James Usher (or Ussher) was born in Dublin, Ireland on January 4, 1581, as the son of a Dublin lawyer.
He is regarded as one of the greatest scholars and theologians of his time, with an enthusiasm for knowledge. His pursuit of good resource material led to him travelling widely in both Britain and Europe in search of original source documents in the form of the earliest available manuscripts. When he found quality manuscripts he would buy them, and where he could not do that he would copy them.
Usher’s uncle, Henry Usher, Archbishop of Armagh (a position which James later held), secured the charter to start Trinity College in Dublin. James studied there and later became its Vice Chancellor. He held various pastorates and was also Professor of Theological Controversies. He also wrote several scholarly books, with a focus on historical issues, such as the authority of the British Churches in opposition to Rome. He was against the Roman Catholic Church, but was cordial to his friends and relatives who were Catholic.
He became Primate of the Church of Ireland and was a friend of the Puritan party within the Church. At the same time he remained a staunch Royalist, something the Puritans did not always appreciate!
He is best remembered for his chronology of the Bible, published in two volumes between 1650-54, once found in the margin of the Authorised King James Version.
Much of his chronology was helpful, but with the virulent propagation of Lyell’s geological Uniformitarianism which proposed millions of years, and the various theories of Evolution in the 1800’s, Usher’s claim that the Creation took place in 4004 BC fell into disrepute. For that matter, he went so far as to state that the world was created on 22 October, 4004 BC … 9:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time!! One wit commented that closer to that the good Primate was not willing to go …
Because of his academic and religious stature he was engaged in matters of the highest state, including negotiations with King Charles I.
On his deathbed he prayed, “God be merciful unto me, a sinner.” It was 21 March, 1656.
He was buried in state in Westminster, on April 17, with the permission of Oliver Cromwell.
After his death, Usher’s extensive and valuable library (10,000 volumes) became the nucleus of the great library of Trinity College, Dublin, under order of King Charles II.
Note that astronomists used Usher’s calculations to identify October 25, 1996 as the day on which the world would end.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com