Index for Chapters XXI-XXIX

Previous page

Next page

Chapter XXI: The Commendator

“Stern Claud replied with dark'ning face,
Grey Paisley's haughty Lord was he.”

IN tracing the history of the Abbey of Paisley from its foundation to its dissolution as a religious establishment, some of the main causes which led to the downfall of the old ecclesiastical polity of Scotland have come into view. One cause was the almost entire destruction of what is called
in our day “the parochial system.” The Church in Scotland was monastic, and, with but few exceptions, all the churches belonged to the great Abbeys. We have seen how almost all the cures in Renfrewshire, and some in other counties, were gifted to Paisley. They were served by Paisley monks, and when, as in some cases, vicars were placed in them, these were men who were paid with the lowest stipend they could be induced to take, and at times they could hardly extort even that from their superiors. The Chartulary of Paisley supplies constant evidence of the manner in which the parishes belonging to the Monastery were cared for. The Bishops of Glasgow and Argyle had often to enter into litigation with the monks to induce them to give up a moiety of their revenues to their parish clergy. The fabrics of the churches were again and again suffered to fall into utter disrepair, because the Monastery would not supply the funds to keep them even in a state of decency. A Church so governed could have but little hold on the people. The pastoral tie between them and the hireling of the Monastery, or the monk who rode his sheltie across the moor on Sundays and Feast-days to say mass in the wretched chapel, was of the very slenderest kind, and when the time of trial came it was easily broken. In later days, also, the Monasteries, which were the centres of ecclesiastical power in the districts where they were situated, became very much broken down in discipline, and, it must be remembered, through no fault of their own. So long as the election of the Abbot was vested in the Chapter, the government of the house was well maintained; but, as we have seen, the King usurped the power of appointment, and the result was most disastrous. Instead of the monk of pure and blameless life, who had been trained from his infancy in the rule of his order, and who was elected on account of his well-known virtues by his own brethren, a man of very different character, some royal sycophant or profligate courtier, had the mitre given him, and was suddenly placed over the brotherhood. For a time the royal patronage, as in the case of Abbot Shaw, seems to have been exercised with some discretion ; but latterly appointments of the most shameless character were made. Abbeys were gifted to bastard boys like Hamilton, and five illegitimate sons of the King were at the head of five of the richest Abbeys in Scotland. Nor is there any reason to believe that the authorities of the Church resisted this scandalous system as they should have done. Appointments like that of Hamilton received the sanction of the Pope ; and Cardinals took bribes from men like Crichton to make their promotion easy. The whole ecclesiastical framework was worm-eaten and decayed, and it did not require a heavy stroke to break it up altogether. The blow came, not from the people, but from the aristocracy. The idea that the common people had become so instructed in the truths of Scripture as to abhor the doctrines of the Papacy, is far from being historically correct. They were too ignorant to read Scripture, far less to understand abstruse theological disquisitions; but they had little respect for their clergy, and were more ready to follow their laird than their priest. The laird had everything to gain by favouring the new doctrines—the Abbey lands, so much richer than his own, afforded too tempting a bribe, and poor proprietors like Sempill saw an easy way to fortune by an appropriation of the Church revenues. The manner in which the Church property was gifted away forms a scandalous episode in the history of Scotland. Men like Claud Hamilton, who never had done anything for their country, became enriched and ennobled through the spoliation. It is vain to picture re¬gretfully what might have been; but anyone can see how much better it would have been for Scotland if the whole community, instead of a few unworthy individuals, had got the benefit of the Church's wealth. Those who did get it have in too many instances made a very miserable use of their ill-gotten gain.