The History of Leith

January 10, 2008

Opinion-A New Reformation

As everyone knows I write on the history of Leith and the one thing that dominated the life of Leith in the Middle Ages was the Roman Catholic church centred on the monastic areas of St Nicholas hospital in North Leith and the Preceptory of St Anthony just outside South Leith on what is now the New Kirkgate Shopping Centre.

Can you imagine in your minds eye entering one of these buildings? You would see chapels, stain glass windows showing the gospel stories, statutes to the various saints and the high altar. They served Leith and the seamen of Leith for the best part of almost two hundred and fifty years until the Reformation of 1560 of the Church of Scotland and the break with Rome. Two of the main reasons for the break with Rome were corruption within the Church and the translation of the Bible into English. Until then as the Bible was only in Latin no ordinary person could read it and the Church had the monopoly of how the Bible was to be understood and interpreted. This in turn gave the church great power and influence over the lives of ordinary people.

Last week I was in Poland and visited a few Roman Catholic Churches and it was like stepping through a time warp although the Churches were very beautiful and the people appeared to be very sincere in their beliefs. It seemed to me they revealed in word and action an unquestioning faith. In Scotland, initiated by the Religious Reformation of the sixteenth century when the Roman Catholic Church lost much of its power, brought forth a ferment of thinking which led to the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century . The famous comment made at the time was that it was possible to walk into a man of genius every few yards of the High Street of Edinburgh. Poland never had an equivalent enlightenment. Certainly the Roman Catholic Church have produced many great thinkers and brilliant theologians in the past, however the impression given to me last week was of a Church somewhat fossilised in the past. Is this one of the reasons why fewer men coming forward for to train as priests?

Unless people have the power and ability to question what they believe then in my opinion you don’t actually have faith. All that you have is dogma and church doctrine which is a church based teaching- imposed from above, and not a personal thought-through relationship with God. Faith is not something that can be learned by repeating parrot fashion, it has in a sense to be caught. It was Reformation in Scotland which led to education for all, gradually giving people the power and freedom to do this for the first time. It gave the ability to choose whether to support the church or reject it.

All of the above may seem like ancient history and very much in the past until I spotted the following news articles in the Guardian (30/12/07) “Roman Catholic bishops are to appear in front of a powerful committee of MPs amid fears that they are pushing a fundamentalist brand of their religion in schools. Bishops have called on parents, teachers and priests to strengthen the role of religion in education” and the comment recently made (MSN)-

“LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches” which prompted the comment by the Rev. Sara MacVane of the Anglican Centre in Rome, “I don’t know what motivated it at this time,” she said. “But it’s important always to point out that there’s the official position and there’s the huge amount of friendship and fellowship and worshipping together that goes on at all levels, certainly between Anglican and Catholics and all the other groups and Catholics.”

These are all important questions for the future as Europe and the World are facing serious problems and unless the Roman Catholic Church reforms itself for the 21st century and really starts to make common cause with all other denominations then these questions won’t be resolved and we may enter a new dark age which Europe hasn’t seen for over a thousand years.

The days of ‘team colours’ and who holds absolute truths is not appropriate in this era . The sooner we meet and talk openly about the issues the better.

The Editor

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