Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bull, George
BULL, GEORGE (1634–1710), bishop of St. David's, belonged to an old Somersetshire family, and was born, 25 March 1634, in the parish of St. Cuthbert, Wells. His father dedicated him to the Christian ministry at the font, but he was not aware of this until he had been ordained. He was educated first in the grammar school at Wells, and then in the free school at Tiverton under Mr. Samuel Butler, a noted scholar in his day. Before he was fourteen years old he went into residence at Exeter College, Oxford. He does not appear to have been very diligent at the university, though he won the regard of two eminent men there Dr. Conant, rector of the college, and Bishop Prideaux. He also became during his undergraduate days an intimate friend of Mr. Clifford, afterwards the lord high treasurer of England. In 1649, while yet a lad of fifteen, he refused to take the 'engagement,' following the example of his tutor, Mr. Ackland. The tutor and pupil left the university together, and settled at North Cadbury in Somersetshire, and Bull was more industrious here than at the university. He was also here brought more closely under the influence of an excellent sister. He was next persuaded to place himself under the guidance of a Mr. William Thomas, rector of Ubley, a puritan divine. Bull, however, was not so much influenced by Mr. William Thomas as by his son, Mr. Samuel Thomas, who took the opposite views to those of his father, and directed Bull to read such divines as Hooker, Hammond, and Jeremy Taylor. On leaving Mr. Thomas, Bull applied to Dr. Skinner, the ejected bishop of Oxford, for episcopal ordination, and was ordained by him deacon and priest the same day, when he was only twenty-one years of age. After his ordination he took the small living of St. George's, near Bristol, from which, as its value was only 30l. a year, it was not thought worth while to eject him. Here he was very diligent in his parish work, and spent more than the value of the living upon the poor. He had some little trouble with the quakers, but won the esteem of the great majority of his parishioners. Bull, like Sanderson and others, used the church prayers, which he knew by heart, without the book. He used to spend two months every year at Oxford for the purpose of consulting the libraries there, and on his way to and from the university he always visited Sir William Master of Cirencester. On those occasions he was wont to help the incumbent, Mr. Alexander Gregory, whose daughter Bridget he married on Ascension day, 1658. In the same year he was presented to the rectory of Suddington St. Mary's, near Cirencester, through the influence of Lady Pool, the lady of the manor. In 1659 the rectory at Suddington became one of the many places of meeting at which the friends of the exiled dynasty assembled to concert measures for the restoration of King Charles. Bull was accustomed to assist his father-in-law in the church services at Cirencester, and he was so acceptable to the parishioners, that when the living became vacant they were most anxious that he should succeed to it; but he steadily refused to allow any efforts to be made on his behalf. In 1662 he was presented to the vicarage of Suddington St. Peter's by the lord chancellor (Clarendon), at the request of Dr. Nicholson, bishop of Gloucester. This being a contiguous parish, he was able to hold it with Suddington St. Mary's. The united incomes of the two parishes did not exceed 100l. a year net; and the two villages together did not contain more than thirty families. At Suddington he wrote his first book, the 'Harmonia Apostolica,' in which he attempted to reconcile the apparent discrepancies between St. Paul and St. James on the relationship of faith and good works in Christian justification. He advocated the principle that St. Paul ought to be interpreted by St. James, not St. James by St. Paul, on the ground that St. James wrote latest, and was presumably acquainted with St. Paul's teaching. Bishop Morley wrote a pastoral letter to his clergy against Bull; Dr. Barlow, afterwards bishop of Lincoln, lectured against him at Oxford; Dr. Tully, principal of St. Edmund Hall, wrote an answer, in which he is said to have been assisted by Morley and Barlow; Charles Gataker, son of Thomas Gataker, well known from his treatise 'On Lots,' and Thomas Truman and John Toombes, nonconformists, also wrote against him. The 'Harmonia Apostolica ' was published in 1669-70, and his 'Examen Censures' (his reply to Gataker), and his 'Apologia pro Harmonia' (his reply to Barlow) in 1675. His greatest work of all, too, if not actually an answer to, was called forth by, his assailants. His advocacy of the necessity of good works caused his adversaries to insinuate that he was a Socinian. To vindicate himself from this charge, Bull wrote his memorable 'Defensio Fidei Nicaenae.' It was finished in 1680, but was offered in vain to three publishers. Bull wrote, we are told, several works which never saw the light, and the 'Defensio ' was all but consigned to the same limbo. But happily he showed his manuscript to a friend, who persuaded him to 'take it out of the grave' and show it to Dr. Jane, regius professor of divinity at Oxford. The professor recognised the value of the work, and showed it to the famous Dr. Fell, bishop of Oxford and dean of Christ Church, who nobly undertook the whole cost of the publication. When it was printed in 1685, it was most favourably received; its fame extended to foreign lands; it was mentioned with praise by the great Bossuet, bishop of Meaux, who, in his controversy with Jurieu, referred his adversary to 'that learned English protestant, Dr. Bull.' The 'Defensio' was a very seasonable as well as a very valuable work; for not only the antitrinitarians, but also some of the believers in the Trinity notably Petavius the Jesuit, and Episcopius denied that the ante-Nicene fathers held the same doctrines as those which were established at the council of Nicaea. Bull took upon himself to prove that they did. The 'Defensio' was written in excellent Latin. It still remains the 'locus classicus ' of that particular branch of the great trinitarian controversy with which it exclusively deals, and the objections which have been raised against it seem, partly at least, to have risen from what really is one of its chief merits. Bull showed great self-restraint in never being tempted to diverge from his proper subject (the opinions of the ante-Nicene fathers) into any of the other numerous questions connected with the doctrine of the Trinity; and consequently those who have looked for a satisfactory reply to any question except that to which Bull confined himself, have not found what they wanted. Bull's next work, the 'Judicium Ecclesiae Catholicae,' though not published until nine years after the 'Defensio' (1694), must be regarded as a supplement to the earlier work. Episcopius held that the Nicene fathers did not consider a belief in our Lord's true and proper divinity as an indispensable term of catholic communion; Bull wrote the 'Judicium' to prove that they did. His latest work on the trinitarian question, entitled 'Primitiva et Apostolica Traditio,' was directed against the opinion of Daniel Zwicker, that Christ's divinity, preexistence, and incarnation were inventions of early heretics. The three works are, in fact, a sort of trilogy. Another work, though not actually a part of the same subject, obviously arose from it. Robert Nelson, Bull's pupil and biographer, encouraged by the favourable remarks which Bossuet had made upon the 'Defensio,' sent the great French prelate a copy of the 'Judicium.' Bossuet was equally pleased with this work, and showed it to his brother prelates; and Bull had the unique honour (for an Anglican divine) of receiving 'the unfeigned congratulations of the whole clergy of France assembled at St. Germain's for the great service he had done to the catholic church by defending the determination of the necessity of believing the divinity of the Son of God.' At the same time, Bossuet expressed his wonder as to what Bull meant by the word 'catholic,' and why it was that he remained separated from the unity of Rome. Bull had, of course, a sufficient answer from his own point of view to give to these questions, and he gave it in a treatise entitled 'The Corruptions of the Church of Rome,' the most popular, perhaps, and the liveliest of all his works.
Bull was rector of Suddington for twenty-seven years, and had to encounter much opposition from his dissenting parishioners; and though he was quite strong and conciliatory enough to hold his own, he must have suffered much worry in the process. Immediately after the publication of the 'Defensio' Bull's prospects began to brighten. He had been presented in 1678 to a prebend of small value at Gloucester by the lord chancellor (the Earl of Nottingham), to whom in gratitude he dedicated his great work. In 1685 he was presented to the rectory of Avening, a living of about double the value of the two Suddingtons. The increase of income was most acceptable; for though he had a small patrimony besides his living, it is clear that he was straitened in his means. His first work at Avening was to rebuild the parsonage-house, which had been burnt down. He had some little trouble with his new parishioners, but he succeeded there, as he had done elsewhere, in living it down. In 1686 he was appointed by Archbishop Sancroft to the archdeaconry of Llandaff. The archdeaconry was the archbishop's 'option' He was also, on the nomination of his old friend Bishop Fell, admitted to the degree of D.D. at Oxford without the payment of the usual fees, although he had never taken any university degree. After the Revolution he was placed on the commission of peace, and continued to act as a magistrate until he was made a bishop. A general effort was then being made to induce magistrates to enforce the laws against immorality and profaneness; this was one of the chief objects of the societies for the reformation of manners, of which Bull was an ardent supporter, and to help on this work was the avowed object for which Bull undertook his magisterial duties. In March 1704-5 Bull was appointed bishop of St. David's. His age and infirmities prevented him from being an active prelate. He once formed a plan for making a tour of his diocese, but a severe illness detained him at Brecknock, where he resided, and his son-in-law, Mr. (afterwards archdeacon) Stevens, and Mr. Powell went as his commissioners to deliver his charge. Hearne writes in his 'Diary,' under date 7 Feb. 1706-7, that 'when the Bill for Security of the Church of England was read . . . Dr. Bull sate in the Lobby of the House of Lords all the while smoking his Pipe' (Hearne, Collections, i. 324, Oxford Hist. Soc.) He held the see only four years, during the whole of which time he was obviously failing. He died 17 Feb. 1709-10, and was buried at Brecknock, where his widow spent the brief remainder of her days. His life was written shortly after his decease by Robert Nelson, who is said to have shortened his own life by the assiduous pains he bestowed upon this labour of love.
The dates and circumstances of publication of Bull's works have been already noticed. The whole of the Latin works were collected and edited by Dr. Ernest Grabe in 1703, with a preface and many annotations by the editor, which gave great satisfaction to the author. The edition is in one volume folio. These works have been translated into English at various times. A translation of the 'Harmonia Apostolica' was made by the Rev. T. Wilkinson of Great Houghton in 1801. The ' Harmonia', 'Examen Censurae,' 'Defensio,' and 'Judicium' form part of the 'Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology' published at Oxford 1842-55. The 'Opinion of the Catholic Church,' a translation of the 'Judicium,' was published with a memoir of Bull's life by T. Rankin in 1825, and a full edition of all the works of Bull (including the sermons and Nelson's Life), 'collected and revised by the Rev. E. Burton,' was published, in seven volumes octavo, at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1827. The 'Corruptions of the Church of Rome' was so popular that it reached a fourth edition in 1714. It was translated into Italian, and passed through more than one edition in that tongue. 'A Companion to Candidates for Orders, or the Great Importance of the Priestly Office,' by Bull, was published after his death, in 1714. He also left orders to his son Robert to publish his sermons after his death. This was accordingly done. They are only twenty in number, but they deal with curious and interesting subjects in an interesting manner. 'On the Middle State,' 'On the low and mean earthly condition of the Blessed Virgin Mary as contrasted with her primitive and proper title of Mother of God,' 'On S. Paul's Thorn in the Flesh and the Cloke he left at Troas,' 'On the Existence and Ministration of Angels,' ' On Degrees of Glory in Christ's Heavenly Kingdom,' are the titles of some of them. The most popular is his visitation sermon, 'Concerning the Difficulty and Danger of the Priestly Office,' which covers the same ground as the 'Companion' above mentioned.[Nelson's Life of Bishop Bull; Bull's Works, passim; Biog. Brit. (Kippis), ii. 695; Classic Preachers of the English Church, St. James' Lectures, 2nd series.]