A Critical Edition of Ruths Recompence by Richard Bernard

by Arlene McAlister (Volume editor)
©2019 Monographs XIV, 472 Pages


A Critical Edition of Ruths Recompence by Richard Bernard presents Richard Bernard’s commentary on the book of Ruth, originally published in 1628, to the modern reader. Arlene McAlister’s introduction sets the work in its contemporary context and most significantly elucidates the issue of women’s conduct that arises from the biblical story and challenges Bernard and the preceding early modern Ruth commentators. The introduction details how the commentators have great difficulty in expounding Ruth’s approach to her kinsman Boaz on the threshing floor alone at night and request to him to marry her according to the levirate law. They find that this conduct is contrary to the voluminous women’s conduct literature of their own society. The introduction also addresses such issues as Bernard’s anti-Catholicism and surveys the interpretation of the book of Ruth prior to and in the early modern period. Ruths Recompence is further set in context by the annotations in this book. The annotations also illustrate how Bernard differs from or develops the discussions of preceding commentators.

Table Of Contents

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Figure Pr.1. Original title page from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure Pr.2. Original page 1 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 1.1. Original page 51 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 1.2. Original page 76 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 1.3. Original page 107 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 2.1. Original page 201 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 3.1. Original page 302 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 4.1. Original page 413 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

Figure 4.2. Original page 479 from Ruths Recompence (1628)

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This edition derives from my PhD thesis, which was undertaken in the English Literature department of Edinburgh University, and I am grateful particularly to Dr David Mealand for his assistance with the material in Hebrew and Greek to which reference is made in the commentary, and to Mr Geoffrey Carnall for guidance with the material in Latin. I am also indebted to a number of people who have helped especially in the present project of publication. Dr Julian Goodare, through an email correspondence, has provided ideas and suggestions and has read a number of passages of the edition. Dr Sarah Carpenter has also read several passages with close attention. I am grateful too to Dennis Deas for translating from Latin and Rose Artault for translating from French. I would also like to thank my Peter Lang editors, Meagan Simpson and Luke McCord, for their contribution to the book. Finally, I appreciate Chris Pearson’s assistance with computer problems and the encouragement of my father and also of my friend from student days, Dr Sue Clegg.

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AV Authorized Version of the Bible

BJE D. R. G Beattie, Jewish Exegesis of the Book of Ruth

BMC British Museum Catalogue

BTR D. R. G. Beattie, trans., “The Targum of Ruth”

DNB Dictionary of National Biography

EEBO Early English Books Online

ESTC English Short Title Catalogue

FS Richard Bernard, The Faithfull Shepheard (1607) (References are to this edition unless otherwise stated; in in-text citations, FS, 1621 ed. indicates the 1621 edition).

JGR Richard Bernard, Josuahs Godly Resolution in conference with Caleb, touching houshold governement for well ordering a familie With A twofold Catechisme for instruction of youth.

Josephus [Loeb] Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities. Josephus. Trans. H. St. John Thackeray and Ralph Marcus. Vol. 5. Loeb Classical Library. Book V section ix.

Josephus [Whiston] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Trans. William Whiston ← xiii | xiv →
(General citations from Josephus are from the Whiston edition, whereas specific citations regarding Josephus’s narrative of the story of the book of Ruth are from the Loeb edition.)

Lavater Ludwig Lavater, The Booke of Ruth expounded in 28 Sermons, trans. Ephraim Pagitt (1586)
Other works by Lavater are cited with a short title.

MET Lesley Smith, trans., Medieval Exegesis in Translation

ODCC The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

ODNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

OEDO Oxford English Dictionary Online

RR Richard Bernard, Ruths Recompence

SP Richard Bernard, The Shepheards Practice (1621) (References are to this edition since it was accessible.)

Topsell Edward Topsell, The Reward of Religion (1596) (References to Topsell’s commentary on Ruth are to this edition unless otherwise stated.)

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General Introduction

This edition presents Richard Bernard’s commentary on the book of Ruth, Ruths Recompence, published in the life of its author in 1628. This commentary was selected to make an edition of for a number of reasons. In the first place, it belongs to a series of commentaries on Ruth published in the early modern period, specifically between 1578 and 1702, which found difficulty in expounding one part of the biblical narrative. This was Ruth’s approach, according to her mother-in-law’s instructions, to her kinsman Boaz alone at night to request him to marry her according to the levirate law. The difficulty arose from the perception of the commentators, notably the Puritan Bernard, that such behaviour was contrary to the prescriptions set out in the extensive literature about women’s conduct published in their time. It seemed surprising in a biblical “good” woman. The thorough evaluation of the difficulty by means of an edition format, that is, this Introduction and the annotations on the text of the commentary, has the advantage of being especially illuminating for readers. Secondly, Ruths Recompence in particular was selected because it followed two substantial early modern commentaries on Ruth by Ludwig Lavater and Edward Topsell which especially inform its editorial interpretation. It is shown to constitute a particularly elaborate contribution to the tradition of commentaries. Thirdly, the selection of Ruths Recompence was made because an edition of Bernard’s commentary was made in 1865 by Alexander ← 1 | 2 → Balloch Grosart. This prior edition indicates the merit of the commentary as a literary work, and invites further exploration of it to pursue further issues, especially that of women’s conduct, which Grosart does not engage with. Fourthly, the author, Bernard, is of interest on account of his Puritanism, for he conformed uneasily to the discipline of the established church in the early seventeenth century and expressed his convictions through his many publications.

Regarding the nature of the commentary itself, Bernard may well have chosen to continue a long established tradition of commentating on Ruth (which extends to well before the early modern period) because the story depicts peaceful rural life unlike other parts of the Old Testament. He himself was a rural clergyman and would have recognised this setting. The work was originally formulated as a series of sermons, and he could therefore apply to it the method of preaching which he himself had expounded in his The Faithfull Shepheard, first published in 1607. It is a distinctly legalistic approach, in striking contrast to the more spiritual mode adopted by Bernard’s contemporary, George Herbert, another exemplary country parson.1 Bernard sought to derive clearly defined lessons from Ruth and, at least in the original sermons, apply them to his congregation.

Turning to the central issue of women’s conduct, the early modern preoccupation with this subject has attracted a good deal of attention by modern scholars. The present edition aims to contribute to this scholarship by analysing Bernard’s elaboration of models of, principally, ideal female conduct in the first two chapters especially, as well as his evaluation of the problematic conduct of Naomi and Ruth in Chapter 3. Attention will also be drawn to the way Bernard, like his early modern predecessors, evidently finds that the women showed boldness even in Chapter 1 on account of their piety. This is consistent with Peter Lake’s argument, which is mentioned below in the discussion about contemporary models of exemplary women, that certain women in the early modern period may have been enabled by their piety to show initiative and act boldly. It is moreover demonstrated that Bernard, like Lavater and Topsell, perceives a danger to Ruth’s chastity resulting from her necessary assertiveness in seeking to earn a living by gleaning in Chapter 2. The main emphasis in analysing the commentary in terms of women’s conduct, however, consists of discussion and annotation of Chapter 3. Here, attention is drawn to how Bernard’s views develop those of his predecessors.

Biographical Information About Richard Bernard (bap. 1568, d. 1641/2)

Ruths Recompence: or a Commentarie upon the Booke of Ruth (1628) is a characteristic example of the way the Bible was interpreted by devout Protestants in the early ← 2 | 3 → seventeenth century. While its author, Richard Bernard, was a clergyman in the Church of England, he had Puritan convictions that gave him an ambivalent attitude towards conformity with the canons of the Church (Greaves, ODNB). This is reflected in the many and varied works that he published, and in some of his actions. It will even be seen that Bernard resented the impositions of his Church enough to become involved with the separatist movement, although he was persuaded back into the official Church.

Puritanism was characterised by a number of perceptions and beliefs which are evident in Ruths Recompence. In particular, Puritans saw themselves as a persecuted minority who were surrounded by ungodly people, as Alexandra Walsham notes (“The godly” 277). This is illustrated by Ruths Recompence (particularly in Chapter 4, eg. p. 371, where Bernard comments on how little brotherly love there is among men). The Puritans’ perception of some people being godly in contrast with other people who were ungodly relates to their concern with the issue of predestination. This concern is particularly indicated by their involvement in intra-Reformed controversies on the subject (Coffey and Lim, Introduction 3). Bernard touches on predestination in the commentary, and the subject will be discussed in the next section of this Introduction. It will be shown there that Bernard appears to change his position on predestination in the course of his career. It will also be pointed out in the next section that in the commentary Bernard exemplifies the clergy’s emphasis on providence. For Puritans providence pertaining to the individual was amongst the signs to be interpreted as indicating whether they were to be saved (Walsham, “The godly” 282–3).

Bernard’s ministry began only a few years before the accession of James VI and I. Suspensions and deprivations of ministers are recorded in James’s reign (notably including Bernard, in 1605, for nonconformity, see below), and canons issued in 1604 imposed a sentence of excommunication on nonconforming ministers. However, the Jacobean Church of England was by no means as prone to persecution as the Church under Laud in the succeeding reign (Doerksen pars. 13–15). A piety centred on the Word—that is, on the Scripture and the preaching that interpreted it—was an accepted part of Jacobean churchmanship, and this was congenial to ministers like Bernard. If their convictions led them into some measure of nonconformity, they could sometimes enjoy the protection of sympathetic bishops. The relative flexibility of the Jacobean Church allowed such ministers to foster a culture which distanced itself from that of less godly churchmen and laity.2 Although Bernard’s career also extended into the oppressive Laudian period when scruples such as his were less tolerated, his writings reflect the issues central to the godly and indicate his significant role in the Puritan movement.

Turning to biographical details, Bernard was baptized on 30 April 1568 at Epworth, Lincolnshire. He was financed in his studies at Christ’s College ← 3 | 4 → Cambridge by Isabel and Frances Wray (Greaves, ODNB), a significant instance of gendered patronage which will be returned to. These women were daughters of Sir Christopher Wray (c. 1522–92), a judge and Speaker of the House of Commons who was one of the commissioners for the trial of Mary, queen of Scots in October 1586 (N. Jones, ODNB). Although their father was hostile to Puritans, Isabel and Frances, as well as their brother, William, were sympathetic towards them. Bernard came into contact with the Puritan practice of exorcism through Isabel. In 1586 she was hosting efforts by godly ministers to perform an exorcism. She later brought the exorcist who was held to have achieved the cure of this case, John Darrell, into a circle of Puritans at Ashby-de-la-Zouch led by Arthur Hildersham and including Bernard (Freeman, ODNB). This contact may have encouraged Bernard to develop an interest in exorcism, for, in his first ministerial post he claimed that he had exorcised a demon from John Fox of Nottingham (Grosart, DNB). Furthermore, his publications include one on witches, who, he maintained, made a league with the devil (Grand-Jury Men 254).

Christ’s College, Cambridge, to which the Wray sisters sent Bernard, was an institution at which Puritan ideas were prevalent. William Perkins, an influential moderate Puritan was a Fellow of Christ’s College who tutored William Ames, later also an influential religious author. Bernard may have come into contact with both men. He might have been a student of Perkins or have encountered him through Perkins’s lectureship at the neighbouring church, St. Andrew the Great. As for Ames, his attendance at the College coincides with Bernard’s. Ames may have been the tutor of William Chappell, who later tutored John Milton at the College (Lares 80). To this constellation of Puritan thinkers, then, Bernard became affiliated by his matriculation at the College in 1592. He graduated BA in 1595 and MA in 1598. Also in 1598 his first book was published, a translation of the Latin dramatist Terence (Greaves, ODNB).

Bernard was married by 1601, the year of his first church appointment. This marriage produced six or seven children. The church to which Bernard was appointed was Worksop, Nottinghamshire. When at Worksop, Bernard came into conflict with the church authorities. He objected to the surplice, refusing to conform to the canons of 1604, and was deprived on 9 April 1605 (Greaves, ODNB). At this time, Bernard was sufficiently in sympathy with separatists of his acquaintance to join them. He was present at a conference at the house of Lady Bowes (the remarried Isabel Wray) at which a number of leading Puritans were present. At this conference John Smyth and Thomas Helwys advocated separation from the Church of England, but this course was opposed by Arthur Hildersham and the majority of those present (Freeman, ODNB; Greaves, ODNB). Bernard aligned himself with the separatist position to the extent that he made a covenant with a number of people from Worksop and nearby, which included the resolve to ← 4 | 5 → celebrate communion as “the Lord’s supper”. However, he subsequently withdrew from his nonconformity. Tobie Matthew, the Archbishop of York, persuaded him to return to his official ministry in Worksop in 1607 (Greaves, ODNB).

Bernard spent the rest of his career in the Church of England, emphasising his changed position by publishing attacks on separatists, such as Plaine Evidences: The Church of England is Apostolicall, the separation Schismaticall (1610). This involved him in rather bitter controversy with a number of his former associates. However, while Bernard was a formidable opponent of the separatists, he remained uneasy with the ceremonies of the Church of England. In 1608 and 1611 he incurred the censure of the authorities because he would not use the sign of the cross in baptism (Greaves, ODNB).

Whilst he was minister of Worksop, Bernard also produced the first editions of works which, at this time and in later editions, had an extensive influence on the practice of the ministry in the Church of England. The Faithfull Shepheard (1607) is chiefly a manual of preaching, in the tradition of the continental homiletic writer Andreas Gerhard Hyperius (1511–64) (Lares 68). A second edition of The Faithfull Shepheard with a similar content appeared in 1609, and a third edition, “Wholy in a manner transposed, and made anew, and very much inlarged” was published in 1621. This edition vividly illustrates Bernard’s conviction that the interpretation of scripture presents a daunting intellectual challenge. “Who knowes not that the study of holy Scriptures requireth the use of all manner of learning, and the skill of all sciences exactly to expound, and judiciously to unfold the meaning of every place of the Bible?” (Bernard, FS, 1621 ed. 40) The Ruth commentary demonstrates how seriously Bernard aspired to meet this obligation. The 1609 and 1621 editions were published together with an example of a sermon, The Shepheards Practice,3 in which marginal notes indicate the components of the sermon and the text also refers to the stages of the sermon’s development, according to Bernard’s theory of preaching.

In The Faithfull Shepheard, Bernard also emphasises the importance of catechizing and advises how to perform it. Catechizing is a necessary preparation for hearing sermons according to Bernard (FS 8–10). In preparing his sermons on Ruth he would have assumed that his hearers knew the elements of the official doctrine of the Church of England. His discussion of catechizing is expanded in the 1621 edition (100–05). This emphasis on catechizing in The Faithfull Shepheard, and especially the 1621 edition, reflects Bernard’s practice of this activity, by which he endeavoured to make his parishioners more godly. He also produced other catechetical publications, and his catechisms belong to what Ian Green describes as the second phase of catechism writing in England, which extended from the 1570s to the early 1640s, and was distinguished by diversity of forms but relatively homogenous doctrine (Green 58). Bernard’s A Large Catechisme following the Order of the ← 5 | 6 → Common Authorized Catechisme (1602) was published close to the beginning of his ministry at Worksop, before he was deprived. In 1607 he published A Double Catechisme, which included a version of his previous catechism and a shorter catechism. Bernard’s subsequent catechetical works, like the 1621 edition of The Faithfull Shepheard, belong to the later part of his ministry after he had left Worksop, but they too will be mentioned here to show the development of this aspect of his guidance for the clergy. Josuahs Resolution for the Well Ordering of his Household (1612) had amongst its contents a version of the Double Catechisme. In 1613 Bernard published a sermon on catechizing appearing as the first part of a work entitled Two Twinnes. In 1630, his most popular expansion of the prayer book catechism, The Common Catechisme appeared, of which eleven editions had been published by 1640. This was accompanied by the work, Good Christian, Looke to thy Creede (1630).

Returning to Bernard’s career path, he was issued with a licence to preach throughout the diocese of Bath and Wells from the summer of 1612 by Bishop James Montague. Montague had been a student at Christ’s College, Cambridge a few years before Bernard, and knew him at the College (McCullough, ODNB; Greaves, ODNB). Montague also approved the process by which Bernard gained his next living, Batcombe, Somerset. This living was presented to Bernard in November 1613 by Philip Bisse, archdeacon of Taunton and former minister of Batcombe (Greaves, ODNB; Brook, 2.460). Bernard remained minister of Batcombe for the rest of his career, preaching as well in eastern Somerset. He was initially untroubled in this post by the church authorities, perhaps because of the protection of Montague. After Montague moved to the see of Winchester in 1616, Bernard established a rapport with his successor, Arthur Lake, dedicating his commentary on Revelation, A Key of Knowledge, partly to him in 1617 (Greaves, ODNB). This strategy paid off immediately, for Bernard at this time was charged with not wearing his graduate hood in violation of canon 58, but the charges were dropped in the Wells consistory court: he claimed that Lake had permitted this to happen (Greaves, ODNB).

Bernard published the first of the many editions of his most popular book, The Isle of Man in 1626. This work is an allegory in which sin is discovered, put on trial and condemned. Bernard shows his hostility to Roman Catholicism by including “Papistry” amongst those tried.4 The book is compulsive reading and may have inspired John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (Grosart, “Richard Bernard” 321). The importance to Bernard of his work on witches, which will be considered next, is evident from the fact that he refers to it at length in the Epistle to the Reader in The Isle of Man (1630 edition).

Bernard’s A Guide to Grand-Jury Men on the subject of witches appeared in 1627. In this book he cites places in the Bible condemning witches, both good and bad, and argues that all witches ought to die. However, he also devotes considerable ← 6 | 7 → discussion to dissuading his readers from too readily ascribing afflictions to witchcraft, when there may be another explanation, such as natural diseases. Bernard finds most witches to be women and suggests reasons for this which reveal his prejudice against women: this should be taken into account when reading his assessments of Naomi and Ruth in Ruths Recompence. In particular, he claims that women are more malicious when displeased than men, and they are more prone to curse, more revengeful. They are therefore better suited to being instruments of the devil (92–3).

His commentary on Ruth, Ruths Recompence appeared in 1628, when he was at the height of his writing career. However, this was also a time when Puritanism was coming under increasing attack from the church authorities as Laud moved up the ecclesiastical ladder. The impact of this situation on Bernard is detectable in the commentary.5

Bernard’s Puritanism was evident a few years later when in October 1634 he was brought before the bishop of Bath and Wells, William Piers, for nonconformity. Piers ordered him to genuflect on entering church, to take off his hat during prayers, to stop repeating sermons after the Sunday service, to restrict himself to using only the prayer book catechism (contrary to his objectives in publishing catechisms expanding the prayer book catechism), and not to catechize in the course of prayers (Greaves, ODNB). Despite this conflict with authority, Bernard went on to publish another book, The Ready Way to Good Works (1635), expounding charity, a theme emerging in Ruths Recompence, particularly in connection with Boaz’s generosity to Ruth in Chapter 2. Bernard’s Puritan activism is evident from the fact that he and the minister John White of Dorchester collected money to relieve silenced ministers in the 1630s. Furthermore, in this decade he wrote a book enjoining sabbath observance, A Threefold Treatise of the Sabbath. This constituted a rejection of James I’s Book of Sports, republished in 1633. Bernard’s Treatise could not be published until Laudian censorship ended, appearing only in 1641. Bernard also, about 1635–6, wrote to church leaders in the Massachusetts Bay Colony about their practices (Greaves, ODNB). In doing so, he was one of a number of English Puritans who sent enquiries since they thought that Massachusetts might be moving towards separatism (Bremer 137). The colonists answered and this response was published in the 1640s after the collapse of censorship in England (Bremer 137). Bernard’s nonconformity was again evident when he was involved in circulating a petition against the etcetera oath passed by Convocation in 1640, which required swearing not to consent to any alteration in church government (Greaves, ODNB).

With the ending of ecclesiastical censorship in the 1640s, it became possible to air a wide range of ideas about church government. Bernard may have joined in this debate, that is, if he was indeed the author of A Short View of the Praelaticall ← 7 | 8 → Church of England (1641). Some, including Bernard’s nineteenth-century editor, Grosart dispute this attribution (Grosart, “Richard Bernard” 323, footnote) but there is nothing improbable in it. The author complains of abuses in the discipline and government of the Church. The book ends with a scheme of Church government which consists of a range of levels from the presbytery of ministers at the most local level, through bishops at the county level who have pastoral charges, to provincial synods which can monitor the bishops. Over all of them is a national assembly to make canons and establish ecclesiastical government. This scheme was meant to remove “all Prelaticall Lordly tyranny” (Short View 38) and bring the Church of England into conformity of doctrine and discipline with Protestant churches in Scotland and elsewhere.

Bernard was a prolific and versatile author. Apart from the publications mentioned already, he expounded the principles of military strategy to be found in the Bible (Bible-Battells, 1629), wrote the pastoral guide Christian See to Thy Conscience (1631), engaged in controversy with Catholic apologists (Looke beyond Luther, 1623) and embarked on an exposition of the Psalms (Davids Musick, 1616). A work published posthumously, Thesaurus biblicus, seu, Promptuarium sacrum (1644), is a concordance, a product of the biblical knowledge so evident in Ruths Recompence.

Bernard died on 31st March 1641 or alternatively, perhaps in 1642.6

Various Issues Addressed by Bernard in Ruths Recompence

Ruths Recompence takes account of a wide range of issues that were important to clergy in the early seventeenth century, and since they form the context of Bernard’s concern to demonstrate how Ruth is an example to be followed by the women in his congregation, they deserve some attention. He lived in a society where a hierarchy of class and occupation was taken for granted. “Now also hence we may inferre,” Bernard writes, “that if one may be set over another in a familie, then also in a Common-wealth; for without order of superiority and inferiority, no Common-wealth can stand <1 Chron. 27>” (RR 203).7 The ways in which Bernard maintained that the social hierarchy should function may be observed particularly clearly in what he has to say about the godly family, notably in his earlier work, Josuahs Godly Resolution in conference with Caleb, touching houshold governement for well ordering a familie (1612). This book conveys a vision of the household as a hierarchy in which duties are performed mutually by individuals at different levels to benefit each other (JGR 30–1, 34–5).8 The chief of these mutual duties is that the husband and wife are to love each other. The husband’s love, ← 8 | 9 → according to Bernard, encourages the obedience of the wife as the less senior in the family hierarchy. Conversely, her obedience moves him to be kind (JGR 30–1).9

As for servants, in Josuahs Godly Resolution, Bernard states that the “chiefe of the house” is to “teach their children and houshold in the waies of God” (21).10 Servants ought to be religious, for one reason in particular: “[t]o doe their service honestly, as looking for reward from God” (JGR 34). This reasoning is amplified in Ruths Recompence, with reference to Boaz coming to his reapers in Ruth 2.4: “If Masters take time also for the soule, and for the service of God, and then be provident for the world, it is praiseworthy, and the fruit thereof wil appeare in Gods blessing falling upon the worke of their hands” (200). Evidently, these passages indicate, religious servants will be more productive.

Bernard expresses opinions on delegation of responsibility for servants to a bailiff or steward in connection with Boaz’s having a servant set over the reapers, mentioned in Ruth 2.5. These opinions correspond with more positive views on such officers in Mark Thornton Burnett’s Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture: Authority and Obedience (1997). According to Bernard, delegation is wise and occurs in biblical instances. He details how the overseer servant should perform his task (RR 203). This agrees with Burnett’s survey recognising that the steward was required to promote a workplace which was characterised by moral rectitude (156–7). This is by contrast with Burnett’s more negative evaluations, such as his reference to stewards’ dishonesty and ambition in contemporary literature (155). Bernard evidently realises such danger for he advises how masters should choose stewards who have praiseworthy qualities and that they should make them accountable (RR 203–04). He was keen to promote a model of how stewardship should work.

Beyond the well-conducted household there were the poor, a perennial concern for early modern moralists.11 Bernard’s observations on this topic are representative of the thinking of his contemporaries. This is particularly evident when he addresses the objection raised in his exposition of Chapter 2 verse 16, that Boaz could just have given Ruth corn rather than have her glean it. Bernard advocates keeping the poor labouring when relieving them (RR 245, see also 236). This is a major element in his scheme of charity. Also in expounding Chapter 2 verse 16, he condemns the vagrant poor (245), and the threat he perceives to be posed to the social order by this group may well be what largely motivates his concern with charity. Steady employment would prevent them moving from place to place and evading punishment for their crimes. All in all, in his exposition of Chapter 2, Bernard draws lessons from Boaz as an exemplary man of wealth, generous but discriminating in his conduct towards the impoverished Ruth.12

Boaz also, for Bernard, demonstrates the advantages of the biblical system of justice when he engages in the legal process of buying Naomi’s land and marrying ← 9 | 10 → Ruth in Chapter 4 of Ruth.13 Bernard admires the biblical uncomplicated legal arrangements involved, which did not allow of the corruption often the subject of satire in early modern texts. Bernard is preceded in discussing the primitive justice system by his early modern predecessors Lavater and Topsell, and by some earlier commentators on Ruth (for instance, some medieval Christian commentators focus on the openness of procedures at city gates, see MET 44, 63). However, Bernard takes his discussion of the subject to significantly greater lengths. The specific instances where he follows his predecessors are noted in the annotations.

Notably, Bernard focuses on the the arrangements for justice in cities in biblical times (362–4). He concludes regarding the existence of courts in all of them:

[I]n well governed Common-wealths (like that of Israel, ordred by the wisedome of God himselfe) there shou[l]d be many Courts of justice, and so many, and so neere the townes and villages, that the people might have speedy recourse thither to end any cause, which might fall out among them. (RR 365)

He draws attention to the benefits of this provision, ordained by God, in his interpretation, and hence commanding imitation. It would avoid people having to pay to travel. Also, people would not have to remain in prison until quarter sessions and assizes (RR 365). Bernard notes too the availability of appeal to Jerusalem (RR 362, 364). He derives from this the conclusion that: “it is meet, that such a Court of justice bee in every well ordered state, whose sentence should be definitive, and with which men should rest” (RR 365). In Bernard’s view, this would restrict “unquiet spirits” who can afford to take cases from court to court so exhausting their adversaries, “a grievous sin, and that which cryeth alowd in the eares of the Lord, though Lawyers fill their purses by such devilish devices” (RR 365–6).

Since Bernard attaches such importance to preserving hierarchy in society, it is not surprising that he is anxious to confute the errors of the Anabaptists, whom, as will be seen, he associated with anarchy. “Anabaptists” is a term used by the “magisterial” (mainstream) Reformer, Zwingli, to describe individuals who denied the validity of infant baptism and undertook adult baptism, which was usually rebaptism (Cameron 319, 321), “ana” being the Greek for “again”. The term came to be applied to most of the “radical” sectarian movements in the Reformation period.

Euan Cameron points out that the sectaries disagreed so much with each other that particular beliefs cannot be attributed to all of them (319). However, at Schleitheim a group adopted a creed known as the Schleitheim Confession in February 1527. This set out the principles of the movement, notably not participating in oath taking, public office or bloodshed. In general, Anabaptists did not hold the fundamental Protestant belief that even saved man is a sinner, and that only God knows who are saved (Cameron 319). They excluded themselves from participation in the secular state (Cameron 336). Critics of the Anabaptists, ← 10 | 11 → however, drew attention to the extreme form of Anabaptism that briefly controlled the city of Munster in 1534–5 (Cameron 325–6). Bernard himself would have had these extremists in mind when he alludes to “Anabaptisticall Anarchie” (RR 203). It may further be noted that Bernard’s criticism of views he associates with Anabaptists in Ruths Recompence is in line with his works attacking separatism, mentioned above, which include reference to Anabaptism (Plaine Evidences 19–20).

Although separatism involved rejection of the authority of the established churches, in some respects there was a shared culture. One element of this was belief, which was not just Puritan, in the frequent manifestation of divine providence. On a number of occasions in Ruths Recompence Bernard interprets the story as demonstrating God’s providence. He expounds the concept of providence in connection with Ruth’s meeting Boaz for the first time in going out gleaning in Chapter 2. God governs men’s actions so that the outcome is as it should be. “And this God doth, as foreknowing, and determining every thing, and ruling the same by the hand of his providence, as himselfe hath determined to bring things to passe” (RR 197). According to Bernard people should rely on God’s providence and acknowledge it in every thing. The godly should be thankful for works of mercy, and learn patience under trials (RR 197). However, God also shows his wrath to the wicked in works of judgement (RR 198).14 Regarding the trials of the godly, Bernard’s comment here is amplified in his exposition of Naomi’s being left with her two sons in Ruth 1.3. In this passage, he introduces the concept that God gives the godly some comforts even when he is afflicting them. This is so that the godly are not overwhelmed with their grief, but are sustained in their affliction. Godly men should not therefore be too downcast if affliction arrives, since God will not make them suffer more than they can stand. Bernard encourages a balanced reaction to affliction, taking into account what comfort there is (RR 111).

These intepretations of providence by Bernard are consistent with the findings of Alexandra Walsham in her study, Providence in Early Modern England (1999). According to Walsham, it was believed that God was “an assiduous, energetic deity who constantly intervened in human affairs” (Providence 2). He gave both blessings and judgements. Walsham attributes providentialism to those “of all social levels and from all positions on the confessional spectrum” (Providence 2).15 Walsham observes that in the view of most divines, God generally acted through inferior instruments, although he was not tied to them for the operation of his providence (Providence 12). According to Calvin’s theology, the turpitude of God’s instruments neither diminished his integrity nor reduced human culpability (Walsham, Providence 14). Bernard puts forward this interpretation in his exposition of Elimelech and his family coming into Moab in Ruth 1.2. Although Elimelech might have been wrong to depart from Israel and go to Moab, God assisted his journey because it was to lead to the conversion of Ruth (RR 106). ← 11 | 12 →

Bernard also conforms to the practice of Protestant divines, noted by Walsham, of opposing popular beliefs which were contrary to providentialism (Walsham, Providence 20). In particular, Walsham draws attention to “a general consensus that the greater part of the laity, learned as well as ignorant and poor, had yet to abandon a vestigial belief in chance, ‘haphazard’, and luck” (Providence 20–1). Bernard addresses this issue in Chapter 2 in expounding Ruth’s asking permission to glean after one who will favour her, and with reference to her biblically stated “hap” (in landing on a part of the field which belonged to Boaz). In the first of these instances, Bernard draws attention to Ruth’s going at random, as it is said. Whilst there may here be an implicit criticism of Ruth’s potential recklessness, Bernard makes clear that the outcome was the result of God’s providence (RR 193–4). In the second instance, it is the outcome that is the subject of Bernard’s exposition. Bernard states that God’s providence is understood in Ruth’s good “hap.” He goes on to observe that the words “hap” or luck are used by men when things happen otherwise than intended. He also observes that the heathen (evidently the Romans) used the word, fortune (associated with their goddess, Fortuna). Bernard makes it clear that men may rightly say that things happen, chance, or are their luck, provided that they mean that these things result from the guidance of God’s providence. But the heathen explanation is mere chance and fortune, which must not be held. Thus he shows his alignment with the position of Protestant divines, noted by Walsham, of opposing popular beliefs which were contrary to providentialism. He points out that the Philistine priests and diviners erred in this, citing 1 Sam. 6.9, in which they allowed the possibility that the affliction of the Philistines was a chance, rather than the judgement of God (RR 196–7). It is implicit in Bernard’s discussion that the Philistines were punished subsequently, according to 1 Sam. 7.10–14.

Another aspect of Bernard’s theological position to be considered here is where he stood regarding the issue of predestination. This issue was of great importance in theological controversy in the early modern period, with John Calvin propounding a severely logical view against which others reacted. Calvin was influenced by St. Augustine’s position on predestination, as developed by Martin Luther in terms of double predestination (although a more moderate position became adopted as Lutheran doctrine).16 According to Calvin, Christ’s Atonement was only for the elect (a doctrine known as limited Atonement). Those predestined to damnation could not escape their fate. In England, this doctrine was enforced in Article 17 of the Thirty-Nine Articles promulgated in 1562. The Reformed position emphasised that God did not, contrary, it was maintained, to Roman Catholic belief, reward human merit with redemption.

The severity of the Reformed position on predestination produced a reaction which was most authoritatively expressed by the Dutch theologian Jacobus ← 12 | 13 → Arminius (1560–609). According to him, predestination related to God’s knowledge of human choice in advance (Wallace 214). He endeavoured to emphasise God’s mercy by maintaining that God elects those who will show faith at his offer of salvation (“Arminius, Jacobus”). After his death his doctrines were set out in a “Remonstrance” which was signed by some of his followers. This document was considered at the Synod of Dort (1618–19), and was condemned (“Arminius, Jacobus”). However, the controversy about Arminius’s doctrine, which had developed in England, most notably, continued there (Wallace 214–15), as in the Netherlands (“Arminius, Jacobus”). Arminian doctrines came to be associated with the ecclesiastical authorities in England (Wallace 215), and one petition to Charles I complains that the puritan petitioners are condemned for preaching in conformity with the Calvinist Article 17 of the Anglican Church, while Pelagian and Arminian heresies are preached and printed without censure (Brook, Introduction 1:74).17

There were many variations on the basic Puritan and Arminian positions on predestination. Bernard himself can be seen to have modified his position on predestination in the course of his career. In doing so, it is likely that he was not only reacting to developments in the field, but was also influenced by his experience in his pastoral work with his parishioners. In his Large Catechisme (1602) Bernard clearly accepts Article 17. He distinguishes between the reprobate, “whome God hath not decreed to save, to manifest his justice” and the elect “beeing predestinate to eternall life” (Large Catechisme 9). However, by the time he wrote Ruths Recompence he seems to have adopted elements of a more moderate Puritan position. He even appears to have perhaps slightly leaned towards Arminianism, at this time when Arminians and their opponents were locked in conflict.

For instance, Bernard seems to lean slightly towards the Arminian tenet (see “Arminianism”) that believers can fall from grace, in his exposition of the women’s leaving for Judah in Ruth 1.7. He points out that Orpah later gave up her selfless mission, and teaches that it is a special grace to continue in goodness to the end. He explains that those biblical characters who only got as far as making a good beginning were called but not effectually, not being elected (according to Matt. 22.14). This reflected the fact that they were full of hypocrisy (RR 124). It would appear that in Bernard’s view such individuals never began the redemption process. However, he goes on to make the warning, “let none thinke well of themselves for faire beginnings, because they that continue to the end, shall onely be saved” (RR 125). In endeavouring to discourage complacency, he seems to suggest that even those who have progressed along the chain of redemption may fall from grace.

Although such a passage in Ruths Recompence can be interpreted as showing that Bernard diverged from strict Calvinism, the commentary also shows that he did not always adopt the strategy used by moderate Calvinists of emphasising the ← 13 | 14 → election of the saved rather than the reprobation of the damned (Wallace 218). In Ruth Chapter 1, Bernard derives from Naomi and her sons outliving Elimelech the observation that God causes some people to live longer than others. According to Bernard, God lengthens the lives of certain of his own so that they can further repent, and lengthens the lives of certain of those who will perish for their greater condemnation (RR 111). Here, Bernard explicitly spells out the predicament of the damned, showing that he still paid at least lip-service to his earlier views. However, his Common Catechisme of 1630, which was approximately contemporaneous with Ruths Recompence, suggests that he did not, in fact, have a strict Calvinist view of the reprobate. In his Common Catechisme, he follows the 1549 Prayer Book catechism’s teaching that Christ has redeemed all mankind (sig. B2v). In teaching this, Bernard may indicate that he does not hold a strict Calvinist view of limited Atonement but rather is more inclined to the Arminian position on the Atonement. According to the Remonstrance, the Atonement was sufficient for all men but only efficacious for the man with faith (“Arminianism”). In making this alignment, Bernard might well have been showing concern for the possible redemption of his parishioners as a whole. Moreover, he teaches on the same page of this catechism that the respondent and “All the elect people of God” are sanctified by God the holy Ghost. It may be deduced from this that he takes the elect to refer to the godly community, which may be expanded by converting ideally all the ungodly, rather than an exclusive group.

It can be concluded that Bernard adopted beliefs about predestination from various positions on the spectrum available to him in the course of his career. Despite his early strict Calvinism, by the late 1620s he was articulating views characteristic of moderate Calvinists; he certainly did not align himself with the petitioners to Charles I who would not tolerate any compromise on Article 17. It has been suggested in this analysis of Bernard’s interpretation of predestination that his reluctance to teach a strict Calvinist doctrine on the subject was, in part, a consequence of his pastoral values and concern for the salvation of those in his parish.

Finally, it remains to consider Bernard’s contribution to one particularly significant theological area in the early modern period, anti-Catholicism. He played a major role in this area, in which there was an emphasis by the beginning of the seventeenth century on preventing a return of England to Roman Catholicism, particularly as threatened by foreign Roman Catholic powers in the wake of the Spanish Armada of 1588 and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Anti-Catholicism in the early modern period has been the subject of some debate by critics. One significant approach to understanding anti-Catholicism is found within a survey of the relations between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and wider populace and religious minorities, which included Roman Catholics ← 14 | 15 → after the Reformation and from the reign of Elizabeth. This survey shows how intolerance was imposed and experienced as well as the evidence for tolerance (Walsham, Charitable hatred). The usefulness of this approach for the period lies in its observation that Roman Catholicism was not the sole target of suspicion. This is confirmed by Bernard’s own linking together of the two religious groups, the Brownists and the Antichristians (Roman Catholics) when he praises the dedicatee of his first epistle of his Key of Knowledge, Arthur Lake, bishop of Bath and Wells, for ensuring that the church would not be harmed by either group (A3r).18

There is evidence both for intolerance and tolerance towards Roman Catholics in the period. This is also indicated by earlier critics. Anti-Catholicism in the early seventeenth century might be seen as “a way of dividing up the world between positive and negative characteristics” in order to expel threat to England as a Protestant country, as Peter Lake argues (“Anti-popery” 74). However, such an extreme thoroughgoing (“starkly polarizing”) anti-Catholicism may not have been actually held by Protestant English people in general. Anthony Milton suggests that, although polarizing anti-Catholicism may have been one approach open for understanding Roman Catholicism, in the period people could not avoid contact and accommodation with Roman Catholicism (“Qualified Intolerance” 85–6). However, at times of crisis, polarizing anti-Catholicism did become dominant and people could be targeted as a result of their compromise with Roman Catholicism in everyday life (“Qualified Intolerance” 110).

Anti-Catholicism can be considered quantitatively, as well as in terms of tolerance and intolerance, as above. Milton has provided some figures. According to him, there were more than 500 works which were contributions to the printed controversy between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church between 1605 and 1625. They were published by about 150 Roman Catholic and Protestant authors (Catholic and Reformed 31–2). However, the quantity may be regarded as sparse, as a sample by Ian Green of approximately 700 Protestant works passing through a minimum of five editions in 30 years, first published between 1530 and 1700, indicates (Print and Protestantism xi). Green, who is concerned with the market for Protestant works, finds in his sample only a score of treatises consisting mainly of anti-Catholic polemic (Print and Protestantism 224).


XIV, 472
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XIV, 472 pp., 9 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Arlene McAlister (Volume editor)

Arlene McAlister holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Edinburgh (2012). She is currently an independent researcher based in Edinburgh. Her latest publication is an article in the journal The Seventeenth Century on Ruths Recompence.


Title: A Critical Edition of Ruths Recompence by Richard Bernard
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