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The Early Reformation In Scotland 4

George M. Ella | Added: Jul 04, 2024 | Category: History


Hamilton began to question the Roman Catholic institution strongly but was, as yet, too young and inexperienced to introduce serious reforms. All that came of suggestions for reforms at St. Andrew’s was an attempt to liven up the worship with music, something like some of our modern ministers who try to instil life into their churches by ushering in musicals and drama as a last resort. A. J. Mitchell rejects Lutheran influence on Hamilton at this time and believes he was more likely Erasmian. We just do not know. Fischer suggests that Hamilton grew weary of Scotland because of renewed aggression from the Beatons, but, though highly probable, no evidence for this seems forthcoming. Furthermore, Archbishop Beaton was himself in trouble and in 1526 had to escape from St. Andrews and disguise himself as a shepherd for several months as his side was taking a heavy hammering in the political troubles. However, Patrick Hamilton in 1526 was obviously unsatisfied with the church situation in Scotland and decided to visit the early Protestant churches in Hesse, Germany, in order to see how they went about bringing life to dead and dry bones. As companions, he took with him his kinsman John Hamilton and his good friend Gilbert Wyram. They also took a further companion with them to serve as organizer, agent and servant. 

The journey was a daring if not dangerous undertaking, not only because of fierce Roman Catholic opposition through English and Continental spies but also because of fresh outbreaks of the deadly plague throughout the Continent which hit Protestant centres such as Wittenberg and Zürich. Thus black-lists of routes which Roman Catholic spies patrolled were prepared for British Protestant travellers on the Continent. The quickest traditional route from Britain to Germany was via the inland distribution harbour of Duisburg, now in North Rhine Westphalia and still Europe’s largest inland port. This was used by British Protestant refugees especially in the sixteen and seventeenth centuries. Scottish and English sailing boats could make directly for Duisburg from a number of eastern ports and then sail along the old trading routes of the Rhine and Ruhr. Such trading routes between Goole and Hull (Humber) and Duisburg are still in use today.

Hamilton in Germany

Aeneas James George Mackay writes in the Dictionary of National Biography how Hamilton, on being suspected of heresy by Archbishop Beaton, ‘went at once to Wittenberg, where he made the personal acquaintance of Luther and Melanchthon’. Obviously here, Mackay is basing his relatively lengthy entry on supposed authorities such as John Knox in his History and John Howie, who followed Knox, in his Scots Worthies, both claiming that Hamilton first visited Wittenberg in Germany before going on to Marburg. There is no historical evidence for such theories. However, this story is then embroidered further by many writers who claim that whilst in Wittenberg and Jena, Hamilton must have conversed not only with Luther and Melanchthon but also with Bugenhagen and Frith and others add Tyndale for good measure. The tale is further elaborated by affirming that whilst in Wittenberg, Hamilton heard of further Reforms in Hesse and that Landgrave Philipp was opening the first Protestant university in Germany. Knox even speaks of Hamilton meeting Francis Lambert (1486-1530), his future Marburg professor, in Wittenberg in 1526 but though Lambert was in Eisenach and Wittenberg in 1523, he did not return. 

During this brief time, Lambert married and his wife accompanied him to Metz in 1524 and then to Straßburg in 1525 where he hoped for a permanent university post. Nothing was available at Straßburg so around 1524-25, Jacob Sturm recommended the Lamberts should proceed to Marburg in Hesse where the young Landgrave Philipp was planning to open a Reformed university. Philipp immediately took to Lambert and asked him to represent Hesse at the Synod of Homberg in 1526, Lambert then became Head of the Theology Faculty and served in Marburg until his death from the plague in 1530. Howie, says of Hamilton’s studies at Marburg: 


He was the first who introduced public disputations upon faith and works, and such theological questions, into the university of Marburg, in which he was assisted by Francis Lambert, by whose conversation he profited not a little. Here he became acquainted with these eminent reformers, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, besides other learned men of their society. By these distinguished masters he was instructed in the knowledge of the true religion, which he had little opportunity to become acquainted with in his own country, because of the small remains of it in Scotland at this time were under the yoke of oppression, as we have already shown at the close of the Introduction. He made an amazing proficiency in this most important study, and became soon as zealous in the profession of the true faith, as he had been diligent to attain the knowledge of it. 

This information is obviously incorrect. Howie by affirming that Hamilton introduced disputations to Marburg, appears to be following Beza who, in his Icones mistakenly thought Hamilton had been a professor at Marburg, and Howie, equally mistakenly, places Melanchthon and Luther in Marburg at the time of Hamilton’s arrival there, which must have been during the winter of 1526/7. This is also followed almost verbatim by Carvelho in his section on ‘Meeting with Melanchthon, Lambert and Luther’ in his work on Hamilton. It is, however, obvious from Lambert’s history that he introduced the disputation method into the Marburg curricula though he appointed Hamilton as one of the first students to demonstrate it.

There is no evidence that Luther and Melanchthon were in Marburg by late 1526 or early 1527 and as will be discussed below, the extant evidence points against such a visit. Both men did, however, visit Marburg in 1529, when Philipp and the Theological Faculty organized the pan-Protestant Disputation but, by then, Hamilton had already been martyred. Carvalho further confuses the times when he links Hamilton with Lambert at Wittenberg. Indeed, Carvalho appears to confuse happenings at Wittenberg with events at Marburg, as do Knox and Howie probably following them uncritically. Both Lambert and Hamilton were, however, together in Marburg towards the end of 1526 at the latest. Fischer accepts the theory that Hamilton visited Wittenberg, but also states that he was not to be found on the university rolls. Carvelho feels that it is best to accept his faulty view that the matriculation register must have been lost rather than give up the idea that Hamilton was not a student at Wittenberg. 

Fischer also believes that the ‘hypothesis’ that Hamilton left Wittenberg because of the plague raging there ‘seems to be deserving of some credit’. The plague, however, broke out in Wittenberg in the middle of 1527 but Luther and the Theological Faculty simply moved to Jena in the Autumn of that year. The extant Wittenberg matriculation album shows that students were still being registered in Wittenberg in August, 1527. This, Cavelho and others have overlooked, or perhaps they have not taken the trouble to examine the necessary documents. 

The idea that Hamilton either visited Wittenberg or conversed with Luther and Melanchthon has pervaded much scholarship. Donald Maclean, in his Aspects of Scottish Church History, only mentions Hamilton very briefly but tells us, ‘In 1527 he was charged with heresy by Archbishop James Beaton and fled to Germany, where he had the friendship of Luther and Melanchthon.’ Maclean does not tell us how he had made these friends but his cautious wording might mean that he thought Hamilton had not necessarily met them. Again, here, the date 1527 does not tally and there is no evidence that such friendships ever existed, though Hamilton must certainly have come across the two Germans’ works in his academic career. Furthermore, if James Beaton were convinced in 1527 that Hamilton was a heretic, he would have scarcely supported his becoming a lecturer at St. Andrews a year or two later. Rainer Haas writes in his Marburg dissertation: 

Because of the witness of John Knox it was thought certain that Hamilton visited Wittenberg first, although he is not mentioned on the matriculation rolls of Wittenberg University nor in the Reformers’ correspondence do we find any reference to his sojourn there. 

Knox’s details are also challenged by his editor David Laing, and strongly by Andrew Lang whose works need to be consulted here. Haas concludes concerning Knox’s story of Hamilton in Wittenberg that Knox had no idea (keine Ahnung) of the facts. Indeed, the number of historical errors in the History of the Reformation allegedly from Knox’s hand, which this author has strong reasons to doubt, are legend. Haas, however, does not rule out that Hamilton had ideas of moving from Marburg to Wittenberg at some time but concludes that Hamilton never found the time to visit the city. James Seaton Reid in his annotations to James Murdock’s translation from the Latin of Mosheim’s Institutes of Ecclesiastical History (1849) also relates that Hamilton travelled directly from Scotland to Marburg. 

Foxe and d’Aubigné on Hamilton’s journey to Marburg

In the original editions of Foxe, edited and published in 1563/4, 1570 and 1576 by Foxe himself, he states that Hamilton left Scotland directly for Marburg. Happily Laing has preserved Foxe’s full 1563 and 1576 accounts with the original spelling and style in Appendix III of the first volume of his Works of John Knox. Other notable writers such as Merle d’Aubigné also relate that Hamilton went directly to Marburg where allegedly a ‘Hans Luft’ was busy printing Tyndale’s books and his early joint translations with Frith. Thus Laing, in his footnotes on Knox’s account of Hamilton in Wittenberg, corrects Knox and places Hamilton directly in Marburg in 1526 where he studied under Lambert and produced his Common-Place Book before returning to Scotland, not moving on to Wittenberg which would have been a major detour. Other sources say that Luther had left Wittenberg because of the pest and was safe in Jena where Hamilton heard him preach. Again, there is no extant evidence of this. D’Aubingé is emphatic that there are no records whatsoever to indicate that Hamilton was ever in Wittenberg and thus the tradition which still hangs on Hamilton today and misleads many a Christian interested in the truly Reformed work of Hamilton is entirely unfounded.

The second Protestant University founded in Marburg

The new Protestant Reformed university at Marburg started unofficially in 1526 but was formally opened in January 1527 and Hamilton’s name is on the academic rolls for the first term given as ‘Patricius Hamilton, a Litgovien, Scotus, magister Parisiensis’. His companions John Hamilton and Gilbert Wyram were also enrolled. Besides having a theological faculty under Frenchman Lambert, the university had also faculties for Medicine, Law, Philosophy, Administration and Education. The stipulations for those who matriculated and could pay their own way ruled that they could study whatever subjects they wished. Poorer students were only given university scholarships and grants if they first studied theology under Lambert. Twenty-three-year-old Landgrave Philipp placed lawyer Johannes Eisermann (c.1485-1558) as University Rector with special responsibilities supervising the Marburg hospitals which were integrated into the medical department. Lambert started his theological faculty with 11 professors and 84 students. No new building was required at first as the monasteries in the city had been evacuated. However, as the number of students increased Philipp had a number of students’ quarters built.

Francis Lambert of Avignon, was trained in the budding Swiss-German Reformation, but disagreed with Zwingli’s slow approach to Reformation. One of Philipp’s and his popular methods of university government was to organize public disputations or discussions where experts in different subjects could inform the Landgrave but also the general public. From 21-23 October, 1526, Phillipp invited ‘all subjects whether of spiritual or secular standing to compare information in matters of faith and Christian religion by taking part at Homberg, Hesse in a friendly and Christian discussion’. This ‘discussion’ or ‘disputation’ has been variously called a Synod or a Parliamentary Session but it was perhaps merely a friendly get-together with the Landgrave for mutual edification. The results of the meeting, whatever its legal status, led to Hesse adopting Reformation principles. 

Philipp had taken note of Francis Lambert’s progress in his Reformed thinking and had asked him to lead the disputation and expound the principles he had been extending and amending over the last six years or so which he called his ‘Paradoxes’. He was also to use a key word or slogan for the gathering, so Lambert claimed bravely and provokingly that ‘The Word was there before the Church’, his meaning being that the Word of God stood over the ‘words’ of the ecclesiastical Institution. It was thus decided that all subjects for discussion should be compared with the Scriptures and nothing should be decided upon which was against the spirit of God’s Word. The amazing thing here was that Lutherans, Reformed and Roman Catholics met together in Homburg and there was an overall unity of aims and intentions. Central to the plans formulated at Homberg was the conviction that a thorough-going plan of educating the people in Reformed ways should be undertaken leading to schools, college and ministerial and academic training for both children and adults. These educational reforms were to incorporate also female educations, so girls’ schools were also planned. Through Lambert’s influence in Great Britain, the English and Scottish reformed movement learnt of the great progress in Hesse and Winfried Zeller sees the coming of Patrick Hamilton as an initial positive response to Lambert’s renovations.

Philipp’s Marburg initiative pointed to the growing strength of the Reformation in Germany. It also showed that this Reformation had nothing to do with the creation of Denominations. Indeed, wise Philipp insisted that the Marburg University should be ‘supra-confessional and ecumenical’ within Reformed doctrine and teaching. Never before had a university been founded without a charter either from the pope or the Emperor but now, Philipp, only in his early twenties himself, dared to defy both. Philipp was greatly encouraged and influenced by young Bullinger who trained Philipp’s children and sent his own sons to Wittenberg to be tutored by Melanchthon and then to Marburg to breathe in deeper Reformed theology and receive their degrees and ordinations. He was also deeply influenced by Bucer, especially concerning those cases of conscience whereby some of his subjects felt that the new Church was either too strict or too lax. 

Phillipp had great difficulty in persuading the Emperor that the Anabaptists should not be imprisoned or put in lunatic asylums and adopted the brotherly and tolerant views of Bucer in dealing with them. The idea of the local church being a self-governing unity appealed to them and would allow for local differences in organisation. Lambert supported this and saw the office of ‘pastor’ as equal to that of ‘bishop’. Such views were anathema to Luther. Lambert took an independent line from both Luther and Zwingli and would be most likely called a Synodal Congregationalist today. Luther opposed Lambert for not toeing his line and from then on Marburg followed a more Bullingerite-Bucerian path eventually becoming very close to the Church of England. This Church was becoming increasingly influenced by John Jewel who looked upon Bullinger as the chief pillar of the English Church whereas Bullinger saw Jewel as the great reviver of true religion on the Continent. The great work of Jewel as a pan-European Reformer has still to be recorded. Mary’s bloody reign severely handicapped this development but also brought the English Reformers closer to their Reformed Continental brethren. Again, this displeased the Lutherans such as Westphal and Brenz who actually called the English Marian martyrs ‘the Devil’s martyrs’. I was once criticised at a Baptist Conference by a pastor’s wife for my remarks on Luther’s intolerance. I asked her if she was aware that Luther urged the death penalty for Baptists. She answered in the negative.

Both Lambert and Bullinger were called to the great Marburg Disputation of 1529 which Luther and Zwingli also attended but Bullinger’s congregation would not let him go. They said he was paid to pastor them and not go gallivanting off to conference after conference as the other Reformers did who neglected their flocks. There is no portrait extant of Lambert so when a large mural was painted in the great Aula at Marburg where this writer was awarded his Doctor of Theology, the artist merely included Lambert’s back amongst the faces of the Reformers. During the following century Marburg and nearby Cassel became centres for inter-Protestant cooperation, chiefly through the untiring energies of Scotsman John Durie.

Lambert became immediately attached to Hamilton because of his fervour and intellectual acumen and encouraged him to write a thesis on basic Reformed doctrines and policy and deliver it in a public Disputation. This became his Loci Communes or Commonplace Book which the Scots later called ‘Patrick’s Pleas’.