In 1517 Martin Luther triggered what we now call the Reformation when he nailed his famous theses to the church door in Wittenberg. The Reformation was a work in progress and initially those who advocated it in Scotland were not fully Calvinists or Presbyterians. Instead, it was the views and writings of Luther that had great influence. One of the persons influenced by Luther and his colleague Melanchthon was Patrick Hamilton, who studied under them in Germany.
At one time, everyone in Scotland knew the story of Patrick Hamilton. For our purposes, we want to note he had a sister called Katherine who embraced the Reformed faith as it was taught by her brother. By this time, Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament into English had arrived in Scotland and she had a copy. This conversion of her and others in the family took place a few months before Patrick was martyred. His death in 1528 is often regarded as the event that marked a turning point in Scotland’s national embrace of Protestantism.
Her connections to her brother made her a target of the ecclesiastical authorities, led by Cardinal Beaton. Six years later, in 1534, she with some others was taken before an ecclesiastical court for her beliefs. Another brother, called James, who was also a supporter of the reformed faith, had to flee the country, and in his absence he was condemned as a heretic and his property confiscated, even although he was the Sheriff of Linlithgowshire.
Katherine was charged with ‘maintaining that none could be saved by their own works, and that justification is to be obtained exclusively through faith in the righteousness of Christ.’ She was not a theologian and she found the interrogation daunting and beyond her grasp. Yet she was not moved by the subtleties of what the church taught about works. Eventually she responded with this statement: ‘Work here, work there, what kind of working is all this? I know perfectly that no kind of works can save me but only the works of Christ, my Lord and Saviour.’
The King, James V, was her nephew; he was present at the trial and was amused by her responses. Because he wanted to save her life, he persuaded her to recant her statements, which she did. Shortly afterwards, she repented of her response and had to flee to England, and she lived in Berwick for several years. She was one of many that had to flee to England for sanctuary at that time.
How should we react to a woman who recanted her faith under pressure? First, we need to ask ourselves what we would do in such a situation. After all, what do we say when a hostile person verbally attacks us about our faith? Do we always stand up for Jesus? There is more than one way of protecting ourselves.
Second, she was not the only person to recant. We are all familiar with the story of Thomas Cranmer, the English Reformer who recanted, and then repented of his denial and held his hand in the flame before he was burned to death.
Third, while she and Thomas may never have seen each other, they did experience the blessing of repentance provided by the Saviour through the work of his Holy Spirit.
Fourth, she lived for many years as a true follower of Jesus while unable to live in her native land.