This divine is the next on the list of three good men, of whom the marginal comment in the Popish translation says,--"They will be abhorred in the depths of hell!" They may be abhorred there, bnt, after a while no where else. He was born in 1559, at Hadley, and was bred in the free school at that place. He lived through the whole of that happy period, which many, beside the old bard of Rydal Mount, regard as the best days of old England,
"When faith and hope were in their prime,
In due season, he was entered as a scholar at St. John's College, Cambridge. He was next chosen Fellow of Trinity College, in the same University. In 1596, he was made King's Professor of Divinity; and at the same time took his doctor's degree, being about thirty-seven years of age. It is noted of this eminent theologian by Bishop Hacket, that it was his custom to ground his theses in the schools on two or three texts of Scripture, shewing what latitude of opinion or interpretation was admissible upon the point in hand. He was celebrated for the appropriateness of his quotations from the Fathers. He was soon after made Master of Catharine Hall very much against his will. To end a bitter contention in regard to two rival candidates, he was elected, if election it could be called, under the Queen's absolute mandate. When Archbishop Whitgift wished the new Master "joy of his place", the latter replied that it was "terminus diminuens;" which is Latin for "an Irish promotion," or a "hoist down hill." But his Grace, in the true spirit of a courtier "all of the olden time," told the dissatisfied Professor, that "if the injuries, much more the less courtesies, of princes must be thankfully taken, as the ushers to make way for greater favors." These appointments must be taken as full proof of Dr. Overall's superior scholarship in that learned age, when such preferments were only won by dint of the severest application to study.
In 1601, on the recommendation of Lord Brooke, that noble friend and patron of men of learning and genius, Dr. Overall was made Dean of St. Paul's, in London. It may be doubted whether this studious recluse, absorbed in deep studies, shone with his brightest lustre in the pulpit. "Being appointed," says Thomas Fuller, "to preach before the Queen, he professed to my father, who was most intimate with him, that he had spoken Latin so long, it was troublesome to him to speak English in a continued oration."
Soon after the throne was filled by James the First, whom that accomplished statesman, the Duke of Sully, called "the most learned fool in Europe," the Convocation, or parliament of the clergy came together. Dr. Overall was prolocutor, or speaker, of the lower house of Convocation. To this body he presented a volume of canons, the only book from his pen now extant. Its object was to vindicate the divine right of government. But though it was adopted by the Convocation, the King prevented the publication of the book at that time, because it taught, that when, after a revolution or conquest, a new government or dynasty was firmly established, this also, in its turn, could plead for itself a divine right, and could claim the obedience of the people as a matter of duty toward God. This "Convocation Book," now so long forgotten, was printed many years after the death of "King Jamie;" and obtained some historical and political celebrity, because it had the very effect which was apprehended by the monarch who suppressed it. For when his grandson, James the Second, was expelled from the soil and throne of England, many bishops and other clergymen, called "non-jurors," refused through conscientious scruples, to swear allegiance to the new government of William and Mary. Bishop Sherlock and many others, who at first declined the oath, professed to be converted from that error by the reading of Dr. Overall's book. But conversions so favorable to thrift are apt to be held in suspicion. Dr. Overall was the author of the questions and answers relating to the sacraments, which have been much admired, by the ablest judges of such matters, and which were subjoined to the Catechism of the Church of England, in the first year of James the First.
It was while he was Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, that he was joined in the commission, the highest of his honors, for translating the Bible. Though long familiarity with other languages may have made him somewhat inapt for continuous public discourse in his mother-tongue, he was thereby the better fitted to discern the sense of the sacred original. He was styled by Camden "a prodigious learned man;" and is said by Fuller to have been "of a strong brain to improve his great reading."
John Overall, who "carried superintendency in his surname," was made Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry, in 1614. Four years later he was transferred to the see of Norwich, where, in a few months, he died, at the age of sixty years. This was in 1619. He frequently had in his mouth the words of the Psalmist,--"When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth; surely every man is vanity."
In his later years, he was unhappily inclined to Arminianism. He was a correspondent of Vossius and Grotius, and other famous scholars on the continent. He was greatly addicted to the scholastic theology, now so much decried. Since the days of Bacon the schoolmen have been much depreciated, because there was so little practical fruit of their studies. And yet there was something wonderful in the keenness and subtlety of their disputes; though it is lawful to smile at the excess of logical refinement which subdivided the stream of their genius into a ramification of rills, absorbed at last in the dry desert of metaphysics. One of them is highly praised by Cardan, "for that only one of his arguments was enough to puzzle all posterity; and that when he was grown old, he wept because he could not understand his own books." We can conceive, however, that the refinement of the schoolmen as to precise definitions, and nicer shades of thought, might be a valuable quality in some, at least, of the company of Translators.