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, those fallen in conflicts around the world, poets and authors, a 'difficult' saint, a celebrated Russian author and social reformer, a leader of the Scottish Reformation, and a fisherman turned disciple.
5 November: James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell, was an elder and physicist, whose deep and lifelong Christian faith is said to have informed his science, most notably in his well known 'demon', the hypothetical 'finite being' used to illustrate his work on kinetic (movement) theory. He held chairs in natural philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and King's College, London, before returning to Scotland to take up the lairdship of Glenlair in 1865 after the death of his father, from whence he continued his scientific research. His work on electromagnetism was cornerstone to the development of the modern radio, and he is also repudiated as being responsible for the first colour photograph. His Electromagnetism Theory recently came first in a poll by Physics World Magazine, beating both Einstein and Newton. There is a mountain range on Venus named after him (Maxwell Montes). He is renowned for saying: "Men of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ." He died in 1879.
6 November: Leonard
Leonard was a sixth century French nobleman who became a hermit in the Limoges area, whose austere yet genuine lifestyle attracted others to join him.Regarded as the patron saint of prisoners, after a special affection for them evident from an early age, in art he is usually portrayed holding chains or manacles. He is also the patron saint of midwives and expectant mothers, after a hunting incident involving King Theodebart and his pregnant Queen Misigard. His reward was enough land on which to expand the future Benedictine monastery of Noblat. Returning crusaders, bringing with them experience of imprisonment, illness and setback, brought also knowledge of the cult of Leonard who had become associated with the care and healing of those in extreme ned and his name became attached to hospitalsand hostels for pilgrims.
8 November: Duns Scotus
Duns Scotus was born at Duns in the Scottish Borders, became a Franciscan friar and was ultimately ordained as a priest. He studied and taught at Paris, Oxford and Cologne.He attacked the basis of mediaeval theology, based on Aquinas' idea of abstract knowledge, and insisted that we could know truth from what we could see and experience. He further insisted that we could only know God because God has willed it that he should be known. This he saw as leading to a response of obedience and prayer. These insights, and his account of the Trinity, deeply influenced Calvin (through the Scottish scholar John Major) and the Reformation. He died in 1308.
Also on this day: we remember Gerardine who seems to have been a refugee in the uncertain times when Danes and Norsemen were disrupting communities in Ireland (where he may have come from). He finally came to rest near what was to become Lossiemouth in the north east of Scotland where the name of a headland (Holyman's Head) and a named cave testify to his presence. Incorporated in the town's coat of arms is the depiction of the saint patrolling the beach on stormy nights, ready to help those who had been ship-wrecked. He is said to have died in 934.
Also on this day: John Milton, a poet whose themes frequently drew from Christian religion, and Christian controversy too, since he was much embroiled in the politics of the times. For some time he was a presbyterian, but later, after a dispute, favoured the Independents. Initially a supporter of Oliver Cromwell – at one time he held a government post - he later took the contrary position that all Churches should be disestablished from the State. He remained an anti-royalist and as a result served some time in prison. In later years he wrote the great Paradise Lost which tackled the causes of evil and injustice in the world. He died in 1674.
11 November: Martin of Tours
Martin of Tours is known by the name of the French diocese of which he became bishop in 372, but his earlier life was spent in the Roman army. It was in that context that he is said to have given half of his cloak to a beggar and subsequently had a vision of Christ. He founded the first monastery in Gaul and set about spreading the Gospel to the surrounding countryside. He strongly opposed the Church establishment's way of dealing with heretics (those who don't believe in traditional religious doctrine) by violence. His monastery seems to have been a stopping-off point for missionary travellers to and from Scotland and there are many place names which incorporate his name. Indeed Martinmas was one of the Scottish quarter days (similar to religious festivals). He died in 397.
Also on this day: we remember Soren Kierkegaard who was born in 1813 and spent most of his life in Copenhagen. After a shaky start in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, he became established as an innovative philosopher. He was the subject of a sustained attack by the satirical magazine of his day but this did not prevent him from taking his attacks to the heart of the establishment, criticising the Church for preaching a comfortable and compromised version of the Christian faith. In due course, however, he came to a Christian position, but one which was less based in the discussion of doctrine than in the personal encounter with God. Both the original quality of his thought and the devotional value of his writings were of great influence on later thinkers such as Barth and Heidegger.
11 November is also Remembrance Day. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 the guns of Europe fell silent after four years of the most bitter and devastating fighting. The First World War armistice was signed at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, France. Six hours later, at 11am, the war ended.Remembrance Day has now come to provide an annual opportunity to remember those who have died in conflicts across the world.
12 November: Machar
Machar lives in legend rather than history: sharing a coracle (small boat) with Columba on the crossing from Ireland, ejected by jealous fellow monks, finally establishing a new religious community at the point in a river shaped like a bishop's crozier – the Don at what is now Aberdeen and where the cathedral bears his name.
13 November: Bryce
Bryce was not everybody's idea of a saint. "A real menace," said some, "well intentioned but difficult." His boss, St Martin of Tours, whom he succeeded as bishop in 397, let slip the remark: "If Christ endured Judas must not I endure Bryce." His zeal as a missionary carried him through and drew admiration and support from the common people. There is not much to link him with the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, whose patron saint he is. His name is probably hidden too in Kirkmabreck in Galloway.
Also on this day: Devenick is another about whom not much is known but there is enough to believe that he was a missionary in the North East of Scotland in the valleys of the Don and the Dee, in the fifth or sixth centuries. His name lives in the town of Banchory-Devenick ('bancories' or 'bangors' meant missionary centres) and Methleck has a Devenick's Well, where formerly there was an annual fair in his honour.
15 November: John Witherspoon
John Witherspoon was born in 1723 in Yester manse near Haddington, perhaps a descendant of John Knox. He was prominent in the controversies of his day, taking the evangelical position. He was the hand behind the anonymous satire, Ecclesiastical Characteristics, which set the 'moderates' in the Church of Scotland about their ears and was the talk of the clubs, coffee houses and presbyteries of the time. In 1768 he was appointed president of what is now Princeton Seminary where he was innovative in both teaching methods and in the content of his courses in philosophy and politics – his students containing one future US president, 10 cabinet ministers, 12 state governors, 60 congressmen and three Supreme Court justices. Ultimately he entered politics himself and was the only minister to sign the American Declaration of Independence. He died in 1794.
16 November: Margaret of Scotland
Margaret was of the royal Anglo-Saxon family who grew up at the pious court of Stephen of Hungary. Noted for her beauty she married Malcolm Canmore and proved herself a saint – helping to assimilate the Celtic church and Scotland into the mainstream of Western Christianity, re-founding Iona, introducing the Benedictines, and establishing Dunfermline as an ecclesiastical and royal centre. She personally ministered to the poor, promoted Sabbath observance, gave herself to much prayer and fasting and reading of the Scriptures.
Her Life by Turgot, her confessor, paints a realistic and attractive picture of this great queen who did much to civilise the court and country. While she is credited with church foundations e.g. Dunfermline Abbey, St Margaret's Chapel in Edinburgh Castle, etc., such enterprise with diocesan episcopacy largely took place in the reigns of her three sons: Edgar, Alexander, and especially David. One of her daughters married Henry I of England and thus gave the Norman royal house both Scoto-Celtic and Anglo-Saxon blood. Though applauded for her conventional piety - or deeply religious way of life - Margaret has been criticised for her over-anglicisation of Scotland that led to the by-passing of Malcolm's brother, Donald Ban, and also to the by-passing of his son by his first marriage, Duncan, as rightful rulers. She died in 1093.
18 November: Hilda of Whitby
Hilda was the great-niece of Edwin, king of Northumbria. After some time in various East Anglia monasteries she returned to her home territory to found and become abbess of the mixed abbey of Streaneshaich (now Whitby) – men and women housed separately but worshipping together. This Celtic abbey became the foremost in what is now northern England and hosted the famous Synod of Whitby in 663/664 when under King Oswain the dating of Easter, etc., were decided. Hilda, renowned for her holiness, wisdom and scholarship, drew people from high and low to seek her advice. "All that knew her called her mother," wrote Bede, the main source about her life. Five of her monks became bishops and Hilda encouraged the poetic gifts of Caedmon, the cowherd turned monk. In painful illness in her last years she was an example of her instruction: "To serve God rightly when in health, and to render thanks faithfully to Him when in trouble or bodily weakness." Her final counsel to her community was: "Maintain the gospel peace among yourselves and with others." She died in 608.
Also on this day: Catherine Anderson Charteris was described at her well known husband's death as "his true yolk-fellow and loving helpmeet" but her own contribution to church and society was equally remarkable. Born in 1837 to the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, she shared with her husband in the battle to establish a voice for women. She worked tirelessly in charity and social work and in the establishment of Sunday schools. Her social club for working folk must have been the first in Edinburgh. First president of the newly-formed Women's Guild, she also edited their supplement in the Kirk magazine Life & Work, which provided a rallying call for volunteers across a wide variety of work with the less advantaged both at home and abroad. She died in 1918.
20 November: Henry Francis Lyte
Henry Francis Lyte was born near Kelso but educated in Ireland. After Trinity College, Dublin he took holy orders serving first in Wexford and then as curate in many places in England ending in Lower Brixham, Devon, where his poor health was further undermined by relentless work among sailors and fisherfolk. It was at the dying bed of a fellow clergyman that he underwent a vital spiritual experience which gave a special quality to the hymns for which he has become renowned, like Abide with me, Praise my soul the King of Heaven, and God of glory, God of grace. He died in 1847.
Also on this day: Leo Tolstoy was a wealthy aristocratic Russian, a sometime army officer, and one of the world's great novelists, including the best sellers even today of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. An educational and social reformer, he turned his back on 'vain' novels. Though he was later to write Resurrection, sensing an emptiness despite his fame and fortune, Tolstoy underwent a spiritual crisis which led him to try and live in line with the Sermon on the Mount and with a belief that the Kingdom of God could be found within each person. He became convinced that the essence of Christianity had been overlaid with dogmatism, ritual and subservience to secular authority, and he came to emphasise the importance of physical labour - becoming something of a peasant in the process. His writing largely focussed on spiritual matters and on the philosophy of non-violence and civil disobedience, which was to exert great influence on Gandhi. He died in 1910.
22 November: C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis held the Medieval and Renaissance Chair of English at Cambridge. Born in Belfast, after the trauma of the First World War he regained his lost Christian faith and became an influential advocate of it. As an author, his science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, and his seven books for children under the title, The Chronicles of Narnia are all characterised by Christian allegory and ethics. His Mere Christianity, based on radio talks during the Second World War, and his The Screwtape Letters are the most notable and popular of his direct Christian output. Many of his books, characterised by winsome writing and eminent common sense, and with not a little humour, remain on best seller lists. His autobiography Surprised by Joy and the notable film Shadowlands reveal more of this sensitive man with a love of life and the adventure of Christianity. He died in 1963.
Also on this day: Cecilia was an early martyr (second or third century) about whom not much is known. However, she is frequently represented in art as playing on the organ, and is regarded with great respect as the patron saint of music.
23 November: Clement of Rome
Clement was a very early bishop of Rome, and is possibly referred to in Philippians 4:3. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians (possibly the earliest Christian work in Latin) Clement throws considerable light on the early Church. In this letter, he affirms the importance of repentance and of good order, refers indiscriminately to bishops as either episkopos or presbuteros (elder) and writes of their role as those 'offering the gifts' (celebrating communion?) and bearing rule in the church. The Second Epistle of Clement, possibly wrongly attributed to him, is the first extra-scriptural sermon on record and sets out the character of the Christian life and the duty of repentance.
24 November: John Knox
John Knox was the pre-eminent leader of the Scottish Reformation. A former priest and notary, he became a tutor and converted to reform under George Wishart. Over four years he played a significant part in the English Reformation as royal chaplain, assisting in the Second Prayer Book, and was officially appointed preacher, in Berwick, Newcastle and elsewhere. Fleeing under 'Bloody' Mary, he ministered in Frankfurt and in Geneva where he was very happy under John Calvin to whom he owed friendship, support, and theology.
Returning to Scotland he was the man for the hour and applied the spark that effectively ignited the relatively peaceful revolution that was the Reformation in Scotland. He was a main contributor to the Confession of Faith, the First Book of Discipline with its vision of a godly and educated and caring nation, and the Book of Common Order, that dealt not only with worship but set out a Presbyterian basis for the Church. With his experience as a French galley slave and of the persecution of Protestantism in that country, he was vehemently opposed to Mary, Queen of Scots and her Roman Catholicism. Often extreme, even mischievous in language with a sardonic wit, his actions were gentler than his words as his letters show. An often controversial figure who feared the face of no man and who easily made enemies, he was enormously influential as with spiritual and moral integrity he was ever ambitious to promote God's glory and to strive to establish Christ's Kingdom in the land he loved. He died in 1572.
25 November: Catherine of Alexandria
Catherine of Alexandria was one of those upon whose life and existence Vatican II placed doubt. That said, this supposed virgin martyr tortured on the 'Catherine Wheel' because of her protest against the persecution of Christians served for centuries as the patroness of maidens and women students, of philosophers, preachers and apologists, of wheelwrights, millers and others. Her light is akin to that of a remote star which no longer exists. Traditionally, she was believed to have lived in the early fourth century.
Also on this day: Isaac Watts is often described as 'the father of English Hymnody'. He became an Independent (i.e. congregational) pastor and it was during his ministry at Mark Lane Chapel, London, that he wrote many of his hymns and where his health suffered by his labours. He became a semi-invalid, spending his time writing and publishing. One of his books, on logic, became a standard textbook at Oxford for many years. His renowned hymns among the 600 he wrote include When I survey the wondrous Cross, To Him who sits upon the throne, Jesus shall reign where're the sun, and O God our help in ages past. His hymns helped heal the relations between the Church of England and Nonconformists. Johnson includes Watts in his Lives of the Poets and when Edinburgh University bestowed a Doctor of Divinity (DD) honour in 1728, he remarked; "Academical honours would have more value if they were always bestowed with equal judgment." He died in 1748.
27 November: Fergus
Fergus was either of Pictish or Irish origin. The village of St Fergus and the depiction of the saint on the coat of arms of the town of Wick in the very far north east of Scotland confirm that he is remembered as a missionary in the area. His name appears also in Angus and Kincardineshire, and the fact that a loch in Wigtownshire bears his name might suggest he was educated at Candida Casa (Whithorn). The Scottish Episcopal Church commemorate him on 15 November.
30 November: Andrew
Andrew was a fisherman, the first of the 12 called by Jesus to be a disciple. According to the fourth gospel it was he who, recognising the 'Lamb of God' from John the Baptist's description, immediately came to meet Jesus and then went to fetch his brother, saying: "We have found the Messiah." By this act, Andrew may be said to be the first Christian missionary. Tradition has it that, like many of the early Christians, he was martyred, possibly in Patras, Achaia, in the year 60. Since c750, Andrew has been regarded as Scotland's patron saint.