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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

John Peryn - "this one thing I do."

John Peryn - also spelt Perrin, Perin, Peryn, Pirryn, Pern or Perne. He was born at some point in the sixth decade of the 16th century, 155?. There is no apparent certainty as to his birthdate, so we don’t know at what age he started his education at Merchant Taylors' School - being resident in London. The school was at that time the largest in the country. His probable peers there were his fellow translators Thomas Harrison and Lancelot Andrewes.

The advantage of learning classics at Merchant Taylor’s school is clear. The school’s first headmaster, Richard Mulcaster, set out to “establish a rigorous curriculum which was to set the standard for education in Latin, Greek and Hebrew” in England. His goal was that English as a language might claim its place side by side with Latin.. He said:

I love Rome, but London better, I favour Italy, but England more, I honour Latin, but worship English.
We get a glimpse of this unique English foundation for later learning, where the emphasis on languages ancient and modern was so emphatic, that the timetable excluded both mathematics and science!! These latter were presumably seen as relatively unimportant compared to the supreme task of learning the ways of the world from the ancients (a reflection of other cultures. Clarity was obtained by reading the original languages, with the meaning less clouded through loss in translation.

One of the school inspectors of Merchant Taylor’s, Northwood, described how the school classroom operated:

The headmaster was required to open his [Latin] copy of Cicero at random and read out a passage to the Sixth form. The boys had to copy the passage from 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.

Thus was the teenager John Peryn inculcated with the need to develop a scholarly approach to Greek and Latin, before he took his education to the third stage at Oxford.

Peryn matriculated at St John's College in 1575. Both Merchant Taylors' and St John's were founded by the same person: Sir Thomas White.

Sir Thomas White

After four years Peryn graduated in Classics. St. John’s had begun only twenty years earlier for the purpose of educating Roman Catholic clerics to support the Counter-Reformation under Queen Mary. It existed primarily to produce Anglican clergymen in the earlier periods of its history. St John's also became well-known for effective teaching of both law and medicine. During the four years following his graduation, Peryn no doubt taught in the University, receiving his Master’s degree in 1579. Further teaching and study for six years saw him graduate in Divinity, which focused on the study of religious Greek and Latin texts. With the passing of another seven years he accepted a doctorate in Divinity, 1596. By this time, he was Regius Professor of Greek. This was a post he actively held for six years until 1605, at which point he was nominated to the Second Oxford Company of translators by King James.

St. John's College, Oxford.

The Regius Professorship of Greek is a position at the University of Oxford, founded by Henry VIII, fifty years before Peryn was given the chair. The King established five of these in Oxford - in Divinity, Medicine, Civil Law and Hebrew. These Professorships were created with royal approval, also at the ancient universities of Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Dublin. Peryn held his post – in theory at least - from 1597 to 1615.

When nominated to the Second Oxford Company of translators by King James, he found it too burdensome to continue to actively teach, and was able to opt out of his duties for a period starting January 1605.(2) He was more interested in helping to ensure an intense focus and a high standard of excellence for the new translation. Perhaps, too the formidable reputation of Lancelot Andrewes as a linguist was an inescapable challenge to his integrity as a scholar. So, he left College teaching to other fellows, and channeled all his energies in one direction. It seems no replacement for Peryn was found until 1615 when John Hales was appointed. This is a good example for us, in the need to give God’s Word priority in our lives. St Paul’s example to us was encapsulated in his, “this one thing I do,” rather than in saying, ‘these fifty things I dabble in’! Peryn found himself an unusually willing “workhorse” of the translation committee. (1)

Peryn also held other posts at the time of the commission. He became a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in 1604.(3) A canon is a priest or minister who voluntarily subjects himself to an ecclesiastical rule (Gk. kanon = rule). The title now relates particularly to cathedral churches, the seats of Anglican bishops. A canon and his fellows make up a chapter, headed by a dean, and together they are responsible for administering the affairs of a cathedral. Thomas Ravis, a fellow translator, was dean of the chapter in 1596 and was still leading it when Peryn was appointed in 1604. But, did Peryn resign this position, as well as ceasing to teach in the lecture room? (1) Not according to British History Online.

Peryn is said to have become vicar in Worthing, Sussex around this time, through the influence of Lancelot Andrewes (1) However, at that time the community had no Anglican church, the nearest being St Mary’s church Broadwater, which was adminstered by a rector, not a vicar.

Peryn died not long after the KJV was published, on 9 May, 1615. He was probably one of the unsung heroes, among the translators of the King James Version.

1. Nicolson, Adam. (2003) Power and glory: Jacobean England and the making of the King James Bible, Lon: Harper. p. 154.
2. David Norton, A Textual History of the King James Bible (2005), p. 12.

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