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Theological Tests in Scotland.

One of the main difficulties connected with the new university legislation is the disposal of the theological tests. The theological faculties have hitherto been exclusively in the hands of the Established Church, with restriction of the occupancy of the chairs to those submitting to her discipline. But, besides, each professor in the other faculties has been obliged to make a declaration on accepting office that he will not use his office in a spirit of hostility to the church, or promulgate any doctrines inconsistent with the Confession of Faith, The Government recommended Parliament to abolish this mild test of the lay chairs, and to leave the regulation of the strain of professorial teaching as a matter of discipline in the bands of the university authorities. For this change the country is, of coarse, well prepared, But the settlement of the theological faculty itself is a much more thorny question. The first proposal made by Mr Edmund Robertson, member for Dundee, was that the theological faculty should be abolished, and its chairs _of Hebrew, church history, and Biblical criticism transferred to the faculty of arts. This was advocated by him on the ground of thoroughgoing voluntaryism, which refuses to recognise the teaching of dogmatic theology as any part of the business of the State. Mr Esslemont, member for East Aberdeenshire, supported the proposal, showing that of CS2 students of divinity in Scotland, 442 were prohibited by principle from taking their theological course at the universities. The proposal was rejected, but the discussion served to prepare the way for a subsequent debate of very considerable importance. The Lord Advocate, while intimating the Government’s decision with regard to the lay tests, said that three courses were open to them in dealing with the theological chairs. They might do away with all tests. This was the sharpest and clearest course of all, but whether the people of Scotland would accept it was doubtful. They might throw the chairs open to all the Presbyterian denominations holding the Westminster Confession of Faith. To do this would involve elaborate rearrangement of the interests of all parties. Or they might keep the theological faculty as it stood. The Government proposed to send the matter to the University Commissioners, that they might make full inquiry into all the circumstances, and report to Parliament, Professor Bryce gave it as his opinion that the people of Scotland were ready for the abolition of all tests. Such subjects as Biblical criticism and church history could be taught apart from theological bias, and the treatment of even dogmatic theology should not be restricted. It would rest with the occupant of the chair not to outrage the susceptibilities of the public by bis teaching. The idea that Biblical criticism and church history could be taught without any bearing on dogmatic theology was ridiculed by Mr A. J. Balfour, who further assured the House that the people of Scotland would not be satisfied with the impartial consideration of dogma from a purely scientific standpoint. Mr R. B. Finlay, member for Inverness, expressed himself "in favor of throwing the chairs open to members of the Presbyterian churches, in the hope that they would thus be led to unite on one system of training in divinity for all their students Mr Gladstone followed with a particularly clever and obscure speech, apparently in favor of the immediate abolition of all tests, and closing with an expression of his fear that the question was about to be decided, not on its own merits, but with reference to the maintenance in its present form of the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland. The lesson of that happy arrangement, which had had beneficial results in Ireland, they would rapidly learn, and also the price they would have to pay for it. This was meant to twit the Liberal Unionist representatives from Scotland with their incapacity to do justice to Scotland in combination with the Government. But the member for Midlothian is certainly at fault in imagining that the Government’s proposal, which was finally adopted, is out of harmony with Scotch opinion in its present unformed state with regard to the future of the theological faculties. People generally want time to consider all the bearings of the question, and by the time that the Commissioners have done their work many things will have happened.—Exchange.

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Bibliographic details

Theological Tests in Scotland., Evening Star, Issue 8007, 9 September 1889

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Theological Tests in Scotland. Evening Star, Issue 8007, 9 September 1889