Independence of the Early Medieval Church.


The early history of the medieval church in what is now known as Scotland in shrouded in doubt, argument and controversy. One of the causes of this situation was the fact that there was no metropolitan 'authority' in Scotland - there was no Archbishop.

The first extant letter of a Pope to Scotland is that of Paschal II (1099-1118), Noscat dilectio, "to the suffragans of the metropolis of York per Scotiam" written on the promotion of Gerard, bishop of Hereford, to the archbishopric of York in December 1100, in which the Pope directed Scottish bishops to show obedience to Gerard. This direction was scrupulously ignored by the Scottish Bishops who, for many reasons were, to say the least, most reluctant to acknowledge the superiority of an English Archbishop.

The consecration of the formidable Archbishop Thurstan by Pope Calixtus II was the occasion of the start of a more vigorous papal letter-writing campaign insisting that York's authority be recognised in Scotland: a pair of letters was sent on 19/20 November 1119 to the bishops, followed by one addressed to King Alexander, another pair of letters sent on 15 January 1122 to the King and the Bishop of Glasgow, and a final missive to Bishop John of Glasgow on 26 August 1122. Successive Popes wrote letters to the same effect, and with identical results: sustained prevarication or disobedience by the bishops of St Andrews and Glasgow aided and abetted by their King.  On 13 April 1125 the new Pope, Honorius II, addresses the new King, David, and commands him to receive the papal legate Cardinal John (John of Crema, cardinal-priest of S. Grisogono), who was to investigate the continued controversy between the Scottish bishops and Thurstan of York.  Later, on 24 February 1126, Honorius II commands the Scottish bishops to attend him at Rome during Lent, 1127, for an inquiry into the matter of their relation to York.  Of course, this meeting never took place. Five years later, on 29 November 1131, Innocent II again instructs Bishop John of Glasgow to obey Thurstan as his metropolitan and send a second letter addressed to all the other bishops in Scotland. Yet again, on 16 June 1151, the pope, Eugene III, orders King David to compel the Scottish bishops to recognize the authority of York.

During these times, when a new bishop of Glasgow or St Andrews required consecration, normally the prerogative of the metropolitan Archbishop, the need often coincided with vacancies in the Archbishopric of York: both Bishop John and his successor Herbert were consecrated by the Pope himself. This pattern then continued, even when there was no vacancy at York, when Herbert's successor, Engelram, was consecrated by Pope Alexander III and Engelram's successor, Jocelyn, was consecrated at Clairvaux by a Papal Legate.

The independence of the Scottish Bishops was aided by the Bull "SUPER ANXIETATIBUS: 30 July 1176" and finally guaranteed with the Bull "CUM UNIVERSI", usually dated to 1192, but a case has been made for 1189 {"The Background to Cum Universi," Barrell, pp 128-37.}  Cum Universi was not only a defeat for York, but put paid to St Andrew's hopes of a pallium for the foreseeable future. Every Scottish diocese was to owe obedience to the Pope directly (except for Galloway) thus ending a chapter of history covering nearly one hundred years, during which time the Scottish bishops had avoided the authority of successive archbishops of York!

This state of affairs existed for some considerable time before the first Archbishop was appointed in Scotland (St Andrews) and is the cause of there being today a vast deposit of materials relating to the everyday life of the Scottish dioceses in the Vatican Archives. Virtually everything that happened had to be referred for approval to the Pope and copies of these supplications and the Papal decisions relating to them were carefully filed away.

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