Religious context

Gideon Mack and his father, James, are both ministers in the Church of Scotland, also known as “The Kirk”. This is a Protestant and Presbyterian form of Christianity and has been the country’s national church since the 17th Century. The church has its roots in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century and was initially founded and led by John Knox and was based upon the principles of Calvinism.


French theologian and religious reformer John Calvin
French theologian and religious reformer John Calvin

The centuries-old Scottish association with the Calvinist version of Christianity is also an important influence in the novel.

Calvinism holds that:

  • all people are "totally depraved" by sin
  • God has already chosen people for salvation
  • Jesus died to atone for the sins of these "elect"
  • the "elect" cannot resist God calling them to salvation
  • the "elect" cannot lose their salvation

The principles of this religion are embodied in the character of James Mack and the setting of the Manse. However, Scotland’s growing disaffection with the Church of Scotland is reflected in the doubts and scepticism of Gideon.

The plot raises questions that relate to Calvinist ideas of fate and destiny. How much control does Gideon have on how his life develops and how much is he following a path that has been laid for him?