) and Margaret Atheling (later canonised as a saint). David, like his mother, was a pious man and very generous to the Church, reforming the religious orders and founding over 20 monasteries, including Melrose and Dryburgh. He founded or reconstituted several bishoprics with lavish endowments, Aberdeen, Dunblane, Brechin being among them, and built a new cathedral at Glasgow. David also established a new parish system whichbrought Christianity in a practical way within reach of ordinary people. A wealthy and powerful king, he also established the feudal system in Scotland, bringing his country into line with what was then the current practice in continental Europe. He died in 1153, heartbroken by the death of his son the previous year.

25 May: Bede

Bede described himself as 'Servant of Christ and Priest of the Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul which is at Wearmouth and Jarrow.' He was born in 673 and given into the care of Benedictine monks at the age of seven. He became a deacon at just 19 and was ordained as a priest at the age of 30. He soon became a scholar and according to many is best known for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People written at Jarrow, Northumberland, where he was a monk. This is a history source book that throws invaluable light on the Christianity of medieval England. He died at the monastery where he lived most of his life in 735.

27 May: John Calvin

John Calvin was a giant figure, intellectually brilliant, with profound faith, unyielding will, an incisive logical mind, and great organisational skills. Born Jean Cauvin in Picardy in France, he is most associated with the city of Geneva: "the most perfect school of Christ since the days of the apostles", where a theocracy was established. A preacher of note and of a stern but not petty nature, he was a commentator on much of the Old Testament and all of the New. His most famous work is The Institutes, a systematic and comprehensive defence for the reformed position, still much appealed to and studied. Many believe his influence on the way Christianity was practised throughout the world, not least in Scotland, cannot be underestimated. He died in 1564. The National Church Association's website at www.ncaorg.com/ has produced a feature on John Calvin and his preaching to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his birth.

Also on this day: The Marquis of Argyll, Archibald Campbell, was a supporter of the Covenanting cause and a devout Presbyterian. An ambitious national leader, he crowned Charles II at Scone, but after Cromwell's victories at Dunbar and Worcester, had to co-operate with the Protector and led the Covenanters' army against his old adversary the Marquis of Montrose. Charles II did not forgive his betrayal and at the restoration he was executed, dying with dignity on this day in 1661.

31 May: Thomas Chalmers

According to many, Thomas Chalmers is commonly hailed as Scotland's greatest 19th century churchman. Born in Anstruther in Fife, he was educated at the University of St Andrews, becoming minister of Kilmany in Fife and then of the Tron in Glasgow. Moving to St John's, he developed innovative approaches to social need in the city and pioneered new patterns of mission and outreach on the part of the Church. An academic, he held more than one university chairmanship alongside his parish work, and ended his life as principal and professor of theology at New College, Edinburgh. He was a leader at the Disruption in 1843 when a large proportion of ministers left the established church to found the Free Church. A great preacher, he moved from a more moderate position to an evangelical one, and his social concern was partnered by a strong belief in the place belief in Christ played in renewing both society and the individual, preferring this over more 'modern' approaches which emphasised changing the environment which caused poverty. He died in 1847.