MAIR, or MAJOR, JOHN, a scholastic divine and historian, was
born at the village of Gleghornie, parish of North Berwick, in 1469.
He went to the university of Paris in 1493, and studied at the
colleges of St. Barbe and Montacute. In 1496 he became M.A., and 2
years after removed to the college of Navarre. In 1508 he was
created D.D. It appears from some passages in his writings that in
the early part of the 16th century he was a member of Christ’s
college, Cambridge. He returned to Scotland in 1518, in which year
he became a member of the university of Glasgow, being then styled
canon of the chapel royal and vicar of Dunlop. In 1521 he was
professor of theology in the university of Glasgow. He subsequently
held also the office of treasurer of the royal chapel of Stirling,
and about 1523 he became professor of divinity in the college of St.
Salvator, St. Andrews, where he remained five years. He was
certainly there in 1528, when, at the dawn of the Reformation in
Scotland, a friar who had preached a sermon at Dundee against the
licentious lives of the bishops, and against the abuse of cursing
from the altar and false miracles, being accused of heresy, “went,”
says Calderwood, “to Sanct Andrewes, and communicated the heads of
his sermoun with Mr. Johne Maior, whose word was then holdin as an
oracle in maters of religioun. Mr. Johne said, his doctrine might
weill be defended, and conteaned no heresie.” The friar ultimately
was compelled to fly to England, where he was cast into prison by
command of Henry the Eighth.
Mair himself, although he remained a
churchman, in consequence of the religious distractions of the
times, went back to Paris, when he resumed his lectures in the
college of Montacute. While in France he had among his pupils
several who were afterwards eminent for their learning. One of the
most distinguished of them was his countryman, George Buchanan, who
had studied logic under him at St. Salvator’s college, and had
followed him to Paris. In 1530 he returned once more to Scotland,
and resumed his lectures as professor of theology in the university
of St. Andrews. He was present, with the other heads of the
university, in the parish church of that city, when John Knox, who
had been one of his students, preached his first sermon in public in
1547. Mr. Tytler, in his History of Scotland, (vol. v. p. 211)
referring to Patrick Hamilton the martyr, speaks of him as having
been “educated at St. Andrews, in what was then esteemed the too
liberal philosophy of John Mair, the master of Knox and Buchanan.”
It was no small honour to have infused into the minds of these three
men, the foremost, in their respective provinces, of their age,
ideas and principles far in advance of the narrow and bigoted tenets
of the churchmen. He was thus, perhaps unconsciously to himself, a
not unimportant instrument in helping forward the great work of the
Reformation in Scotland, and in promoting the sacred cause of civil
and religious liberty.
He is said to have died about 1549, at
“a great age, for,” says Dr. Mackenzie, in his ‘Lives of Eminent
Scots Writers,’ “in the year 1547, at the national council of the
Church of Scotland at Linlithgow, he subscribed by proxy, in quality
of dean of theology of St. Andrews, not being able to come himself
by reason of his age, which was then seventy-eight, and shortly
after he died.”
His works were all written in Latin. His
Logical Treatises form one immense folio. His Commentary on the
Physics of Aristotle makes another. His Theological works, among
which is an Exposition of St. Matthew’s Gospel, amount to several
volumes of the same size. He is best known, however, by his history,
“De Gestis Scotorum,’ in which he gives an account of the Scots
nation from the earliest antiquity, and rejects many of the fables
and fictions of previous historians, such as Wyntoun and Fordoun.
The titles of his works are as follows:
Introductorium in Aristotelicam Dialecticen, totamque Logicam. Par.
Apud Joannem Lambert. – Quaestio de complexo Significabili. – Primus
Liber Terminorum, cum figura. – Secundus Liber Terminorum. –
Summulae, cum figura quatuor Propositionum et earum Conversionum. –
Praedicabilia, cum Arbore Porphyiana. – Praedicamenta, sua, cum
figura. – Syllogismi. – Posteriora, cum textu Aristotelis primi et
secunda Capitis, libri primi. – Tractatus de Locis. – Tractatus
Elenchorum. – Tracatus consequentiarum. – Exponibilia. – Insolubilia.
– Obligationes. – Argumenta Sophistica. – Propositum de Infinito. –
Analogus inter duos Logicos et Magistrum. The above were all printed
in one volume at Lyons, 1514, folio.
In quartum Sententlarum. Commentarius.
Par. Apud Joannem Granjonium, 1509. Par. 1516. Again, apud Jodocum
In Primum et Secundum Sententiarum
totidem Commentarii. Par. Apud Jod. Bad. Ascensium, 1510.
Commentarius in Tertiam. Paris. 1517.
Commentarius in Secundum. Paris, apud
Joannem Granjonium, 1519.
Literalis in Matthaeum Expositio, una
cum Trecentis et Octo Dubiis et Difficultatibus ad ejus
Elucidationem admondum Conducentibus passim insertis; quibis
Prelectis, pervia erit quatnor Evangelistarum Series. Paris, apud
Joan. Granjonium, 1518.
De Auctoritate Concilii supra Pontificem
Maximum liver, Excerptus ex ejus Commentariis in S. Matthaeum.
Paris, 1518, folio.
De Historia Gentis Scotorum, libri sex,
sen Historia Majoris Britanniae, tam Angliae quam Scotiae, è Veterum
Monimentis concinnata. Paris. Apud Jod. Badium, 1521. Edin. Spud
Rob. Freebairn. 1740, 4to.
Commentarius in Physica, Aristotelis.
Luculentae in quatuor Evangelia,
Expositiones, Disquisitiones, et Disputationes, contra Haereticos;
ad Calcem hujusce Operis. Par. 1529, fol.
Catalogus Episcoporum Lucionensium. Apud