Both Catholics and Protestants used print to spread their message in the 16th century, and we wanted to make sure this exhibition told the Catholic side of the story. Two items which show how the still-Catholic church in Scotland responded to the pressures of reform are Archbishop Hamilton’s Catechism and the Twapenny Faith. These two texts have sometimes been confused – but the Catechism was a substantial book, published in 1552, and the Twapenny Faith was a four-page pamphlet, published at the opposite end of the decade in 1559.
Both were printed for the Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton. Hamilton and his fellow bishops agreed on the need for reform within the Scottish church, still Catholic, at a series of provincial councils in the 1550s. Today we often associate the use of the vernacular with the Protestant reformers and the use of Latin with Catholicism, so it may be surprising that both of these texts were in Scots, not Latin. In fact, the Catechism is one of the most substantial prose texts in Scots of the period.
The use of Scots was to make sure that the people clearly understood the Church’s beliefs, and also were aware of the difference between sound Catholic doctrine and heresy. Every parish priest was to own a copy, and read them aloud to their parishioners.
Archbishop Hamilton’s Catechism
Woodcut of the Transfiguration from the Catechism
The Catechism, or to give it its full title, The catechisme, that is to say, ane co[m]mon and catholik instructioun of the christin people in materis of our catholik faith and religioun, quhilk na gud christin man or woman suld misknaw (shelfmark Ry.II.f.29), was the first book printed in St Andrews, by the printer John Scot in 1552. Parish priests were told firstly to learn from this guide to church doctrine themselves, and secondly to read it to their congregations on Sundays.
The ‘Twapenny Faith’
This text got its nickname from its price, two pence: its actual title was Ane Godlie Exhortatioun Compylit and Sett Furth be the Maist Reuerende father in God, Johane Archibischope of Sanctandrous (shelfmark BCL.S104). It was also printed by John Scot, probably by now back in Edinburgh. We have displayed the only surviving copy of this pamphlet – but it was produced and sold cheaply, and sold around the country by hawkers and chapmen. It proclaimed the key Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, and was to be read aloud during Mass.
Appropriately enough, this unique copy survives in the collection of Blairs College Library, the library of St Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeen, which was a Catholic seminary. We are grateful to the Trustees of the Blairs Museum Trust for permission to display this and other items from their collections in our Reformation display.
Although the Church intended these two books to be used throughout Scotland, there was no distribution network in place to make sure that they did reach every parish in the country, and so they never had the effect that was intended. If the Church had managed to distribute them properly, and to make sure that they were read aloud as intended, so that they reached every parishioner, perhaps the history of religion in 16th-century Scotland would have been entirely different.