Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pitcarne, Alexander

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PITCARNE, ALEXANDER (1622?–1695), Scottish presbyterian divine, was son of Alexander Pitcarne, minister of Tannadice, Forfarshire. The family was subjected to much loss and suffering during the civil wars, and the father's petition for redress lay before the Scottish parliament from 1641 to 1661, when it was ‘recomendit’ to the privy council (Acts of Parl. vols. v. vii.). Alexander entered St. Salvator's College, St. Andrews, in November 1639, matriculated in February 1640 (Univ. Matric. Books), was laureated M.A. in 1643, became regent in February 1648, and so continued till December 1656, when he was ordained minister of Dron, Perthshire. Although he was deprived by acts of parliament and of privy council in 1662, Robert Leighton, bishop of Dunblane, within whose diocese Dron was included, so highly respected his character, learning, and scruples, that Pitcarne was permitted to continue to discharge his ministerial duties (Register of the Diocesan Synod of Dunblane). But after Ramsay had succeeded Leighton as bishop, Pitcarne was charged at a synodical meeting held at Dunblane on 8 Oct. 1678 with having ‘begun of late to doe things verie disorderlie,’ in admitting people of other parishes to church ordinances. His case was referred to the moderator of his presbytery, who on 8 April 1679 reported that ‘Mr. Pitcairne had verie thankfully entertained the connivance and kindness he had met with,’ the matter of offence being ‘done mostly without his knowledge’ (ib.) The imposition of the test in 1681 brought matters to a crisis, and, Pitcarne being again deprived, the crown appointed a successor. When the latter endeavoured to enter on the charge, so determined a resistance was offered that the privy council instructed the Marquis of Atholl to quarter troops on the parish, to hold courts, and fine, imprison, and scourge old and young, men and women, who failed to assist the crown's nominee. Ejected from his parish, Pitcarne sought refuge in Holland, where in 1685 his treatise on ‘Justification’ (infra) was published. In 1687 he returned to Scotland, and in 1690 was by act of parliament restored to his parish (Wodrow, Hist. iii. 390). At the instance of William of Orange he was appointed provost of St. Salvator's College, St. Andrews, in 1691, and became in 1693 principal of St. Mary's College, a post which he retained till his death (Minutes of Synod of Fife, App. p. 214). For this event various dates have been assigned, but that given on the marble tablet put up to his memory in the vestibule of St. Salvator's Church, viz. ‘September, 1695,’ is doubtless correct. This is also the date given in the ‘Minutes of the Synod of Fife’ (App. p. 214). He was about seventy-three years of age, and his office of principal remained vacant until 1697, when Thomas Forrester (1635?–1706) [q. v.] was appointed his successor.

On 13 March 1645 Pitcarne married Janet Clark of St. Andrews, by whom he had four sons—David, Alexander, George, and James—and a daughter Lucretia. Of the sons, Alexander was ordained minister of Kilmany in 1697, but died early.

Notwithstanding Wodrow's testimony that Principal Pitcarne was a ‘worthy and learned minister, known through the reformed churches by his writings’ (Wodrow, Hist. iii. 390), his reputation as an author has been impaired by the erroneous attribution of his Latin works to a supposititious writer of the same name ‘who flourished’ at the same period. All his books are controversial in tendency, and aim, in his own words, ‘to vindicate orthodoxy and confute ancient and modern error.’

His best known and earliest work is entitled ‘The Spiritual Sacrifice, or a Treatise … concerning the Saint's Communion with God in Prayer,’ Edinburgh, Robert Brown, 1664, in two vols. 4to, separately issued. The dedication to the Viscountess Stormont is prefixed to vol. ii., and the author experienced great difficulty in getting the volume through the press. In the same year it was issued in London with a new title-page, in 1 vol. 4to, with the dedication, contents, and preface prefixed in due order (Bodl.).

Pitcarne also wrote a philosophical and metaphysical treatise, dedicated to Robert Boyle, and entitled ‘Compendiaria et perfacilis Physiologiæ idea Aristotelicæ … unacum Anatome Cartesianismi … Authore Alexandro Pitcarnio Scoto, Philosophiæ quondam professore, nunc Dronensis Ecclesiæ Stratherniæ Pastore,’ 8vo, London, 1676; as well as ‘Harmonia Euangelica Apostolorum Pauli et Jacobi in doctrina de Justificatione,’ 8vo, Rotterdam, 1685, dedicated to Sir James Dalrymple, first viscount Stair.

[Acts of the Scottish Parliament; Wodrow's History; Scott's Fasti; Fountainhall's Decisions; Register of the Diocesan Synod of Dunblane; Selections from the Minutes of the Synod of Fife; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the Coll. of Justice; St. Andrews University and Parish Registers.]

W. G.