Major, John

, a scholastic divine and historian, was born, not at Haddington, as is usually said, but at Gleghorn, a village near North Berwick, in 1469. From some passages in his writings, it appears that he resided for a time both at Oxford and at Cambridge. At the former particularly, we learn from the dedication of one of his works to cardinal Wolsey, he resided, not three months, as Wood says, but a year. The cardinal, whom he styles “your majesty,” received him “after the old manner of Christian hospitality, and invited him with a splendid salary to Oxford, where he had lately founded his | college, which Major did not accept, on account of the love he bore to his mother university of Paris.” It appears that he went in 1493 to Paris, and studied in the college of St. Barbe, under the famous John Boulac. Thence he removed to the college of Montacute, where he began the study of divinity, under the celebrated Standouk. In 1498 he was entered of the college of Navarre in 1505 he was created D. D. returned to Scotland in 1519, and taught theology for several years in the university of St. Andrew’s. At length, disgusted with the quarrels of his countrymen, he returned to Paris, and resumed his lectures in the college of Montacute, where he had several pupils, afterwards men of eminence. About 1530, he removed once more to Scotland, was chosen professor of divinity at St. Andrew’s, and afterwards became provost. It is usually supposed that he died in 1547, but it is certain that he was alive in 1549; for in that year he subscribed (by proxy, on account of his great age) the national constitutions of the church of Scotland. He died soon after, probably in 1550, which must have been in his eighty-second year. Du Pin says, that of all the divines who had written on the works of the Master of Sentences (Peter Lombard), Major was the most learned and comprehensive. His History of Scotland is written with much commendable freedom; but in a barbarous style, and not always correct as to facts. Hs was the instructor, but not, as some have said, the patron of the famous George Buchanan. He also had the celebrated John Knox as one of his pupils. Baker in a ms note on the “Athenae,” adds to the mention of this fact, that “a man would hardly believe he ha.d been taught by him.” Baker, however, was not sufficiently acquainted with Major’s character to be able to solve this doubt. Major, according to the very acute biographer of Knox (Dr. M‘Crie) had acquired a habit of thinking and expressing himself on certain subjects, more liberal than was adopted in his native country and other parts of Europe. He had imbibed the sentiments concerning ecclesiastical polity, maintained by John Gerson, Peter D’Ailly, and others, who defended the decrees of the council of Constance, and liberties of the Gallican church, against those who asserted the incontroulable authority of the sovereign pontiff. He thought that a general council was superior to the pope, might judge, rebuke, restrain, and even depose him from his dignity; denied the temporal | supremacy of the bishop of Rome, and his right to inaugurate or dethrone princes; maintained that ecclesiastical censures and even papal excommunications had no force, it* pronounced on invalid or irrelevant grounds; he held that tithes were merely of human appointment, not divine right; censured the avarice, ambition, and secular pomp of the court of Rome and the episcopal order; was no warm friend of the regular clergy, and advised the reduction of monasteries and holidays. His opinions respecting civil government were analogous to those which he held as to ecclesiastical policy. He taught that the authority of kings and princes was originally derived from the people that the former are not superior to the latter, collectively considered that if rulers become tyrannical, or employ their power for the destruction of their subjects, they may lawfully be controuled by them; and proving incorrigible, may be deposed by the community as the superior power; and that tyrants may be judicially proceeded against, even to capital punishment. The affinity between these and the political principles afterwards avowed by Knox, and defended by the classic pen of Buchanan, is too striking to require illustration. But although Major had ventured to think for himself on these topics, in all other respects be was completely subservient to the opinions of his age; and with a mind deeply tinctured with superstition, defended some of the absurdest tenets of popery by the most ridiculous and puerile arguments. We cannot, therefore, greatly blame Buchanan, who called him in ridicule, what he affected to call himself in humility, “Joannes, solo cognomine, Major.” His works are, 1. “Libri duo fallaciarum,” Lugd. 1516, comprising his “Opera Logicalia.” 2. “In quatuor sententiarum commentarius,Paris, 1516. 3. “Commentarius in physica Aristotelis,Paris, 1526. 4. “In primum et secundum sententiarum commentarii,Paris, 1510. 5. “Commentarius in tertium sententiarum,Paris, 1517. 6. “Literalis in Matthaeum expositio,Paris, 1518. From these two last may be collected his sentiments on ecclesiastical polity, mentioned above. 7. “De historia gentis Scotorum, sen historia majoris Britanniae,Paris, 1521, 4to. Of this a new edition was printed at Edinburgh, 17+0, 4to. 8. “Luculenta in 4 Evangelia expositiones,” &c. Paris, 1529, folio. 9. “Placita theologica.” 10. “Catalogus episcoporum | Lucionensium.” He also translated Caxton’s Chronicle into Latin. 1


Mackenzie’s Scotch Writers. —Ath. Ox. vol. I. Dodd’s Ch. Hist. M’Crie’s Life of Knox. Irvin’s Life of Buchanan.