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60 PART 2: CULTURE AND IDENTITY CHAPTER THREE Expressions of Faith: Religious Writing Sìm Innes and Steven Reid Religious faith was the most prominent theme in literary discourse in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, the bulk of which consists of theological tracts, biblical commentaries, and polemic. Concerned primarily with the nuanced exposition of scripture and the issues of liturgy and polity afflicting Scotland’s fledgling Kirk, it mostly lacks the discussion of universal and timeless themes or the stylistic excellence that makes great literature. Moreover, the constant stream of vitriol poured forth against all those who were not part of the godly community, particularly the ‘antichristian’ forces of Catholicism, can be wearying and repugnant to read. However, as John Knox (c. 1514–1572) points out in Book I of his History of the Reformation in Scotland, works like his serve a higher purpose than the purely literary: This we wryte to lett the posteriteis to come understand, how potentlye God wrought in preserving and delivering of these that had butt a small knowledge of his trewth, and for the luif [love] of the same hasarded all; that yf that eyther we now in our dayis, having grettar lycht, or our posteriteis that shall follow us, shall see ane fearfull dispersioun of such as oppone [oppose] thame selfis to impietie […] nor yitt dispare, butt that the same God that dejectes, (for causes unknawin to us,) will raise up agane the personis dejected, to his glorye and thare conforte.1 The Reformation century created several generations of writers, on both sides of the confessional divide, who like Knox were keen to document and disseminate their vision of Christianity as the one true path to salvation. The Reformation inadvertently contributed to significant shifts in the literary forms used by all three of early modern Scotland’s major languages, albeit with differing levels of impact. While late-medieval Gaelic verse predominantly inhabited a pan-Gaelic context (incorporating 61 expressions of faith: religious writing both Scotland and Ireland), links can be made between religious poetry in both of Scotland’s vernacular languages, although there are often considerable differences in form, reception and function. The advent of the Reformation saw certain topics fall out of favour in Protestant verse, but it is noteworthy that religious verse from seemingly opposed confessional traditions continued to be shared and enjoyed in some contexts. For Scots prose, by contrast, the Reformation arguably resulted in its arrival as a genre, as Catholics and Protestants alike wrote historical narratives to justify their faith and polemical works denouncing their opponents. In doing so, they moved away from the traditional use of Latin for religious writing in the hopes of attracting – and keeping – the interest of the common parishioner. The use of the vernacular and indeed an appropriate register of the vernacular were major concerns for Scottish writers of religious literature, in both Scots and Gaelic, after the Reformation.2 Collectively, the works produced during this period of religious turmoil help explain why so many were willing to die, or suffer persecution and exile, for their own ‘true’ version of the church; individually , some transcend their immediate context and have a merited place in the Scottish canon. Religious Verse in the Vernaculars Religious practice and specific devotion are evident in a whole range of primarily non-religious verse in both Gaelic and Scots. In the elegy for Niall MacNèill of Gigha (d. c. 1470), Aithbhreac inghean Coirceadail (fl. 1460–70) tells us that her grief is inspired by his Rosary.3 The focus on the Rosary in this poem is somewhat reminiscent of another bardic elegy ‘A Chros thall ar an dtulaigh’ (‘O Cross yonder on the hill’) by the Irish poet Gofraidh Fionn Ó Dálaigh (d. 1387) which begins with a similar address to the wooden cross at his son’s grave as cause of grief.4 The works of Sir David Lyndsay of the Mount (c. 1486–1555) are full of descriptions of, and comment on, religious practice and Church governance, such as his verses on ‘Imageis maid with mennis hand’ in The Monarche.5 Richard Holland (d. c. 1483), priest and notary public, includes birdminstrels singing thirty seven lines of praise to the Virgin at the banquet in The Buke of the Howlat. The entertainment at the banquet also includes the Ruke (Rook), as ‘a bard owt of Ireland’, reciting in Gaelic before being attacked by the Tuchet (Lapwing) and Golk (Cuckoo) in the guise of fools, much...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781908980243
Related ISBN
9781908980236
MARC Record
OCLC
1082874543
Pages
384
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-21
Language
English
Open Access
No
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