That would be an ecumenical matter … Celebrating 70 years of the World Council of Churches

In our New College Library Hall display for September 2018, we’re celebrating the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the World Council of Churches. Inaugurated in 1948, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is one of the leaders of the modern ecumenical movement, working towards the goal of Christian unity. The WCC brings together churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 500 million Christians. New College Library contains nearly a thousand WCC publications, including many unique or rare pamphlets. In the New College Library Archives, we hold the papers of several individuals and organisations who worked with the WCC, including Rev J.H. Oldham, Rev Robert Mackie and Rev. Tom Allaallenn. Continue reading

Celebrating women pioneers for ordained ministry in the Church of Scotland

Dr Elizabeth Hewat, first woman to receive a PhD from New College, who argued for women’s ordination

This blog post is written by Dr Lesley Orr, School of Divinity

In the year in which the Church of Scotland has welcomed the Very Revd Susan Brown of Dornoch Cathedral as its new Moderator of the General Assembly, the Church also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women.

On Wednesday 22 May 1968, the Fathers and Brethren of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted by a  large majority to extend eligibility of ordination to Ministry of Word and Sacrament to women, on the same terms as men. New College students, graduates and staff played a significant role throughout the half century when the question of women’s role, rights and equality in the Church was one of the most persistent and controversial issues for debate – not only in the Assembly but in wider Church and Scottish society. During this fiftieth anniversary year of women in ordained ministry, a commemorative project has been based at New College, supported by the Centre for Theology and Public Issues and in partnership with the Church of Scotland Ministries Council. Publications and photographs which tell a little of these events are currently on display in New College Library. But the story goes back much further.

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The Myth of Robert Burns

It was some months ago that among the many sermons and talks given by Rev Tom Allan (1916-1965), one entitled ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ caught my eye (ref. AA6.2.18). While the Kirk and Burns were not exactly best pals, there has been many an Ayrshire minister who would definitely subscribe to the term ‘Burnsian’. The question was, with a title such as this, on which side was the Ayrshire born Tom Allan going to stand?

The talk (definitely not a sermon) opens by observing that the 25th of January, Burns Night, is also ‘the day set aside in the remembrance of St Paul.’ As Allan writes,

“Indeed, if we were to pursue the speculation on these two notable anniversaries, it would not be difficult to argue that there is much in the character of the Scottish people which has emerged through the conflict of the genius which inspired Paul of Tarsus with the genius which inspired Robert Burns. And it is certain that the life of the Poet himself can only be understood in the light of that conflict.”

He goes on to state,

“It is doubtful if there has been any character in Scottish History – or in any other history for that matter – about whom men have so willingly suspended their critical faculties. For a great multitude of otherwise rational people, the cult of Robert Burns is taken as seriously as it is possible for a cult to be taken. He has become a mythical figure in the manner of the ancient gods, and tonight, all over the world, men and women are meeting in their yearly pilgrimage to the holy place.”

First page of Rev Tom Allan's talk 'The Myth of Robert Burns' (ref. AA6/2/18).

First page of Rev Tom Allan’s talk ‘The Myth of Robert Burns’ (ref. AA6/2/18).

Allan certainly seems to be taking the Kirk’s tone something which is underlined in his comments on ‘two old and dusty volumes in the Library of the University’ he consulted while preparing his talk. He goes on to state that the myth he intends to examine is that of ‘Burns the Saint’ and ‘Burns the Poet’ because

“I sincerely believe that we are doing Burns an injustice which he himself would probably have treated as a colossal joke unless we try to see this man as he really was, and try to estimate his poetry as it really is.”

As far as ‘Burns the Saint’ goes, the talk deals with the reality of his morality, the manner in which ‘the popular Burns orator… attempts to clothe this very human man in the robes of sainthood’, and the excuses others make for his behaviour: whether it is to blame him as a child of his time, society or indeed the Church for it. He concludes,

“There is little of nobility in the life of Robert Burns: there is much that is tragic. It is not ours to judge him. Neither is it ours to worship him for qualities he never possessed.”

When he turns to examine the myth of ‘Burns the Poet’, Tom Allan observes that Burns’ writing is at its best when in his native Ayrshire dialect. Interestingly, he questions how many people could truly say that they understood every word of even the best-loved poems such as ‘Tam o’ Shanter’. He takes a swipe at some other poems such as the ‘Ode to General Washington’s Birthday’ for being ‘woefully artificial’ and ‘bombastic, insincere and trivial.’ However, it is when Allan draws to the conclusion of his talk that his genial side, for which he was renowned, makes itself known. He states that it is Burns’ satiric verse, his narrative poems and songs which are the best of his compositions, the last of these being described as ‘incomparable’.

“Here in the Songs I could almost submit myself to the myth of Robert Burns. Here at last is sincerity and tenderness and a great compassion and a bewitching sadness and an irresistible appeal.”

He might have been a man of the Kirk but this is certainly not the conclusion of a man agin the National Bard.

The papers of Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6) are available for consultation in New College Library and the catalogue for the collection can be found here: http://archives.collections.ed.ac.uk/repositories/5/resources/86134

Kirsty M. Stewart, New College Collections Curator

Images of The Myth of Robert Burns by Rev Tom Allan (ref. AA6/2/18) [PDF – 1.3MB]

Resources for Christian ministry and worship at New College Library

Today New College welcomes ministers and worship leaders to a CPD day focusing on Biblical resources. Topics include current scholarship on the Gospel of John and Advent themes in the Hebrew Bible.

At New College Library, we welcome people working in the church to use our outstanding theological collections for research and continuing professional development. Continue reading

Psalm singing and the Reformation

New College Library welcomes delegates to The Cultures of the Reformation: A Colloquium in Honour of Professor Jane Dawson on Thursday 1 June 2017. We have updated our current display of early psalm books and Scottish liturgy to include two new items.

The CL. Psalmes of David in meter : for the vse of the Kirk of Scotland : the contents of this buke follovve in the next page after the kalender. Imprinted at London : By Thomas Vautrollier dwelling in the Black-Friers, 1587.  tUR 77 1587

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Historic New College Library partnership begins a new chapter

Founded in 1843 as the Library of the Free Church College, and now serving the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, New College Library is one of the largest theology libraries in the UK with approximately a quarter of a million items.

There have been a number of legacy arrangements allowing borrowing access for ministers of the Church of Scotland and Free Church of Scotland. This reflects the partnership between the University of Edinburgh and the Church of Scotland, which has resulted in the Church’s historic collections being maintained at New College Library and supported by the University of Edinburgh. As of 1 March 2017, we have streamlined our access arrangements and now provide free borrowing access (ID and evidence of status required) to ministers, retired ministers and employees of the Church of Scotland and Free Church of Scotland. Registration enables access to all nine site libraries within the University of Edinburgh Library, including New College and the Main University Library.

Inside New College Library

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Digital explorations in New College Library : James Kirkwood’s vision today

A guest post from Chloe Elder – New College Library Special Collections Digitisation Intern

Considering the ease with which most of us have access to information, it can be easy to forget the long way society has come in its efforts to provide resources for the public. For example, I’ve written this post on my very portable laptop in my Wi-Fi enabled flat and with my iPhone in constant peripheral vision. As we all know, before the days of the internet, our search for information required a trip to the library, but public libraries as we know them today did not exist before the middle of the nineteenth century. In the centuries preceding, the library has evolved from storehouses for records and archives, to ecclesiastical and academic cloisters, and the private collections of the elite and learned. And beginning in the late seventeenth century history, history saw a shift from the relative seclusion of these repositories toward a trend that supported the public dissemination of knowledge. One pioneer in this effort in Scotland was James Kirkwood, who is best known for his determination to provide Bibles to the parishes of the Scottish Highlands and for advocating for the establishment of parish libraries throughout Scotland in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

James Kirkwood's signature. MSS KIR, New College Library

James Kirkwood’s signature. MSS KIR 3.1, New College Library

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Mission to the Middle East : discovering collections

This week New College Library welcomes delegates of the 2016 conference of the Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement and World Christianity.

I’ve been discovering that New College Library’s unique collections include some fascinating materials from the Church of Scotland’s development of missions to Jews in the Middle East, in the nineteenth century. In particular we hold books, archives and objects relating to Rev. Andrew A. Bonar and Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, and a selection of items from these collections are now on display in the New College Library entrance. Bonar and McCheyne were appointed by the Church of Scotland in 1838 as part of a deputation to visit Jewish communities in Europe and the Middle East, with a view to future mission activity. Continue reading

New College Library welcomes the General Assembly 2016

New College Library welcomes attendees of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which will take place between 21 and 27 May 2016.

New College Library

Church of Scotland visitors to the Library are encouraged to apply for a free reference access card, for which photographic ID, proof of address and colour passport-size/style photograph is required. If you are applying for a reference card you may fill in the application form online before visiting the library, and you can check the online library catalogue, DiscoverEd, in advance of your visit. Borrowing access is also available, please ask Helpdesk staff for details. Alumni of the University of Edinburgh are entitled to additional library benefits, including free borrowing and access to JSTOR online journals.

Both reference access and alumni library cards entitle the holder to use not only New College Library but all of the University of Edinburgh libraries, including the Main Library at George Square. This year General Assembly visitors may be interested to visit the Given in Good Faith exhibition being held at the Main Library’s Centre for Research Collections. This highlights some of the treasures of New College Library, through themes of church history, worship, science and scripture which would have been familiar to the staff and students of New College in 1843.

Giveningoodfaith

Researchers wanting to trace previous discussions of this year’s debates can consult the Reports to the General Assembly or Blue Books, which are held in New College Library at sLX 50 B.  This year’s Blue Book is available to download from the Church of Scotland website.  For further information on Church of Scotland resources see Researching the Church of Scotland at New College Library.

New College itself will be very busy during this period, with all of the teaching rooms occupied by the Assembly. This includes the David Welsh Reading Room in New College Library which is being used for Assembly purposes. Library users are advised to carry their UoE staff/student card with them at all times as there may be a security presence at the entrance to New College.

Christine Love-Rodgers – Academic Support Librarian, Divinity

Given in Good Faith : Making Presbyterian History

If you visit the Given in Good Faith exhibition, currently open at the Centre for Research Collections, you’ll be able to see some of New College Library’s treasures set in the context of the exhibition themes of church history, worship, scripture and science.

For the first of these themes, church history, we chose Special Collections items that demonstrated how New College Library’s historic collections look back to the Free Church of Scotland’s intellectual history and reflect its heritage as a centre of learning for Presbyterian ministry.

Treasures from the Reformation include the first edition of John Calvin (1509-1564)’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. One of New College Library’s iconic items, this guide and inspiration for a new form of Christian life, became a hugely influential work of Protestant theology. Less than a dozen copies of this edition are known to be in existence.

Calvin, Jean. Christiane religionis institutio, totam ferè pietatis summã. Basel: Thomas Platterum & Balthasarem Lasium, 1536. TR.852

Calvin, Jean. Christiane religionis institutio, totam ferè pietatis summã. Basel: Thomas Platterum & Balthasarem Lasium, 1536. TR.852

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