Greyfriars and the Path to Modernity

In 1638, here in Greyfriars the National Covenant was signed. It was a document that insisted on spiritual freedom for the church and was, in many ways, ill tempered and intolerant. And yet, as a development of reformed thinking it was laying the foundations of democratic governance, universal education and enlightenment thinking. Through its innate distrust of earthly authority whether of princes or priests, the reformers insisted that each individual should be free to give an account of their life, faith and action in this world. The consequences of that were a growth in literacy across the nation (primarily in order to enable people to read the scriptures in their own tongue), the encouragement of “thinking for oneself” and the growth of individual responsibility that led naturally to the Enlightenment and scientific, rational thinking (consequences not imagined by the writers of the Covenant). John Miller, a former moderator of the Church of Scotland wrote, “I remember the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expressing to me his country’s undying gratitude to Scotland for among other things ‘the Presbyterian pattern of engaging lay people as well as clergy in the decision-making of the church, which,’ he said, ‘prepared us for participatory democracy.’The contribution of the Scottish Reformation to the shaping of the values of the modern world cannot be underestimated.

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