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Insular ChristianityAlternative models of the Church in Britain and Ireland, c.1570–c.1700$
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Robert Armstrong and Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780719086984

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719086984.001.0001

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Authority, agency and the reception of the Scottish National Covenant of 16381

Authority, agency and the reception of the Scottish National Covenant of 16381

(p.88) Chapter 5 Authority, agency and the reception of the Scottish National Covenant of 16381
Insular Christianity

Laura A. M. Stewart

Manchester University Press

This article argues that the seventeenth-century Scottish laity was not a monolithic entity waiting passively for its clerical or social superiors to direct it. It demonstrates that an active lay spirituality was an important feature of the Scottish reformed tradition, without which the Covenant would have been theoretically inconceivable as well as a practical impossibility. The Covenant itself was, however, an affirmation of the spiritual authority of a particular group within the congregation who regarded themselves as the godly. It was their vision of the church that was endorsed in 1638, and especially in 1639, when the Covenant was given a retrospective interpretation that made Presbyterianism intrinsic to the liberties of the kirk. The radical potential of the Covenant lay not in its capacity to unleash the latent proletarian or democratic tendencies in the Scottish people, but in its use by the godly to endorse their view that ultimate authority lay with the congregation as the true church in miniature. This did not mean that such congregations were likely to separate from the rest of the church, but it did imply a constant dialogue between congregation and church hierarchy.

Keywords:   Covenant, Kirk, Scotland, Godly, Laity, Congregation

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