Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by J. H. Overton
Bishop John Pearson (1612–1686)
[John Pearson (1612–1686), was the son of a country clergyman, and was born at Snoring, in Norfolk, in 1612. He was educated at Eton, whence he proceeded to King’s College, Cambridge, where he became a Fellow in 1634. He received holy orders in 1639, and was appointed chaplain to the Lord Keeper Finch, who presented him to the living of Torrington in Suffolk. On the breaking out of the Civil War he took the Royalist side; and a sermon preached by him at Cambridge in 1643 shows that he had the courage of his convictions. He was, however, allowed to hold a lectureship at St. Clement’s, Eastcheap, and his immortal Exposition of the Creed was, in the first instance, nothing more than a series of lectures delivered to the congregation of St. Clement’s, about the year 1654. After the Restoration he rose rapidly. In 1660 he was made Archdeacon of Surrey, Prebendary of Ely, and Master of Jesus College, Cambridge; in 1661, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity; in 1662, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge; and in 1672, Bishop of Chester. His faculties gave way some years before his death, which took place 16th July 1686. He took a leading part in the Savoy Conference, where his fairness won the approbation of Baxter, and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society. After his appointment to the bishopric he does not appear to have taken any prominent part in the church life of the period. According to Burnet he was “a much better divine than bishop”; but Burnet’s evidence must be accepted with caution, for the two men differed widely from one another, not only in their opinions, but in their whole tone of mind, habits, and character; according to another almost contemporary historian, Laurence Echard, “he filled the bishopric of Chester with honour and reputation.”]  1
BISHOP PEARSON is in the popular estimation essentially homo unius libri. Everybody has heard of, and many have read “Pearson on the Creed,” but few have read anything else that he wrote. And yet, as matter of fact, he was a voluminous writer. Archdeacon Churton, in his excellent edition of Bishop Pearson’s Minor Works, specifies no less than thirty-one publications bearing his name. Of these, however, several are in Latin (one—Vindiciæ Ignatianæ—being of permanent value) some are single sermons, and some, notes and prefaces to other people’s writings. Bishop Pearson therefore may fairly be estimated as a writer of English prose by his great work, the Exposition of the Creed. If he had written nothing else, this alone, with the Notes, would have been more than enough to make any man’s reputation. Bishop Pearson depends wholly upon his matter, not at all upon his manner, for the value of his work; for as the best editor of the Exposition of the Creed (Professor Burton) remarks, “his style is rugged and antiquated even for the age in which he lived”; but his calm, rational judgment, his power of argument, his honest determination to sift to the bottom every difficult question that could possibly arise, and his profound knowledge of theology, especially of patristic theology, as shown in the marginal notes, which are at least as valuable, and nearly as lengthy as the text, have all contributed to make his work an exhaustive and final one. Later expounders of the Apostles’ Creed can do little more than follow Bishop Pearson’s lines, that is, of course, if they hold like him high Anglican views. He nobly employed his enforced leisure during “the troubles” in elaborating a work, which has not only become classical, but which has more completely covered the ground that it occupies, than any other work in any department of theology; for we gather from his dedication “to the Right Worshipful and Well-Beloved the Parishioners of St. Clement’s, East Cheap,” that he employed much time in putting the lectures he had delivered to them into the shape of a formal treatise. The lectures were delivered about 1654; the book did not appear until 1659. Bishop Pearson carefully avoids any quotations from “any learned language,” or any English word which would not be understood by the unlearned reader, reserving what is intended for scholars for his elaborate notes. He ranks high among the great divines of the golden age of English theology, and if he cannot be cited as an example of style, it is because he deliberately chose to write in that style which seemed to him most suitable for his purpose.  2
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