The History of a Historian - A.R. MacEwen. IV
In the previous post I dealt with the influences in Oxford at the time, many of them hostile to Scottish Calvinism. But of course as well as the influences of the Secularists and the Anglo-Catholics, there was the influence of his Scottish Calvinist upbringing. Arriving in Oxford he was astonished to meet Dr. John Cairns (illustrated) on the street. Dr. Cairns was one of the most important ministers in the United Presbyterian denomination, and he had met MacEwen before. The Presbyterian theologian greeted the young student and asked him to show him Oxford. When MacEwen replied that he too was a stranger, Cairns said "then let us see it together." The Scots theologian cut a strange figure on the Oxford streets, but he was the most welcome man in the world to MacEwen. Cairns knew Oxford, and was able to share all the historical associations of the colleges and the town with the young undergraduate. When they parted Dr. Cairns gave MacEwen a blessing that the student was always to remember.
His first meeting with the Master of Balliol was not auspicious - it followed a food-fight that several freshmen undergraduates were involved in. Thankfully the relationship was not to be defined by the fight! MacEwen always respected Jowett, although the two were, and remained, poles apart theologically, Jowett being firmly in the liberal camp.
Why, then, did MacEwen go to Balliol? First of all, we must remember that he had won a scholarship there. Secondly, he was still a young man of nineteen, anxious to gain understanding. Oxford had a high reputation for scholarship, as it still does, and it was only natural for him to accept the scholarship.
As a Scotsman, MacEwen was rather amused by Dean Stanley's lectures on the Scottish Church. It was obvious to the young Presbyterian that Stanley did not understand Scottish Church history, and overrated the importance of the Episcopal Church. He also had an experience with a 'mesmerist', or hypnotist. He was far from impressed, describing the hypnotist as "a combination of the Paradise Serpent and the Witch of Endor". Membership in a debating society gave him an opportunity to learn how to argue a point. Experiences with ritualism led him to conclude "I shall never be a ritualist." The exaltation of the Virgin Mary from a humble servant of God to the 'Queen of Heaven' disgusted him. He might return from England with a greater understanding of the Church of England, but quite without any temptation to enter it.
God willing, next time we shall deal with MacEwen's friendships at Oxford.
Labels: Alexander Robertson MacEwen