Bishop Thomas Nicolson and the Roman Catholic Mission to Scotland, 1694-1718

Doran, Wendy J (1986) Bishop Thomas Nicolson and the Roman Catholic Mission to Scotland, 1694-1718. MLitt(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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After the Reformation in Scotland, the Catholic Church became outlawed and Catholic practices almost died out. The influence of Protestantism was great and appealed to sections of Scottish society. However, Catholic missionary priests, mainly Jesuits and Irish Franciscans, worked untiringly and in the face of opposition and persecution, to try and keep Catholicism alive in Scotland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Their work was, however, disorganised and lacked direction because they carried out their activities independently of each other and made no attempts to co-ordinate their work. Consequently, even those areas which the Reformation had not reached, the remoter districts of the Highlands and Islands, often had no contact with the clergy and Catholic, even Christian practices, quickly died out. The main concern of the Catholic church in the seventeenth century was to extend the influence of the Counter Reformation to non-Catholic countries, and Scotland, to all intents and purposes, had become such by 1660. The Scottish Catholic Mission was organised in Rome by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda) and by the Scottish Agent, William Leslie who was in close touch with Catholic priests in Scotland. It was decided by Propaganda and Leslie in 1689 to appoint a bishop to organise and co-ordinate the work of Catholic missioners and Thomas Nicolson was consecrated vicar-apostolic for Scotland in 1694. He was a convert to Catholicism who had been a regent of Glasgow University for several years before his decision to become a Catholic and study for the priesthood. He subsequently worked for one year as a missioner in Scotland before his imprisonment and banishment in 1688 and therefore had first-hand experience of the Catholic Mission. In the 23 years that followed his appointment, Nicolson worked untiringly to re-establish Catholicism in Scotland and by the time of his death in 1718, the Catholic Church had once again gained a strong foothold. Despite the harshness of the Penal Laws and the remoteness of many areas of northern and western Scotland, he and his priests sought out, instructed and confirmed nominal Catholics, gained the support and confidence of lapsed Catholics and converted and baptised many non-Catholics. Catholic doctrine and canon law were reaffirmed in Nicolson's 'Statutes', Catholic schools were set up and a Scottish seminary was built at Scalan. The work of the regular priests (Jesuits, Franciscans, Vincentians, Dominicans and Benedictines) was incorporated into the Mission and Nicolson was given authority over them. Nicolson was also an able administrator and his success in restoring Catholicism in Scotland was also due to his skilful management of the Mission. He gained the support of the Catholic nobility whose co-operation and financial assistance proved invaluable; he ensured a regular supply of student priests to the Scots colleges abroad to train as missioners; he laboured to instruct his missioners in the art of preaching and refuting the prevalent 'heresies' of the time, including Jansenism; he corresponded regularly with Leslie and Propaganda, sending frequent reports on the work of the Mission and requests for increased funds when these were needed. Above all, Nicolson worked undeterred in the face of recurring obstacles which included the strict enforcement of the Penal Laws, the capture and imprisonment of his priests, shortage of money, the success of the mission of the SSPCK (Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge) and his own ill-health. He overcame each difficulty with courage and determination and can be considered to be the man who refounded the Scottish Catholic Church after its destruction at the Reformation.

Item Type: Thesis (MLitt(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Religious history
Date of Award: 1986
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1986-77461
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 09:07
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 09:07

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