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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

William Barlow - political wheeler-dealer

When I began (January 1st, 2011) these blogs on the various KJV translators, my stated aim was to examine their linguistic credentials, devoting one of these men to each week of the year 2011. The questions I asked were three:

- What can we learn about him?
- How much scholarship did he really have?
- Do our contemporary scholars easily compete with his expertise?

In the process of researching these KJV men, I have been somewhat drawn away from these central questions, in the desire to show the social and political context in which the translators’ worked, and to notice the issues they were grappling with, in their day.

Remembering the maxim, “Keep on making the main thing the main thing,” I will hereafter aim to concentrate on answering the two most important questions: (1) What academic qualifications and experience did each translator have in the area of language and translation? And (2) What contribution did each make to the translation itself, rather than to the circumstances in which it emerged?

St Johns College

Academic Background

William Barlow was born in London, date unknown (between 1555 and 1562?). His family had long settled in Barlow, Lincolnshire - near Manchester. His mother was Alice Field. In 1580 he was a student at St John's College, Cambridge, and then graduated in 1584 from Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He gained an MA in 1587 and became a fellow there in 1590. He went on to graduate in Theology with a BTh in 1594, proceeding five years after to a doctorate in 1601. Perhaps by then he was in his late 30’s.

Ecclesiastical appointments

In 1597, Archbishop Whitgift made him sinecure Rector of Orpington in Kent. The next year he became chaplain to Whitgift. In 1601, he received a prebend (supported from a benefice, as a canon) at Chiswick, linked to St Paul’s cathedral. This continued until he became Bishop of Lincoln. At the same time he preached before Queen Elisabeth, as one of her chaplains. In 1603, he became Prebendary of Westminster and Dean of Chester. In 1605, whilst being Rector of St. Dunstan’s - one of the London parishes, in the East - Dr. Barlow was made Bishop of Rochester. He was promoted to the wealthier see of Lincoln in 1608, which he held until his death. He had hoped to become bishop of London, but death intervened in 1613.

He was one of the numerous ecclesiastics of that day, who were courtiers by profession, and studied with success the dark science of preferment (McClure)

Hampton Court Conference

Hampton Court Palace

The King commissioned the translation at the Hampton Court conference of 14–18 January 1604. As Dean of Chester, Barlow had the right to attend. He was actively involved in the preliminary arrangements. Also, he was commissioned to write the official account of these proceedings. This was titled The Sum and Substance of the Conference, Which It Pleased His Majesty to Have with the Lords, Bishops and Other of His Clergy at Hampton Court.” The account was deliberately skewed in favour of the bishops’ cause against the Puritans. Dr. Barlow’s account was apparently biased so as to make the Puritans’ statements of grievances appear as weak and witless as possible.

His ability with words

We catch a glimpse of Barlow’s preaching ability in the record of a sermon he gave at St Paul’s Cross on the Sunday after the Gunpowder plot was discovered. It aimed to blow up the King, together with the entire establishment of nobles,lords and commoners in both Houses of Parliament. Had this been successful it would have had as much and possibly more significance to future history than the effects of 9/11!!

Barlow’s text was Psalm 18:50

Great deliverance giveth He to His King, and sheweth mercy to His anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.”
Of Guy Fawkes Barlow said:
To make himself drunk with the blood of so many worthies . . . Such heaps he had laid in of billets, faggots, large stones, iron crows, pickaxes, great hammer heads, besides so many barrels of gunpowder . . . Not manlike to kill but beastlike to . . . tear parcel meal the bodies of so many personages . . , this whirling blast would have been unto our sacred king . . . as the whirlwind and fiery chariot of Elias, to have carried up his soul to heaven.”

The Translation Process

William Barlow chaired the second Westminster company (translating Romans to Jude) This was a group of seven divines, who thus worked on all the Epistles of the New Testament. Others on the panel included John Spencer (Pres. Of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge), Roger Fenton, Thomas Sanderson, Michael Rabbett, Ralph Hutchinson (President of St. John’s College, Oxford) and William Dakins.

St John's College Old Library.

An interesting question is “How much scholarship did Barlow really have?” His studies at undergraduate level would have included Latin and Greek language. The wider aims and purpose of St John’s College , founded in 1511, were (according to it statutes) to promote education, religion, learning and research. Learned discourse regularly took place in written (sometimes also spoken) Latin. Greek was a necessary subject in which to matriculate, when qualifying for University study. If Barlow majored, say, in mathematics, then he would still have acquired serious language attainment when moving on to divinity study in 1594, at Trinity College (see summary above). During further years of study which led to his doctorate in divinity (1601), Barlow would have acquainted himself with the Greek and Latin writers of the early centuries. These were church ‘fathers’ like Tertullian and Augustine (writing in Latin) and Chrysostom (writing in Greek). With such a background he would have been able to ‘keep up with’ a more erudite scholar in his company, like Ralph Hutchinson (who seems to have been appointed one of the final review panel examining the work of all the rest).

Barlow‘s knowledge of how the early church ‘fathers’ used and quoted the New Testament would probably not have been unusually deep. Such knowledge is key to understanding how Christian scholars read the New Testament in the years preceding the earliest preserved uncial manuscripts. Barlow did publish several books and pamphlets but apparently not now accessible. Someone who spent so much time and energy wheeling and dealing in ecclesiastical politics would not have been able to deepen and perfect his knowledge of Text. However, his general competence as a translator of the Greek language would have been rightly assumed.

William Barlow died in his episcopal palace of Buckden, and was buried in 1613.

Source: Knighton, C. S., ‘Barlow, William (d. 1613)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008

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Friday, 27 May 2011

King of Bibles in Sydney - June 13/2011

When asked if he was a defender of the Bible, the preacher, C. H. Spurgeon replied “I’d sooner defend a lion”. He was referring to the King James Version.

I believe the King James Bible is the most accurate English version of the Holy Scriptures. Do I believe God kept errors of substance out of the first printed Greek text? Or did He keep them out of the Massoretic Hebrew text, which the Reformers used to translate the Old Testament? Did God keep the Reformers from making demonstrable mistakes when translating the Old Testament into English? Yes, I'm prepared to try and defend all those positions - if or when you throw a googly at me and tell me I'm a hopeless unscholarly obscurantist!!

However, no one has yet seriously tried to convince me of the errors in my mind about the Bible - so there must be little or nothing wrong with the standpoint I adopt. Ridicule is not the same as convincing argument, not to a reasonable man! Do me a favour then, and point out one obvious, clear, irrefutable, unavoidable mistake in the KJV. Whether or not you would then be prepared to hear out an explanation which seeks to justify that same KJV rendering (or its approximate marginal equivalent), is another kettle of fish. Doubtless some of us revere Martin Luther's memory so much, because his was a case of Martin contra mundum.

Further to the cause of the KJV, there'll be an "unconventional Convention" in Sydney's Anglican cathedral soon. Here's an introduction to it.
On Monday 13th June 2011 A.D. the Queen’s Birthday will be celebrated with a Convention on THE KING’S BIBLE.

Here's a video invitation from Phillip Jensen:
If you would like the 'drift' on Philip Jensen click on this link
Here’s an invitation also from Greg Clarke. Greg Clarke is a writer with the Public Centre for Christianity You can read Greg's profile here.

Here's a cinematic video trailer you can use online or at church to promote QBC IV. And here's another trailer:

Philip Jensen and Greg Clarke ask:
"Why should you come along?
The Holy Bible.
It’s the first book ever printed.
It’s the best-selling book of all time.
The word Bible means book.
And the word Holy means different, distinct, transcendent."

"Come and celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible as we reflect on the Bible's past, continuing, and future impact on our society and the world."

There'll be Convention-sized singing led by gifted musicians from the Sydney Conservatorium. Food will be on offer: "A plentiful and spectacular morning and afternoon tea! Subsidised parking at St Andrew’s House car park."

VENUE: St Andrew's Cathedral, corner George & Bathurst Sts, Sydney.
DATE AND TIME: Monday 13th June 2011, 10am - 5pm.

$20 per person - for a Pre-Registered Group of 10+ by 1st June 2011
$25 per person - Pre-Registered by 1st June 2011
$30 per person - On The Day
You can register your payment in 1 of 3 ways:

- IN person at the Cathedral office
- ON 9265 1661
- AT

Meanwhile, I'll be beavering away here in Poole, on the south coast of England, blogging on the KJV, in the hope that each coming generation will discover the amazing book, and will love it enough to read it constantly, privately and publicly - and believe every word of it!! May the KJV live for ever


Thursday, 26 May 2011

John Harmar - a faithful Calvin disciple

John Harmar (also Harmer) was a Greek scholar, born at Newbury in Berkshire of unknown parentage. In 1569 he entered William de Wykeham’s School at Winchester. He also studied at St. Mary’s College, another College founded by William of Wykeham, whose motto was “Manners maketh the man.” In 1572 he became a scholar at New College, Oxford, matriculating in 1575. He graduated two years later, becoming a fellow in 1577.

Having come from a poor family he was blessed to receive the powerful patronage of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, one of Queen Elizabeth's leading statesmen. This allowed him to study at Winchester and Oxford. He graduated MA in 1582.

Roberty Dudley

Robert Dudley,1st Earl of Leicester was especially interested in the furtherance of preaching, which was the main concern of moderate Puritans. He went to great lengths to support non-conforming preachers, while warning them against too radical positions which, he argued, would only endanger what reforms had been achieved. Dudley was patron of the Puritan movement, trying to mediate between them and the bishops.

Academic appointments.

From 1588 to 1696 he was headmaster of Winchester School. He was Warden of his College for seventeen years. - a post he held until his death.

In 1585 Harmar was appointed Regius professor of Greek at Oxford, holding the position for five years, from 1588 until 1595.

In 1604 he was appointed to the second Oxford group of scholars assigned to work on the translation for the English Bible of James VI and I. The group translated the gospels, Acts, and Revelation, . In recognition of this he was awarded a BD and DD in 1605.

He was installed as a prebendary at Winchester on 10 January 1595; he became rector of Compton, Hants the same year and of Droxford, Hampshire in 1596.


Harmar’s first published work was an English translation of Calvin's sermons on the ten commandments, which appeared in 1579 and 1581. He dedicated this translation to his patron Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. He accompanied the nobleman to Paris, where he held several debates with the popish Doctors of the Sorbonne. He stood high in the crowd of tall scholars, the literary giants of the time. (McClure)

The Sorbonne, Paris

Harmar ‘s travels on the continent occurred some time before 1585. If he stayed at Geneva, as was probable, he would have attended Theodore Beza's lectures and sermons. He says he ‘found him [Beza] no lesse than a father unto me in curtesie & good will’ (Sermons, trans. Harmar, sig. 3r). He acknowledged this debt at Oxford in 1587 with an English translation of Beza's French sermons on the Song of Songs,.

Sir Henry Savile was a fellow Bible translator, and Harmar may have contributed to his important edition of the works of Chrysostom, printed at Eton in 1610–13. Harmar's will bequeathes a copy of this edition to Winchester College. Earlier in 1586 he was responsible for the first Greek book printed at Oxford. This was an edition of six sermons of John Chrysostom. In 1590 he used manuscripts at New College to produce the first edition of the Greek text of twenty-two of Chrysostom's sermons to the people of Antioch, and he supplied his own Latin version of the nineteenth sermon. (1)

Scholarship as a translator

When converting Beza’s French Sermons into English, Harmer showed his commitment to Calvinism, and his mastery of an excellent English style, as well as his adept skill in translating.

John Calvin

Wood described him as “a most noted Latinist, Grecian, and Divine.” A candidate for such distinction had to be well read in the Fathers and Schoolmen. In his earlier years he was accounted a very solid ‘theologist’ - ‘a subtle Aristotelian,' according to Wood (Ath. Oxon., 2.138). The scholastic writers had tried to apply Aristotle’s thought to Christian truths, as far as possible.

His attachment to and knowledge of Beza’s writings gave Harmar a natural sympathy and confidence in the latest Greek edition of the Received text of Scripture produced by Beza (1598). This position sought to make minor improvements to the previous editions of Stephens and Erasmus, and was the Greek text followed by the KJV Translators.

A member of the Revision Committee

Harmar is one of the few names we can be sure of, when describing the final revision team of twelve men. They worked on proposed amendments and resolutions of disagreements, deciding how the Text should be translated. The process was recorded by John Bois, for which see the relevant blog.

Final days

Harmar was married to Elizabeth, who survived him; they had no children. He did, however, make numerous bequests to relatives, friends, and dependents. He left many of his Greek books to New College and gave his collection of foreign-language bibles to Winchester College.

John Harmar was buried in the chapel of New College, where his epitaph was placed. His nephew John Harmar (1593/6–1670), also Regius professor of Greek at Oxford, promised Wood he would produce an account of his uncle's life for the Athenae, but this was never fulfilled. Harmar died on 11 October 1613. He was a considerable benefactor to the libraries both of the school and the college of Wykeham’s (1)

(1) P. Botley and N. G. Wilson National Dictionary of Biography

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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Andrew Downes - the ablest Grecian

Andrew Downes was born in 1549 in Shropshire of unknown parentage. He was educated at Shrewsbury School under its first headmaster, Thomas Ashton. He won a scholarship in his late teens to St John's College, Cambridge in 1567. He graduated after three years and became a fellow there. With the passing of almost a decade (during which time he was made a deacon) he became a senior fellow of St John's in 1580, and after another two years studying Divinity he too a BD. Another three years passed and in 1585, he was appointed to Regius Professor of Greek of Cambridge University, a post which he held for nearly forty years. Downes married Anna Delves, at Great St Mary's, Cambridge in 1608.

Personality and character

The most vivid account of Downes is to be found in the diary of Simonds D'Ewes. He says Downes was accounted "the ablest Grecian of Christendom." D’Ewes attended several of his lectures on the orator Demosthenes in 1619. He wrote:

When I came to his house near the public Schools, he sent for me up into a chamber, where I found him sitting in a chair with his legs upon a table that stood by him. He neither stirred his hat nor body, but only took me by the hand, and instantly fell into discourse (after a word or two of course had passed between us) touching matters of learning and criticism. He was of personage big and tall, long-faced and ruddy-coloured, and his eyes very lively, although I took him to be at that time at least seventy years old. (Autobiography, 139) (1)

Nicolson adds:

He was a man ‘of an extraordinary tallness, with a long face and a ruddy complexion and a very quick eye,’ who treated his students kindly, but could also turn irascible, stalking out of church one day in Cambridge when the students jeered at him for the inadequacy of his sermon. ;He left saying no one should see his face in the place again.’(2)
Downes was one of the few translators to receive cash payment for his work (others were rewarded with clerical posts afterwards). The King sent him 50 pounds in 1609 after half his work was done. Downes complained from Cambridge that further work with the final revision team, meeting in London, incurred an expense which deserved special treatment. Was this being greedy (as Nicolson seems to suggest), or did Bois rest on the Pauline injunction, “A labourer is worthy of his hire”?

Andrew Downes was one of the few translators to fall out with a colleague in the translation process. He became jealous of his star pupil John Bois. This occurred because the latter’s advice was preferred to his, when both were employed to review, evaluate and comment on Sir Henry Savile’s Complete works of Chrysostom. The angst this caused left Bois and Downes unreconciled to their dying day, even though Bois was content to keep praising his erstwhile teacher.

John Chrysostom

Translating the Bible

Downes was appointed one of the translators of the ‘Authorized Version’ in 1605 and assigned to the company, along with Bois, who were given the Apocrypha to translate. Both also served as members of the company for the review of the whole work.

Says McClure about this appointment:

He is especially named by the renowned John Selden as eminently qualified to share in the translation of the Bible. Thus it is the happiness of Dr. Downes to be “praised by a praised man;” for no man was ever more exalted for learning and critical scholarship than Selden, who was styled by Dr. Johnson, “monarch in letters;” and by Milton, “chief of learned men in England;” and by foreigners, “the great dictator of learning of the English nation.”
John Selden wrote in his Table Talk:
The translation in King James’ time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downes) and then they met together, and one read that translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Italian, Spanish &c. If they found any fault, they spoke; if not, he read on.(3)

Textual resources depended on Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition of the Greek New Testament. Beza was chiefly indebted to the Greek edition of Robert Estienne (1550), itself being based largely on one of the later editions of Erasmus. Beza’s edition was compared with other Polyglot Bibles (the Complutensian and Andwerp) which were placed alongside the Hebrew and the Greek and the various ancient Versions. The Latin Vulgate was an important resource, though no longer seen as standard.

Theodore Beza

Then there were the countless comments by the early church fathers and ancient scholars, which showed how they read the Text, sometimes as early as the second century (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Justin). These readings of the fathers (like Chrysostom) strongly supported the traditional text, as reflected in Beza’s Greek Text. Most scholars today accept Hort’s basic analysis of the Greek Text (which ‘analysis’ is a theoretical statement, not based on clear empirical evidence) and so they assume copies of the Fathers were corrupted over the centuries. Scholars like Downes and Bois would not have dared to assume manuscript copies of the ‘fathers’ had been corrupted, unless there was clear evidence for it. A rejection of Hort’s theories reopens the door to believing the Traditional Text (Beza), which the reformers worked with, was providentially preserved by God in detail - just as the divine Originals are trusted by a conservative evangelical when he reads the English text. At the critical moment of transition when the Greek New Testament was transferred from multiple copies to a single printed Text, God would not have abandoned his providential preservation of every word which He breathed out. This was the truth which Dean Burgon held with passionate conviction, and drove him to oppose the Greek Text introduced by Bishop Westcott and Prof. Hort. The latter ignored the brief impliedly given to them, to make only minor improvements to the wording and style of the KJV. Instead, they undermined the credibility of the printed Greek Text, and persuaded their colleagues (ERV Revision, 1881) to treat the words of the Bible as they did every other ancient Text, that is, subject to the same ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’

The final revision

Bois and Downes were colleagues working on the final revision of King James‘ Bible. They met in Stationer’s Hall, London for nine months, and John Bois kept detailed daily notes of all discussion between the revisers. Andrew Downes’ textual opinions appear strongly in the Notes of Bois. These notes evaluated the readings recommended by the scholars at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster, comparing them with the Bible already translated into English and Latin as well as with the original Hebrew and Greek.

Thus as the six men worked . . . around a table piled with papers and books, we can . . hear Downes --“our most subtle thinker in words” Bois called him--compare one Greek reading with another. . . . Bois notes . . for the debatable passages present a number of alternate readings . . searching for the right word or combination of words to express an idea, and even deciding which idea to adopt, among the possibilities suggested by the different translations or inherent in the grammatical structure of the ancient texts . . . The Bois notes show how careful the translators were, first of all, to determine the exact meanings or establish a permissible range of meanings (3)

His literary output

Downes published little, but what there is suggests he was passionate about the Greek orators. The first Greek volume of Plato printed at Cambridge was Plato's Menexenus, 1587. It was "set as a teaching text... [and] was almost certainly printed as part of the curriculum established by Andrew Downes." He edited Lysias' Pro caede Eratosthenis (1593); Praelectiones in Philippicam de pace Demosthenis (1621), dedicated to James I of England. He also wrote some letters (in Greek) to Isaac Casaubon, and added notes to John Chrysostom, in Sir Henry Savile's edition. His letters to Isaac Casaubon, and others witnessed to his fluency in Greek.

The philosopher Plato

Downes died at Coton, near Cambridge. Having reluctantly resigned his chair in 1625 after almost forty years' tenure, he died three years later on 2 February 1628, and was buried there on 5 February.

(1) Elisabeth Leedham-Green and N. G. Wilson .(2004) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
(2) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp. 199.
(3) Payne, Gustavus, 1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Bakerp. 76-77, 115

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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

John Spencer - assisting Richard Hooker

Early development

John Spenser was born in 1558/9 in Suffolk, the son of John Spenser, gentleman. When we has twelve he attended Merchant Taylors' School in London, 1571. We get an insight into the high standard of classical education pursued by the Company where they imposed a frequent test (“probation”) on staff and pupils alike in 1606, in the attempt to make it one of the great schools of England:

Merchant Taylors School
During the probation, the headmaster was required to open his copy of Cicero at random and read out a passage to the Sixth form. The boys had to copy the passage from [Latin] dictation and then translate it, first into English, then into Greek and then into Latin verse. After this, they had to write a passage of Latin and some verses on some topic chosen for the day. This was for the morning; in the afternoon the process was repeated in Greek, based on the Greek Testament, Aesop's Fables, "or some other very easie Greeke author". The standard in Greek was not as high as in Latin, but Hebrew was also taught. This form of inspection was the model for teaching every day, as neither mathematics nor science were included in the curriculum.

Graduate education

From Merchant Taylors' Spencer ‘went up‘ to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and graduated in Classics late 1577. He was the fellow-student and close friend and colleague of the celebrated author Richard Hooker - just as was his fellow students Hadrian Saravia, Sir Henry Savile, and John Reynolds.

Some indication of Spencer’s linguistic talent is shown in the fact that, despite lacking a master's degree, Spenser was elected by the president and seniors to the post of Greek reader the very next year,in 1578. The college has maintained its reputation as specializing and excelling in Classics, not least because of the emphasis placed on Greek and Latin culture since its founding. It is said to take more students to a study program inclusive of Classics each year, than of any other subject. From its early days the College became a humanist enterprise, and the library, founded at the same time as the college, was 'probably, when completed, the largest and best furnished library then in Europe.'

The three ancient languages

Spencer’s election was strongly opposed by Dr. Reynolds, as he felt Spencer’s sister had exercised undue influence in the appointment. The lady was married to the college President, who naturally had a critical role in all academic appointments! (but Also Spencer was only nineteen years old. Thus, “the unprecedented promotion aroused sharp resentment among older and better qualified fellows.” (1) Rainolds’ opposition may have also been caused by his knowledge that the young scholar had early attached himself to the anti-Puritan faction of the College who were as unhappy with the growing Puritan emphasis as they had been with Popery. The appointment was however confirmed and in 1579, Spencer became a Fellow of the College. and ‘took orders.’(McClure)

Preaching and further study

John Spencer was Greek reader for ten years, until resigning in 1588. He then left Oxford and held successively the livings of Aveley, Essex (1589–1592), Ardleigh, Essex (1592–1594), Faversham, Kent (1594–1599), and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate London (1599–1614). He was also ‘presented’ to the living of Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, in 1592.

During these years Spencer was not idle academically, as he developed his theological interests. In 1590 he took a BTh, and his consolidated learning was acknowledged with a doctorate, awarded 1602. During this time he also became a popular preacher.

Spencer’s flowing style carried figures of speech to great lengths. In his sermon to St. Paul’s Cross, “God’s love to His Vineyard,” he elaborated on the comparison of the Church to a vine rooted in Christ, warning the church in elaborate metaphors which ranged from horticulture to climate, from fencing to irrigation.”(2)

Spencer’s sermons were reputed to have ‘a more formal sober and gracious elegance, sometimes falling into excess of wit’ (MacClure, 164). This contrasted with the more colloquial style preferred by Elizabethan puritans.

Academic achievements

In 1607 Spencer was appointed president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford in succession to John Rainolds. The time of his presidency was apparently orderly, peaceful and uneventful. He was made a chaplain-in-ordinary to King James.

Spenser was married to George Cranmer's sister, herself a favourite pupil of Richard Hooker. His wife’s brothers, George and William Cranmer were warm patrons of their celebrated teacher; both brothers were in diplomatic service to the Court. Hooker authored the work well-known among Anglicans, “The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” Spencer was constantly consulted, says McClure, in the making of this work, and was even said to have “had a special hand” as in part its author. According to Hamlett Marshall, one of Spencer’s friends,

This of mine own knowledge I dare affirm, that such was his humility and modesty that when he had taken extraordinary pains . . about compiling a learned and profitable work [the Laws] now extant, yet would he not put his hand to it, though he had a hand in it. Therefore it fell out that another took his honours.(3)
McClure gives us some insight into how more radical Puritans like Thomas Cartwright, (who influenced John Rainolds) would have viewed Hooker‘s theology as arbitrary and arrogant:
. . . . [T]his work is to this day the “great gun” on the ramparts of the Episcopal sect. Its argument, however, is very easily disposed of. It is thus described by Dr. James Bennett; --”The architecture of the fabric resembles Dagon’s temple; for it rests mainly upon two grand pillars, which, so long as they continue sound, will support all its weight. The first is, ‘that the Church of Christ, like all other societies, has power to make laws for its well-being;’ and the second, that ‘where the sacred Scriptures are silent, human authority may interpose.’ But if some Samson can be found to shake these pillars from their base, the whole edifice, with the lords of the Philistines in their seats, and the multitude with which it is crowded, will be involved in one common ruin. Grant Mr. Hooker these two principles, and his arguments cannot be confuted. But if a Puritan can show that the Church of Christ is different from all civil societies, because Christ had framed a constitution for it, and that where the Scriptures are silent, and neither enjoin nor forbid, no human association has a right to interpose its authority, but should leave the matter indifferent; in such a case, Hooker’s system would not be more stable than that of the Eastern philosopher, who rested the earth on the back of an elephant, who stood upon a huge tortoise, which stood upon nothing.”

After the death of Richard Hooker in 1600 Spencer edited the first five books of the Ecclesiastical Politie (London, 1604). When Spenser wrote his preface, he identified with Hooker’s views, noting ‘this unhappy controversy about the received ceremonies and discipline of the church of England’ which had ‘rent the body of the church into divers parts, and divided her people into divers sects’, and had ‘taught the sheep to despise their pastors, and alienated the pastors from the love of their flocks.’

Richard Hooker, Exeter

The introduction to that work and A Sermon at Paule's Crosse on Esay V., 2, 3 (London, 1615) are his only published writings. John Keble, former Professor of Poetry at Oxford, says, that it is “full of eloquence, and striking thoughts.”

Translation involvement

Spencer was also one of the translators of the King James Bible, serving on the second Westminster group of seven, led by William Barlow. They worked mainly on the epistles of St Paul - from Romans to Jude, inclusive. During the five years in which the translation process occurred, Spencer was vicar of St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate London. This made him proximate to the Jerusalem chamber, Westminster. Thus, it was an easy journey for him to make to attend regular meetings of the team. There each read his latest draft-translation to the rest, as an agreed basis for detailed discussion, amendment and review.

The end of a career.

One final appointment followed the publication of the Authorised Version. The following year Spencer was ‘collated to’ the prebend of Ealdstreet, in St Paul's Cathedral. Two years afterwards, he died aged fifty-five in 1614, and was buried in the chapel of Corpus Christi College. A monument to his memory stands next to one of his predecessor, ‘each being attired in his doctor's habits, and each holding a book, Reynolds a closed one, Spenser an open one’ (Fowler, 175). His death apparently distressed his widow and children, who doubtless expected many more years together. (1)

Corpus Christi College, Oxford

1. Wright, Stephen (2004) ‘Spenser, John (1558/9–1614)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
2. Paine, Gustavus, (1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Bakerp. 44 (3) Bobrick, Benson. (2001) The Making of the English Bible Lon: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 244

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

George Abbot - Famous but flawed

George Abbot was born in 1562 in Guildford, Surrey, the fourth son of a poor cloth worker, and Alice March.

They were certainly a brilliant and ambitious family. One of [his] brothers became Master of Balliol and then Bishop of Salisbury, another Lord Mayor of London and Governor of the East India Company. . . . George himself became Archbishop of Canterbury.(1)

His parents embraced the truth of the Gospel in King Edward's days and were persecuted for it in Queen Mary's reign' (Thomas Fuller). Abbot's mother, when pregnant with him, dreamed that her unborn son was destined for greatness, which ‘made several people of quality offer themselves to be sponsors at the baptismal fount’ (Aubrey, Natural History, 3.281) and later to sponsor him, aged sixteen, to enter Balliol College, Oxford.

Curriculum Vitae

George Abbot graduated BA in 1582, and MA three years later . He meanwhile had become a fellow of Balliol and was probably ordained at that time. Further studies led in 1597 to his DTh. His thesis specialised in attacking the basis of papal claims - the Petrine commission. In the same year he became master of University College, Oxford, and in 1600 he was appointed dean of Winchester. Little is known of Abbot's years as master of the College but he did attract the devotion of some pupils who later themselves became well-known.

His character

Nicolson piles up adjectives to suggest Abbot was not a good man . . .

George Abbot was perhaps the ugliest of them all, a morose, intemperate man, whose portraits exude a sullen rage. Even in death, he was portrayed on his tomb in Holy Trinity Guildford, as a man of immense weight, with heavy, wrinkled brow and coldly staring eyes. He looks like a bruiser, a man of such conviction and seriousness that anyone would think twice about crossing him. [He was] . . . egregious . . . the cleverest and the gloomiest. . . . He was stern, intransigent and charmless. He had no modern virtues. . . . He could be brutal as well as verbose . . . . [Was he] a wicked, mean, greedy, self-indulgent, vituperative, pompous bishop? It is certainly possible to . . . to see him as . . . an obdurate brute, coarsened by rage and the worst of the Protestant inheritance. There is more to him [however].(1)

Truly, ugliness (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. How can a writer be so sure of a man's nature and personality at a space of 400 years that he should make such a negative evaluation?

Payne has his own list of criticisms of Abbot:

[O]ne of his lacks was that he had never held a post in which he had to concern himself with the care of souls. Out of touch with the common people, he was often tactless and stupid. With little zeal for, and skill in preaching, he was born just to have views, to manage and command. He was a great one to reprove, and though tender to the scruples of the Puritans, he maintained that all should comply with the forms of worship enjoined by the law of the land. With all his scowls he was deeply pious and never flinched in his duty, which he knew to be a light to guide and a rod to check the erring. . . . [He was] "a dull plodder," and "stodgy."(2)

His earlier writings

In 1594 Abbot began to lecture each Thursday morning on the book of Jonah to an audience of students and others. After two hundred and sixty sermons were delivered over the next five years An Exposition upon the Prophet Jonah was printed in 1600. He also wrote A Briefe Description of the Whole Worlde (1599), where he mixed fact and comment on geography, politics, and trade, and it became the most popular of his works, being regularly reprinted. The way the book was composed and enlarged shows the broad intellectual tastes of its author. Abbot's library as archbishop contained works on political theory, science, mathematics, and witchcraft, with a specialty in French culture. In A Quatron of Reasons (1600) Abbot set out to refute Roman arguments against English protestantism. (3)

Abbot's theology

Abbot was an evangelical Calvinist, embracing even the doctrine of double predestination. He was implacably opposed to the teachings and practices of the Roman church.

Sarah's smile

Abbot later exposed the immoral doctrine of mental reservation and equivocation, as taught by the Jesuits Robert Southwell, and Henry Garnet. [Henry Garnet withheld his knowledge of the impending Gunpowder Plot (1605) from the secular authorities, claiming the secrecy of the Confessional to protect him from the charge of obstruction] Equivocation is a method whereby the speaker deceives the hearer into believing what he wants him to hear by a process which is not strictly true, called mental reservation. The entire thought engaged is "expressed partly in speech and partly in the mind," on the basis that God hears what is in one's mind while human beings hear only what one speaks. From this perspective the Christian's sole moral duty was to tell the truth to God, whilst withholding, if need be, some relevant aspect of the truth from the hearer. The deceiver aims to serve a greater good. By employing double meanings in words, equivocation also allowed a speaker to tell the literal truth while concealing a deeper meaning, which meaning was in his own mind justified, although deceptive to the hearer. Abbot sought to show not only that all lies are deception, but deceptions are also lies.

Abbot contrasted the freedom of the gospel in England with the pre-Reformation church, when 'the decrees of popes, and the canons of councels, and customes and traditions, were in place of the written word’ (Abbot, Exposition, 340). Ministers must fulfil their evangelical duty to protestants and Catholics alike and ‘be diligent in preaching the gospell to such as wil heare, and in writing, for such as will reade, that they may know and beleeve and be saved’ (Abbot, Reasons, sig. Ff2r). (3)

Whilst distancing himself from puritan calls for major reforms of the English church, he taught that the office of bishop was apostolic, and he insisted on a ‘seemely conformity’ in ceremony. This differed from the more radical approach of John Rainolds, who opposed all ornamentation in worship as unnecessary.

His part in the translation process

George Abbot was a member of the second Oxford Group of translators. Their task was to translate the four Gospels, the Acts and the book of Revelation. The publication occurred one year before Abbot became Archbishop of Canterbury. By this time he had also become Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, as well as Bishop of London. This suggests in Abbot we have the consummate politician. He knew how to flatter King James, and to use other valuable connections to obtain coveted ecclesiastical preferments.

A summary of his work shows that Abbot was more interested in the exercise of ecclesiastical power than in deepening his engagement with, or perfecting his knowledge of the ancient languages:

At court he was an outspoken champion of the cause of international protestantism, and a tireless administrator . . . . Abbot was also an effective parliamentarian, co-operating with clients and allies in the House of Commons, and working sedulously for regular and harmonious meetings. In short, Abbot's reputation for doctrinal rectitude and his evangelical churchmanship made him an important figure in James I's inclusive ecclesiastical establishment . . ."(3)

All this suggests that, as a translator, Abbot would have deferred to the expertise of other colleagues on the team, when deciding the finer points of phrasing and the meanings of words. Sir Henry Savile, for example, had particular skill in Greek, and sustained a devotion to the works of Chrysostom, and was a highly accomplished scholar. . .

But the strong man on the panel was really Sir Henry Savile . . . one of the foremost classical scholars of his age. In his early prime he had served as Latin secretary to Queen Elizabeth and had tutored her in mathematics and Greek.(4)

Abbot probably offered more when discussing stylistic issues than he did on translation itself. Nicolson quotes two or three eloquent passages, which compare his style favourably with that of John Donne. The passage on sin, for example, is striking, where Abbot shows "the way of the transgressor is hard.

[Sin] is like a smoke, like fire, it mounteth upward, and comes even before God to accuse us; it is like a serpent in our bosom, still ready to sting us; it is the devil's daughter. A woman hath her pains in travail and delivery but rejoiceth when she seeth a child is born; but the birth of sin is of a contrary fashion; for all the pleasure is in the bringing forth, it tormenteth us continually; they haunt us like tragicall furies. "(2)

George Abbot Hospital
Nicolson analyses three quoted passages, saying,
It isn't difficult to see how the King James Bible emerges from this pattern of thought and language. There is an immense and sonorous dignity to Abbot's style, a torque towards grandeur, a natural majesty, but also an understanding of metaphor . . . The gift of this language moment, the great Jacobean habit of mind on which the King James Bible rides for chapter after chapter and book after book, is this swinging between majesty and tangibility, the setting of the actual and perceptible within an enormous enriching frame, the sense of intimacy between the great and small, the embodiment of the most universal ideas in the most humble of forms, the sense in other words that the universe . . . is one connected whole

A burning question

King James ordered the deaths of Edward Wightman and Bartholomew Legate. These were ‘blasphemous heretikes’, according to Abbot, who were teaching Arianism. Legate believed Jesus was merely human, that he was not virgin born, and that there was no Incarnation. For preaching this, he was condemned to burn at the stake. The archbishop strongly endorsed the decision, at the same time ensuring that only those who agreed with the seriousness of the issue should form the panel of judges to hear the cases (J. P. Collier, ed., The Egerton Papers, CS, 1st ser., 1840, 446–8). Bartholomew Legate (and Wightman later) was burnt at the stake in Smithfield Market, in March 1611. This was the last time such a sentence was carried out for heresy in England, and in the same year the Bible was published.

Do the standards of the age determine whether an act is morally obnoxious, or whether conscience is excused from a charge of inhumane cruelty? Do St. Paul's words have any relevance in answering the question?

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. (Rom 12:19-20)

Abbot died a single man at Croydon Palace in 1633, after having placed the crown on the head of King Charles 1. The chief mourner at his funeral was his doctrinal opponent William Laud, who was also nominated his successor. Abbot was buried in Holy Trinity, Guildford, where his brother erected a splendid canopied tomb for him, adorned with eleven allegorical figures. Abbot had enjoyed a famous career. The extraordinary ebb and flow in his fortunes reflected a character flawed by controversy.

Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

(1) Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. pp. 154 - 156. 158-159
(2) Payne, Gustavus, 1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Bakerp. 55, 145
(3) Fincham, Kenneth. (2004) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
(4) Bobrick, Benson. (2001) The Making of the English Bible Lon: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p. 241

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