Humanism and Calvinism: Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland, 1560-1625

By Cooper, Derek; Reid, Steven J. | Church History, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Humanism and Calvinism: Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland, 1560-1625


Cooper, Derek, Reid, Steven J., Church History


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

In this installment of the St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History, Reid focuses on the cornerstone of the Reformation: the university. Focusing on the educational reforms of the Scottish Reformer Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Reid traces Melville's plan of reform for Scottish universities and explores the ramifications of this reform policy over the wider culture and society. Although Melville's work as a reformer is well known, there is less scholarly research that investigates "the process by which the Scottish universities shed their Catholic heritage" (3). The sources Reid uses for describing this shedding of Catholic identity are manuscript materials and university records and charters dating from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Although it used to be commonplace to highlight the Protestant Reformers' criticism of Aristotelian thought, more recent research from scholars such as Erika Rummell indicates that Aristotle still exercised considerable influence over university curricula in the sixteenth century. This was surely the context from which Melville worked when he was in Geneva alongside Theodore Beza. Reid argues that Melville's syncretization of humanist and Aristotelian thought was integral to his reforms in Scottish universities when he returned to Scotland after years of studying and teaching in continental Europe.

The first chapter of this book illustrates the decidedly medieval as well as Catholic nature of the three Scottish universities (Glasgow, Aberdeen, and St. Andrews) when Melville arrived at the University of Glasgow in 1574. The future of that school in particular was "dire" and uncertain (32), but all three universities were in need of direction and reform.

In the second chapter Reid describes in detail the educational background and reforms of Andrew Melville, who was a gifted scholar and linguist. The thrust of Melville's reforms in Scotland combined his "humanist refocusing on Aristotle in the original Greek instead of in Latin translation" with his stress on biblical languages and sacred history within a Ramist methodology and Calvinist theology and ecclesiology (49). Beginning at St. Andrews and then extending to Paris, Poitiers, and Geneva, Melville received a thorough education that melded a variety of humanist subject matters. Despite this, Reid notes, "perhaps the most profound influence on Melville," at least in terms of divinity, was the events of St. Bartholomew's Day, when thousands of Protestants were slaughtered (74).

The third and fourth chapters narrate Melville's arrival in Glasgow and the poor conditions he encountered, partly due to the premature death of the founder of the school William Turnbull. After he turned conditions around there by working closely with the civil and episcopal authorities, Melville left the leadership in trusted hands and moved with his nephew James to serve as the principal of St. …

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