Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gunning, Peter
GUNNING, PETER (1614–1684), bishop of Ely, was son of Peter Gunning (d. 1615), vicar of Hoo, Kent, whose brother Richard settled in Ireland and was ancestor of Sir Robert Gunning [q. v.]and the famous beauties; his mother was Ellen, daughter of Francis Tracy of Hoo. He was born 16 Jan. 1613-14 at Hoo, and was educated at the King's School, Canterbury; at the age of fifteen he proceeded to Clare Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1632 and M.A. in 1635. He was elected fellow in 1633, and at once became college tutor. Having received holy orders he was appointed by the master and fellows of Peterhouse to the cure of Little St. Mary's. He was an ardent royalist, and when the civil war broke out at once threw his influence as a famous preacher into the king's scale. When the parliamentary party was quite in the ascendant, he had the courage to urge the university in a sermon at St. Mary's to 'publish a formal protestation against the rebellious League;' and, on going to Tunbridge to visit his mother, he preached two sermons stirring up the people to contribute to the pecuniary relief of the king's forces there. He was imprisoned for a short time, and then deprived of his fellowship because he refused to take the 'engagement.' Having fired a parting shot in the shape of a 'Treatise against the Covenant,' he retired to Oxford. On 10 July 1644 he was incorporated M.A. He was then appointed chaplain of New College by Dr. Pink, the warden, and for two years he acted as curate to Dr. Jasper Mayne at Cassington, a village near Oxford. The court was then at Oxford, and Gunning on more than one occasion preached before it; and on 23 June 1646, the very day before the surrender of Oxford to the parliamentary forces, a complimentary degree of B.D. was conferred upon him and several other Cambridge men. Throughout 'the troubles' Gunning never wavered either in his principles or in his conduct. He acted as tutor to Lord Hatton's son and to Sir Francis Compton, and was appointed chaplain to Sir Robert Shirley. Though sometimes accused of 'leaning towards popery,' Gunning was always a thorough English churchman, as much opposed to Romanism on the one side as to puritanism on the other. He held a disputation with a Roman priest, and acquitted himself so well that Sir Robert Shirley settled on him an annuity of 100l. On the death of Shirley, Gunning undertook the services at the chapel of Exeter House in the Strand, and, in spite of some remonstrances from Oliver Cromwell, conducted them strictly in accordance with the rites of the church of England. Cromwell, however, connived at the practice, and the Exeter House chapel became a frequent resort for churchmen. On one occasion—possibly on more—he met with serious molestation. John Evelyn records that on Christmas day 1657 he went to 'Exeter Chapel, where Gunning was preaching. Sermon ended, as he was giving us the holy sacrament, the chapel was surrounded with soldiers, and all the communicants and assembly surprised and kept prisoners by them, some in the house, others carried away.'
After the Restoration Gunning's rise was rapid. In 1660 he was created D.D. by royal mandate, presented to a prebend in Canterbury Cathedral, instituted to the rectories of Cottesmore in Rutlandshire and Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, elected master of Clare Hall, and made the Lady Margaret professor of divinity at Cambridge. In 1661 he exchanged the headship of Clare for the more important one of St. John's College, Cambridge, and the Lady Margaret professorship for the regius professorship of divinity. He was chosen proctor for the chapter of Canterbury and for the clergy of the diocese of Peterborough in the Lower House of Convocation, and also one of the committee for the review of the liturgy and other points at the Savoy conference. In 1669 he was promoted to the bishopric of Chichester, and in 1674-5 was translated to that of Ely, where he died on 6 July 1684, and was buried in Ely Cathedral. He never married.
Gunning, being a man of very decided convictions, has been the object of both praise and censure. He took a prominent part in the Savoy conference. Gunning, Pearson, and Sparrow represented the episcopal side in the 'personal conference' which was granted at the request of the presbyterians, who were represented in it by Bates, Jacomb, and Baxter. Gunning was specially pitted against Baxter, who gives the only contemporary account of the conference. Baxter speaks of Gunning's 'passionate addresses,' of his 'insulting answer,' and so forth; and was probably all the more incensed against him because the chairman, Dr. Sanderson, pronounced that 'Dr. Gunning had the better of the argument.' Baxter, however, also says: 'Gunning was their forwardest and greatest speaker, understanding well what belonged to a disputant; a man of greater study and industry than any of them; well-read in Fathers and Councils, (and, I hear and believe, of a very temperate life as to all carnal excesses whatsoever); but so vehement for his high, imposing principles, and so over-zealous for Arminianism, and formality and church pomp, and so very eager and fervent in his discourse, that I conceive his prejudice and passion much perverted his judgment, and I am sure they made him lamentably over-run himself in his discourses' (Reliquiæ Baxterianæ).
Burnet writes contemptuously of the whole affair: 'Baxter and Gunning spent several days in logical arguing to the diversion of the town, who looked upon them as a couple of fencers engaged in a dispute that could not be brought to an end,' and says of Gunning in particular that 'all the arts of sophistry were used by him in as confident a manner as if they had been sound reasoning; that he was unweariedly active to very little purpose, and, being fond of popish rituals and ceremonies, he was very much set upon reconciling the church of England to Rome.' Gunning's anti-Roman views are too clearly stated in his own writings to allow us to admit the last assertion. It is quite likely that when 'Dr. Bates urged Dr. Gunning that on the same reasons that they so imposed the cross and surplice they might bring in holy water and lights and abundance of such ceremonies of Rome,' Gunning may have 'answered, "Yea, and so I think we ought to have more and not fewer, if we do well."' But this is a very different thing from being 'set upon reconciling the church of England to Rome;' and the charge will rather incline an impartial person to believe the statement of a writer of the next generation (N.Salmon, Lives of the English Bishops, 1733), who says that 'this apostolical man [Gunning] hath by his conduct at the Savoy Conference, raised himself many enemies, who have endeavoured to perpetuate their resentment by an unfair representation of matters to posterity.' Gunning is also charged with being harsh in his treatment of the nonconformists when he became a bishop. Neale writes that 'he often disturbed meetings in person,' and that, 'once finding the doors shut, he ordered the constable to break them open with a sledge.' There is no doubt that he was ready on occasion to invoke the secular arm. Neither is there any doubt that he was wrong-headed enough to oppose the lately founded Royal Society, fearing that researches into natural science might tend to undermine revealed truth. There are, however, few divines of the seventeenth century who are spoken of in such enthusiastic terms by their friends and among his friends he numbered some of whom all men spoke well. Evelyn can hardly find language strong enough to express his admiration. He is 'Dr. Gunning, who can do nothing but what is well; 'and he records with great satisfaction that he carried his son to 'that learned and pious man … to be instructed of him before he received the Holy Sacrament,' when Gunning gave admirable advice (Diary, 29 March 1672-3). He counts, it as one of the advantages of Mrs. Godolphin that 'she was brought by her excellent mother to be confirmed by Dr. Gunning' (Life of Mrs. Godolphin). Peter Barwick admired exceedingly 'that incomparable hammer of the schismatics, Peter Gunning,' and his brother John Barwick, the dean of St. Paul's, had so high an opinion of him that he sent for 'Peter Gunning, the best friend of his soul and by far the most learned of theologians,' to prepare him for his end during the last three days of his life; and Gunning preached his funeral sermon. Sir John Reresby refers to him as 'that excellent man, Dr. Gunning' (Travels and Memoirs). Denis Grenville [q. v.], dean of Durham (afterwards a nonjuror), regarded Gunning as 'his first spiritual father,' and tells us how he 'prepared a draught of his whole life by way of confession in order to demand an absolution from Bp. Gunning,' and then records on 9 Nov. 1679, London, his satisfaction at receiving 'the Blessed Sacrament at the hands of good Bp. Gunning in his own chapell.' He had the evening before unburdened his conscience to his 'spiritual guide,' and received 'a solemne absolution on my knees to my great comfort' (Remains).
Pepys combines the views naturally taken of an uncompromising divine. He mentions over and over again 'the excellent sermons' of Gunning at the Exeter House chapel ; but he also records that 'at Cambridge Mr. Pechell, Sanchy, and others tell me how high the old doctors are in the University over those they found there; for which I am very sorry, and, above all, Dr. Gunning.' Gunning succeeded Tuckney (the Platonist) both in the divinity chair and the mastership of St. John's, and allowed him a considerable annuity, 'which act,' says Anthony à Wood, 'of his being excellent and singular is here remembered to his everlasting fame' (Athenæ Oxon.} Wood also tells us that Gunning's 'schismatical and factious adversaries were sorry that they could not possibly fasten the least spot upon him.' He then speaks of his liberality to the poor, to his sees, and to poor vicarages. This last point is confirmed by other testimonies, which specify his benefactions in detail (see inter alia, White Kennet's Case of Impropriations, &c.). It is also touched upon in his funeral sermon by Dr. Gower, his successor in the mastership of St. John's, who mentions what must have been known to his hearers, Gunning's liberality to scholars, his bountiful benefactions in that place, and his gifts to the poor.
Gunning's works are: 1. ‘A Contention for Truth, in two public disputations upon Infant Baptism, between him and Henry Denne [q. v.], in the Church of S. Clement Danes,’ 1658. 2. ‘Schisme Unmaskt, or a late Conference between him and Mr. John Pierson on the one part, and Two Disputants of the Romish persuasion on the other, in 1657, wherein is defined both what Schism is, and to whom it belongs,’ Paris, 1658. 3. ‘Account of the last Conference between Mr. Gunning and Signor Dandulo,’ 1658. 4. ‘A View and Correction of the Common Prayer,’ 1662. 5. ‘The Paschal or Lent Fast, Apostolical and Perpetual. At first delivered in a Sermon [on S. Luke v. 35-8] preached before His Majesty in Lent, and since enlarged. With an Appendix containing an Answer to the Objections of the Presbyterians against the Fast of Lent,' 1662. Of these works the last is by far the most famous; it was reprinted in a new edition at Oxford in 1845, forming part of the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology. Gunning is also generally supposed to have written the 'Prayer for All Sorts and Conditions of Men' in the Book of Common Prayer, though some have ascribed it to Bishop Sanderson. The most received opinion is that it was originally written by Gunning in a much larger form, and that it was reduced to its present dimensions, perhaps by Dr. Sanderson. This as thought to account for the word 'finally,' which was retained from the original prayer, and which appears rather incongruous in so comparatively short a composition.[Gunning's Works; Wood's Athenæ Oxon., ed. Bliss, iv. 140; Evelyn's Diary; Pepys's Diary; Peter Barwick's Vita Joannis Barwick; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans.]