The Great Debate at Maybole
28th, 29th and 30th September 1562
‘Heir followeth the coppie of
the ressoning which was betuix the Abbote of Crosraguell and John Knox, in
Mayboill concerning the masse : in the yeare of God, a thousand fiue
hundreth thre scoir and two yeares.'
best way of understanding history is to get inside the minds of the main
players at any given time, and the best way of doing this is to look at
some of the things they said and did particularly in unguarded moments.
Scotland in the early years of the 1560’s was in considerable turmoil. In
August of 1560 parliament in Edinburgh had passed an Act establishing a
new protestant church and forbidding the saying of Mass anywhere in the
country, but it quickly became apparent that this law, since it did not
have the Royal Assent, was being widely ignored.
In December of that year the General Assembly, only the second General
Assembly of the Church of Scotland, voted to;
Ask the Estates and Lords of secreit Council that sharp punishment
may be made upon the persons underwritten which sayes and causes to be
said and are present thereat within the places following,
The parochciners of Mayboill, Girvin, Kirkoswald and Dalry within
the kirk wherefof the Messe is openly said and maitained.
due course action was taken and in the May 1561 the Abbeys at Failford,
Paisley and Kilwinning were burned’ although not
many of the reformers felt that burning churches was not the way to win
hearts and minds and several of its leading personalities were asked to go
to various parts of the country to preach.
John Knox was allocated Carrick
and Kyle and it was thus fact that brought the debate with the Abbot of Crossraguell,
Kennedy had a formidable intellect. In 1558 he published a theological
work called the ‘Compendius Tractive‘ which was felt by many to have the
potential to stop the reformation in its tracks as had happened in other
parts of Europe such as Poland.
The reformer John Davidson wrote of the Compendius Tractive;
‘Thare hes been mony movit to continew thare auld superstitione and
idolatry,throw the reasonis comenit in the same, quha had imbracit the
sincere and trew religion of Christ’
The Compendius Tractiv reiterated the historic Catholic position on the
Eucharist reminding the readers that it had been the belief of Christians
in Scotland and throughout Europe for centuries. In fact the nature of the
bread and wine after the celebrant has ‘blest and broken ‘ it remains a
huge area of theological difference between the Church of Scotland and the
Roman Catholic Church to this day.
was chosen for the debate probably as a compromise, as many from both
sides wanted it to take place in the much larger venue of St Michael’s
Kirk in Ayr. However this did not happen, either because one or other
party thought it would give his opponent a psychological advantage, or
more likely because one or other party felt he might be in some danger in
Ayr from organised opponents.
Very early in the debate the two men crossed swords, metaphorically that
is, on the nature and motivation of the clergy. Kennedy, who seems to have
been as ebullient and charismatic as Knox, impugned the motives of the
Catholic clergy who had come over to the reformation when he said;
‘I’t is thocht that the priest, monk or fleshmelye forlopin freir
follow treuli the verray doctryne of St Paule,quhilk is rynnegat fra his
religioun,and makis ane monstreous mariage with ane non and zit he wyl
swer and say that all that he dois is for the glore of God and the
libertie of the evangel.’
In other words the main motivation was much more physical than spiritual!
Knox however would have none of it and boomed back that the many of the
pre-reformation clergy did not deprive themselves of worldly pursuits
anyway. He accused Kennedy of ;
‘Joyning with him the whole babble of the horned Bischoppes.
Adulterers,fornicators,dronkards,bloodschedders, oppresors of the
poore,fatherless and strangers’
punches were pulled on either side! The debate went on for three days and
it has been suggested that Maybole became short of food supplies so it
was likely that there were more people in the town than it could cope
with. Certainly the Inns, hostelries and people providing what we would
now call bed and breakfast were stretched to the limit.
The path of the reformation took many turns over the following years.
Quentin Kennedy died of a broken heart two years later, and John Knox
lived for another ten, marrying a young girl of sixteen and having a
family by her. The Catholic Earls of Cassillus in Carrick and of Huntley
in Aberdeenshire met secretly in Paisley shortly after the Great Debate in
an attempt to organise simultaneous risings in the north and the south,
however they were aware that this could plunge the country into civil war
and render it liable to English invasion and occupation, and the
proposed rising never went ahead.
Mass continued to be said discreetly and often secretly throughout
Scotland for as long as the old clergy lived., and the last recorded
incident of it still being said was in Elgin Cathedral as late as 1595.
The eight or nine monks of Crossraguel were allowed to live quietly and in
peace. Whether they said Mass or not for themselves and a discreet few we
will never know because if they did they risked the gallows. In the 21st
century the churches try to understand each other rather than oppose each
other and are well aware that the enemy is a Scotland secular in a way
that it could never have been at the time of the Great Debate. However the
Great debate is a precious part of our nation’s history and Maybole has a
duty to keep its memory alive.