Refusal of Charles MacDouall as Professor of Hebrew, 1847

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In 1847, the Senatus Academicus of Edinburgh University refused to induct Charles MacDouall (1818-1883) as Professor of Hebrew on religious grounds.

In 1843, a schism in the Church of Scotland, known as the Disruption, had led to the creation of the Free Church. Almost a third of the clergy of the Church of Scotland and perhaps half its membership left the established Kirk in protest against what they perceived as state efforts to undermine its spiritual independence and integrity. The Free Church of Scotland was formed under the leadership of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) and David Welsh (1793-1845). Both were members of the Faculty of Theology of Edinburgh University and demitted their posts on 5 June 1843.

The majority of the Town Council of Edinburgh also joined the Free Church. In November 1847, in their capacity as patrons of the university, they presented Charles MacDouall for induction as Professor of Hebrew. MacDouall was a Free Churchman and, as such, had not signed the Westminster Confession of Faith which acknowledged the authority of the Church of Scotland. Strictly speaking, signing the Confession had been a prerequisite for all Professors of the University of Edinburgh since 1690 but, in practice, it was generally only required of members of the Faculty of Theology. Hebrew was a theology chair, however, and on the motion of Principal John Lee (1779-1859), the Senatus Academicus now refused to receive MacDouall as Professor. The Town Council made a legal challenge to the Senatus's stance, but the Law Courts ruled in the Senatus's favour, granting a perpetual interdict against MacDouall. The requirement to sign the Confession of Faith was abolished by law in 1853.

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Sources

  • Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1884)
  • David F. Wright and Gary D. Badcock (eds), Disruption to Diversity: Edinburgh Divinity, 1846-1996 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996)