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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Richard Bancroft - a potent prelate

Academic background

Richard Bancroft was born in 1544 at Farnworth, a village in south Lancashire. His parents had clerical connections, for his great Uncle was Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Oxford. (1) Bancroft went to the local grammar school and thence to Cambridge, maybe aged 20. He first studied at Christ's College, and then Jesus College, being awarded a BA in 1567 and later an MA in 1570, at which time (1572) he was ordained a clergyman. His reputation was said to be higher on the sportsfield - in boxing, wrestling, and quarterstaff than as a scholar. Notwithstanding, he was chosen to greet Queen Elizabeth during her first visit to Cambridge in 1564. In 1575 he became rector of Teversham in Cambridgeshire, and the next year was appointed one of the preachers to the university. The further divinity studies of these years meant he graduated BD in 1580 and DD five years later.

Ecclesiastical appointments

Richard Bancroft held various livings, chaplaincies and was also a prebendary of St Paul’s. He had been canon of Westminster since 1587. He became Bishop of London in 1597. By this time, Archbishop Whitgift was virtually incapacitated by reason of age and infirmity, and this meant Bancroft exercised the power of primate, with sole management of ecclesiastical affairs. When Whitgift died in 1604, Bancroft formally accepted the position of Archbishop. He had but six years remaining to show the same zeal and severity towards the extreme puritan. Someone expressed the opinion that "if Bancroft had lived, he would quickly have extinguished all that fire in England which had been kindled at Geneva," such was his antipathy to the Puritan viewpoint.

Theological conflict

Bancroft knew the moderate Puritan Laurence Chaderton from College days, and the two remained lifelong friends in spite of their doctrinal differences. In his mature years Bancroft regarded men like John Rainolds, William Whitaker, and Chaderton as respectable moderates. By the time he reached his late 30’s Richard Bancroft had become a prominent opponent of the more extreme Puritans who believed the Church should be entirely separate from the State. In 1583 Bancroft reported a libel to the Magistrates, which had been pinned up in one of the city churches. This compared the Queen - England's ostensible ‘Deborah’ - to ‘that woman Jezebel’ of Revelation 2:20. Elizabeth had long pursued the middle way - later encapsulated in the writings of Richard Hooker - whereby Anglicanism was to be neither Puritan nor Roman. Ceremonial matters, such as the wearing of vestments were not a vital issue, though not to be despised. Bancroft’s report on the libel led to the arrest and subsequent death of two followers of Robert Browne, whose writings later accounted for the founding of Congregationalist churches. The axe fell on John Copping and Elias Thacker, for distributing Browne’s writings, especially A Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for Anie.

Bancroft was increasingly involved in developing an anti-puritan rhetoric, and by the time that he was admitted DTh at Cambridge in April 1585 he had produced a series of investigative accounts of puritanism in which he wrote warmly in the defence of episcopacy and denounced the practices of gathered congregations. He condemned the heresies in Robert Browne's books . . . and sought to exploit the inner weaknesses and rivalries. . . (1)

Deadly politics

Bancroft preached a famous or notorious - depending on your point of view - at St Paul’s Cross, after becoming a member of the ecclesiastical commission.

On 9 February 1589 [Bancroft] preached at Paul's Cross a sermon, the substance of which was a passionate attack on the Puritans. He described their speeches and proceedings, caricatured their motives, denounced the exercise of the right of private judgment, and set forth the divine right of bishops in such strong language that one of the queen’s councillors held it to amount to a threat against the supremacy of the crown.
Bancroft set about to root out the separatist congregations in London. The fate of such men as Henry Barrow, John Greenwood and John Penry was sealed, (died 1593). John Penry may have been an author of the anonymous Marprelate Tracts (1588), which lampooned the Bishops. . . .[T]he more extreme separatists, who considered each congregation a self sufficient church of Christ, became the target of a campaign led by Richard Bancroft. They were to be found in private houses all around London, holding private conventicles in which their inspirational preachers were ‘esteemed as godds.’ . . . The state church could not tolerate the freedom or the priestlessness of such behaviour. Many Separatists . . . fled to the Netherlands but others were arrested. . . . . Their leaders, honest, fierce men, the spiritual forebears of the Massachusetts colonists, were to be interrogated. . . . Andrewes was at their head. . . . Andrewes argued with [Henry Barrow in vain] . . [Barrow] was finally executed. . . (2)

Defending episcopacy

In 1592 Bancroft became a household chaplain of the archbishop, at Lambeth. There he wrote two books defending the union of Church and State. Having already publicly defended episcopacy in response to the Marprelate Tracts, he now showed the origins of the Puritan reform movement as being located in Geneva, under John Calvin, and coming via Theodore Beza, to England. Over against this, he espoused episcopacy as established by God, using the influential writings of Hadrian Saravia, another KJV translator (1590). Bancroft rejected the pattern of reformation demanded by the ‘separatists,’ in the belief that episcopacy was validated by both Scripture and History.

The Hampton Court Conference

Richard Bancroft was not initially well disposed to John Rainolds’ proposal for a new definitive translation of the Bible. However, once the King confirmed his desire, and Bancroft was appointed Archbishop the same year (1604), he pursued the King’s cause thoroughly and energetically. He drew up fifteen rules for the translators to follow, as approved by King James. These rules had a seriously limiting effect on the translators’ method. It is these rules which justify viewing Bancroft as one of the translators, even though - in his role as overseer of the project - he belonged to none of the six companies of translators. Examples of his control over method are the following instructions: (1) Follow the Bishops’ Bible as far as the truth of the original will permit - but also use Tyndale, Matthews, Coverdale, and Geneva, where necessary. This rule naturally limited the style of the translator in choosing his words. (2) Keep traditional ecclesiastical words in the Text e.g. don’t change “church” to “congregation” (3) Treat the writings of the Church fathers as a precedent, and follow their translation choices, as a way of resolving ambiguity in word-meaning. (4) Rule 10: In matters of disagreement, refer the problem to the directors of each company for final discussion and decision, when deciding on word (or phrase) choices. (5) In knotty cases involving rare words, use the skills of other scholars outside the companies to settle the meaning if at all possible.

What did Bancroft translate?

On the strength of his controlling influence, Bancroft received the final draft of the KJB from Miles Smith and Thomas Bilson, and proceeded to make fourteen changes without any consultation with the directors of the teams.

Miles Smith, as final editor, protested that after he and Bilson had finished, Bishop Bancroft made fourteen more changes. “He is so potent that there is no contradicting him,” said Smith, and cited as an example of Bancroft’s bias His insistence on using “the glorious word Bishopric” even for Judas, in Acts 1:20. . . (3)
Acts 1:20 says:
For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
The KJB margin here has “bishoprick: or, office, or, charge.” Smith saw Bancroft had introduced an anachronism by inserting episcopacy into Acts 1, as the twelve apostles referred to in Acts 1 :17 were never called overseers (the literal meaning of episcopos) in the New Testament. They were by their preaching the founders of congregations. They were not the administrators of them; this was left to local and non itinerant leaders.

A second example of Bancroft’s anachronistic insertions is Acts 19:37.

For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of churches, nor yet blasphemers of your goddess.
The speaker here is the town clerk of Ephesus, almost certainly neither a Christian, nor aware of what a Christian church is. Yet, here he apparently defends the apostles against an imaginary charge of being “robbers of churches.” Whereas Luke wrote of “temple robbers” (hierosulos), the same word the Apostle Paul uses in Romans 2:22, to similar effect:
thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
Temples housed idols and were pagan places of worship, like the great Temple to the goddess Diana nearby. McClure explains:
Many of the Puritans were stiffly opposed to bestowing the name “church,” which they regarded as appropriate only to the company of spiritual worshippers, on any mass of masonry and carpentry. [It is not till about A.D. 229, that we find any record of the assembling of Christians in what would now be called a church Barton, Ecclesiastical history, p. 496.] But Bancroft, that he might for once stick the name to a material building, would have it applied, in the nineteenth chapter of Acts, to the idols’ temples! . . . . Let us be thankful that the dictatorial prelate tried his hand no farther at emending the sacred text.
Other changes were made, which, according to Alister McGrath are difficult to pinpoint:
Richard Bancroft reviewed what had been hitherto regarded as the final version of the text. It would be one of his final acts; Bancroft died on November 2, 1610, and never lived to see the translation over which he had held so much sway. Smith complained loudly to anyone who would listen that Bancroft had introduced fourteen changes in the final text without any consultation. Yet we remain unclear as to what those alleged changes might have been.
Bancroft died at Lambeth Palace, and in simple ceremony his body was interred two days later in the chancel of the parish church of Lambeth.

(1) Cranfield. Nicholas W.S. (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 86-87, 92.
(3) Paine, Gustavus. (1959/1977)The men behind the King James version, MI: Baker p. 128,
(4) McGrath. Alister (2001) In the Beginning: The story of the King James Bible p. 188

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