Book Chapter

The Scottish Heresy: George Mackenzie's Pelagian Biographies



Williams KJ (2020) The Scottish Heresy: George Mackenzie's Pelagian Biographies. In: Loughlin F & Johnston A (eds.) Antiquity and Enlightenment Culture: New Approaches and Perspectives. Metaforms, 17. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, pp. 131-151.

First paragraph: In the middle of the Scottish winter, on 3 December 1725, George Mackenzie was laid to rest amongst his ancestors in the ruins of Fortrose Cathedral, his corpse attended by "all the Gentlemen of the Country". It was a fitting end for a respected local physician, a member of one of the north of Scotland’s most powerful noble houses, and the anonymous eulogy delivered upon him in the pages of the Caledonian Mercury later that month was fulsome: "His indefatigable Industry in the Pursuit of his Studies, impared his Health and shortned his Days … He was an upright honest Man, a loyal Subject, a true Son of the Church; and for his extensive Knowledge and Learning, deserves to be rank’d among the chief of the learned Authors he has given an Account of." This essay will explore that "extensive Knowledge and Learning", in particular the erudite physician's magnum opus, The Lives and Characters of the Most Eminent Writers of the Scots Nation (1708-1722). It will reconstruct Mackenzie's life and recover the intellectual context of his sprawling, three-volume encyclopaedia of Scottish learning, before proceeding to interrogate the remarkable claims made therein for a Pelagian inheritance in Scottish theology. Read in this way, Mackenzie's works can tell us much about the continuing importance of ancient authorities in general, and Patristic writers in particular, during the Scottish Enlightenment. They can also help us understand Mackenzie's close engagement with the Pelagian heresy and the impact it has had upon the fate of his works, both in his own time and amongst subsequent generations. In so doing, this essay will begin to rehabilitate Mackenzie as a significant intellectual figure and a key point of reception for Patristic thought within the Scottish Early Enlightenment.

Title of seriesMetaforms
Number in series17
Publication date31/12/2020
Publication date online30/04/2020
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Publisher URL
Place of publicationLeiden
ISSN of series2212-9405

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Dr Kelsey Williams

Dr Kelsey Williams

Associate Professor, English Studies