Christ's College, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
Major went to God's House in Cambridge (which today is known as Christ's College) in 1491.
Collège Sainte-Barbe, Paris, Ile-de-France, France
After studying for the academic year 1491-1492 at Cambridge, Major went to Paris where he enrolled at the Collège Sainte-Barbe.
Collège de Montaigu, Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Major went to the Collège de Montaigu, one of the colleges making up the Faculty of Arts of the University of Paris.
Collège de Navarre, Paris, Ile-de-France, France
Major became a Licentiate and Doctor of Theology in 1506, while at the Collège de Navarre.
Major received his early education at a grammar school in Haddington and the next definite event known about his education is when he went to God's House in Cambridge (which today is known as Christ's College) in 1491. Major was 22 years old in 1491, so it seems likely that he attended university in Scotland before studying at Cambridge. The claim by many historians that Major must have attended St. Andrews University seems out of the question since he states plainly that in 1510 he still had never visited the city. If he did attend university in Scotland, it must have been Glasgow University. After studying for the academic year 1491-1492 at Cambridge, Major went to Paris where he enrolled at the Collège Sainte-Barbe. Graduating with a Licentiate of Arts degree in 1495 he then went to the Collège de Montaigu, one of the colleges making up the Faculty of Arts of the University of Paris. Major became a Licentiate and Doctor of Theology in 1506, while at the Collège de Navarre.
John Major became a teacher at the Collège de Sorbonne in 1506 and spent most of his productive life in Paris, where he formed a school of philosophers and theologians whose influence was unparalleled in its time. Himself taught by nominalists such as Thomas Bricot and Geronymo Pardo and by the Scotist Peter Tartaret, Major showed a special predilection for nominalism while remaining open to realism, especially that of his conterraneus (countryman) John Duns Scotus. To this eclecticism Major brought a great concern for positive sources, researching and editing with his students many terminist and Scholastic treatises and even contributing to history with his impressive Historiae Majoris Britanniae, tam Angliae quam Scotiae (Paris, 1521). His students included the Spaniards Luis Coronel and his brother Antonio and Gaspar Lax; the Scots Robert Caubraith, David Cranston, and George Lokert; and Peter Crokart of Brussels and John Dullaert of Ghent. They and their students quickly diffused Major’s ideals of scholarship through the universities of Spain, Britain, and France, and ultimately throughout Europe. In theology, Major was unsympathetic to the Reformers (he taught the young John Knox while at Glasgow) and remained faithful to the Church of Rome until his death.
In 1518 Major returned to Scotland, where he occupied the first chair of philosophy and theology at Glasgow; in 1522 he was invited to the University of St. Andrews to teach logic and theology. He lectured both to theology students and to arts students, giving courses on logic to the latter group of students. He also held important administrative roles, being assessor to the Dean of Arts. In this capacity he served on a committee which revised the examination system at St. Andrew's, giving it a similar structure to that of Paris. Attracted back to Paris in 1525, he taught there until 1531, when he returned again to St. Andrews. He became provost of St. Salvator’s College in 1533 and, as dean of the theological faculty, was invited to the provincial council of 1549, although he could not attend because of advanced age.
One of the students John Major taught during this period was John Knox, the main instigator of the Reformation in Scotland. Rather strangely Major had also taught John Calvin, who became the leading French Protestant Reformer, during his second spell in Paris. Certainly, the fact that Major taught two major Protestant Reformers should not make one think that Major was anything but totally conservative on Roman Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, this did not mean that he was not critical of those in the Church. He spoke out strongly in favor of proper treatment of American Indians and included in his writings a proper moral theological framework for such treatment. He condemned the way many priests neglected their duty of care, he condemned priests who were always absent from the parish they were appointed to, he condemned the 'grasping abbots', and most of all he condemned corruption in the Church.
Major’s importance for physical science derives from his interest in logic and mathematics and their application to the problems of natural philosophy. He became an important avenue through which the writings of the fourteenth-century Mertonians, especially Bradwardine, Heytesbury, and Swineshead, exerted an influence in the schools of the sixteenth century, including those at Padua and Pisa, where the young Galileo received his education. Among Major’s logical writings the treatise Propositum de infinito (1506) is important for its anticipation of modern mathematical treatments of infinity; in it he argues in favor of the existence of actual infinities (infinitaactu) and discusses the possibilities of motion of an infinite body.
Major also composed a series of questions on all of Aristotle’s physical works (Paris, 1526), based on “an exemplar sent to me from Britain” and thus probably written between 1518 and 1525; it is a balanced, if somewhat eclectic, exposition of the main positions that were then being argued by the nominalists and realists. Major’s commentaries on the theories; but he remained basically Cartesian. Sentences are significant for their treatment of scientific questions in a theological context; they were used and cited, generally favorably, until the end of the sixteenth century.
"Our native soil attracts us with a secret and inexpressible sweetness and does not permit us to forget it."
"They deceive themselves who think that the approval of even the supreme pontiff can reconcile such things to the dictates of conscience."
"In almost all opinions he [Aristotle] agrees with the catholic and truest Christian faith in all its integrity... in so great and manifold a work [as the Ethics] if it be read as we explain it, you meet scarcely a single opinion unworthy of a Christian gentleman."
Quotes from others about the person
“"[Major's] word was then held as an oracle on matters of religion." - John Knox.”
Being a Catholic clergyman John Major was never married and had no children.