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‘A comely gate to so rich and glorious a citie’: The Paratextual Architecture of the Rheims New Testament and the King James Bible

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines Miles Smith’s King James Bible preface, ‘The Translators to the Reader’, excavating the polemical, hermeneutic, and literary contexts that frame the preface and determine its rhetoric, style, and tone. Smith’s preface took shape in response to successive installments of the Catholic Douai-Rheims translation and the Sistine Vulgate of 1590, and drew on classic Protestant principles of argument and exegesis. At stake in these debates was the question of a textual and doctrinal return ad fontes, as both Reformed and Roman polemicists claimed the authority of the early church for their cause. In a detailed examination of the paratexts of the Rheims New Testament and the King James Bible, a compelling case study of the debates surrounding reform and interpretation is provided.

Keywords: church in history, hermeneutics, linguistics, philology, ecclesiology, paratexts, translation

This chapter traces the Protestant response to the publication of the Rheims New Testament, through the controversial exchanges that followed it, but principally through the Preface to the King James Bible of 1611. I will attend primarily to the ways in which these texts set up fictions and constructions of the past to legitimize their respective approaches to translation. ‘The past’ in this context is a functionally elastic concept, which encompasses institutional, philological, and hermeneutic traditions: the ‘matter’ of translation (from the Vulgate or the Greek, in the case of the New Testament) and its ‘manner’ (a focus on ‘the very words’ or the ‘sense’) are deeply imbricated in competing concepts of ecclesiology. In order to win the battle over scripture translation, Protestant divines had to recalibrate their relationship with the history of the early church, and to replace a Catholic narrative of timeless continuity with one of necessary rupture and reinvention.1 That the translation of scripture is about the place of the church in history may be a commonplace assumption; the urgent demand for a break with the corruptions of medieval Catholicism and a return to primitive tradition was, after all, the constant refrain of Reformed polemic. (p. 55) More surprising, perhaps, is the profound importance of ‘place’ and ‘time’, of scriptural history, chronology, and topography, not simply to the metaphorical furniture of early modern Bible translation, but to its strategies of hermeneutic and linguistic self-legitimation, and to the spatial dynamics of the printed page.2

The title quotation of this chapter, ‘A comely gate to so rich and glorious a citie’, is a tribute from an unidentified admirer to Miles Smith, who composed the Preface to the King James Bible, thereby expertly ushering the reader into the riches of the scripture text.3 It is also a textbook definition, avant la lettre, of Gérard Genette’s concept of the paratext, or ‘threshold’ of interpretation: the idea that the production of meaning depends to a significant degree on the framing or material packaging of a text, through features like prefaces, notes, and indexes. The preface, more particularly, is described in Genette’s Paratexts as a ‘“vestibule” that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back. It is an “undefined zone” between the inside and outside [of the text]’.4 The key movements outlined by Genette, ‘stepping inside’ and ‘turning back’, acquire heightened significance in the textual spaces of the Rheims New Testament and the King James Bible: maps, genealogical charts, indexes, chapter summaries, and various types of annotation provide multiple points of entry into the scriptures, as do the various intertexts embedded in the preface and the margins. But the structure of these textual edifices is also built on pivotal moments of historical recuperation; their different visions of how readers can return to the Christian past determine the shape of the scriptures in the present. The 1611 translation emphasizes the primacy of context—of ‘Person, Time, and Place’—in the production and communication of the biblical message, and with it the possibilities and limitations offered by specific moments in history:5 the Septuagint, for instance, was ‘fittest to containe the Scriptures’ in an age when the Greek language held the greatest promise of spreading God’s word, but ‘not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction’.6 In the Rheims Bible, by contrast, change and revision are (p. 56) associated with the ‘windinges and turninges of divers errours’; it follows a different model of history, tracing a direct and continuous ‘line of Prophetical and Apostolical interpretation’ to the ‘most auncient’ text, whose lessons are ‘delivered unto us as it were from hand to hand’.7 In both cases, I will suggest, the method and rationale of translation, the treatment of sources and intertexts, and the combination and arrangement of paratextual material, are deeply inflected by constructions of the cultural, ecclesiological, and philological past.

I. ‘As neere as is possible, to our text’: Constructions of Continuity in the Rheims Translation

In The Sword of the Spirit: Puritan Responses to the Bible, John R. Knott observes that ‘[t]he habit of identifying with the experience of the Israelites, by an essentially ahistorical leap to the truth of the Word, pervades the Geneva Bible’.8 The embattled Israelites, of course, take centre-stage in the title-page engraving of the first edition of 1560, framed by the scriptural promise that ‘The Lord shal fight for you’ (Exodus 14: 14). English Protestants in exile, Patrick Collinson has suggested, readily found an analogy with God’s chosen people because they viewed the scripture text itself as fundamentally transhistorical, ‘of a seamless piece, without caesura or conflict’.9 This pattern of thought is exemplified by the title-page of a 1602 edition of the Geneva translation, where ‘the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles, Old Testament and New, form a single continuous frame for the Four Evangelists, each engaged in the writing of his own distinct but harmonious version of the one Gospel. Two open books proclaim: “Verbum Dei manet in aeternum [the Word of God endureth forever]” ’.10 Collinson traces this textual philosophy into the seventeenth century, and concludes that the ‘motive of protestant expositors and readers, at whatever level, was professedly anti-historicist, making of “Scripture” a text which was not only harmonious but of timeless validity’.11 The evidence of the Rheims and King James prefaces (p. 57) suggests, however, that while this ‘professedly anti-historicist’ stance served the purposes of an English Catholic minority just as much as it had benefited the Geneva exiles twenty years earlier, the King James Bible staged a conscious departure from it, and (paradoxically) sought to establish doctrinal continuity with the early church precisely by recognizing the difference of past writings and cultural practices.

In Gregory Martin’s Preface to the Rheims translation, the process of textual transmission is depicted as transparent, continuous, and largely unproblematic: the Vulgate text—‘most auncient’ and authoritative, in the translators’ estimation—is passed down the generations ‘from hand to hand’, as we have seen; where minor issues have ‘crept in’, through ‘evident corruptions made by the copistes’ [sic] or ‘faultes now a daies committed by the Printer’, they are easily spotted and rectified.12 The timeless truth of scripture is guaranteed by uninterrupted institutional and spiritual continuity, as Martin’s constant appeals to ‘the auncient fathers, General Councels, the Churches of al the west part’ attest: ‘let us in the name of God folow them, speake as they spake, translate as they translated, interprete as they interpreted, because we beleeve as they beleeved’ (c2v). The paratextual architecture of the Rheims translation reinforces the primacy of ‘universal’ and ‘uniforme’ consent at every turn (b1r). In the notes appended to the second chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel, for instance, historical events are folded into transhistorical cycles of ritual and ceremony. To elucidate the phrase ‘behold, there came Sages from the East to Jerusalem’ (Matthew 2: 1), the translators initially refer the reader to a marginal note: ‘The holy feast of the Epiphanie called Twelfth-day the 6 of Januarie, upon which day this is the Gospel’ (A3r).13 At the end of the chapter, there is a further note on the word ‘Behold’, reminding us that Epiphany also initiates a new phase in the expansion of the church: ‘therfore is Twelfth day highly celebrated in the Catholike Churche for joy of the calling of us Gentils. His baptisme also and first miracle are celebrated on the same day’ (A3v).14 What the reader is asked to ‘behold’ here is not a specific moment in history, but a timeless tableau which unites scriptural past, present liturgical practice, and future narratives of conversion and triumph. As we move from text to margin to end note, guided by asterisks and daggers (stars and crosses of sorts), the Rheims translators encourage us to draw a direct line from the manger at Bethlehem to a sixteenth-century Catholic church. This connection is made explicit by the note on Matthew 2: 11 (‘And entring into the house, they founde the childe with MARIE his mother, & falling downe adored him’):

Adored him] This body (saith S. Chrysostom.) the Sages adored in the cribbe …. [T]hou seest him not now in the cribbe, but on the altar: not a woman holding him, but the Priest present, and the Holy Ghost powred out aboundantly upon the sacrifice. (A3r–v)

(p. 58) The scene of Christ’s nativity is made present again in the sacrament, and the translators’ note allows us to ‘behold’ the recapitulation of sacred history in timeless ritual. But just in case anyone should have overlooked this connection, the translators include a further marginal note, and a final reminder that Matthew 2: 11 serves as a proof-text for the ‘Adoration of the B. Sacrament’ (A3v).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the argument for a timeless ecclesiastical and textual tradition is at its most intensely territorial—and least paratextually subtle—in the translators’ defence of the Roman canon of scripture. This four-page section consists of a list of books held to be authentic by the church, and a five-point programme establishing its principles of canonicity. ‘The discerning of Canonical from not Canonical’, emphatically, ‘commeth unto us, only by the credite we give unto the Catholike Churche … which even from the most grounded and founded seates of the Apostles, is established until this day, by the line of Bishops succeeding one an other, & by the consent of so many peoples’ (d1v–d2r). The process of transmission is made explicit in the typographical and spatial structure of this section: rather than using embedded quotations and marginal citations as in the Preface, the five-point checklist on how to establish canonicity is simply a series of glosses on patristic axioms—with the visual effect of having the fathers speak ex cathedra, as it were. Once again, this strategy attempts to contain the very idea of a canon that might evolve beyond the wisdom of the primitive church, but it also seeks further ideological retrenchment through a unique (in this book, at least) deployment of the margin. All references except one link ancient heresies combated by the Fathers to contemporary enemies of the Roman faith, and usually in matching numbers. This has the obvious effect of turning the margin into a tool of marginalization, and other faiths into ‘heretikes’ and ‘usurpers’ of the promised scriptural land, as the following quotation from Tertullian’s De praescriptionibus adversus haereticos illustrates (the corresponding ‘heretics’ in the margin are ‘Luther, Zvinglius, Calvin’):

Who are you, when, and from whence came you? what doe you in my possession, … by what right (Marcion) doest thou cut downe my wood? who gave the licence (ȏ Valentine) to turne the course of my fountaines? by what authoritie (Apelles) doest thou remove my boundes? … It is my possession, I possesse it of old, I have assured origins thereof. (d2r)

Even the manner of questioning (the specifics of ‘who’, ‘when’, and ‘from whence’) relegates doctrinal dissent to the minor and local status of a temporary affliction or parenthesis, unable on principle to compete with the origins of the faith. And by keeping the notion of heresy in a spatial and historical vacuum—the marginal reference allows us to recognize contemporary threats like Calvin and Luther in a lateral move, but not a forward one—the translators also keep alive the hope of permanent containment, with core texts like Tertullian’s both the ‘principal’ and the ‘last’ line of defence in the battle for ‘the most grounded and founded seates of the Apostles’ (d2r). This strategy is replicated in the Preface, which equates ‘the Arrian’ and ‘the Calvinian interpretation’ of a passage from 1 Corinthians, for instance (b1v); and in the ‘Table Directing The Reader To Al Catholike truthes’, which simply cross-references ‘Protestants’ with ‘Heretikes’ (DDDDD2v).

This desire to establish proximity of time and place between contemporary Catholic practice and collective judgement of the early church consistently informs the translators’ interpretive and linguistic choices: ecclesiology frequently merges with philology. ‘[W]e have used no partialitie for the disadvantage of our adversaries, nor no more licence then is (p. 59) sufferable in translating of holy Scriptures’, Martin asserts, ‘keeping our selves as neere as is possible, to our text & to the very wordes and phrases which by long use are made venerable, though to some prophane or delicate eares they may seeme more hard or barbarous … lest we misse the sense, we must keepe the very wordes’ (b2r–v). The word ‘neere’ is more than a synonym for ‘faithful’ here, and powerfully reapplies Martin’s topographical and chronological lexicon to the activity of translation. Literalism is understood as a form of time travel, or a means of reopening a direct channel of communication with the sacred past: to come ‘near’ the original language is to reconnect with the primitive church. But the example of Matthew 2: 11 perhaps also encourages us to understand this insistence on ‘the very words’ as a linguistic analogy for the real presence. By keeping the phrases of the Vulgate ‘word for word, and point for point, for feare of missing, or restraining the sense of the holy Ghost’ (c3v), the Rheims translation seeks to co-opt the power of the sacrament, and equates literalism with a notion of embodied speech which is more than a linguistic approximation, or a ghostly memorial of the original scripture utterance.

This is why, in another telling elision of meaning, Martin can claim to be ‘very precise and religious in folowing our copie, the old vulgar approved Latin’ (c3r). Being precise and being religious are one and the same, in a fully materialized conjunction of doctrine, liturgy, and philology. This approach is designed to preserve the mystery of scripture, but it often sacrifices readability. Where the King James account of Old Testament rites at Numbers 6: 17 clearly prescribes that the priest ‘shall offer the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread’, the Roman translation is notably less user-friendly: ‘the ramme he shal immolate for a pacifique hoste to the Lord, offering withal the baskette of azymes’.15

The Rheims translators’ focus on timeless and ‘uniforme consent’ also informs their treatment of sources and proof-texts. Throughout the Preface, individual judgement is pushed into the ‘private’ sphere of ‘Sectaries’ and fringe opinion, where it cannot threaten to relativize or subvert authority; the virtuous lay readers of the early church, Martin notes with evident approval, ‘referred them selves in all hard places, to the judgement of the auncient fathers and their maisters in religion, never presuming to contend, controule, teach or talke of their owne sense and phantasie, in deepe questions of divinitie’ (a3v). By the same token, however, the ‘Universal Church’ must deliver to ‘the good and simple’ universal rules of doctrine and religious conduct, as the following exposition of a passage from Augustine’s Contra Cresconium demonstrates (b2v–b3r).16 In doubtful points of doctrine

that in deede are not decided by Scripture, he [Augustine] giveth us this goodly rule to be folowed in all, as he exemplifieth in one. Then doe we hold (saith he) the veritie of the Scriptures, when wee doe that which now hath seemed good to the Universal Church, which the authoritie of the Scriptures themselues doth commend: so that, forasmuch as the holy Scripture can not deceive, whosoever is afraid to be deceived with the obscuritie of questions, let him therein aske counsel of the same Church, which the holy Scripture most certainely and evidently sheweth and pointeth unto. Aug. li. I. Cont. Crescon. c. 13. (b3r)

(p. 60) Martin’s Augustine is elevated and canonized through the process of citation; he is made to pronounce globally on the relationship between scripture and authority, called not simply to speak for his own time, but adjudicating past practice and laying down laws for future conduct.17 This attitude towards citation and interpretation, and the view of history that underpins it, comes to be questioned by Protestant controversialists in response to the publication of the Rheims New Testament, in defence of their church, and of their own translations.

II. ‘This is your usuall kinde of reasoning, of a particular to inferre an universall’: The Particularity of History in the King James Bible

By the time the Protestant controversialist William Fulke arrived at this unflattering summation of Martin’s argumentative strategy in 1589, he had been debating his Roman opponent on the subject of Bible translation for some time.18 Fulke and Martin first locked horns in 1582: Martin had published A Discovery of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holy Scriptures by the Heretics of our Days, Specially the English Sectaries, and Fulke responded with A Defence of the Sincere and True Translations of the Holy Scriptures into the English Tongue against the Manifold Cavils, Frivolous Quarrels and Impudent Slaunders of Gregory Martin. Seven years later, Fulke published an encyclopedic refutation of the Rheims New Testament, which included a detailed dissection of Martin’s Preface. As we will see, this text provides the best point of entry for understanding the rationale behind Smith’s Preface to the King James Bible.

In order to gauge the difference between the Roman and Protestant approaches to ecclesiology and translation, we must first attend to Fulke’s attempt to redefine the meaning of the terms ‘universall’ and ‘particular’. In the quotation that introduced this section, Fulke uses both terms to describe a form of argument, but they are ultimately inseparable from his broader perspective on church history and doctrine:

the Popish Church … is not Catholike, but particular and hereticall, yea Antichristian, and hath no succession in doctrine, from the Apostles and the Bishops of the Primitive Church, whose doctrine it hateth and persecuteth. For it is continuance in the same doctrine, that S. Augustine commendeth, and not sitting in the same place, where the Apostles and auncient Bishops satte. (C6v)

Once again, the rhetoric gravitates relentlessly towards topographical and chronological discourses, but the positions are now inverted. ‘Continuance’ and ‘succession’ appear (p. 61) not as seamless lines of descent—and ideally the meeting of present and past ‘in the same place’—but as more complexly particularized moments of dialogue between different cultures. For Fulke, the desire to rejoin ‘the Apostles and auncient Bishops’ and sit in their seat only signifies arrogant presumption; past and present, though connected by ‘the same doctrine’, have distinct identities and require particular forms of analysis and understanding. Thus, paradoxically, it is in the insistence on extrapolating timeless, global meaning from individual cases that the Catholic Church reveals itself as the ‘particular and hereticall’ Church of Rome, rather than the true, universal embodiment of Christianity. Throughout his response to Martin’s Preface, Fulke thinks about the processes of doctrinal and philological transmission in terms of ‘place’—their spatial, cultural, and textual situation—and maintains that we cannot determine our relationship with authentic apostolic doctrine without first attending to the local and specific contexts of beliefs and practices.

Fulke’s answer to Martin’s ‘usuall kinde of reasoning, of a particular to inferre an universall’, is to proceed ‘circumspectly, and advisedly’, by ‘establishing the scope of the text, and circumstances thereof’ (C1v). These techniques of circumspection are nowhere more apparent than in Fulke’s treatment of the patristic topoi—commonplaces or proof-texts—cited by his opponent. Fulke revisits Martin’s quotation from Augustine’s Contra Cresconium, for instance; while his conclusions are entirely unsurprising (the ‘Church … hath wisdome to decide questions by Scripture, not auctoritie to determine of points of doctrine, not decided by the Scriptures’, B3r), the differences in exegetical method are illuminating. Fulke begins by noting the setting and occasion of the patristic text: Augustine’s remarks on the relationship between scriptural and institutional authority were initiated by ‘controversie betweene him and the Donatists, that such as were baptized by heretikes might not be rebaptized’ (B2v). He then goes on to argue that Augustine proves the doctrinal case not by appealing to church authority, but by reference to scriptural precept and analogy, citing, first, ‘the saying of our Saviour Christ to Peter: He that is once washed, neede not to be washed again’, and then ‘the example of the Samaritanes, who being circumcised in schisme and heresie, were not circumcised againe, when they were converted to the true Religion of the Jewes’ (B2v).

It is only when his Donatist opponent ‘would still urge’ the particular example of baptism by heretics that Augustine refers the matter ‘to the judgement of the whole Church’; but since the doctrinal gist of the matter has already been decided by scripture, Fulke suggests, this is a minor case of ‘particular opinions and practises’ (B3r). Fulke has been able to reach this conclusion by close attention to textual and contextual circumstances: he refers the reader to other key moments in Contra Cresconium (especially ‘the Chapter going before’), evaluates Augustine’s use of scripture texts, and sets the debate in the wider context of patristic thought and doctrinal development: ‘[t]he obscuritie of this question, grew by the contrary judgement and practise of S. Cyprians time, which the whole Church, by auctoritie of the Scriptures, had reformed in S. Augustines time’ (B3r). This method seeks to preserve the idea of eternal scriptural verities, but also aims to account for the inevitable impact of cultural change and development.

The project of claiming doctrinal ‘continuance’ and ‘succession’ for the Protestant cause continues in Miles Smith’s Preface to the King James Bible, ‘The Translators to the Reader’. But where Fulke’s argument is limited by the parameters of refutation, Smith returns to first principles, and instead of engaging in controversy aims to make a positive case for specifically Protestant forms of historiography and philology. Throughout his introduction to (p. 62) the 1611 Bible, Smith picks up on the connections between doctrine and translation that characterize the Rheims Preface. Furthermore, like their Roman counterparts, the King James translators arrange paratextual furniture in a way that reflects the place of their church in history. One significant addition in this respect is a 34-page section of genealogical charts, ‘[a]mongst whose manifold uses, this is the chiefest, that by them is prooved how Christ was made very man. And therefore in severall Tables they are heere exhibited even from their first roote, and so continued through their spreading branches, so farre as the Scripture giveth them sap’.19

At an important level, the concept of continuity exhibited by these charts is timeless and direct: the Spirit or scripture ‘sap’ runs through every generation and ensures the preservation of the faith. This providential or eschatological reading of human history is reinforced by many of the illustrations that accompany the charts: Adam and Eve, for instance, are depicted at the Tree of Knowledge, and the scene includes an impressive-looking snake, a skeleton in a coffin, and some heavy scriptural hints on the issues of sin, death, and redemption (notably Romans 5: 19, ‘As by one mans disobedience many were made sinners’; and Hosea 13: 14, ‘O Death I will be thy death’; A2r) (Figure 3.1). But this is only part of the story. The genealogies are framed by a reminder that ‘The Spirit of God in the sacred History, hath laid downe such helps, as are the light and life of all Nations originals. In them the circumstances of Person, Time, and Place, are the chiefe; else doe wee wander as without a guide’ (A1v). And while the charts cannot be said to articulate anthropological interests in the modern sense, they nevertheless express a composite view of history made up of distinctive societies and cultures, and a Christian world defined by the particular ‘circumstances of Person, Time, and Place’. The King James Bible genealogies contain a system of visual cues that describe different forms of social connections and relationships and record difficult or ruptural moments in the succession narrative: direct descent from parent to child, for instance, is figured as a double vertical line running between names (which are in turn represented in circles or ‘rundles’); the names of nations and peoples are represented in rectangular ‘Compartiments, and different letters betwixt direct lines, … and the Names next under them, are not inserted as certainly thence descended, but as eminent Persons among them’ (A1v).

A crucial watershed, both visually and historiographically, is marked by the representation of God’s people before and after the flood. The second and third pages of the genealogical chart juxtapose two different views of humanity: an ante-diluvian version, depicted as a tree growing out of Noah’s Ark, faces the much more complex and detailed diagram of lines, ‘rundles’, and ‘compartiments’ I have just described. The tree represents the families of Noah and his sons, and is framed on the left by a quotation from Acts 17: ‘God that made the world, of one bloud hath made al mankind to dwell upon the face of the earth’ (A2v). To the right of the tree, however, is another quotation which reminds us of the consequences of (p. 63) (p. 64) the Flood—‘out of these were the Nations divided in the Earth’—and forms the point of transition to the genealogical charts proper, beginning with Noah’s eldest son Shem. From this moment onwards, ‘one bloud’ is ‘divided’ into variegated strands of cultural and religious development: on the first page alone the chart ramifies into Persian, Assyrian, and Aramite tribes. And significantly, as the accompanying illustration of the Tower of Babel on this page suggests, the process of cultural diversification entails linguistic change. In the words of the scripture gloss: ‘In this age and at the building of Babel, the language was divided, … but in Christs Apostles, when the heavenly temple was built, every nation understood their language’ (A2v–A3r; Figure 3.2).

This dual precondition of fallen existence, ‘one bloud … divided’ and ‘language … divided’, is the starting point for Smith’s defence of Protestant ecclesiology and philology. Babel and the Flood (in another paradoxical spin on Christian chronology) divide us from the apostolic past and ‘what ever was perfect’ then: ‘Apostles or Apostolike men’ were able to make themselves understood to all because they were ‘priviledged with the priviledge of infallibilitie’ (A6v).20 Instead of ‘uniforme’ consent and transhistorical communion, Smith offers a vision of the past as radically plural and particular. Those who followed in the tradition of the Apostles, he asserts, were ‘men and not God’, ‘Interpreters, … not prophets’, and ‘as men they stumbled and fell’ (A5r). One might be tempted to conclude that the past is a different country, but that would be missing the point: the absence of topographical and territorial metaphors in Smith’s Preface is itself one way of measuring the distance between Protestant and Catholic models of language and history.

But if the apostolic mission cannot be replicated exactly, if we cannot travel back to ‘the same place’, in what sense can Smith’s church—and its new translation of the scriptures—claim ‘continuance’ with early Christianity? The answer lies in a continual process of development, change, and accommodation. In order for eternal truth to be communicated as the living word, Smith contends, it must remain responsive to cultural change, ‘notwithstanding that some imperfections and blemishes may be noted in the setting foorth of it’ (A6v). At a time when Greek was the ‘fittest’ means of conversion, for instance, the Septuagint had the effect of a ‘candle set upon a candlesticke, which giveth light to all that are in the house’, but in contrast to the Roman desire to revert to the ‘authentic’ text, translation forms a pragmatic point of departure rather than an inviolable point of origin: ‘that Translation was not so sound and so perfect, but that it needed in many places correction’ (A5r).21 For Smith, translation has a forward momentum and takes account of institutional and linguistic evolution: ‘blessed be they, and most honoured be their name, that breake the yce, and giveth the onset upon that which helpeth forward to the saving of soules’ (A6r). The 1611 translation sees itself emphatically as (p. 65) (p. 66) part of this ongoing process of reinvention and renewal: ‘wee never thought from the beginning, that we should neede to make a new Translation, … but to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principall good one’ (B1v).

In their attempt to improve previous English versions of the Bible, the King James translators returned to Hebrew and Greek, ‘the two golden pipes, or rather conduits, … fountaines, … [the] precedent, or originall tongues’ (B1v). This means that the Vulgate is regarded as ultimately instrumental, a pragmatic medium of communication, rather than the absolute, ‘authentic’ standard of perfection invoked by the Rheims Preface. Latin translations were necessary, Smith argues, because ‘within a few hundreth yeeres after CHRIST, … very many Countreys of the West, yea of the South, East and North, spake or understood Latine, being made Provinces to the Romanes’ (A5r). But even at this point in the history of scripture, the movement is towards textual revision and linguistic evolution: Smith notes, with reference to Augustine, that ‘the Latine translations [of the Old Testament] were too many to be all good, for they were infinite’ and that they derived from a ‘muddie’ ‘Greeke streame’; this is why Jerome, the ‘best linguist without controversie, of his age, or of any that went before him’, was charged with the task of surveying extant translations and eventually undertook ‘the translating of the Old Testament, out of the very fountaines themselves’.22 And it is Jerome who articulates the philological and historiographical principles that lead Smith to assert that ‘to have the Scriptures in the mother-tongue is not a quaint conceit lately taken up … but hath bene thought upon, and put in practise of old’ (A5v); in his Preface to the translation of the Pentateuch, Jerome insists that ‘we condemne the ancient … [i]n no case: but after the endevours of them that were before us, wee take the best paines we can in the house of God’.23 In order to consolidate his case, and simultaneously counter the Rheims translators’ emphasis on the timeless authority of the fathers, Smith highlights the constant patristic drive towards revision and self-correction: ‘Saint Augustine was not afraide to exhort S. Herome to a Palinodia or recantation; the same S. Augustine was not ashamed to retractate, we might say revoke, many things that had passed him, and doth even glory that he seeth his infirmities’ (B1r).

If textual development and change are the working principles of the earliest Christian scholars, Smith suggests, Roman theologians have little justification for objecting to ‘the difference that appeareth betweene our Translations, and our often correcting of them’ (B1r). By way of adding controversial braces to the belt of principle, however, he also claims that the Catholic Church fails to live up to its own demands of ‘uniformity’ (another word that resonates richly with the rhetoric of the Rheims Preface): did not Pope Sixtus V ‘ordaine by an inviolable decree’ that the Bible produced under his reign was the last word, when a mere two years later, Clement VIII, ‘his immediate successour, publisheth another edition of the Bible, containing in it infinite differences from that of Sixtus, (and many of them waightie and materiall) and yet this must be authentike by all meanes’?24 And, in a final rhetorical question, he asks, ‘what is sweet harmonie and consent, if this be?’ (B1v).

The project of philological re-evaluation is inseparable from the prime goal of effective communication. Smith’s continuing connection with those ‘that breake the yce’ is ‘to (p. 67) deliver Gods booke unto Gods people in a tongue which they understand’ (or, in a more bracing quotation from Augustine’s City of God, ‘A man had rather be with his dog then with a stranger (whose tongue is strange unto him)’) (A6r).25 ‘[W]e desire that the Scripture may speake like it selfe, as in the language of Canaan, that it may be understood even of the very vulgar’ (B2v); by contrast, the Rheims approach merely creates stylistic ‘obscuritie, … in their Azimes, Tunike, Rational, Holocausts, Praepuce, Pasche, and a number of such like, whereof their late Translation [i.e. Rheims] is full’ (B2v).26 In order to achieve this aim, Smith argues, the King James translators have committed themselves not to ‘the very words’, but to a more idiomatic approach that reflects the ‘sense and meaning’ of ‘the spirit’, ‘[f]or it is confessed, that things are to take their denomination of the greater part’ (A6v). However, as Fulke’s discussion of the same issues makes clear, the argument about archaic diction and literal translation inevitably feeds back into one about history:

That in translation of the scriptures, the very words must be kept, as nere as it is possible, and the phrase of the tongue into which we translate wil beare, we do acknowledge … That the ancient doctors refused not the Barbarismes and the solæcismes of the vulgar Latin translation, which they then had, it was because they did write in Latin, to be understood of the common people, to whom the Latin tongue was vulgar, and that translation familiar: not that those Barbarismes & solaecismes by long use became venerable, or that it is any example for you, to bring in Latine and Greeke words into the English text, neither used before, nor understood now of the English people. (B2r)

‘As nere as it is possible’ is a plea for philological accuracy, rather than a testament to the inherent benefits of the ageing process. The fathers tolerated linguistic infelicities when they aided their pastoral mission, Fulke suggests, but would not have expected or tolerated the veneration of Vulgate ‘Barbarismes’ in the sixteenth century. The presence of ‘Latine and Greek words’ in the Rheims translation has the same effect as a mock Tudor cottage would on a modern housing estate, neither a faithful echo of the past nor a real conversation with the present. In order to speak effectively to ‘the English people’, Fulke’s ally Smith notes (once again in deliberate reply to Martin’s Preface), the translation must reflect the linguistic diversity of lived discourse: ‘wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish’ (B2v). The translators did ‘not varie from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places’; at the same time, however, ‘that we should expresse the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, … Journeying, neuer Traveiling, … wee thought to savour more of curiositie then wisedome’ (B2v).

Smith insists throughout that the word of God must and will withstand some accommodation to linguistic context and cultural change: ‘the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set foorth by men of our profession … containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God’ (A6v); in fact, Smith claims, the King James translators’ approach finds its (p. 68) ‘patterne for elocution’ in ‘God’ himself, ‘using divers words, in his holy writ, and indifferently for one thing in nature’ (B2v). The marginal notes to the Preface constantly rearticulate the ‘wisedome’ of the translators’ method: in addition to citations from scripture and from patristic, classical, medieval, and early modern proof-texts, Smith’s margins are populated by Greek words. The corresponding sections in the text are marked off by vertical double lines, and often show consciously idiomatic renderings. Every time this happens, the reader is alerted to the deliberate avoidance of archaism—of words ‘neither used before, nor understood now’—and is made to register both the difference of the philological past and Smith’s easy expertise in bringing its riches into the present.27

The Preface continues its process of linguistic reinvention in its treatment of patristic quotation: Smith notes, as we have seen, that ‘S. Augustine was not ashamed to retractate, we might say revoke, many things that had passed him’ (B1r). Rhetorical strategies such as this one—changing the verb ‘retractate’ to ‘revoke’, in order to usher it into the seventeenth century—reaffirm the crucial link between translation and ecclesiology, doctrinal and linguistic choices. To the Rheims translators, the literal rendering of ‘retractate’ preserves the spirit of Augustine’s authority; for the King James translators, Augustine becomes an icon of renewal: were he alive in 1611, the first order of business would be to ‘retractate’ his allegiance to a ‘hereticall and particular’ Catholic church and its outdated adherence to contrived Latinity. In Smith’s Preface, as we have seen, it is the ancient fathers themselves who reject the idea of dogmatic conservationism and instead insist throughout on the contextual contingency of their work. True ‘continuance’ with the early church, then, depends on an acknowledgement of cultural and linguistic discontinuities (in the same way that scriptural opacity paradoxically facilitates a more profound understanding of its message); the Protestant identity of the King James Bible emerges not simply through a break with the Catholic past, but by emphasizing the tears and seams in the fabric of human history.

These moments of dissonance are foregrounded by the 1611 translators’ decision to ‘set diversitie of sences in the margin, where there is great probability for each’ (B2r).28 Smith begins by noting the obvious Roman objection to this point: that ‘the authoritie of the Scriptures for deciding of controversies by that shew of uncertaintie, should somewhat be shaken’ (B2r). He subsequently suggests, however, that such textual difficulties are intentional and productive: they are providentially designed ‘to exercise and whet our wits’, to encourage us to search the scriptures. In this remark, Smith also affirms what was perceived as the most commonly noted distinction between Protestant and Catholic approaches to the Bible in the early modern period (at least in theory); he reifies the judgement of the individual reader, over and above that of collective authority:

They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at libertie in differences of readings, then to be captivated to one, when it may be the other. If they were sure that their hie Priest had all lawes shut up in his brest, as Paul the second bragged, and that he were as free from errour by special priviledge, as the Dictators of Rome were made by law inviolable, it were an other matter; then his word were an Oracle, his opinion a decision. But the eyes of the world (p. 69) are now open, God be thanked, and have bene a great while, they find that he is subject to the same affections and infirmities, that others be, that his skin is penetrable. (B2r)

Smith’s analogy between textual ‘uniformitie’ and papal infallibility paves the way for another classic trope: the liberation of the Protestant reader from the ‘bondage’ of the Roman magisterium (B2v). And once again, this is a topical argument in more senses than one; Smith insists that judgement cannot reside absolutely in a single place—the Pope’s ‘brest’, Rome—and thus replaces the notion of Petrine succession with a more historically supple and particularized notion of doctrinal continuity.

It is worth restating that, in their fundamental positions on scripture reading, Smith’s and Martin’s prefaces offer few surprises. The chief interest and importance of both pieces resides in the systematic connections they make between doctrinal and textual decisions, and between hermeneutic and historical method. The Rheims and King James Bibles do not simply promulgate ideas about the reader’s relationship with scripture in discursive prefaces, but manipulate the book as material object to encourage desired responses in the reader. Through their approach to citation and annotation, and in their use of maps, genealogical charts, and indexes, these two Bibles embody two radically different views of scripture truth and church history. In practice, readers doubtless deviated from the path set out by their guides. But it will be easier to understand the nature and significance of readerly choices—including moments of overt resistance or compliance—if we have a better understanding of the concepts and strategies authors used to direct the textual movements of their audience. The pressure to succeed in this project was nowhere more intense than in a culture that read scriptural topography as a way into the kingdom of heaven.29

Further Reading

Backus, Irena. Historical Method and Confessional Identity in the Era of the Reformation (1378–1615) (Leiden: Brill, 2003).Find this resource:

    Collinson, Patrick. ‘The Coherence of the Text: How it Hangeth Together: The Bible in Reformation England’, in W. P. Stephens (ed.), The Bible, the Reformation and the Church: Essays in Honour of James Anderson, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, supplement series, 105 (1995): 84–108.Find this resource:

      (p. 70) Ettenhuber, Katrin. ‘“Take vp and read the Scriptures”: Patristic Interpretation and the Poetics of Abundance in “The Translators to the Reader” (1611)’. Huntington Library Quarterly, 75 (2012): 213–32.Find this resource:

        Genette, Gérard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, tr. Jane E. Lewin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).Find this resource:

          Heal, Felicity. ‘Appropriating History: Catholic and Protestant Polemics and the National Past’. Huntington Library Quarterly, 68 (2005): 109–32.Find this resource:

            King, John N., and Aaron T. Pratt. ‘The Materiality of English Printed Bibles from the Tyndale New Testament to the King James Bible’, in Hannibal Hamlin and Norman W. Jones (eds), The King James Bible After 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic, and Cultural Influences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 61–99.Find this resource:

              Knott, John R. The Sword of the Spirit: Puritan Responses to the Bible (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).Find this resource:

                Liere, Katherine van, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan, eds. Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).Find this resource:

                  Smith, Helen, and Louise Wilson, eds. Renaissance Paratexts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).Find this resource:

                    Spurr, John. ‘“A special kindness for dead bishops”: The Church, History, and Testimony in Seventeenth-Century Protestantism’. Huntington Library Quarterly, 68 (2005): 313–34.Find this resource:

                      Stallybrass, Peter. ‘Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible’, in Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (eds), Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 42–79.Find this resource:

                        Tribble, Evelyn B. Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in Early Modern England (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1993).Find this resource:


                          (1) On the ubiquity of this argument in early modern controversial discourse, see Felicity Heal, ‘Appropriating History: Catholic and Protestant Polemics and the National Past’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 68 (2005): 109–32; John Spurr, ‘“A special kindness for dead bishops”: The Church, History, and Testimony in Seventeenth-Century Protestantism’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 68 (2005): 313–34; and Katrin Ettenhuber, ‘“Take vp and read the Scriptures”: Patristic Interpretation and the Poetics of Abundance in “The Translators to the Reader” (1611)’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 75 (2012): 213–32.

                          (2) On the physical presentation of early modern Bibles, see John N. King and Aaron T. Pratt, ‘The Materiality of English Printed Bibles from the Tyndale New Testament to the King James Bible’, in Hannibal Hamlin and Norman W. Jones (eds), The King James Bible after 400 Years: Literary, Linguistic, and Cultural Influences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 61–99. On early modern attitudes to the early church and to religious history more generally, see Katherine van Liere, Simon Ditchfield, and Howard Louthan (eds), Sacred History: Uses of the Christian Past in the Renaissance World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Irena Backus, Historical Method and Confessional Identity in the Era of the Reformation (1378–1615) (Leiden: Brill, 2003).

                          (4) Gérard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 2. A recent collection of essays edited by Helen Smith and Louise Wilson offers ‘a response to, and an extension of, Genette’s wide-ranging taxonomy’; the contributors emphasize ‘the importance of investigating the particular paratextual conventions in play in different periods’, the need to ‘engage with early modern books which are visible as well as legible’, and the multi-directional dynamic of paratextual elements. See Renaissance Paratexts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 2–3, 6. On the aesthetic power of liminal spaces more generally, see Subha Mukherji (ed.), Thinking on Thresholds: The Poetics of Transitive Spaces (London: Anthem Press, 2011).

                          (5) The Holy Bible, conteyning the Old Testament, and the New (1611), ‘The Translators to the Reader’, A1v. Most copies of the 1st edn duplicate signatures across the Preface and the other paratextual material; for clarity’s sake, therefore, references to ‘Smith’ are to the Preface, and ‘KJB’ references are to other paratexts. The quotation is from the headnote to the KJB’s genealogical charts. On the print history of the King James Bible, see further nn. 19 and 20.

                          (6) Smith, A5r. On Smith, see John Tiller, ‘Smith, Miles (d. 1624)’, in the ODNB, 2008 <>. Smith was a member of the first Oxford Company of translators and worked on the prophetic books of the Old Testament. He was appointed Bishop of Gloucester in 1612. The unidentified author of the preface to Smith’s Sermons notes that Smith was an ‘expert in the Chaldie, Syriacke and Arabicke, that he made them as familiar to him almost as his owne native tongue’ (¶¶2r) and praises his knowledge of ‘the Greeke and Latin Fathers’, which rivals that of the most learned ‘Professors’ (ibid.). On Smith’s churchmanship and diocesan activities, see Kenneth Fincham, Prelate as Pastor: The Episcopate of James I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).

                          (7) The New Testament of Jesus Christ, Translated Faithfully into English … in the College of Rheims (Rheims, 1582), b3r, c2v, c3r, d2v (hereafter ‘Rheims’). On the inception, planning, and execution of the Catholic Bible in English, see Cameron A. MacKenzie, The Battle for the Bible in England, 1557–1582 (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), esp. chs 4, 7, and 8.

                          (8) John R. Knott, The Sword of the Spirit: Puritan Responses to the Bible (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 29.

                          (9) Patrick Collinson, ‘The Coherence of the Text: How it Hangeth Together: The Bible in Reformation England’, in W. P. Stephens (ed.), The Bible, the Reformation and the Church: Essays in Honour of James Anderson (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 92.

                          (12) Rheims, c1v. On Martin, see Thomas M. McCoog, ‘Martin, Gregory (1542?–1582)’, ODNB, 2004 <>. For a bibliographical description of the Rheims New Testament, including a description of the paratexts, see T. H. Darlow and H. F. Moule, Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525–1961, rev. and expanded by A. S. Herbert (London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1968), 95–6 (no. 177; see also no. 258, on the 2nd edn of the New Testament (1600), and no. 300, on the complete Douay Rheims Bible, published in 2 vols in 1609/10).

                          (13) On scripture marginalia from Tyndale to the KJB, see Evelyn B. Tribble, Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in Early Modern England (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1993), ch. 1.

                          (14) In addition to marginalia and endnotes, the Rheims translators include summaries for each chapter and book of the New Testament (cumulatively, these framing devices create the effect of a pared back, more user-friendly version of the Vulgate with Glossa Ordinaria).

                          (16) The full title of Augustine’s treatise is Contra Cresconium grammaticum partis Donati (composed 405–6). The Donatists were a schismatic body in the African church who became divided from the Catholics; Augustine’s numerous disputations with leading Donatist theologians centre on the sacrament of baptism.

                          (17) On the versatile uses of Augustine in early modern religious culture, see Arnoud Visser, Reading Augustine in the Reformation: The Flexibility of Intellectual Authority in Europe 1500–1620 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

                          (18) Quotation in the section heading is from William Fulke, The Text of the New Testament of Jesus Christ, Translated out of the Vulgar Latine by the Papists (London, 1589), C1v. On Fulke, see Richard Bauckham, Jr., ‘The Career and Thought of Dr. William Fulke (1537–1589)’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1973.

                          (19) KJB, A1v. See Darlow and Moule, rev. Herbert, Historical Catalogue, 132: the Genealogies of Holy Scripture and a map are inserted before Genesis; both were compiled by the historian John Speed (?1552–1629), ‘apparently at the suggestion, and with the assistance of Hugh Broughton (1549–1612)’. Speed ‘obtained a patent for ten years, dated 31 Oct. 1610, giving him the right to insert them in every edition of the new version of the Bible’. See further, Francis Fry, A Description of the Great Bible … also of the Editions, in Large Folio, of the Authorized Version of the Holy Scriptures (London: Willis & Sotheran, 1865), 32, 40–1. For a full bibliographical description of the editio princeps of the King James Bible, see Historical Catalogue, Darlow and Moule, rev. Herbert, 131–2.

                          (20) Smith’s preface is now available in an annotated version, The Translators to the Reader, ed. Erroll F. Rhodes and Liana Lupas (New York: American Bible Society, 1997). Since Rhodes and Lupas modernize spelling and punctuation, I am citing from the 1611 version of Smith’s text (STC 2216, the copy held in Cambridge University Library). Smith’s preface was included in the folio edition of the King James Bible (STC 2216), but not in the earliest (1611) separate edition of the New Testament (STC 2909), or in the first quarto (STC 2210; 1612) or octavo (STC 2221; 1612) editions of the KJB. See Historical Catalogue, Darlow and Moule, rev. Herbert, 130–5; and Fry, A Description of the Great Bible.

                          (21) On the composition of the King James Bible, see W. S. Allen and E. C. Jacobs, The Coming of the King James Gospels (Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press, 1995); E. C. Jacobs, ‘Two Stages of Old Testament Translation for the King James Bible’, The Library, 6th ser. 11 (1980): 16–39; David Norton, A Textual History of the King James Bible (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

                          (22) Smith, A5r–v (invoking another effective polemical trope in the call for a philological return ad fontes).

                          (23) Smith, A6r; see Jerome, Praefatio … in Pentateuchum: ‘damnamus veteres? minime: sed post priorum studia, in domo Domini quod possumus, laboramus’ (PL 28.151A).

                          (24) The Bible published under the auspices of Sixtus V in 1590 was replaced by his successor Clement VIII in 1592. The Clementine Bible remained the standard Catholic Latin Bible until the publication of the Nova Vulgata in 1979. Smith’s argument was helped by his own particular time and place in scripture history.

                          (25) See Augustine, De civitate Dei 19.7, ‘ita ut libentius homo sit cum cane suo, quam cum homine alieno’ (PL 41.634).

                          (26) According to Smith, the Puritans display a similar ‘scrupulositie’ and ‘nicenesse in wordes’, albeit for very different reasons: they ‘leaue the olde Ecclesiasticall words, and betake them to other, as when they put washing for Baptisme, and Congregation in stead of Church’ (B2v). (This is the ‘King James Bible’ speaking: terms such as ‘Baptisme’ and ‘Congregation’ were unlikely to bolster the authority of James I’s episcopate and ensure maintenance of ‘good order and discipline’ in the church (A3v).)

                          (27) For example, Smith, A3v: ‘should be as safe as a Sanctuary, and ǁ out of shot’ (from the Greek έζω βέλους).

                          (28) The marginal notes to the King James translation focus on alternative renderings of the original languages and on the citation of parallel scripture passages, in deliberate contrast to the marginalia of the Geneva Bible, which frequently engaged with doctrinal and political issues.

                          (29) Peter Stallybrass has drawn attention to the ‘discontinuous’ reading practices adopted by readers of the Geneva Bible. The use of indexes, concordances, and other aids included in printed (and often customized) Bibles encouraged a non-linear or non-sequential approach to the scriptures; this was perceived, Stallybrass argues, to threaten the coherence of the text. See Stallybrass, ‘Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible’, in Jennifer Andersen and Elizabeth Sauer (eds), Books and Readers in Early Modern England: Material Studies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 42–79. The rhetorical and material strategies adopted by the Rheims and KJB translators may help to extend our understanding of scriptural ‘continuity’ and ‘discontinuity’: the preface and paratextual matter of the Roman translation draw heavily on cyclical, typological, and eschatological concepts of continuity, while the KJB translators emphasize the strategic uses of disruptions and dissonance. Renaissance Bible readers, it seems, were consciously operating within a broad range of chronological and spatial discourses, many of them competing with linear conceptions of continuity and drawing sophisticated connections between doctrinal, textual, and material forms of engagement with scripture.