The 450th anniversary of the 1560 Scottish Reformation Parliament was marked throughout yesterday by a conference, service in St Giles and reception at Edinburgh Castle. It was a landmark in many ways – trying to find a language in which to talk across denominations about religious ‘evolution’ (not simply ‘revolution’ or ‘rupture’). Then an extraordinary and very moving service in which the Moderator of the General Assembly, Cardinal Keith O’Brien and the Primus of the SEC – our own Bishop David – led a multi-faith denomination in the renewal of our baptismal vows in a liturgy agreed by the Joint Commission on Doctrine.
The day was framed by input from Alex Salmond, who also hosted an evening reception. He was impressive, and made points I hadn’t thought of. For instance, the speed of the Parliamentary legislation by which the Reformation was introduced in 1560-1 was clearly mouthwatering to someone who must often despair at the glacial pace of change.
He also referred to the opening for tolerance towards the Jews in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 which the Church of Scotland adopted. He said this had begun a tradition of Scottish protection of Jewish communities. I looked up Ch. 7 and this is what it says:
V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.
Was this the ethos that inspired someone like Jane Haining, ‘Scotland’s Schindler’?
The conference itself ranged from the medieval anticipation of reform, to my own paper presenting the Scottish Episcopal Church as ‘The other Reformation kirk’, and the Reformation’s education drive leading to the Scottish Enlightenment. There were a lot of words, a lot of speculation, and very little fresh air. So it was good eventually to celebrate in the Great Hall of the Castle, and see Alex Salmond look with genuine delight and emotion at the Pipe Band marching up for a quaich.
After a head-bursting day, that was a good contrast. Professor Tom Devine had spoken earlier about the Poker Club – no, not that sort of club, but one where a fire of ideas was ‘stirred up’ in C 18th Edinburgh. David Hume found it a place of mental relaxation:
“Most fortunately it happens that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds [of speculation], nature herself suffices to that purpose … I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours amusement, I return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find it in my heart to enter into them any farther.”