3. Theorising Theology

Van Engel (1986, 544) asserts that academics should take religious motives and needs in the past as seriously as political, economic or social needs and explore how religion structured experiences of the world, of the body, and of being. With this in mind, rather than assuming the performance of discipline had a function that merely serviced these other ends, three key Reformation preoccupations inform the theoretical approach and alternative methodology of this project.

The first is the question of belief. 'To believe' implies that there is doubt, that the subject matter which is believed cannot be considered as 'fact' (Pouillon 2008; Ruel 2008). What we consider today as knowable or fact may have no bearing on experience in the past; the limits of knowledge are socially constructed and people could therefore hold certain things which today are not considered to be real, measurable or certain (Eller 2007, 30-4). Similarly, 'they believed' may imply uniformity of perception and experience that did not exist: to disbelieve or know something false was also possible (Arnold 2005). The term 'belief' can thus artificially separate the lived reality of archaeological subjects and their 'real' world by imposing modern conceptions of reality (Insoll 2004, 155; Ruel 2008, 108).

In order to reconcile these conflicts with the need to communicate a religious topic, emphasis is placed on the process of long-term reform, socialising individuals and society into specific behaviour patterns. This acknowledges a multiplicity of experiences, dependent on varying and changing understandings of the Bible: the process of reform may be more or less advanced within an individual or community. To measure this, complete adherence to Reformed doctrine is set as the culturally defined model for behaviour. Comparing the actual behaviour of early modern Scots against these doctrinal dictates is relevant and necessary. It is only by illuminating how everyday practice differs from, or variably adheres to, doctrine that ordinary experiences of Reformation; their meanings, and their material expressions, can be investigated. As part of the methodology of communicating experiences, as opposed to information and/or ideas, doctrine is treated here as something that was knowable, i.e. 'in medieval times people were saved by faith and works' or 'now that purgatory no longer existed', rather than 'people now believed they were saved by faith alone'. This is adopted to reflect the omnipresence of religious doctrines coming from the top down to ordinary Scots living in Reformed communities, highlighting inconsistencies that suggest active resistance to doctrine or the unconscious persistence of pre-Reformed culture. It is also an attempt to close the gap between the archaeological audience and the subject by allowing engagement with that omnipresence.

The second key influence of Reformed theology upon the study was Luther's concept of the 'Living Word of God' as something living, and to be lived with (Matheson 1998). Viewing the Bible as the sole instrument for understanding the human condition, the thinkers of the Reformation sought to realise a Christianity that was based entirely on the Word (Cameron 1972, 87-8; Matheson 1998, 243). The first head of the original agenda for Reforming the Scottish Church reads: 'All scripture inspired of God is profitable to instruct, to reprove and to exhort' (Knox 1972 [1621] [1559], 87).

It was considered that, by this directive, all Biblical texts were a primary source to be studied that inspired and informed the ordinary imaginations which interpreted, perpetuated and, in turn, were shaped by the ecclesiastical discipline culture. All extracts included are from the Holy Bible, King James Version.

Finally, the third influence of the Reformation upon the methodology was the debate over the nature of the body of Christ and justification by faith alone (Calvin 1975 [1536], 42-67, 102-122; Luther in Lindberg 2000, 39-40). In medieval orthodoxy, salvation was achieved not only, or even mostly, through faith, but also through works of mercy, the sacraments (including penance and confession) and, particularly, through the consumption of transubstantiated bread and wine in the Mass. However, the Reformers proclaimed the Mass diabolical, refuting five of the sacraments and the power of the clergy to absolve. Simultaneously, they stripped the two remaining sacraments of much of their meaning and ceremony (Calvin 1975 [1536]; Luther in Lindberg 2000, 38-39). Discarded among the five lost sacraments was penance, which had incorporated both physical acts and confessions.

This raised the question of why physical, public performance of discipline continued to have a place in a culture where penance and confession were no longer routes to salvation, and where the emphasis was supposed to be upon the Word and words as opposed to actions. The answer was considered to relate to the Bible itself, as an artefact, and as a message. For Luther and his fellow Reformers, the greatest sacrament was the written Word (Matheson 2000, 28). To them, the message of the Bible was a methodology for incorporation into the body of Christ — hence the retention of baptism and the eucharist. The interpretative framework adopted throughout this article operates on the understanding that the Scottish Reformer's preoccupation with discipline related to the same message.


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