Henry Ainsworth

 AINSWORTH, HENRY (1571-1622), English Nonconformist divine and scholar, was born of yeoman stock in 1570/1 at Swanton Morley, Norfolk.  He was for four years from December 1587 a scholar of Caius College, Cambridge, and, after associating with the Puritan party in the Church, eventually joined the Separatists.  Driven abroad about the year 1593, he found a home in “a blind lane at Amsterdam.” He acted as “porter” to a scholarly bookseller in that city, who, on discovering his skill in the Hebrew language, made him known to his countrymen.  When part of the London church, of which Francis Johnson (then in prison) was pastor, reassembled in Amsterdam, Ainsworth was chosen as their doctor or teacher.  In 1596 he took the lead in drawing up a confession of their faith, which he reissued in Latin in 1598 and dedicated to the various universities of Europe (including St Andrews, Scotland).  Johnson joined his flock in 1597, and in 1604 he and Ainsworth composed An Apology or Defence of such true Christians as are commonly but unjustly called Brownists.  The task of organizing the church was not easy and dissension was rife. 

Of Ainsworth it may be said that, though often embroiled in controversy, he never put himself forward; yet he was the most steadfast and cultured champion of the principles represented by the early Congregationalists.  Amid all the strife of controversy, he steadily pursued his rabbinical studies.  The combination was so unique that many, like the encyclopaedists L. Moreri and J. H. Zedler, have made two Henry Ainsworths—one Dr Henry Ainsworth, a learned biblical commentator; the other H. Ainsworth, an arch-heretic and “the ringleader of the Separatists at Amsterdam.” Some confusion has also been occasioned through his not unfriendly controversy with one John Ainsworth, who abjured the Anglican for the Roman church.  In 1608 Ainsworth answered Richard Bernard’s The Separatist Schisme. But his ablest and most arduous minor work in controversy was his reply to John Smyth (commonly called “the Se-Baptist”), entitled A Defence of Holy Scripture, Worship and Ministry used in the Christian Churches separated from Antichrist, against the Challenges, Cavils and Contradictions of Mr Smyth (1609).  In 1610 he was forced reluctantly to withdraw, with a large part of their church, from F. Johnson and those who adhered to him. 

For some time a difference of principle, as to the church’s right to revise its officers’ decisions, had been growing between them, Ainsworth taking the more Congregational view. But in spirit he remained a man of peace.  His memory abides through his rabbinical learning.  The ripe fruit of many years’ labour appeared in his Annotations—on Genesis (1616); Exodus (1617); Leviticus (1618); Numbers (1619); Deuteronomy (1619); Psalms (including a metrical version, 1612); Song of Solomon (1623).  These were collected in folio in 1627, and again in 1639, and later in various forms.  From the outset the Annotations took a commanding place, especially among continental scholars, and he established for English nonconformity a tradition of culture and scholarship.  There is no probability about the narrative given by Neal in his History of the Puritans (ii. 47) that he was poisoned by certain Jews.  He died in 1622, or early in 1623, for in that year was published his Seasonable Discourse, or a Censure upon a Dialogue of the Anabaptists, in which the editor speaks of him as a departed worthy.

LITERATURE.—John Worthington’s Diary (Chetham Society), by Crossley, i. 263-266; works of John Robinson (1851); H. M. Dexter, Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years (1880); W. E. A. Axon, H. Ainsworth, the Puritan Commentator (1889); F. J. Powicke, Henry Barrow and the Exiled Church of Amsterdam (1900), J. H.  Shakespeare, Baptist and Congregational Pioneers (1906).





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