The episcopal honeymoon.
The struggle against the `Divine Right` policies of the Stuart kings included the imposition of episcopacy on the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. The seventeenth century saw three periods of ascendancy for each practice, underlying which was the friction between moderate ministers who were prepared to accept varying degrees of change, and a minority of stricter Calvinist ministers who would not accept anything that was not provided for in the Scriptures.
17 Aug 1560 – 1 Feb 1572
1 February 1572 – June 1592
June 1592 – October 1612
October 1612 – June 1640
June 1640 – May 1661
May 1661 – June 1690.
It is relevant to the introduction of episcopacy that the early Presbyterians themselves, including John Knox ( who dissented) , had to employ the device of `superintendents` to cover the shortfall in ministers. Although strong arguements were made that there were no `bishops` in the Scriptures, the practical need for someone or some body to oversee the young religion and its practices held sway. Thus in the early years the `superintendent` ( who did not rank above a minister) brought a level of conformity to practice and an eventual acceptance of that role among the majority of the ministers. This was further reflected in the practices of the early `bishops` who generally took a soft line towards presbyteries in their sees. It was usually a case of presbyteries referring matters to the bishop, rather than the bishop imposing a diktat of the king. Often the presbytery sought to invoke the bishop`s authority in support of its own decrees
W R Foster in The Church before the Covenant makes the very valid point that the early bishops seem to have been more concerned with preserving the unity of the church than in making unpopular changes to liturgy and practices that would upset the common people. The bishops appointed under James VI did not licence schoolmasters or readers nor did they have a veto (technical or otherwise) over decisions of the Synods. Neither were Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions required to have a licence from a bishop before holding a meeting. Meanwhile, following on from the duties of the `superintendents`, the bishops had already established a practice of making visitations – and did so with some success. From a moderate point of view therefore, the church was growing in both form and substance and was acceptable to the people.
Until 1609 therefore, episcopacy and presbytery coexisted despite in theory being mutually incompatible. But in 1609 Parliament passed several favourable acts including the restoration of the bishops `consistorial jurisdiction`. Commissary Courts had been set up for confirmation of wills, jurisdiction over marriages and divorce, slander , small debts, settlement of disputes over teinds, and were courts of record. The act of 1609 restored to bishops the authority to appoint commissaries and their deputies and other officers of the courts. It was at this time that James began to impose the royal will and urged the bishops to take up the administration of all the church affairs. This was the precursor to establishing episcopacy on a permanent and secure basis and the giving of real authority to the archbishops. In January 1610 Archbishop Spottiswoode of St Andrews was made a judge of the Court of Session, and on 15 February two
Courts of High Commission were proclaimed. About the same time presentations of ministers to benefices was changed from presbyteries to the bishops.
General Assembly, Glasgow 8 June 1610
This General Assembly is notorious for the intervention by James VI who wrote to some Presbyteries directing who should be sent to the meeting. As a result the Assembly was packed with members who would support the King, but worse was the actions of the Earl of Dunbar who openly went round offering bribes. He had brought with him from London a substantial supply of gold coins called “angels“ to distribute, hence the Assembly became known as the ` Angelical Assembly `.
The consequence of this packing was that the King had proposals for prelacy passed. The King got the right to call Assemblies, to appoint Bishops moderators of synods; the approval of appointments by Bishops; and Bishops had power of excommunication and absolution. This was ratified by Parliament in 1612. who proceeded to make changes even more favourable to the Bishops by declining the proposal that they should be subject to control by a General Assembly. Full diocesan episcopacy had arrived in Scotland.
General Assembly, Aberdeen 13 August 1616
The General Assembly at Aberdeen in 1616 was called to consider in particular issues of Popery, but there was the inevitable hidden agenda of the King.The meeting began with Archbishop Spottiswoode taking the Moderator`s chair – without an election, and the Earl of Montrose as the King`s Commissioner. Wholly unrepresentative as usual, it was three days before Montrose unveiled a list of fourteen issues the king desired should be addressed. These were : improvement of benefices; planting peaceable pastors in burghs and the houses of nobility; examine children ;a test Confession and catechism that the children learned entitled “ God and the King”; compiling and enjoining a book of canons; hold communions quarterly; once at Easter and half yearly in rural parishes; encouraging students of theology; ordaining all preachers; baptism to all if asked – with a godfather; and keeping of Parish Registers. These were duly approved and also recommended confirmation of children by bishops.
Ministers were set to write a new Catechism; to revise the prayer book in use and a committee considered the canons. A Confession of some fifty three paragraphs produced four years earlier by John Hall of Edinburgh and John Adamson of Liberton was accepted with one new provision – a test approving of Episcopacy. The extant Confession and Kings Confession were not repealed at this time, probably to allow the new Confession to become known. The King now sent to the Committee on the Canons a short list of five items that he wished to be included. Here began the saga of the Five Articles of Perth,
Subsequently, until the accession of Charles I in 1625, the chief matter for attention by the bishops was conformity to the Articles of Perth approved in 1618. It was this drive for conformity that gradually created fractures within the ministry and brought change to the notice of the congregations.