Index for Chapters XXI-XXIX

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Chapter XXIII: Discipline

What are their orders, constitutions,
Church-censures, curses, absolutions,
But sev'ral mystic chains they make
To tie poor Christians to the stake.

PAISLEY was the seat of a Presbytery, and that court held its meetings within the Abbey Church. It met at least once a month, and sometimes more frequently. Here the poor “Papists” were cited to appear, and were dealt with at different stages of the process against them. Here offenders against morals were brought, clothed in haircloth and bare legged, to receive their sentence; and here fulminations were hurled against all contraveners of the rules laid down by the stern Churchmen. Of the many scenes which the Abbey has witnessed, none are more strange than some of those which were enacted before this conclave, and which are recorded in their minutes. We are not wandering far from the line of our story in making a few extracts from these, illustrating as they do the civil and ecclesiastical history of the time. The business of the Presbytery was opened by prayer and “handling a portion of the Word” by one of the ministers. A Latin thesis was occasionally delivered on some point of controversy, such as “Dum possit ecclesia errarre?” “An sit ecclesia infallibilis?” or some other debated question in theology. The ministers then gave in reports as to the state of their parishes, and especially as to those of their parishioners who absented themselves from church, and who did not come regularly to the Holy Communion. “Taking the Sacrament” was rigidly insisted on, and all persons of full age were bound to partake, or give a reason satisfactory to their “ordinary,” the minister of the parish. If not able to do so, a process against them was commenced before the Presbytery, ending, if they continued obstinate, in their excommunication. Attachment to the Church of Rome was generally suspected when a parishioner did not appear at his parish church, and he was very strictly inquired after. The Presbytery minutes begin on the 16th September, 1602, with the citing of a Paisley parishioner, the Laird of Stanelie, for non-attendance He was complained of by that zealous champion of Protestantism, Mr. Andro Knox.

“The Presbytre of Paslay halden within the Kirk of the same the 16 day of Sep., 1602.

“Because of the sklander arysing upon Johne Maxwell of Stanelie, his refusale to communicat the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ with the remanent his parishioners, within the Paroche Kirk of Pasley, alleging himself, albeit he came thare to that same effect the day of the celebration of the said Holy Supper, he had been stayit by the sicht of some of his unfriends present at the said holy actioun, which the brethren estimit no relevant excuse, and thairfore they have ordainit his ordinaire, Mr. Andro Knox, to summon the laird to compear before them the last of this instant, for receiving injunctions to remove the said sklander.”

On the 14th October, the Laird appeared, and gave account of himself:—

“The Laird of Stanelie compearand, and confessing himself penitent for the giving of the occasion of sklander, etc. The brethren has ordainit that in respect the said Johne Maxwell allegit that he might not conveniently resort to his paroche Kirk of Pasley for sundrie occasions of deadly feud, he find cautione of 500 merks money that he and his family shall keep ordinarlie paroche Kirk of Renfrew, and subject himself to the discipline of the Kirk thereof, and shall compear personally in the Kirk of Pasley upon Sonday next, in tyme of sermon, and confess himself penitent for not communicating with his brethren and neighbours and that his abstinence thairfrom proceeded of no scrupill in religion, but of lack of due preparation, the which he shall be obliged under the penalty aforesaid to amend by communicating upon the first occasion at the holie table of the Lord that the same sall be publickly ministrat within ony kirke of ye Presbyterie of Paslay, due intimation thereof being made to him by Mr. John Hay, for observing of quilk promisses Thomas Inglis, burges of Paslay, became caution and securitie, under the pain above written."

In our next chapter we give an example of the manner in which the Kirk proceeded against such as were “suspected of Papistrie.” Many instances similar to that which we shall adduce are to be found in the records of the Presbytery; but, as the process was the same in all cases, we need not repeat them. In very few cases did the offenders “satisfy the Kirk.” Sometimes they desired conference with the ministers for “satisfying of their doubts,” but this was evidently only to gain time; they very seldom showed signs of repentance, and were almost always after some delay excommunicated. At one time, the power of excommunication lay entirely with the Presbytery, and was very freely used. It was afterwards decreed that the consent of the Bishop should be obtained before sentence could be pronounced. The words of this sentence were very solemn. It “shut them out from the communion of the faithful, debared them from their privileges, and delivered them to Satan for the destruction of their flesh, that their spirits might be saved in the day of the Lord.” The Records of the Presbytery contain many instances of excommunicated persons craving to be restored.