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Scotland and Luther

As the year marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation begins, the Very Rev Dr Ian Bradley reflects on the impact in Scotland.
Photos: iStock

THIS year marks the 500th anniversary of the event generally taken to mark the start of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther’s action in nailing up 95 theses attacking some of the practices and doctrines of the late Medieval Catholic church, especially the sale of indulgences, on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, a university town in eastern Germany.

Inevitably, and rightly, commemorative events here will focus on the legacy of Lutheranism in Scotland and more widely on the country’s Reformation heritage.

As is well known, Scotland, and the Church of Scotland in particular, ultimately drew more in terms of theology, doctrines and forms of church government and polity from the other great founding father of the European Reformation, Jean Calvin, than it did from the more conservative figure of Luther.

However, the influence of Luther was also important here, especially in the early years of the spread of Protestant ideas from the continent. Luther’s critique of Medieval Catholicism and his strong assertion of the doctrine of justification by personal faith alone, without recourse to works, the accumulation of merit or the activities of the church, first came into Scotland in the form of literature which circulated particularly in the east coast burghs. The first agent of Lutheranism to appear in Scotland seems to have been a Frenchman, Monsieur de la Tour, who arrived in 1523 to work for the Duke of Albany and suffered martyrdom when he subsequently returned to France.

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January 2017
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