James Ussher

From Academic Kids

James Ussher (also spelled Usher) (January 4, 1581March 21, 1656) was Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland between 16251656 and a prolific religious scholar who most famously published a chronology which dated creation from 4004 BC.

Ussher was born in Dublin, Ireland into a well-to-do Anglo-Irish family. He was a gifted linguist, entering the newly founded (1591) Trinity College Dublin on January 9, 1594, at the age of only thirteen years old. He graduated in 1600 and received a Master's degree in 1601. In 1602, he was ordained in the Trinity College Chapel as Deacon and Priest by his uncle, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

He went on to become a fellow and Professor of Theology in 1607 and then vice chancellor of Trinity on two occasions in 1614 and 1617. In 1621 he was appointed Bishop of Meath and was elevated to the Archbishopric of Armagh in 1625. This placed him at the head of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland, then as now a highly contentious role on the predominantly Catholic island. Like many of his contemporaries, he was strongly anti-Catholic and given to frequent denunciations of Catholics. For instance, his 1626 "Judgement of the Arch-Bishops and Bishops of Ireland" begins:

The religion of the papists is superstitious and idolatrous; their faith and doctrine erroneous and heretical; their church ... apostatical; to give them therefore a toleration, or to consent that they may freely exercise their religion ... is a grievous sin.

Ussher engaged in extensive debate with Catholic theologians, and pressed for firm measures to be taken against Irish Catholics. The traditional portrait of Ussher is of a slightly unworldly scholar who was at best a mediocre politician and administrator. In fact he was a perfectly effective bishop and archbishop, and his learning earned him considerable respect in political circles.

Ussher spent the last sixteen years of his life in England. He travelled there in 1640 but was unable to return home as a consequence of the Irish rising (1641), the English Civil War (1642) and Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth regime. Though courted by Parliament, he sided with the king during the Civil War. He died in 1656 at the age of 75 and was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey, despite his royalist sympathies.

Although Ussher produced a considerable number of religious works, his most famous was the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world"), published in 1650. In this work, he claimed, infamously, that the earth was created on the evening preceding October 23, 4004 BC. This work established what has become known as the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar. It is a work that is still referenced by Young Earth Creationists (who believe that the Earth is approximately 6,000 years old) and has been much ridiculed as a symbol of religious obscurantism. The time is frequently misquoted as being 9 a.m., noon or 9 p.m. on October 23. See the related article on the Calendar for a discussion of its claims and methodology.

Annals has recently been republished in modern English, and this huge tome has proved very popular still. There is much more to it than Genesis — it shows huge depth of learning in ancient history, including the rise of the Persians, Greeks and Romans.

In terms of Irish history, Ussher's major contribution was his identification of the protestant Church of Ireland with the early Irish Patrician church, an "origin myth" which survived as the proud boast of the Church of Ireland right down to the twentieth century.

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External links and references

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