Monday, March 17, 2008

John Rainolds and the AV Project

John Rainolds or Reynolds was the theologian who famously suggested a revision of the existing English translations to King James at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604.

Early life

Born in 1549 at Penhoe near Exeter, in Devon, he went up to Oxford University at the age of thirteen. He was made Fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1568, at the early age of seventeen. Of his five brothers, four others were fellows at Oxford University.

Although he was later known as a prominent Puritan he actually began as an ardent Roman Catholic, and it is thought that he may have spent some time educated by Roman Catholics on the continent. It was at this period, in the late 1560s that Rainolds was converted together with his brother William. It was a time of controversy between Protestants and the Roman Catholics who were still prominent in the land. There was a famous debate at this time carried on between Thomas Harding and John Jewel. This may well have had some influence in turning both brothers away from the errors of Rome. It seems that both were brought to the truth and sought at the same time to bring each other to the same knowledge. Sadly, however, his brother William later returned to Romanism and in 1575 he made a public recantation at Rome. One of the professors at the English College in Rheims he was to be one of the translators of the Rheims New Testament of 1582 and a bitter opponent of Protestant theology in print.


In 1572, at age 23, Rainolds was appointed reader in Greek at Corpus Christi College. His public lectures on Aristotle's Rhetoric were held in particularly high regard and also remained very popular in their printed version. He resigned his lectureship however, and gave himself more to the study of theology. He was adept in theological debate and entered into the areas of dispute between Protestants and Romanism in significant depth. He studied the Scriptures in the original languages, and read all the Greek and Latin early fathers. It appears that he was gifted with a photographic memory since it was said that "his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to any material passage, in every leaf page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous works he had read." He came to be known as "the very treasury of erudition" and was spoken of as "a living library and a third university".

He became the leader of the puritans at Oxford and proved to be a strong defender of Calvinism. In 1575 he led the case for disciplinary action against Francesco Pucci who publicly taught against various Calvinistic doctrines. The next year he protested against conferring a doctorate on Antonio del Corro because of heretical views in relation to predestination and justification by faith. It was at this time that Rainolds was ordained and quickly became a noted preacher

Rainolds entered into extended debate with John Hart who saw himself as a champion of Romish doctrine. The summary of the debate was published in 1584 as The summe of the conference betweene John Rainoldes and John Hart: touching the head and the faith of the church.

In 1586 Rainolds became a tutor at Queen's College. Rainolds lectured three times a week during term to large audiences: ‘never were any lectures in our memory so frequented as these in that university’, wrote Daniel Featley, ‘nor any in Cambridge, save those of Dr. [William] Whitaker’ (Abel redivivus, 2.226). The Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine was another more widely-known individual who had set himself to refute Protestant teaching and published various books with this aim. While he publicly lectured against Protestantism in the Gregorian University there were those with connections to England who were recording what he delivered. It is said that the notes of his lectures against Protestantism were sent regularly to Rainolds from Rome who refuted them publicly. Rainolds refuted Bellarmine's attempt to make the Apocryphal books part of the Old Testament canon. The 250 lectures were not published during Rainolds's lifetime, but appeared in 1611 in two enormous quarto volumes under the title Censura librorurn apocryphorum veteris testamenti.

Dr. Bancroft, Archbishop Whitgift's chaplain, and his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, maintained in a sermon, preached January 12th, 1588, that "bishops were a distinct order from priests and that they had a superiority over them by divine right, and directly from God." This was a startling doctrine to many at the time. Sir Francis Knollys, one of Queen Elizabeth's distinguished statesmen, remonstrated warmly with Whitgift against it. In a letter to Sir Francis, who had requested his opinion, Dr. Rainolds observes, "All who have labored in reforming the Church, for five hundred years, have taught that all pastors, whether they are entitled bishops or priests, have equal authority and power by God's word; as the Waldenses, next Marsilius Patavinus, then Wiclif and his scholars, afterwards Huss and the Hussites; and Luther, Calvin, Brentius, Bullinger, and Musculus. Among ourselves, we have bishops, the Queen's professors of divinity, and other learned men, as Bradford, Lambert, Jewell, Pilkington, Humphrey, Fulke, &c. But why do I speak of particular persons? It is the opinion of the Reformed Churches of Helvetia, Savoy, France, Scotland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Low Countries, and our own. I hope Dr. Bancroft will not say, that all these have approved that for sound doctrine, which was condemned by the general consent of the whole church as heresy, in the most flourishing time. I hope he will acknowledge that he was overseen, when he announced the superiority of bishops over the rest of the clergy to be God's own ordinance”.

Rainolds went on to say that "unto us Christians, no land is strange, no ground unholy; every coast is Jewry, every town Jerusalem, every house Sion; and every faithful company, yea, every faithful body, a temple to serve God in. The presence of Christ among two or three, gathered together in his name, maketh any place a church, even as the presence of a king with his attendants maketh any place a court."

(to be continued)