Anti-Catholicism and the Church of Scotland, c.1690–1745: confronting and contesting Popery
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Loughlin, Clare Theresa
This thesis examines anti-Catholicism in Scotland in the first half of the eighteenth century, with a particular focus on how the Presbyterian Church of Scotland perceived and responded to popery. ‘Popery’ was a derogatory term for the Roman Catholic Church and the beliefs of its adherents. However, there was also a wider discourse surrounding popery, in which stereotypes and behaviours associated with Catholicism were adapted by Protestants to denote true and false religion. As such, what constituted popery was malleable and contested; Protestants identified popery among their co-religionists as much as they denounced Catholics for popery. Anti-Catholicism and anti-popery were related and overlapping, but also potentially discrete concepts. Both facets of this religious animus, however, remain underexplored in relation to eighteenth-century Scotland. By examining responses to Scotland’s Catholic community, uses of popery in religious debate, and the extent to which these were interlinked, the thesis contributes a new and multi-faceted understanding of anti-Catholicism after the revolution of 1688–1690. It argues that the nature and trajectory of anti-Catholicism in Scotland was informed as much by divisions and controversies within Scottish Protestantism as it was by anxieties about Jacobitism. Anti-Catholicism, though pervasive, was by no means monolithic or uniform. The thesis begins by arguing that Presbyterians associated popery not only with political sedition, but equally with moral degeneracy and superstition. It is shown, however, that there was little consensus within the Church over the threat posed by popery in Scotland. Moreover, while Catholicism was a genuine concern, popery sparked greater interest as a platform for exploring issues within Scottish Protestantism. The Church of Scotland, re-established as Presbyterian in 1690, was threatened not only by Catholics, but by Episcopalians and a growing body of Presbyterian dissenters. Clerical petitions about popery reflected this duality: they were expressions of concern about the Catholic community, but were also used to undermine Episcopalian challenges to Presbyterian government. Popery also became entangled in controversies about Presbyterian separatism. The Church’s national leadership became preoccupied with using popery to denigrate its religious rivals, leaving activism against Catholics to local church courts. The thesis goes on to argue that attitudes towards popery were shaped increasingly by the declining status of the Church of Scotland, rather than by the remnant Catholic community. Presbyterian complaints about popery had little impact, and demonstrated the Church’s waning influence in Scottish society. Missions to the Highlands attempted to eradicate Catholicism, but Presbyterian activism against Catholicism faltered by the middle of the century. However, popery within Protestantism remained of central importance, as Presbyterians experienced significant internal divisions. Rival Protestant factions sought to control this language, which was central to debates over what constituted the true Church and the legitimate boundaries of doctrine. It is shown that, while popery was traditionally invoked in relation to calls for Protestant unity, by the mid-eighteenth century, popery was being used to justify the growing reality of religious pluralism in Scotland. The thesis thus problematises the unifying potential of anti-Catholicism. More broadly, it aims to reintegrate anti-Catholicism into studies of religion in eighteenth-century Scotland, demonstrating its influence on the development of Scottish Protestantism in an important period of religious transition.