Henry Saville’s Patristic Sacrifice

Among the King James Bible translators was Sir Henry Saville (1549–1622), who was a mathematician and patristics scholar as well as being the warden of Merton College. When he was drafted to work on the translation of the Gospels, Acts and Revelation—he was a part of one of the Oxford translation companies—he shelved a massive project of a critical edition of the works of John Chrysostom. According to Anthony Walker, the author of the life of John Bois, another of the King James Bible translator, Saville was such a sedulous scholar that his wife “thought herself neglected’ and coming to him one day, as he was in his study, saluted him thus, “Sir Henry I would I were a book too, and then you would a little more respect me.” Ouch! All too real a danger for scholars and would-be researchers…brothers and sisters, take warning! Not long before Saville finished the Chrysostom volumes, he fell ill. His wife’s response was: “if Sir Harry died, she would burn Chrysostome, for killing her husband.” When Bois, who was present, remonstrated with her, she asked, “Who was Chrysostome?” When he answered, “One of the sweetest preachers since the apostles times,” she relented, and said “she would not do it for all the world.” In the final analysis, she perceived the value of her husband’s work, but he should have given her some idea of this long before it got to this point. Or maybe he did, and she did not hear him.

Whatever the case, these two exchanges sound so familiar to all engaged in scholarship, and are a powerful reminder of the need to maintain a due sense of priorities.

For the texts cited, see The Life of that famous Grecian Mr. John Bois 5.14 in Ward Allen, trans. and ed., Translating for King James (Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 1969), 141¬142.