Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Davenant, John

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DAVENANT, JOHN (1576–1641), bishop of Salisbury, was born in 1576 in Watling Street, London, where his father was a wealthy merchant. He was educated at Queens' College, Cambridge, of which society he became a fellow in 1597. In 1609 he proceeded D.D., and the same year was appointed Margaret professor of divinity, an appointment which he held for twelve years. In 1614 he was chosen master of his college. At this time the Calvinistic controversy was at its height, and James I, who was much interested in it, was attracted to Davenant by the fame which his prælections as Margaret professor had obtained. He accordingly selected him, together with Bishop George Carleton [q. v.] and Drs. Ward and Hall, to represent the church of England at the synod of Dort in Holland (1618), which was held to settle the questions in dispute between the Arminians and the Calvinists. The four doctors were furnished with a paper of instructions by the king, and were received with much respect in Holland, being allowed a public maintenance by the States. The work of the English divines at the synod was to endeavour to soften the bitter narrowness of the Calvinistic deputies. John Hales, who was present, records that Davenant set himself to ‘overthrow certain distinctions framed by the remonstrants,’ which he did ‘learnedly and fully.’ He advocated the doctrine of universal redemption as against the Calvinistic tenet of particular redemption. The other English divines were prepared to omit or tone down this doctrine in the paper which they presented to the synod, but Davenant declared that ‘he would rather have his right hand cut off than recall or alter anything’ (Bishop Carleton to Sir D. Carleton). Davenant's conduct at the synod may be assumed to have commended itself to King James, as, soon after his return, he was promoted to the bishopric of Salisbury (1621). His views were what may be described as moderate Calvinist, but in the next reign, under the influence of Laud, this theology was not permissible. A declaration had in 1628 been prefixed to the articles, which forbade all such points to be handled by preachers. Davenant, preaching before the court in Lent, 1631, did not sufficiently observe this rule, but rashly handled the subject of predestination and election. For this he was summoned before the council. Fuller says that ‘the bishop presented himself on his knees, and there had still continued for any favour he found from any of his function there present.’ Dr. Harsnet, archbishop of York, was his accuser, and made ‘a vehement oration’ against him of ‘well-nigh half an hour long.’ Davenant defended himself as well as he could, and the lay lords of the council seem to have been in his favour. He was dismissed without any sentence being passed; but when afterwards he had an audience with the king, he was peremptorily ordered not to preach on such points any more. There is evidence that the bishop returned to his diocese impressed with the necessity of paying due deference to the autocratic power which then governed the church. He zealously carried out Archbishop Laud's orders as to the removing of the holy table from the body of the church and placing it altarwise, and in the annual reports of his province, furnished by the archbishop to the king, there is no complaint of any insubordination on the part of the Bishop of Salisbury. Davenant died 20 April 1641. The work for which he gained the highest credit was his commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians, delivered as prælections at Cambridge. Bishop Hall speaks of the ‘great reputation’ which Davenant had obtained at Cambridge as divinity professor. Davenant may be regarded as a good type of the moderate Calvinist divine, but not equal either in extent of learning or in breadth of view to the divines of the Caroline era. The following is a list of his works:

  1. ‘Expositio Epistolæ D. Pauli ad Colossenses.’
  2. ‘Prælectiones de duobus in Theologiâ controversis capitibus: de Judice Controversiarum primo; de Justitiâ habituali et actuali altero,’ Cambridge, 1631.
  3. ‘Determinationes quæstionum theologicarum quarundam,’ 1634.
  4. ‘Animadversions upon a Treatise lately published by S. Hoard, and entitled “God's Love to mankind, manifested in disproving his absolute decree for their damnation,”’ Cambridge, 1641.

[Fuller's Church History, fol. 1665, bk. ix.; Hales's Golden Remains, 1673; Laud's Works, 1847, vol. vi.; Hall's Works, 1827, vol. ix.; Perry's History of the Church of England, 1863, vol. i.]

G. G. P.