Pastor Weedon posted this on his blog site, on March 17. On this date in 1565, Alexander Alesius died — a great Scottish Lutheran confessor of the faith. Originally he was born Alexander Alane, and as a student at St. Andrew's, he argued against those who were expounded the Reformation doctrines. But on February 29, 1528, he witnessed the heroic martyrdom of 24-year-old Patrick Hamilton, a member of Scottish royalty who had studied under Luther and Melanchthon. Alane himself had tried to persuade Hamilton of the truth of the papal doctrines and the error of the Reformation doctrines.
While burning at the stake, Hamilton said such things as "You come forward and testify the truth of your religion by putting your little finger into this fire in which I am burning with my whole body," and when asked if he still held to his beliefs Hamilton raised three fingers of a half-burned hand, and held them up until he died.
Alexander Alane was so overcome by this witness, and by their prior conversations, that he was won over to the Reformation. He himself was imprisoned, then escaped to Germany in 1532 where he signed his name to the Augsburg Confession. Melanchthon gave him a new Latin surname, by which he became known forever afterward. He was excommunicated in 1534, but following Henry VIII's break with Rome, between 1535 and 1539 he was active in London. He considered Anne Boleyn innocent of the crimes with which she was charged, and in later years communicated with Anne's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, about her mother's final days. He carried on a disputation with the Roman Catholic bishop of London on the nature of the sacraments. Following the fall of Thomas Cranmer he was compelled to return to Germany, where he served first in a theological chair at the University of Frankfurt, and in his final years as twice-elected rector of the University of Leipzig.
I love the commemoration of St. Patrick as much as anybody, but blessed be the memory and example of Alexander (Alane) Alesius, a great Lutheran confessor and the fruit of Patrick Hamilton's martyrdom!
Pastor Jerry Gernander (ELS)
Here is more more detailed about him, written by Dr. Neelak Tjernagel
Patrick Hamilton: Precursor of the Reformation in Scotland
[For many years Dr. Tjernagel served as professor in the history department
"With the best blood of Scotland in his veins, and with the most heroic and accomplished men in the kingdom to form the mind and manners of his early age, it was only natural that he should grow up to be what he afterwards became—when the endowments of Divine grace had been added to the gifts of nature and the accomplishments of education—not only the most zealous and the most courteous of evangelists, a confessor of the truth, as mild and modest and gentle in his bearing and manners, as he was firm and impregnable in his spirit." In the charmingly archaic phrases of this long sentence Peter Lorimer introduces his affectionate account of the life of Patrick Hamilton, the well-born Scottish scholar of Paris, Louvain, Marburg, and St. Andrews who in his 24th year and on a wind-swept day suffered martyrdom at the gate of St. Salvatore's College, St. Andrews. Alternate gusts of wind and rain fanned and damped the flame while servants made hurried trips back to the castle to fetch fresh billets to replenish the fire. It was six hours before the flames had finished their task and the faithful martyr could say: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and collapse in death.
Alexander Alesius witnessed the execution and said that in those last pain-filled hours "the martyr never gave one sign of impatience, nor ever called to heaven for vengeance upon his persecutors: so strong was his faith, so strong his confidence in God."
The doctors of Louvain wrote "to congratulate, almost with envy, the University of St. Andrews upon the honors which it had earned by such an edifying display of Catholic zeal" with "the order of the law in all points so well observed."
Francis Lambert, Patrick Hamilton's one-time preceptor at the University of Marburg, shared his grief with Philip, the Landgrave of Hesse, saying: "He came to your university out of Scotland, that remote corner of the world; and he returned to his country again to become its first and now illustrious apostle. He was all on fire to confess the name of Christ, and he has offered himself to God as a holy, living sacrifice. He brought unto the church of God not only the splendor of his station and gifts, but his life itself. Such is the flower of surpassing sweetness, yea, the ripe fruit, which your university has produced in its very commencement."
"Why did Patrick Hamilton die?" It was a question that was asked over and over again by the generation that witnessed his death. They read and reread "Patrick's Places," his single literary testament, and gradually the wave of reform spread over religion in Scotland. To this day Scotland, with John Knox, the historian and manager of the reformation in that country, still hails Patrick Hamilton as the first and the purest of the martyrs of Scotland.
But why did he die? Why was he condemned to burning? The answer is plain. Patrick Hamilton, as his preaching, "Patrick's Places," and the writ of his condemnation had verified, was infecting Scotland with the teachings of the Saxon Reformer, Martin Luther.
It is a remarkable irony that the Lutheran Reformation should have had its origin and nurture in the halls of the University of Wittenberg, an educational institution that was funded by receipts from the adoration of the collection of relics exhibited in Wittenberg by the Saxon Elector, Frederick the Wise.
A similar irony exists in the career of Patrick Hamilton. A grandson of a king of Scotland, Patrick's father, Sir Patrick Hamilton of Kincavel, could pass on to his son the privileges and advantages of birth and wealth. This included Patrick's appointment, at age 13, to the titular title of Abbot of Ferme, an Augustinian monastery in Ross-Shire. This preferment gave him the income of the chapter, an ample resource, adequate to assure an education overseas, and to provide for all his subsequent needs until the title was vacated by his death. Thus, like Luther, Hamilton was to be supported by practices of a religious establishment which both were later to denounce.
But in 1517, Patrick's 13th year, he could have been aware of none of that. On receipt of his endowment he left for Paris with two companions and a servant. Age 13 was not an unusual age for college matriculation, and close relations between Scotland and France suggested Paris for the initiation of his academic career. Destined by his family for service to the church, Hamilton began his studies with every advantage of rank and wealth. Lorimer, Hamilton's biographer, writes of Paris and "the powerful influences which were there brought to bear on his opening mind. To pass from Scotland to France in those days was like passing from the middle ages into the regime of modern times." France was then "The genial nurse of all the liberal arts—rich in culture and learning—generously dispensing her riches to the world, throwing open her hospitable gates to all mankind."
The academic annals of the chroniclers of the University of Paris in those days recorded the interest created by the brilliant essays of Erasmus, and the publication of his Greek New Testament in 1516. By 1519 "the strong hand of Luther knocked violently at its gates, and the sound reverberated through all its studious halls and cloisters." Printed copies of the Leipzig disputation circulated around the university. In 1520 Frederick the Wise asked the faculty of theology at Paris to express its opinion of Luther's teaching. Louvain in the Netherlands had condemned it as heretical and Paris followed suit a year later with an opinion which, it may be noted, was not unanimous. Melanchthon responded to the Paris declaration with "A Defense of Martin Luther Against the Furibund [raging] Decree of the Parisian Theologasters [smatterers or pretenders in theology]." France was shocked at Melanchthon's audacity in challenging Paris' highly regarded Sorbonne. But Melanchthon's pamphlet was printed in numerous widely circulated editions. The university made an elaborate show of committing the pamphlet to the flames.
Melanchthon responded in kind in a diatribe against one of the members of the faculty, a son of Scotland, John Major. Referring to Major's commentaries on Peter Lombard's medieval writings Melanchthon snorted: "Good heavens! What wagonloads of trifling! What pages he fills with disputes whether there can be any horsemanship without a horse, whether the sea was salt when God made it, not to speak of the many impieties he has written about the freedom of the will, not only in the teeth of Scripture, but of the scholastics besides! If he is a specimen of the Parisiennes, no wonder they are all enemies of Luther."
It all added up to the fact that the upstart University of Wittenberg had challenged the Sorbonne itself, the very citadel of medieval theology. Polemical pamphlets made titillating reading for young Parisian students. Hamilton and many like him were seriously stirred by Luther's new look at biblical theology. As Lorimer says: "It was impossible that the young reformer could have been anywhere better stationed, to learn all that was strongest and weakest both in the old and the new theology."
Having taken his Master's Degree at Paris in 1520, Patrick went on to Louvain as a graduate student. The attraction of Louvain, apart from the luster given to it by the presence there of Erasmus, was its academic preeminence in its Greek, Hebrew, and Latin language studies. Robert Barnes, the first English Lutheran, prior of the Augustinian chapter at Cambridge, was at Louvain at the same time, but no word from either suggests their mutual acquaintance.
In 1523 Patrick went back to Scotland to see his widowed mother. His father, Sir Patrick, had fallen in sword play in 1520, a victim of the factious quarrels of the Hamiltons and the Douglases. Patrick's brother, Sir James, had succeeded to his father's baronial lands and titles.
After attending to family responsibilities at home, Patrick went to St. Andrews University, where he was accepted in the university by incorporation in June 1523, a graduate student and teacher. John Major, so bitterly ridiculed by Melanchthon while he was at the Sorbonne, was incorporated in the university on the same day under his title of Doctor of Theology of Paris. Hamilton was admitted to the Faculty of Arts in October of the same year. St. Andrews University was then in a most flourishing state. The oldest of the universities in Scotland, it had been founded in 1410 in the small diocesan city of St. Andrews, situated on the North Sea. The city, best known to Americans as the place of origin and the sanctum sanctorum of golf, was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, the very vatican of the church of Scotland. St. Andrews cathedral was the largest and oldest in Scotland.
It is of some interest that during his stay at St. Andrews Hamilton dabbled in music, composing and directing choral masses that were given in the cathedral. This activity suggests that Hamilton still conformed to the usual rituals of worship and that his ecclesiastical superiors had no reason to doubt his orthodoxy. Nevertheless, we may be sure that, with his continental training, he was reading reformation literature and pondering the pages of Erasmus' New Testament with Greek and Latin in parallel columns. Though he was the lay abbot of the Augustinian Chapter at Ferme, he was never in residence and did not wear the monastic habit. At some time, however, he did request ordination so as to be licensed to preach the gospel.
Not until 1525 were warning signals sounding in Scotland concerning dangers implicit in the forward progress of the continental reformation. The government warned about heresies that were being spread by Luther and his disciples, and the importation of such heretical books was forbidden. Legislation a month later banned possession of these books. Such warnings notwithstanding, Tyndale's New Testament and Luther's books came into Scotland by the hands of merchants who tucked them into bales of cloth or other similar "unsuspicious goods." Student interest at St. Andrews and elsewhere provided ready markets for the illegal traffic in books.
Hamilton had been reading this Lutheran material and eventually, as Lorimer relates, was led to turn to Luther and away from his former doyen, Erasmus. "The choice to which Hamilton was now conclusively brought was to accept the theological and spiritual reform of Luther in preference to the moral and disciplinary reform of his former master, Erasmus."
But in 1526 Hamilton's theological position had not yet matured. He was not certain and confident of his religious views and, not wishing to face the wrath of his superiors until he was settled in his own mind, he resolved to go to Germany to study Lutheran theology at the point of its source. Therefore, early in 1527, Patrick Hamilton embarked for Germany, determined to see and hear the great Martin Luther himself. Unfortunately he arrived at Wittenberg at a time of plague. Most of the faculty and students had fled, temporarily, to Jena. He did hear Luther preach in the castle church and also heard Bugenhagen conducting a service in the town church. Hamilton also had some conversation with Melanchthon, since these religious leaders had not gone to Jena with the rest of the university. It was doubtless from these men that Hamilton learned that Philip, the Landgrave of Hesse, was just then founding a new university at Marburg, and that Francis Lambert of Avignon had been named the head of the theological faculty.
By this time the reformation had penetrated the mind and consciousness of the masses and Hamilton was warmly drawn to the spirit of the gospel. The reformation could be seen, heard, and felt. It was no longer just a series of articled doctrinal statements. He found the monasteries deserted, priests married, and the people singing Christian hymns. The new spirit of religion which he had seen so openly reflected seemed to be everywhere.
The founding of the University of Marburg was unique. It was the first in Europe to be established without the sanction and benediction of the papal office. The formal opening was on 30 May, 1527. The names of Patrick Hamilton and his two friends who had accompanied him to Europe appear on the roster of the first academic roll. The biographer of Philip Hesse enumerated the functionaries, faculty members, and guests present at the inaugural, closing with the words, "and a few foreigners; among the rest Patrick Hamilton, the Scottish evangelical martyr."
The dean of the theological faculty, Francis Lambert, was a former French monk of Avignon who had embraced the principles of the reformation. He had studied at Wittenberg, had served a pastorate at Strassburg, and had become a religious figure of great importance in the lands of Philip of Hesse. Lambert and Hamilton quickly developed a warm affection and high esteem for each other. Lambert later wrote of Hamilton, "His learning was of no common kind for his years, and his judgment in divine truth was eminently clear and solid. I can truly say that I have seldom met with anyone who conversed on the Word of God with greater spirituality and earnestness of feeling."
Companions of Hamilton in his year at Marburg were the English reformers, William Tyndale and John Frith, then engaged in the translation of the Old Testament into English. Tyndale was also writing some of his great reformation tracts. Lambert and Tyndale were both Hamilton's venerated fathers in the faith. Frith, his own age, became a beloved brother to him. Tyndale, experienced in the ways of the world, was already speaking of future martyrdom. None could have predicted that all three of them would wear the martyr's crown. Patrick Hamilton's great achievement at Marburg was the writing of the elaborate textbook exercise that has come to be known as "Patrick's Places." Lambert called the work "a series of theses to be publicly defended." He said that "these theses were conceived in the most evangelical spirit, and were maintained with the greatest learning." They were written in Latin and translated by John Frith, who said in his preface that in them "ye have the pith of all divinity."
"Patrick's Places" may be seen most conveniently today in volume four of the Townsend Cattley edition of The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe and in the appendix of volume two of the Dickinson edition of John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland. It is a remarkably clear statement of faith comprised under a limited number of subject headings. It deals with the law, the gospel, and elaborates on the law-gospel nexus. There are separate sections on faith and good works, faith and unbelief are contrasted, and there is a special discussion of faith, hope, and charity. The device of the syllogism is extensively used in the development of the themes included.
The objective of "Patrick's Places" appears to have been a clear and simple portrayal of the gospel. Its doctrinal content was acceptable to both Lutheran and Reformed theologians. There are no polemics against false doctrine, ecclesiastical corruption, or unchristian practices. Distinctive Lutheran theology such, for example, as the Lutheran view of the Lord's Supper or the universal priesthood of all believers is missing. It would be interesting to hear how he stood on those subjects. What is included, however, is a testimony to his diligence in his single academic term at Marburg. It is a very good clue to the faith and preaching that ended in his martyrdom.
After his term at Marburg Hamilton felt that he was prepared for his mission at home. As he left Marburg he said: "We have a good and gentle Lord. He doeth all for naught. Let us follow his footsteps." He returned home in the fall of 1527.
His first converts were his mother, brother and sister, and other members of his family at home. From preaching in his home environment his activity spread to the countryside, nearby towns, and to Linlithgow in the adjoining parish. A contemporary chronicler reported that "wherever he came he spared not to lay open the corruptions of the Roman Church, and to show the errors crept into the Christian religion; whereunto many gave ear, and a great following he had both of his learning and courteous behavior to all sorts of people."
Though still the head of his Augustinian house at Ferme, Hamilton had not assumed his order's garb and was free to marry without censure. Very little is known of his marriage except that his wife gave birth to a daughter, born after Patrick's death. The responsibilities of marriage apparently did not weigh heavily on him because his preaching continued in ever widening circles. Eventually Archbishop Beaton, the head of the diocese of St. Andrews, became aware of it. It presented the prelate with a tricky problem because the church depended on the great lairds for its support, and the Hamilton family was influential. The young reformer was the scion of an important clan and he could not be disciplined in any summary fashion however great his peril to the ecclesiastical establishment. Lorimer says: "A Lutheran missionary, with royal blood in his veins, and all the power of the Hamiltons at his back, was a more formidable heretick in Scotland than Luther himself would have been. The moment was critical; no time must be lost." The primate and his councilors therefore laid their plans carefully. Beaton eventually invited Hamilton to St. Andrews for an informal discussion of theology. Predicting early martyrdom, Hamilton cheerfully left home for his conversations with the archbishop. He was eager to bring the gospel to St. Andrews and was well aware of the public interest that would be stimulated by his well advertised conversations with the archbishop.
Arriving in January, he accepted the ample lodgings provided for him at the castle. The conferences with Beaton lasted for several days. The two men had conversed cordially and had agreed that there were some areas in which the church was in need of reform. Even Beaton's councilors had not appeared to be hostile. The young reformer was subsequently given the freedom of the city. He was under no restrictions, either publicly or privately, to continue to express his views and to preach the gospel as he had come to know it.
Hamilton, as he probably well knew, was preparing his own fire for the burning. People in the city, some with wonderment, others with joy, were hearing a message that struck at the very vitals of the existing church. The archbishop's temporary dissembling also gave him time to survey and prepare the field against risks of incurring the wrath of either the lairds or the people by the destruction of a popular and blue-blooded scholar and preacher.
Cardinal Beaton was determined that Patrick Hamilton should die. There was no question about that. The council had decided that it would be the part of prudence to condemn their victim on the basis of doctrines everyone had heard from the victim's own lips, rather than to base a conviction on heresies that had only been heard in the archbishop's chambers. Hamilton was probably not permitted to preach in the churches of the city, but his friend Alesius says that Hamilton "taught and disputed openly in the university on all points in which he conceived a reformation to be necessary in the church's doctrines, and in the administration of the sacraments and other rites." Alesius further indicates that Hamilton received monks and numerous other visitors at his lodgings, some of whom had come on the archbishop's bidding to get evidence for the approaching, but yet unannounced, heresy trial. Hamilton was equally open and forthright to all who came to him, whatever their secret motives.
One of his visitors was Alexander Alane, already referred to. He received his nickname, "Alesius" (the wanderer), from Melanchthon who had marveled at the numerous places where the young Scot turned up during the course of the reformation period. Alesius appears to have come to Hamilton in all sincerity to persuade him to renounce his errors and return to the true faith. But it was Alesius himself who was converted, and to whom we now are in debt for most of our knowledge about Patrick Hamilton. The conversion was a signal triumph for Hamilton because Alesius had previously received high praise for having refuted Luther's theology in a consistory of the divines of St. Andrews. Now Alesius found it less easy to conquer the accomplished Lutheran in a face-to-face argument, than it had been to defeat an absent Luther.
How many days Hamilton had for this open propagation of reformation theology is not known, except that it must have been less than a month. In any case the time came when the archbishop considered it safe to bring Hamilton to trial. The reformer was ordered to appear to answer charges that he both held and taught heretical doctrines. The young man's friends pleaded with him to take flight and save his life. Actually even the archbishop connived at his escape. It would have spared him the ignominy of sentencing and burning a popular reformer, and a son of the clan Hamilton at that. But Patrick scorned all such stratagems. As Alesius later wrote, Patrick had come to St. Andrews "to confirm the minds of the godly by his death as a martyr to the truth; and to turn his back now would be only to lay a stumbling block in their path and cause some of them to fall."
When Sir James Hamilton learned of his brother's plight, he used his considerable influence and resources to muster a force for the defense of his brother. A storm on the Firth of Forth delayed him so he did not arrive in St. Andrews on time. Far from trying to escape his ordeal, Patrick came to the cathedral early on the morning set for his trial. Thirteen articles had been prepared for his interrogation, as follows:
1. That the corruption of sin remains in children after their baptism.
When asked to respond to these articles Hamilton affirmed that the first seven were undoubtedly true, but that he reserved his opinion on the last six until he could study them further. We may observe that the first seven articles are a condensation of "Patrick's Places." Though, as we have seen, we have the testimony of Alesius that Hamilton had talked about the administration of the sacraments, he was not challenged on his view of the Lord's Supper. It may be that his friendship with the Sacramentarian John Frith had made him shy away from this subject, so controversial among the reformers.
When the interrogation was completed Hamilton was again set at liberty, his judges making a great show of moderation and justice. And again he was given ample opportunity to take flight. But Patrick Hamilton just kept on preaching and teaching, seemingly oblivious of his peril. Within two days he was called to judgment. Beaton had news that Sir James Hamilton was approaching, prepared to mount an attack. The Cardinal therefore hastened the day on which Patrick would be brought to the flames. Under cover of darkness, therefore, Patrick Hamilton was taken from his lodgings and escorted to the cathedral early on the last day of February 1528. The archbishop and his train of abbots, priors, bishops, and doctors were assembled at the tribunal of heresy.
The first step in the formalized program of the auto-da-fe was the declaration of the doctors that the articles charged against Hamilton were indeed heretical. Then a Dominican friar was instructed to read the articles so that the accused might respond. When the friar was silenced because the accused responded clearly and unemotionally on the basis of Holy Scripture he turned helplessly to the judges as if to ask: "What do I do now?" He was told to lay new charges and then to call him a heretic to his face. With that, the interrogator introduced new subjects not mentioned in the bill of particulars formally before the court. These included such matters as prayer to the saints and to the Virgin Mary, the authority of the Pope, and similar matters that might seem self-evident to the gallery at the trial.
The interrogation ended. The archbishop read the pre-ordained verdict: "We have found the same Magister Patrick many ways infected with heresy, disputing, holding and maintaining divers heresies of Martin Luther and his followers, repugnant to our faith." After further defense of the death sentence the court arose and Hamilton was taken in custody. The warrant for execution by the secular power was secured without delay.
Alexander Alane, better known as Alesius, is more than worthy of a footnote in reference to Lutheran influence in the reformation in Scotland. We have seen him as the most noted of Patrick Hamilton's converts and have read his account of Patrick's martyrdom. The cruelty of that death scene must have affected Alesius profoundly, because for the rest of his life he lived under the echo of the famous comment of Erasmus: "I haven't a drop of martyr's blood in my veins."
This essay owes much to Peter Lorimer; Precursors of Knox: or The Memoirs of Patrick Hamilton, Edinburgh: Thomas Constable, 1857. It is written with great affection for the subject and expressed in a charmingly archaic style. Reference has also been made to the following books.