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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 193–212 | Cite as

Canadian Covenanter in crisis: Anna Ross and modernism

  • Peter BushEmail author
Article

Abstract

Anna Ross (1848–1933), an heir of the Covenanters, used her pen and Bible teaching to promote Convenanter sensibilities in Canada. The rise of biblical higher criticism changed the theological landscape Anna Ross’ defence of the Covenanter heritage revolved around the Bible as the Word of God. Faced with this new challenge Ross reformed the Covenanter tradition to speak to a new time and set of issues. While in continuity with the holy heritage Ross consciously enlarged its call. This expansion allowed her to find in the Covenanter heritage answers to the challenges of natural disasters and the proper treatment of immigrants, making her a covenanting incarnation of the Presbyterian Every-woman.

Keywords

Anna Ross (1848–1933) Convenanter biblical criticism biblical criticism immigration 

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Notes

  1. 1.
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    Anna Ross, Bell’s Story (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, n.d.). While the 31 page pamphlet is undated, we can narrow the publication date to somewhere between 1874 and 1888. It was number 351 in one of the series of publications from the Board.Google Scholar
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    Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, (hereafter Acts and Proceedings), 1899, Appendices, 182.Google Scholar
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    Minutes of Meeting of April 7, 1899, Minutebook - 1897–1908, Joint Committee on Instruction, Ewart Missionary Training Home, Women’s Foreign Missionary Society and Foreign Missions Committee, PCC, UCCA.Google Scholar
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    Ross to Robinson, April 15, 1899; emphasis in original.Google Scholar
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    Perhaps the most famous example of this being Jenny Geddes throwing her stool at the head of the minister of St. Giles’ Cathedral John Hannah when he began reading from a Book of Prayer.Google Scholar
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    See Peter Bush, ‘John Edgar McFadyen and the Ewart Missionary Training Home’, Presbyterian History, 37, no. 1 (1993): 1–5. One of the reasons male students at Knox did not object to McFadyen was a large number of them had done undergrad courses at University College, Toronto where JF McCurdy taught Orientals and exposed his students to some elements of higher criticism. On the other side, local women’s missionary societies were largely autonomous and the biblical discussions taking place in those contexts were led by women who had had little exposure to higher criticism. These women were theologically and biblically aware and often more conservative theologically than the male clergy.Google Scholar
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  78. 77.
    Ibid., 32.Google Scholar
  79. 78.
    Ibid., 33. While this language finds resonance in Pentecostal theology of being ‘filled with the Spirit’, Ross understood being ‘infilled’ within Covenantal theology not Pentecostal theology.Google Scholar
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    Ross used Jeremiah 31:33, 34 as proof of the New Covenant, stating the writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah in Hebrews 8:10, 11. Her argument for three terms to the covenant rested heavily on Ezekiel 36: 25–7. New Covenant, 31.Google Scholar
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    Ross, New Covenant, 76–96, 138–44. She was later to write of Noah’s sacrifice, ‘God smelled a sweet savour from that sacrifice. He smelled the sweet savour of Christ crucified in it, and He gave a most precious Covenant in answer’. Prayer: A Neglected Weapon (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1925), 8. Christ’s death was present in Noah’s sacrifice - the standard understanding of the New Covenant beginning chronologically at the cross is overturned on Ross’ reading.Google Scholar
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    In discussing, the importance of‘the blood of the covenant’, she wrote, ‘Since writing the above I have come in contact where it should not have been, with that theory of the love of God and the life of Christ which eliminates the blood as the efficacious factor in God’s scheme of salvation. Oh, the madness of it! the blindness, the utter weakness of it!’ Given the book was written over a period of years, this very likely is a reference to her contact with J. Edgar McFadyen. See Ross, New Covenant, 60–1.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 92–6, 105; Ross, Notes related to ‘The New Covenant’, John Ross Family Papers, PCCA, Box 1 file 17. 1998–5004–1–17. Ross’ portrayal of Jacob as a hero of faith greater than Abraham was unusual.Google Scholar
  84. 83.
    The spelling of the town’s name was rather imprecise at the time, options were Strassburg, Strasbourg and Strasburg. This paper will use Strasbourg, but will not change the spelling in quotations. Three of Ross’ daughters made the move from Ottawa. Elizabeth, the eldest child, had, in 1901, married the Rev. Archibald Grace who was committed to serving as a missionary of the Reformed Episcopal Church in India. The Rev. Grace died in India in 1908, and Elizabeth and her two children returned to Canada joining the Ross family in Saskatchewan. The Ross family settled into rural prairie life. The Rosses remained part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada until the 1950s, despite the presence of a few Reformed Presbyterian congregations on the Canadian Prairies (See Ellen and Duncan Ross and Anne Elkink, ‘The David/Elizabeth Rosses; Mrs. Anna Ross’, in Between Long Land and Last Mountain: Bulyea, Duval, Strasbourg, vol. 2 (Strasbourg, SK: Strasbourg, Bulyea, Duval History Book Committee; 1982), 933–5 andGoogle Scholar
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    Genesis 8:22.Google Scholar
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    The Rev. John Wilkie was a controversial figure, establishing his own mission following his dismissal by the Presbyterian Church in Canada. For further discussion, see, Ruth Brouwer, New Women for God: Canadian Presbyterian Women and India Missions, 1876–1914 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 130–61.Google Scholar
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    Anna Ross, The Sikhs in Canada: An Appeal (Annette, CA: Gwalior Journal, n.d.). Given the references to the ‘Komagate Maru’ and the start of the First World War, the booklet was pub1ished no earlier than the fall of 1914. This challenges the bibliographic references which date it in 1913. For more on the Komagata Maru incident seeGoogle Scholar
  91. 88a.
    Hugh JM. Johnston, The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1979); andGoogle Scholar
  92. 88b.
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  96. 92.
    ‘The New Covenant for the healing of the nations’, Ross Papers, PCCA, Box 1, File 17. Ross remained concerned about how Christ would bring peace and healing on the international stage as her one page ‘God’s published program for the coming disarmament of all nations’ written in 1932 demonstrated. Ross Papers, PCCA, Box 1, File 16, July 25, 1932.Google Scholar
  97. 93.
    Anna Ross, The Book of Revelation (Toronto: The Armac Press, Ltd., 1922), 86.Google Scholar
  98. 94.
    Much has been written about the Union of 1925. Two of the most helpful secondary sources exploring the Presbyterian side of the story are Allan Farris, ‘The Fathers of 1925’, in Enkindled by the Word: Essays of Presbyterianism in Canada, ed. Centennial Committee, The Presbyterian Church in Canada (Toronto: Presbyterian Publications, 1966), 59–82; andGoogle Scholar
  99. 94a.
    N. Keith Clifford, Resistance to Church Union in Canada, 1904–1939 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  100. 95.
    Ross, Presbyterian Banner, 19.Google Scholar
  101. 96.
    Ibid., 20.Google Scholar
  102. 97.
    John Ross’ criticism of the 1875 union was joined 70 years later. The 1942 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was asked by the Presbytery of Paris in Ontario to address the gap left by the 1875 Basis of Union regarding the relationship of church and the state. The gap had become glaringly obvious as Canadian Presbyterians struggled to find theological grounds for addressing the rise of tyrannical governments in Europe and other parts of the world. Influenced by statements like the Barman Declaration, over the next 15 years the church developed the ‘Declaration of Faith Concerning Church and Nation’ which sought to fill the gap (See ‘Declaration of Faith Concerning Church and Nation’, Appendix E, The Book of Forms (Toronto: The Presbyterian Church in Canada, 2007), available online at: https://doi.org/www.presbyterian.ca/files/webfm/ourfaith/whatwebelieve/churchandnation.pdf, accessed July 31, 2011). The Declaration in part affirms: ‘We worship and obey Jesus Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings, Judge and Governor among the nations. He is both Head of the Church and Head of the Civil State’. The family of John and Anna Ross regarded this discussion as vindication of their parents’ struggle (Elizabeth Grace (?), ‘Presbyterianism: 1845–1875’, Ross Papers, PCCA, 1998–5004-Box 1, File 21).
  103. 98.
    ‘Mrs. Anna Ross’, Presbyterian Record, 1933, 345.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Westwood Presbyterian ChurchWinnipegCanada

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