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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Francis Dillingham, the “great Grecian.”

Personal background

He was born in Dean, Bedfordshire. His birthdate seems to be uncertain. After the 1611 translation was finished, he took a ‘living’ in Dean, Bedfordshire where he was born. We know little of his early years. Dillingham matriculated in 1583 and became fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge, during the years 1594 and 1601. He was a member of the first Cambridge company (1 Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs). Edward Lively was the planner and organisor, upon whom all the Hebrew group there depended. Among the names of the able translators, Francis Dillingham’s stood out.(1)

A moderate Puritan

One of the co-translators in this company was Thomas Harrison(2) and both men studied together at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

This was a seminary recently founded for Puritan ministers, whose Master was Laurence Chaderton, also a member of the same company of translators. These men believed the Church of England needed more radical reformation than most were prepared to give it. They opposed the wearing of special priestly dress, and replaced the altar with a communion table. Candles were ‘out’; neither a cross, nor a crucifix. Kneeling to receive the communion elements was frowned upon. Rather, “they took [it] sitting on benches around the communion table . . . passing both from hand to hand.” Anything not prescribed in the New Testament was suspect, and was seen as unhelpful to true spirituality. Frances Dillingham and Thomas Harrison were “young apostles . . . burning with the idea of a renewed, reformed and holy world.”(3)

His debating powers

Francis Dillingham made a famous name in Cambridge for his mastery of Greek, though he was set to work on the Hebrew Old Testament, when translating the KJV. Thomas Fuller wrote of Dillingham in The History of the University of Cambridge since the Conquest,

"My father was present in the bachelor's school, when a Greek act was kept between Francis Dillingham and William Alabaster, to their mutual commendation . . . a disputation so famous, that it served for an era or epoch, for the scholars in that age, thence to date their seniority."

William Alabaster wrote an epic poem (book length) in Latin to Queen Elizabeth 1st, which was praised by Edmund Spenser, esteemed by many as Englands’ greatest poet. The poet Robert Herrick called Alabaster’s theological writings “the triumph of the day,” and “one only glory of a million.” Dillingham evidently moved in exalted company.

The term “bachelor” (in the quotation above) originally referred to someone apprenticed to a knight. Later, in the University setting of the Middle Ages, it came to describe an apprentice-educator, the first step (hence ‘graduation’) towards becoming a master (a teacher). Thomas Fuller was referring to the ceremony, which marked the final steps of seniority - in the creation of masters and doctors - where the students were treated to a special dialogue between the two ‘fellows’ of Emmanuel College. Says Olga Opfell

The Greek Act, always the climax of the academic year. New rushes were laid on the floors, new gravel was put on the quads, the streets were swept. People appeared in best dress, processions were formed, bells tolled. Sometimes the tedium of disputations was lightened by comic touches. But all was seriousness when Dillingham maintained his thesis in a famous debate with William Alabaster of Trinity.”

This particular dialogue stood out from the rest - before or since - because it showed an unusual mastery of Greek. The two men engaged orally, based on a script they had previously written and memorised. [Such writing was a growing University discipline since the recent availability of printed books].

Dillingham took the debating art to a higher level again, extemporising his speech at will to out-match a similar attempt by his colleague to improvise. He was so skilful In doing this, that the event was celebrated after by referring to him as “the Great Grecian.” The ceremony became remembered more by the dialogue, than for the main reason for being there!! Think of the analogy of a brilliant pianist who plays a piece from memory, but then improvises on the main themes, without diminishing the quality, as a way of entertaining his audience. Or a famous President, who reads his State of the Union speech off the word screen, then seamlessly ad-libs to make it that much more exciting for the listener. Anyone who has studied a little Greek will know just how difficult ad-libbing would be, when Greek is not his first language.

His knowledge of Koine Greek

Erik DeVietro (in the KJV Only debate, 2.54 pm, July 17th, 2010) doubts whether scholars like Dillingham would have understood the nuances of Koine Greek (as compared to Classical). This is a furphy. The chief sources used to interpret the common Greek of the ancient world (after Alexander the Great) were then well-known: (1) the OT Septuagint in Greek; (2) the New Testament itself, and (3) the Patristic writings (early Christian):
“Christian writers in the earliest time tended to use a simple register of Koiné , relatively close to the spoken language of their time, following the model of the Bible. After the 4th century, when Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, more learned registers of Koiné influenced by Atticism came also to be used.”
“Atticism” was the more difficult classical Greek of earlier centuries, with which Dillingham would also have been thoroughly familiar. If there was ever a body of men working together, who had studied not only Classical Greek, but the ‘church fathers’ - and knew them intimately - the KJV translators were that body. They thus had easy access to the meaning and nuance of Koine Greek words every time they read an early Christian Greek author. What is, for the vast majority of contemporary scholars, a secondary source of Greek knowledge, for them was a first-hand source. Some of them lived in the tomes of early Greek and Latin writers. The later discoveries of how that language was used in newly discovered early papyri, has since enhanced this knowledge through the writing of such scholars as Adolph Deissmann. Yet, even of this Moulton says of his work:
Deissmann's discovery gives me a thrill which I should like to pass on to you. It proves nothing else than this: that the Book is the only book written in the language of daily life, in the very language in which the people talked at home, in the very language in which they communicated their deepest thoughts one to another.
In other words, Dillingham found an intelligent reading of a Koine Greek writer to be a ‘breeze,’ compared to such Greek Tragedian poetry of Aesychylus and Sophocles, with its rarer words and more complicated syntax!!

The status of Christian marriage

Francis Dillingham was a diligent writer of divinity, on both polemical and practical topics. He published a Manual of the Christian faith, drawing his material from a knowledge of the church fathers. He also tackled a variety of treatises relating to contentious points being argued in the Protestant controversy with Rome.

The marriage of clergy was forbidden under the Lateran Council, 1123. Early Anglican Church clergy under Henry VIII (1530) were still required to be celibate, under threat of imprisonment or death. This requirement was later revoked, yet some Anglo-Catholic priestly orders require their members to remain celibate to this day, as do orders of all brothers and sisters. The debate was very much alive in Dillingham’s day. He said, “Papists teach that ministers may not have wives. Is this catholic? Many hundred years after Christ priests had wives.” (1) Thus, although unmarried himself, he advocated in 1609 marriage for clerics, publishing A Golden Key, Opening the Lock to Eternal Happiness. The key was Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 6:14 “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

A house divided cannot stand. How should that house then stand where man and wife are divided, one drawing this way, another that that? . . . The misery of the age is that . . . men enquire after wealth, not after religion in a woman. Hence it is that some live discontentedly, and come in the end to great misery (1)
He taught that a prudent and wise woman would know that her husband is her head, and so she would subject herself to him (Eph. 5:24). “No marvel then, though many men have not their wives in subjection, for they have married fools which know not their place. . . . A wise woman, saith Solomon . . . buildeth the house, but the foolish destroyeth it with her own hands." Says Gustavson, “Though Dillingham doubtless hoped his sermons would change the ways of love, unwise luckless men have gone on wooing and wiving foolish females to this day.”

Defender of the Protestant faith

One of the most important figures in the Counter-Reformation reaction to Martin Luther was the Jesuit scholar Cardinal Bellarmine who became personal theologian to the Pope. His Disputationes established him as Rome's foremost apologist on doctrine and papal power. James insisted every subject in his realm needed to swear an oath of allegiance to himself, as Sovereign head of church and state - the Pope ridiculed him for it. The controversy with King James 1st as to who was head of the Church in England made his writing very important to Dillingham, who studied it carefully and picked up every concession he could find to the Protestant faith, in Bellarmine’s writings. However, the latter was moderate in his defence of papal power. For example, he denied the Pope had the right of temporal power (outrageous! thought the Pope). His eschatology, too, was quite friendly to the premillennial faith!

The third section discusses the Antichrist. Bellarmine gives in full the theory set forth by the Church Fathers, of a personal Antichrist to come just before the end of the world and to be accepted by the Jews and enthroned in the Temple in Jerusalem—thus endeavoring to dispose of the Protestant exposition which saw in the pope the Antichrist.

Dillingham’s privileged life

Dillingham was fortunate enough to gain a rich benefice at Wilden. Livings like Dillingham’s were rare. To achieve this he doubtless had to write excellent letters to influential persons, and perhaps tap family connections. Senior clergy were often near the poverty line, and complained they had insufficient income to meet the basic needs of their families, and even less to build an essential library. Not so Francis Dillingham; he died a single and wealthy man in 1625.

1. Paine, Gustavus S. (1977/1959) The men behind the King James Version, MI: Baker, pp. 69, 58 -61.
2. Thomas Harrison: see my blog entry Jan. 2nd 2011.
3. Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. p. 131.1.

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