Discipline culture

In order to ensure proper repentance, Scottish Reformers followed Calvin in adopting Bucer's Matthew 18 model for church discipline (Burnett 1991). Scotland's 'First Book of Discipline' is modelled upon the chapter almost verbatim (Knox 1972 [1621] [1559]). Matthew 18 commands that if the eye offends it must be plucked out; the hand or foot and it must be cut off. However, it also says:

'How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?'

Every effort, said Matthew, should be made to bring members of the community back into the fold by offering them counsel as to their fault, if necessary publicly, and granting forgiveness, as would God. For the Reformers, therefore, public discipline was a biblical command to chastise individual sinners, and also to set an example for the community (Burnett 1991, 94; Mentzer 2000, 94).

As the Reformed Church established, administration of discipline was handed over to kirk sessions — weekly (or more regular) meetings of church-appointed officials (Knox 1972 [1621] [1559], 65-73). Preoccupation with discipline increased exponentially: for example, by 1588, despite a substantial reduction in congregation size, the average person in Anstruther Wester parish was ten times more likely to be publicly disciplined than in 1583 (Graham 1996, 228).

Discipline culture maintained full momentum throughout a century-and-a-half of witch-hunting, though the majority of cases related to everyday issues such as flyting (scolding), fighting and fornication (Graham 1996). Of the Calvinist states, Scotland was unique in the extremity of its witch-hunts, and more comparable to Catholic regions in Germany, France and Switzerland (Hazlett 2003, 166). Hazlett suggests Scottish witch-hunting was related not to Puritanism but to 'radical Biblicism or biblical totalitarianism'. This, he attributes to a very literal interpretation of the Bible. Haziness between the covenants of the Old and New Testaments, he determines, lead to an attempt to reinstate the societal norms of biblical Jerusalem in a Scottish 'New Jerusalem' (Hazlett 2003, 166-7). Interestingly, the prevalence and variety of disciplinary material culture may also have been unique to Scotland; the branks were never legitimate in England and the discipline stool completely unknown (Boose 1991, 196; Todd 2002, 133). There is no mention of specific material culture in discussions of discipline in France or the Netherlands, suggesting it also played a less significant role in those countries (cf. Mentzer 2000; Parker 2000).

The correlation between greater numbers of discipline artefacts and higher frequency of witch trials is significant, suggesting a relationship between the two. Furthermore, witch trials and disciplinary material culture share very similar geographical distributions, both prevalent within regions where the Reformation established early (Fig. 8). This suggests that the same literal, biblical totalitarianism Biblicism that Hazlett sees as underlying Scottish witch-hunting may also have resulted in the conception and institution of widespread disciplinary material culture (Hazlett 2003, 166-7).

Figure 8

Figure 8: Map of Scotland showing early parishes, extant artefacts and proportional representation of regional witch trials

Literal interpretations of meaning are frequently associated with lack of comprehension; even very competent children and non-native speakers of a language are more literal in their interpretations since they do not understand the full complexities of a language. It may be very significant then, that unlike other Reformed countries, Scotland did not publish Bibles in the vernacular, but rather in English, and even those not until 1579 (Hazlett 2003, 136-40). Hazlett attributes the ultimate decline of Gaelic and Scots to this very deficiency. Lesser accessibility of language is one possible hypothesis for the literality of the Scottish Reformation. The lack of Bible in the crucial formative years of reformed culture (compared to other nations such as Germany, where the Bible had been available in the vernacular for some decades; Hazlett 2003, 136-40), and a later degree of language barrier could also account for the similarity between Scotland and Catholic (Latin mass) regions, as regards preoccupation with witches. With only selected messages and interpretations fully available to the laity through dissemination by ministers, the Scots' experienced a different, more insecure, Reformation than other nations. One's Reformed eschatological fate was secured only through faith in the Word, and some degree of barrier existed between the most ordinary Scots and the Word.

The connection between lack of access to vernacular Bibles, literal Bible interpretations, witch-hunting and the proliferation of discipline artefacts could also explain the lesser materiality of discipline in other Reformed traditions. Fears and artefacts to address those fears may have been less important in communities where the full subtleties of the Word were more readily accessible to ordinary communities. In Scotland, physical and visual aspects of public discipline may have been a more important tool in bridging the widened gap between man and God that was created by the absence of the sacraments, purgatory, and the Saints, than in Reformed contexts with early vernacular Bibles. Discipline artefacts may also be understood as further indication of a literal interpretation of the Bible and of the attempt to reinstate the social norms of biblical Jerusalem.

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