THE BIBLE TRANSLATOR
AND CHRISTIAN MARTYR.
Important messages are often translated into many languages to make sure that they can be understood by as many people as possible. The Bible, which is the Word of God, contains an important message. Although recorded long ago, the truths found in the Bible “were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15: 4), to provide us with the knowledge of eternal salvation through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; and with the “hope” of ‘aionian’ (age-lasting) life (Titus 1: 2) to “inherit” the “kingdom of God,” in the “Age” to come, (Gal. 5: 21; Eph. 5: 5; Luke 20: 35; Rev. 3: 21; 20: 4, &c.)
It stands to reason then, that the inspired Word of God which was written initially in both the Hebrew and Greek languages, should be made available in many other languages.
Throughout history, God has inspired men to translate the Holy Scriptures into many languages; but, in Tindale’s day not everyone relished the idea!* Pope Gregory XI issued five edicts condemning Wycliffe, but the Translator replied: “Englishmen learn Christ’s law best in English. Moses heard God’s law in his own tongue, so did Christ’s apostles.” Wycliffe had translated from the Latin Vulgate and mainly copied the Scriptures and numberless copies of Wycliff’s translation of the Bible were made and widely circulated, and handed down.
[*NOTE. In some respects, conditions within
Christendom today are similar to those existing in Tindale’s day. Today we have bigoted and ignorant Bible
teachers, indoctrinated with what they have heard and been taught by man’s
wisdom in Bible colleges. Some of these
people, armed with worldly qualifications and false interpretations in
order to appear faithful to their various denominational parties, Bible
schools, and sects, are wilfully neglecting and avoiding the
exposition of certain texts (as those shown above); and are misleading God’s
redeemed people into a false sense of security relative the “Prize” (1 Cor. 9: 24); the “just
recompense of Reward,” the “out-Resurrection,” which Paul sought to “attain” (Phil. 3:
11); the Rapture of those
found watchful and “able to escape” before the Great Tribulation will
set in, (Luke 21: 36; Rev. 3: 10), and the millennial
“inheritance” upon this earth (Rev. 20: 4; Heb. 4: 11; Rom. 8: 19-22, etc.) for
those “considered worthy of taking part in that age” (Luke 20: 35) – i.e., the Messianic Kingdom which must soon appear. This common apostasy being witnessed today, is
continually being practised by wilful neglect of conditional
promises of God: and by numerous spiritual and allegorical interpretations of responsibility
truths they seek to appease those in their congregations, who “distort the truth” by being unwilling to listen to “the whole will (‘counsel’ R.V.) of God” –
i.e., “the Gospel of God’s grace” and “about preaching the kingdom:”
(Heb. 10: 26-30; 1 Tim. 2: 12; 1 Cor. 6: 9, 10;
“Keep in mind: Blessed experiences of the past are no guarantees for equal fullness of blessings in the present and future. A Christ of only ‘yesterday’ does not help you, but the living Christ of ‘to-day’ always does. Our vision must not be directed only backwards – however fundamental our former experiences may be – but upwards and forwards. ‘It is not the beginning but the end that crowns the Christian’s pilgrimage.” – Erich Sauer.]
Within 200 years, the English used by Wycliffe
was virtually obsolete, and a young
To stem the tide of Bible reading and Tindale’s
alleged heresy, the bishop of
Thomas More promoted the burning of “heretics,” which ultimate led to William Tindale being strangled and his body burned at the stake in October 1536. Sir Thomas More, for his part, was later beheaded after running foul of the king. However, he was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1935, and in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II honoured More as the patron saint of politicians.
Tindale received no such recognition; but, on the other hand, his friend Miles Coverdale integrated Tindale’s translation into a complete Bible – the first English translation from the original languages! Every ploughboy could now read God’s Word, and seek the Holy Spirit’s help in its true interpretation.
The ten selected extracts from the numbered pages of the following biography by Robert Demaus, M. A., will give some insight into the man whom God greatly used to change the world for good, at a time when apostate and carnal religious leaders of the Church were seeking to withhold and distort Divine truths from multitudes of God’s redeemed people.
Next to the study of the Bible itself, Christians today need to study the writings and the lives of those faithful servants of God who emphasised the need of running the “Race,” according to the rules, in order to win the “Prize:” (1 Cor. 9: 24; Heb. 12: 1.)
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“I hold of the souls that are departed as much as may be proved by manifest and open Scripture, and think the souls departed in the faith of Christ and love of the law of God, to be in no worse case than the soul of Christ was from the time that He delivered His Spirit into the hands of His Father until the resurrection of His body in glory and immortality.”
- Tindale’s Rejoinder to Joye.
“I call God to recorde against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to geue a reckenyng of our doynges, that I neuer altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would this day, if all that is in the earth, whether it be pleasure, honour, riches, might be geuen me.”
– Tindale’s Letter To Frith.
“I perceived by experience how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother-tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text.”
- Tindale’s Preface to the Pentateuch, 1530.
“If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest”
- Foxe, edition of 1563.
“Beware of allegories; for there is not a more handsome or apt thing to beguile withal than an allegory; nor a more subtle and pestilent thing in the world to persuade a false matter, than an allegory.”
* * * * * * *
[In William Tindale’s day], “The study of the Holy Scripture did not even form a part of the preparatory education of those who were destined to be the religious teachers of the people; theological summaries, compiled by scholastic doctors took the place of the Word of God; and St. Paul was cast into the shade by their ‘doctor sanctus,’ the ‘angel of the schools,’ ‘divus Thomas de Aquino.’ As an inevitable result, religion had degenerated into an unprofitable round of superstitious customs and ceremonial observances.” (pp.32.)
“In the Universities they have ordained that no man shall look at the Scripture until he be noselled [nursed or trained] on heathen learning eight or nine years, and armed with false principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the Scripture. And at his first coming unto University, he is sworn that he shall not defame the University, whatsoever he seeth. And when he taketh first degree, he is sworn that he shall hold none opinions condemned by the Church; but with such opinions be, that he shall not know. And then, when they be admitted to study divinity, because the Scripture is locked up with such false expositions, and with false principles of natural philosophy, that they cannot enter in, they go about the outside, and dispute all their lives about words and vain opinions, pertaining as much unto the healing of a man’s heel, as health of his soul: provided yet always, lest God give His singular grace unto any person, that none may preach except he be admitted of the Bishops.”* (pp. 45, 46.)
[* “Practice of Prelates: Works, vol. ii. P. 291.]
It was under the influence of these reflections - (i.e., that the Holy Scriptures, and the meaning of the passages which occurred in the services of the Church should be obscured by whimsical, allegorical interpretations) – that Tyndale: “perceived by experience how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any such truth, except the Scripture were plainly laid before their eyes in their mother-tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text; for else, whatsoever truth is taught them, these enemies of all truth quench it again … [by] juggling with the text, expounding it in such a sense as it is impossible to gather of the text, if thou see the process, order, and meaning thereof.” (pp. 84.)
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1. TINDALE’S ATTACK ON ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION
The most noteworthy feature in them [the five books of Moses] is
the admirable good sense with which he insists upon the necessity of adhering
to the literal meaning of Scripture, and eschewing all manner of allegorical
interpretations. This was the
characteristic of his prefaces which would make the deepest impression upon his
contemporaries; for all true interpretations of Scripture had been lost, and
the expositor perplexed his readers with whimsical allegorical conundrums. No greater service, therefore, could be
rendered to sound theology than by thus recalling men to the only true system
of exposition; and independently, therefore, of his pre-eminent merits as a translator,
Tindale is entitled to be reverenced by all Englishmen, as the founder of all
rational Scriptural interpretation in
[* The whole Preface is well worth reading: I do not know any better exposition of the true meaning and purpose of the ceremonies of the Jewish economy.]
“Because that few know and use the Old Testament, and the most part think it nothing necessary but to make allegories, which they feign every man after his own brain at all wild adventure, without any certain rule; therefore, though I have spoken of them in another place [in The Obedience], yet, lest the book come not to all men’s hands that shall read this, I will speak of them here also a word or twain.
“We had need to take heed everywhere that we be not beguiled with false allegories, whether they be drawn out of the New Testament or the Old, either out of any other story, or of the creatures of the world, but namely [especially] in this book [the Pentateuch]. Here a man had need to put on all his spectacles, and to arm himself against invisible spirits.
“First, allegories prove nothing; and by allegories understand examples or similitudes borrowed of strange matters, and of another thing than that thou entreatest of. As, though circumcision be a figure of baptism, yet thou canst not prove baptism by circumcision. For this argument were very feeble, The Israelites were circumcised, therefore we must be baptized. And in like manner, though the offering of Isaac were a figure or ensample of the resurrection, yet is this argument naught, Abraham would have offered Isaac, but God delivered him from death; therefore we shall rise again: and so forth in all other.
“But the very use of allegories is to declare [illustrate] and open a text, that it may be the better perceived and understood. As, when I have a clear text of Christ and the apostles, that I must be baptized, then I may borrow an example of circumcision to express the nature, power, and fruit, or effect of baptism. For as circumcision was unto them a common badge, signifying that they were all soldiers of God, to war His war, and separating them from all other nations disobedient unto God; even so baptism is our common badge, and sure earnest, and perpetual memorial, that we pertain unto Christ, and are separated from all that are not Christ’s. And as circumcision was a token certifying them that they were received unto the favour of God, and their sins forgiven them; even so baptism certifieth us that we were washed in the blood of Christ, and received to favour for His sake: and as circumcision signified unto them the cutting away of their own lusts, and slaying of their free-will, as they call it, to follow the will of God; even so baptism signifieth unto us repentance, and the mortifying of our unruly members and body of sin, to walk in a new life, and so forth.
“And likewise, though that the saving of Noe, and of them that were with him in the ship, through water, is a figure, that is to say, an example and likeness of baptism, as Peter maketh it (1 Pet. 3), yet I cannot prove baptism therewith, save describe it only. For as the ship saved them in the water through faith, in that they believed God, and as the other that would not believe Noe perished; even so baptism saveth us through the word of faith which it preacheth, when all the world of the unbelieving perish. And Paul (1 Cor. 10) maketh the sea and the cloud a figure of baptism; by which, and a thousand more, I might declare it, but not prove it. Paul also in the said place maketh the rock, out of which Moses brought water unto the children of Israel, a figure or ensample of Christ; not to prove Christ only; even as Christ Himself (John 3) borroweth a similitude or figure of the brazen serpent, to lead Nicodemus from his earthly imagination into the spiritual understanding of Christ, saying: ‘As Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that none that believe in Him perish, but have everlasting life.’ By which similitude the virtue of Christ’s death is better described than thou couldst declare it with a thousand words. For as those murmurers against God, as soon as they repented, were healed of their deadly wounds, through looking on the brazen serpent only, without medicine or any other help, yea, and without any other reason but that God hath said it should be so; and not to murmur again, but to leave their murmuring: even so all that repent, and believe in Christ, are saved from everlasting death, of pure grace, without, and before, their good works; and not to sin again, but to fight against sin, and henceforth to sin no more.
“Even so with the ceremonies of this book thou canst prove nothing, save describe and declare only the putting away of our sins through the death of Christ. For Christ is Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, and all that offer the sacrifice to purge sin. And Christ is all manner offering that is offered: He is the ox, the sheep, the goat, the kid, and the lamb; He is the goat that carried all the sin of the people away into the wilderness: for as they purged the people from their worldly uncleannesses through blood of the sacrifices, even so doth Christ purge us from the uncleannesses of everlasting death with His own blood; and as their worldly sins could no otherwise be purged, than by blood of sacrifices, even so can our sins be no otherwise forgiven than through the blood of Christ. All the deeds in the world, save the blood of Christ, can purchase no forgiveness of sins; for our deeds do not help our neighbour, and mortify the flesh, and help that we sin no more: but and if we have sinned, it must be freely forgiven through the blood of Christ, or remain for ever.
“And in like manner of the lepers thou canst prove nothing: thou canst never conjure out confession thence, howbeit thou hast an handsome example there to open the binding and loosing of our priests with the key of God’s Word; for as they made no man a leper, even so ours have no power to command any man to be in sin, or to go to purgatory or hell. And therefore (inasmuch as and loosing is one power), as those priests healed no man; even so ours cannot of their invisible and dumb power drive any man’s sins away, or deliver him from hell or feigned purgatory. Howbeit if they preached God’s Word purely, which is the authority that Christ gave them, then they should bind and loose, kill and make alive again, make unclean and clean again, and send to hell and fetch thence again; so mighty is God’s Word. For if they preached the law of God binding, they should bind the consciences of sinners with the bonds of the pains of Hell, and bring them unto repentance: and then if they preached unto them the mercy that is in Christ, they should loose them and quiet their raging consciences, and certify them of the favour of God, and that their sins be forgiven.
“Finally, beware of allegories; for there is not a more handsome or apt thing to beguile withal than an allegory; nor a more subtle and pestilent thing in the world to persuade a false matter, than an allegory. And contrariwise; there is not a better, vehementer or mightier thing to make a man understand withal, than an allegory. For allegories make a man quick-witted, and print [imprint] wisdom in him, and make it to abide, where bare words go but in at one ear, and out at the other. As this, with such like sayings: ‘Put salt to all your sacrifices,’ instead of this sentence, ‘Do all your deeds with discretion,’ greeteth and biteth (if it be understood) more than plain words. And when I say, instead of these words, ‘Boast not yourself of your good deeds,’ ‘Eat not the blood not the fat of your sacrifice’; there is a great difference between them as there is distance between heaven and earth. For the life and beauty of all good deeds is of God, and we are but the carrion-lean; we are only the instrument whereby God worketh only, but the power is His: as God created Paul anew, poured His wisdom into him, gave him might, and promised him that His grace should never fail him, &c., and all without deservings, except that murdering the saints, and making them curse and rail on Christ, be meritorious. Now, as it is death to eat the blood or fat of any sacrifice, is it not (think ye) damnable to rob God of His honour, and to glorify myself with His honour?”
Those best acquainted with the theology of the English Reformation will be the first to admit that we shall look in vain in Cranmer, Latimer, or Ridley for any such clearness of apprehension and precision of language as are here displayed by Tindale. Sometimes, indeed, his language is not only precise but exquisitely beautiful, and worthy of that master of English eloquence to whom we owe our New Testament. Would not the reader, for example, be inclined to believe that the following sentence from Tindale’s Preface to Exodus was one of the gems of Jeremy Taylor? “The ceremonies were not permitted only, but also commanded by God; to lead the people in the shadows of Moses and night of the Old Testament; until the light of Christ and day of the New Testament were come.”
The New Testament had been issued with an Epistle desiring the “learned to amend it aught were found amiss”: but those who had condemned the work as full of errors had taken no steps to provide the only proper remedy – a translation free from errors. The prelates, “those stubborn Nimrods which so mightily fight against God,” instead of amending whatever needed correction, had, as Tindale indignantly protests, stirred up the civil authorities “to torment such as tell the truth, and to burn the Word of their soul’s health, and slay whatsoever believe thereon.” In spite of their fierce declamations, however, he declined to be provoked into any dogmatic assertion of his own immunity from error in that work to which he had devoted his own best industry and learning. He had done his best; but if he had erred through lack of knowledge he was willing to be guided by those whose scholarship was greater than his own. He was willing that himself, and even his work, should perish, if by any other means the cause of God could be more successfully promoted. “I submit this book,” such is the conclusion of his General Preface, “and all other that I have either made or translated, or shall in time to come, if it be God’s will that I shall further labour in His harvest, unto all them that submit themselves unto the Word of God, to be corrected of them; yea, and moreover to be disallowed and also burnt, if it seem worthy, when they have examined it with the Hebrew, so [provided] that they first put forth their own translating another that is more correct.” (pp. 282-289
* * * * * * *
Tindale fled to the city of
To stem the tide of Bible reading and Tindale’s
alleged heresy, the bishop of
Tyndale had not sought a controversy with this
champion of the Church; but Sir Thomas More’s book
left him no alternative. He had been
singled out by name on the very title-page of The Dialogue and had been
virtually challenged to the combat; and he had no choice except to take up the
gauntlet thus thrown down, or to acknowledge by his silence that he was unable
to defend the position which the Reformers in
Tindale with a single stroke cuts all the intricacies of this Gordian knot; he appeals to every man, in the use of that judgment which God hath given him, to decide whether fact and experience confirmed what theory and assumption boasted of demonstrating.
Whatever was gained in the controversy was
gained by Tindale. As the translator of
the New Testament, the author of The Mammon and The Obedience, he already
exercised a considerable influence over public opinion in
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2. CONTROVERSY WITH SIR THOMAS MORE
More’s chief resentment was directed against Tindale’s New Testament; he declares that it was “corrupted and changed from the good and wholesome doctrine of Christ to devilish heresies of his own,” it was “clean contrary to the Gospel of Christ”; “above a thousand texts in it were wrong and falsely translated”; it was incurably bad and could only be amended by translating it all afresh, for, as he wittingly remarked, “it is as easy to weave a new web of cloth as to sow up every hole in a net*.” When pressed by quod he to give a more specific answer, Sir Thomas adduces as unpardonable heresies the substitution of congregation for church, seniors for priests, love for charity, favour for grace, knowledge for confession, repentance for penance, troubled for contrite; in fact, he alleged that Tindale had, in general, neglected the use of those words which long custom had sanctioned as being appropriately ecclesiastical, and had adopted others which had no peculiar association with theology.
[* Dialogue, B. iii. C. viii]
To this charge Tindale’s answer was easy and obvious; not only was he rendering in accordance with the strict signification of the original, but the terms which he had avoided were depraved by so many abuses that their use could only mislead the unwary reader. The Church had come to be synonymous with the clergy, “the multitude of shaven, shorn, and oiled”; the priests had almost been confounded with the old heathen priests, their real origin and their real purpose having almost dropped out of sight; charity had ceased to be the name of an inward, Divine grace, and denoted the only certain outward ostentatious deeds sanctioned by the ecclesiastics; confession, penance, grace, contrition were “the great juggling words wherewith, as St. Peter prophesied, the clergy made merchandise of the people.” In such circumstances, to continue to employ terms which could only convey erroneous ideas to the mind of the ignorant reader, would be to perpetuate error, which had sprung up in defiance of ignorance of Scripture. All such technical language, therefore, Tindale avoided, and employed instead plain words which had not yet been introduced into the nomenclature of the Church, and were free from any misleading ecclesiastical associations*. The subsequent revisions of the English Bible have not in all cases followed Tindale’s views; but circumstances have altered since his time, and there is no longer any serious apprehension of countenancing error or superstition by the use of terms which have been so long isolated from their former associations. And yet it may be doubted whether even among ourselves the proper conception of the noblest of Christian graces has not been materially lowered and injured by styling it charity, as Sir Thomas More recommended, and not love, as our translator originally rendered it.
[* Sir Thomas More justly objected to seniors, that it only called up incongruous French associations; Tindale admits his objection, and had already, he says, substituted it fot the genuine English elders. (pp.319-320.)] …
Tindale does not, like More, make any systematic attempt at employing wit an auxiliary to his argument; but he had a shrewd humour of his own, and when he does condescend to play the satire, his retorts are occasionally very happy. Thus, in criticizing Sir Thomas’s elaborate distinctions concerning the amount of reverence implied in doulia, hyperdoulia, and latria, he asks with exquisite irony, to which of these varieties of reverence should be referred “the worship done by More and others to my lord the cardinal’s hat”; alluding, of course, to the ridiculous scene which he has described in his Practice of Prelates. He shows considerable wit also in the manner in which he twists More, a man who “was bigamus and past the grace of his neck-verse,” with coming forward in the strange character of the champion of the celibacy of the clergy.
There is nothing finer in More’s Dialogue than the ironical comments of Tindale upon Sir Thomas’s fundamental position, that the Church could not err in its judgments; “whatsoever, therefore, the Church, that is to wit, the pope and his brood say, it is God’s Word; though it be not written, nor confirmed with miracle, nor yet good living; yea, and though they say to-day this, and to-morrow the contrary, all is good enough and God’s Word; yea, and though one pope condemn another, nine or ten popes a-row with all their works for heretics, as it is to see in the stories, yet all is right and none error. And thus good night and good rest! Christ is brought asleep, and laid in His grave, and the door sealed to, and the men of arms about the grave to keep Him down with pole-axes. For that is the surest argument to help that need, and to be rid of these babbling heretics, that no bark at the holy spirituality with Scripture, being thereto [besides] wretches of no reputation, neither cardinals nor bishops, nor yet great beneficed men; yea, and without totquots and pluralities, having no hold but the very Scripture, whereunto they cleave as burs, so fast that they cannot be pulled away, save with very singeing of them off!*”
[* Tindale’s Answer to More, p. 102.]
His answer to Sir Thomas’s violent peroration is equally cogent in its argument and its sarcasm. “Look on Tyndale,” said More, “how in his wicked book of Mammonis, and after in his malicious book of Obedience, he showed himself so puffed up with the poison of pride, malice, and envy that it is more than marvel that the skin can hold together. … He barketh against the Sacraments much more than Luther. … He knoweth that all the fathers teach that there is a fire of purgatory, which I marvel why he feareth so little, but if he be at a plain point with himself to go straight to hell*.”[* More’s Dialogue, p. 283; edition of 1557.] To this most bitter passage in the Dialogue, Tindale replies with calm sarcasm: “He intendeth to purge here unto the uttermost of his power; and hopeth that death will end and finish his purgation. And if there be any other purging, he will commit it to God, and take it as he findeth it, when he cometh at it; and in the meantime take no thought thereof, but for this that is present, wherewith all saints were purged, and were taught so to be. And Tyndale marvelleth what secret pills they take to purge themselves, which not only will not purge here with the cross of Christ, but also buy out their purgatory there of the pope, for a groat or a sixpence*.”
[* Tindale’s Answer to More, p. 214.]
If More’s Dialogue left Tindale no choice but to attempt a reply or acknowledge himself vanquished, Tindale’s Answer placed More precisely in the same predicament. Tindale had shown himself not unworthy to enter the arena with the greatest genius in England; he had defended with unquestionable ability the opinions of the Reformers; he had restated with the most cogent clearness the objections which More had evaded in his Dialogue; he had roughly and effectually silenced many of the arguments of his antagonist; and, beyond a doubt, he remained in several points of importance master of the field. (pp.326-328.) …
The chancel wall of Old Chelsea Church is still adorned with the handsome marble monument which Sir Thomas More had, in his lifetime, erected for himself; over it, as if in triumphant superiority, there was placed about 1820, by some churchwarden ignorant probably of all this history, the memorial tablet of one of the Tindale family. Could the most ingenious sculptor have devised a plainer or more significant allegorical record of the controversy? (pp. 334.)
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3. TINDALE’S EXPOSITION OF 1 JOHN
The exposition of
In a single sentence, he lays down with admirable succinctness the whole scope and purport of the Reformation which he advocated: “We restore the Scripture unto her right understanding [meaning] from your glosses, and we deliver the sacraments and ceremonies unto their right use from your abuse.”
Sir Thomas More did not, of course, omit, in his
to censure Tindale’s Exposition, which he declares to have been “in such wise expounded that I dare say that blessed apostle
[John], rather than his holy words were in such a
sense believed of all Christian people, had lever [rather] his epistle had never been put in writing.” And Tindale had, in truth, given fresh
provocation to his old adversary by repeating once more, in the most offensive
manner, the imputation against his honesty, which he had already advanced in
his Answer. “Love not the world.”
The apostle said, “nor the things that are in the
world: if a man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him”;
Tindale, in his Exposition, thus comments upon these words of
“The love of the world quencheth the love of God; Balaam, for the love of the world, closed his eyes at the clear light which he well saw. For love of the world the old Pharisees blasphemed the Holy Ghost, and persecuteth the manifest truth, which they could not improve [disprove]. For love of the world many are this day fallen away; and many which stood on the truth’s side, and defended it awhile, for love of the world have gotten them unto the contrary part, and are become the Antichrist of Rome’s Mamelukes, and are waxen the most wicked enemies unto the truth and most cruel against it. They know the truth, but they love the world: and when they espied that the truth could not stand with the honours which they sought in the world, they hated it deadly, and both wittingly and willingly persecuted it, sinning against the Holy Ghost: which sin shall not escape here just unpunished; as it shall not be without damnation in the world to come; but shall have an end here with confusion and shame, as had Judas Iscariot, the traitor.
“And if pride, covetousness, and lechery be the world, as St. John saith, ‘all that is in the world, as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of good, are not of the Father, but of the world,’ then turn your eyes unto the spirituality, unto the Roman bishop, cardinals, bishops, abbots, and all other prelates, and see whether such dignities be not of the world, and not whether the way to them be not also of the world! To get the old abbot’s treasure, I think it be the readiest way to be the new. How few come by promotion except they buy it, or serve long for it, or both? To lusts, and to be a good ambassador, is the only way to a bishopric; or to pay truly for it. See whether pluralities, unions [holding of many benefices], tot quots, and changing the less benefice and bishopric for the greater (for the contrary change, I trow, was never seen), may be without covetousness and pride. And then, if such things be the world, and the world not of God, how is our spirituality of God? If pride be seeking glory, and they that seek glory cannot believe, how can our spirituality believe in Christ? If covetousness turn men from the faith, how are our spirituality in the faith? If Christ, when the devil proffered Him the kingdoms of the world and the glory thereof, refused them, as things impossible to stand with His kingdom, which is not of the world; of whom are our spirituality, which have received them? If covetousness be a traitor, and taught Judas to sell his Master, how should he not in so long time teach our spirituality the same craft? … The rich persecute the true believers. The rich will never stand forth openly for the Word of God. If of ten thousand spring one Nicodemus, it is a great thing.”
All the other topics which Tindale had so often treated in his former works are again introduced, and discussed, if not with any fresh arguments, at least with unabated earnestness. A single specimen will show that his hand had lost none of its cunning:-
“To speak of worshipping the saints, and praying unto them, and of that we make them our advocates well nigh above Christ, or altogether [above Christ], though it require a long disputation, yet it is as bright as the day to all that know the truth; how that our fasting of their evens, and keeping their holy days, going bare-foot, sticking up of candles in the bright day, in the worshipping of them, to obtain their favour, our giving them so costly jewels, offering into their boxes, clothing their images, shoeing them with silver shoes with an ouch of crystal in the midst, to stroke the lips and eyes of the ignorant, as a man would stroke young children’s heads to entice them in, and rock them asleep in ignorance, are, with all like service, plain idolatry, that is, in English, image-service. … And this is it that Paul calleth servire elementis mundi [to serve the elements of the world], to be in captivity under dumb ceremonies and vain traditions of men’s doctrine, and to do the work for the work itself; as though God delighted therein, for the deed itself, without all other respect [without regard to anything else].
“But and [if] ye will know the true worshipping of saints, hearken unto Paul, where he saith, ‘Ye shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life unto my glory (or worship), against the day of Jesus Christ, that I have not run nor laboured in vain.’ That is to wete, the worship which all true saints now seek, and the worship that all the true messengers of God seek this day, or ever shall seek, is to draw all to Christ with preaching the true Word of God, and with the ensample of pure living fashioned thereafter. Will ye therefore worship saints truly? Then as what they preached, and believe their doctrine; and as they followed that doctrine, so conform your living like unto theirs; and that shall be unto their high worship in the coming again of Christ (when all men’s deeds shall appear, and every man shall be judged, and receive his reward, according to his deeds), how that they not only, while they here lived, but also after their death, with the ensample of that doctrine and living, left behind in writing and other memorials, [served?] unto the ensample of them that should follow them unto Christ, that were born five hundred, yea, a thousand years after their death. This was their worship in the spirit at the beginning … that we followed their ensamples in our deeds; as Christ saith, ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father that is in heaven.’ For preaching of the doctrine, which is the light, hath but small effect to move the heart, if the ensample of living do disagree.
“And that we worship
saints for fear, lest they should be displeased and angry with us, and plague
us or hurt us (as who is not afraid of St. Laurence? who
dare deny St. Anthony a fleece of wool, for fear of his terrible fire, or lest
he send the pox among our sheep?), is heathen image-service, and clean against
the first commandment, which is, ‘
* * * * * * *
3. JOYE’S ATTACK ON TINDALE
The great work of the year in 1534, however, was
the entire revision of his New Testament, and the issue of a second edition,
which has been, not inappropriately, styled “Tindale’s
noblest monument.” Since the
first printing of the work at
The history of the English Bible between the years 1526 and 1534 is still so badly ascertained that it cannot be given in detail; but on the whole we may accept, as probably coming near to the truth, the abstract given by one who has already been several times mentioned, and who will occupy a promised place in this chapter – George Joye.
“Thou shalt know that
Tindale, about eight or nine years ago [Joye
is writing in December, 1534, of January, 1535],
translated and printed the New Testament in a mean great volume [he
means the octavo at
[* Joye, who left England in December, 1527, had remained at Strasburg till about 1532, and therefore could only know some of those facts from hearsay; it seems strange, however, that he had never heard of the Colongne quarto, which had Concordances.
**Joye, Apology, Arber’s Reprint, pp. 20-22]
In short, Joye, at the urgent request of the
printer, who was the widow of Christopher of Endhoven,
undertook to correct the press for the extremely moderate remuneration of fourpence-halfpenny sterling for every sheet of sixteen
leaves. It is probable, it is in fact
certain, that Joye omitted, through ignorance, some of the early surreptitious
reprints of Tindale’s New Testament; but from his statement it is evident that
besides Tindale’s own editions, four others had been issued previous to that
which Tindale himself revised in November, 1534. Unfortunately, these surreptitious editions
have not been identified*; but we are probably not exaggerating when we suppose
that on the average, every year since its first issue, a new edition had been
printed and circulated in England. And
it must be remembered that these editions were all reprints of the octavo of
[* They are scattered about, if they exist at all, in cathedral libraries and other collections not easy of access. In such places, books of this kind are practically lost (some of them have in fact disappeared); and it is a great pity that they are not placed under proper charge in some accessible position]
Some writers, anxious to find excuses for the authorities who prohibited the Bible and punished those that read it, allege that it contained offensive notes, which no authority, lay or clerical, could be expected to tolerate; but this is a total delusion, a defence of ancient bigotry by modern ignorance. It must not be forgotten, that what was prohibited, what was condemned, what was burnt, was the simple text of Holy Scripture, without any note, or comment, or prologue of any kind whatsoever.* The Bible-burners of the sixteenth century would have repudiated with indignation the motives which candid moderns have been kind enough to invent for them. In their judgment the whole question was entirely free from those complications which modern refinement has introduced; and they pronounce their opinion with a plainness which at once supersedes all doubt.
[* I except, of course, the edition of 1530, in which it is supposed that the Prologue to the Romans was inserted.]
“The New Testament translated into the vulgar tongue,” says one of the chief opponents of the Reformers, “is in truth the food of death, the fuel of sin, the vial of malice, the pretext of false liberty, the protection of disobedience, the corruption of discipline, the depravity of morals, the termination of concord, the death of honesty, the well-spring of vices, the disease of virtues, the instigation of rebellion, the milk of pride, the nourishment of contempt, the death of peace, the destruction of charity, the enemy of unity, the murderer of truth!” The men who cherished such sentiments as these should proscribe and burn the Bible in the native tongue, was as natural as that men who dread contagion should burn all infected garments.
The narrative of Joye, which we have just quoted, was intended as a sort of explanation and defence of his conduct in issuing a revised reprint of Tindale’s New Testament, although he was well aware that Tindale himself had for some time been occupied in a careful revision and correction of his own work. Joye, indeed, took care not to connect Tindale’s name with his edition; but it was undeniably little more than a reprint of Tindale’s, with a few changes introduced. These, moreover, were made without any attempt to confer the translation with the original Greek, a task for which Joye’s scholarship was wholly inadequate. He himself acknowledges that he merely “mended” any words that he found falsely printed, and that when he “came to some dark sentences that no reason could be granted to them, whether it was by the ignorance of the first translator or of the printers.” He had “the Latin text” by him, and “made it plain.” In fact, the work had no pretension whatever to be considered an original production, and was simply such a plagiarism as any modern laws of copyright would interdict or punish. It was ushered into the world with a pompous and affected title; “The New Testament as it was written and caused to be written by them which heard it, whom also our Saviour Christ Jesus commanded that they should preach it unto all creatures”; and the colophon paraded it as “diligently over-seen and corrected.” Not much diligence, however, could be expected for fourpence-halfpenny a sheet; and although the printers did their part well (for the work is got up with remarkable neatness), Joye’s diligence seems to have been in proportion to the smallness of his remuneration.*
[* Only one copy is known to be in existence,
that in the Grenville Library in the
The changes which he has thus introduced are few in number, of the very smallest possible consequence, never in any case suggested by the original Greek, and probably not in a single instance effecting any improvement either in the accuracy or the clearness of the version which he thus presumed to correct. In the three chapters of St. Matthew, for example, which contain the Sermon of the Mount, he only ventures to make eight changes: in two of them he is certainly wrong; in a third he has mistaken the meaning of Tindale; in a fourth he has misunderstood the sense of the original; a fifth is permissible variation in the rendering of a participle; and the remaining three are grammatical trifles, such as the substitution of shall for will, into for to. This may probably be taken as a fair specimen of Joye’s work, which scarcely aspires beyond the province of an ordinary corrector of the press, and, except in one respect, was, with all its pretensions, simply a barefaced reprint of Tindale’s Testament.*
[* In St. Matthew 6: 24, Tindale’s New Testament had by mistake the words, “or else he will lene the one and despise the other,” which Joye could make nothing of, and so, conjecturally, he printed, “he will love the one,” etc. In Tindale’s own revision the error is of course rectified, “he will lean to the one.” I do not pretend to have collated all Joye’s book; but after examining several passages in the Gospels and the Epistles, I am satisfied that the estimate in the text is a correct one. Westcott gives an excellent account of it: History of the English Bible, p. 57.]
One change, however, and that not unimportant, Joye did venture with most intolerable arrogance to introduce. In his intercourse with Tindale there had been frequent discussions on the abstruse doctrinal question much controverted in the Christian Church, - the condition of the souls of the dead between death and judgment. In his controversy with Sir Thomas More, Tindale had asserted, or, at least, had admitted, that “the souls of the dead lie and sleep till Doomsday,” whereas Joye maintained in common perhaps with most members of the Church, Reformed or un-Reformed, that at death the souls passed not into sleep, but into a higher and better life. On this point, according to Joye’s own narrative, he and Tindale had frequently been engaged in rather sharp discussions; and he complains that Tindale had repeatedly treated him in a somewhat abrupt and un-courteous fashion, upbraiding him with his want of scholarship, and ridiculing his arguments, “filliping them forth,” as he alleges, “between his finger and his thumb after his wonted disdainful manner.” Full of this doctrinal controversy, Joye believed that Tindale had obscured the meaning of Scripture in several passages by the use of the term resurrection, where it was not the resurrection of the body that was really intended; and he therefore in his revision struck out the term, and substituted for it the phrase, “life after this,” which was more in accordance with his own opinions.
A single specimen will show more clearly than any description the nature of the change thus effected; and the matter is of much consequence in the personal history of Tindale, that it is necessary to understand it accurately. The words of our Lord (St. Matthew 22: 30, 31), rendered in our Authorised Version, after Tindale, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage … as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read?” &c., are translated by Joye, “in the life after this they neither marry” – and “as touching the life of them that be dead,” &c. Joye did not, as has been sometimes said, discard the word resurrection altogether, neither did he intend to express any doubt as to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; but he confined the use of the word to those instances in which it was unquestionably the resurrection of the body that was intended (e. g. Acts 1: 22); and in all other cases, in order, as he supposed, to avoid instilling prejudices into the minds of the unweary readers, he employed such circumlocutions as “the life after this” or “the very life.”
The doctrinal controversy thus raised does not fall within the province of our biography; but some knowledge of the facts involved is indispensable at this period of Tindale’s life, all the more so, as they have been very considerably misrepresented by some previous writers*.
[* I am no admirer of Joye, but I cannot help
protesting against the treatment he has received from
From what has just been written the reader will be prepared to anticipate the indignation which Joye’s proceedings excited the mind of Tindale. For many months he had engaged in a most elaborate revision of his New Testament, which must have cost nearly as much labour as the original translation; and how, just as his work was ready for the press, Joye’s edition appeared. Not only was the real author of the translation thereby treated with the loss of the fruit of his long and weary labours; not only was he dishonestly defrauded by the employment of his own previous toil against himself; but, to add insult to injury, he saw his translation tampered with by Joye, so as to give countenance to what he had often condemned as the more “curious speculation” of a stupid and ignorant man. Beyond all question Joye had acted dishonourably; he had injured and insulted Tindale; and no human patience could have submitted unmoved to his proceedings.
Tindale felt keenly the injury that had been done; he gave vent to his indignation in bitter and reproachful terms; and a personal controversy was thus excited, which was not appeased even at the time of his apprehension. (pp. 438-446.)
* * * * * * *
4. TINDALE’S LETTER TO FRITH
Frith had been, indeed, committed to the Tower;
but it almost appeared as if the danger which threatened him might be
dissipated. For rapid changes were
taking place in
Before intelligence of Frith’s apprehension had reached the Continent, Tindale, who may have heard in Antwerp the dangers by which his friend was threatened, wrote him a letter of affectionate caution; warning him especially of the necessity of guarding against committing himself by rash and dogmatic assertions of doctrinal questions that were not of fundamental importance. Tindale’s letters, unfortunately, have almost all perished, and the reader will, therefore, value the more highly the few that have been preserved to us. To Frith, the dearest and most like-minded of all his friends, he, as might have been expected, unbosoms himself without reserve; and the letter is, accordingly, an invaluable piece of autobiography:-
“The grace of our Saviour Jesus, His patience, meekness, humbleness, circumspection, and wisdom, be with your heart, Amen.
“Dearly beloved brother Jacob, mine heart’s desire in our Saviour Jesus is, that you arm yourself with patience, and be cold, sober, wise, and circumspect: and that you keep you a-low by the ground, avoiding high questions that pass the common capacity. But expound the law truly, and open the vail of Moses, to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin and damnable: and then, as a faithful minister, set abroach the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of Him. And then shall your preaching be with power, and not as the doctrine of the hypocrites; and the Spirit of God shall work with you, and all consciences shall bear record unto you, and feel that it is so. And all doctrine that casteth a mist on those two, to shadow and hide them (I mean the law of God and mercy of Christ), that resist you with all your power. Sacraments without signification refuse. If they put significations to them receive them, if you see it may help [i.e., may be of any spiritual advantage], though it be not necessary.
“Of the Presence of
Christ’s body in the Sacrament, meddle as little as you can, that there appear
no division among us. Barnes [a Lutheran, and always
hot-tempered] will be hot against you. The Saxons be sore on the affirmative;
whether constant or obstinate, I remit it to God. Philip
Melanchthon is said to be with the French king [a
There be in
“I guessed long ago, that God would send a dazing into the head of the spiritualty, to be catched themselves in their own subtlety; and I trust it is come to pass. And now me thinketh I smell a Council to be taken, little for their profits in time to come. But you must understand that it is not of a pure heart, and for love of the truth; but to avenge themselves, and to eat the whore’s flesh, and to suck the marrow of her bones. Wherefore cleave fast to the rock of the help of God, and commit the end of all things to Him: and if God shall call you, that you may then use the wisdom of the worldly, as far as you perceive the glory of God may come thereof, refuse it not: and ever among thrust in, that the Scripture may be the mother tongue, and learning set up in the Universities. But and if aught be required contrary to the glory of God and His Christ, then stand fast, and commit yourself to God; and be not overcome of man’s persuasions, which haply shall say, we see no other way [i.e., but yielding and adjuring], to bring in the truth.
“Brother Jacob, beloved in my heart, there liveth not in whom I have so good hope and trust, and in whom my heart rejoiceth, and my soul comforteth herself, as in you, not the thousand part so much of [i.e., for] your learning and what other gifts else you have, as that you will creep a-low by the ground, and walk in those things that the conscious may feel, and not in the imaginations of the brain; in fear, and not in boldness; in open necessary things, and not to pronounce of define of hid secrets, or things that neither help or hinder, whether they be so or no; in unity, and not in seditious opinions; insomuch that if [i.e., although] you be sure you know, yet in things that may abide leisure, you will defer, or say (till other agree with you), ‘Methink the text requireth this sense or understanding’; yea, and that if [i.e., although] you be sure that your part be good, and another hold the contrary, yet if it be a thing that maketh no matter, you will laugh and let it pass, and refer the thing to other men, and stick you stiffly and stubbornly in earnest and necessary things. And I trust you be persuaded so of me. For I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, to give a reckoning of our doings, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would this day, if all that is in the earth, whether it be pleasure, honour, or riches, might be given me. Moreover, I take God to record to my conscience, that I desire of God to myself, in this world, no more than that without which I cannot keep His laws.
“Finally, if there were in me any gift that could help at hand, and aid you if need required, I promise you I would not be far off, and commit the end to God: my soul is not faint though my body be weary. But God hath made me evil-favoured in this world, and without grace in the sight of men, speechless and rude, dull and slow-witted. Your part shall be to supply that lacketh in me; remembering that as lowliness of heart shall make you high with God, even so meekness of words shall make you sink into the hearts of men. Nature giveth grace authority; but meekness is the glory of youth, and giveth them honour. Abundance of love maketh me exceed in babbling.
“Sir, as concerning purgatory, and many other things, if you be demanded, you may say, if you err, the spirituality hath so led you; and that they have taught you to believe as you do. For they preached you all such things out of God’s Word, and alleged a thousand texts; by reason of which texts you believed as they taught you. But now you find them liars, and that the texts mean no such things, and, therefore, you can believe them no longer; but are as ye were before they taught you, and believe no such thing; howbeit you [may say you] are ready to believe, if they have any other way to prove it; for without proof you cannot believe them, when you have found them with so many lies, &c. If you perceive wherein we may help, either in being still, or doing somewhat, let us have a word, and I will do mine uttermost.
“My Lord of London hath
a servant called John Tisen, with a red beard, and a black reddish head, and
was once my scholar; he was seen in
“The mighty God of Jacob be with you to supplant His enemies, and give you the favour of Joseph; and the wisdom and the spirit of Stephen be with your heart and with your mouth, and teach your lips what they shall say, and how to answer to all things. He is our God, if we despair in ourselves, and trust in Him; and His is the glory. Amen.
“I hope our redemption is nigh.”
Tindale’s warning came too late. Before his letter reached
… In these circumstances nothing remained for Frith but, if possible, to defend his opinion, and to show that what he had taught was in accordance with the plain sense of Scripture and the writings of the early fathers. (pp. 411-417.)
* * * * * * *
5. TINDALE ON THE LORD’S SUPPER
On April 5, 1533, there appeared from the press of “Nicholas Twonson of Nerembery,” a treatise entitled, “The Supper of the Lord. … wherein incidentally M. More’s letter against John Frith is confuted.” The work, indeed, was published anonymously, and was by some supposed to be that very treatise by George Joye of which Tindale, in his letter to Frith, had spoken in such disparaging terms. Others, however, ascribed to book to Tindale; and Sir Thomas More, who immediately published a refutation of it, though admitting that the work was not characterized by the customary learning of Tindale, and branding it as “blasphemous and bedlam-rife,” yet proceeds to argue upon the assumption that Tindale was really its author. Foxe has not printed it with the rest of Tindale’s writings, but speaks doubtfully if it as “a short and pithy treatise touching the Lord’s Supper, compiled, as some do gather, by Tindale, because the method and phrase agree with his, and the time of writing is concurrent.” On the whole, however, it seems now agreed that the work was Tindale’s, this conviction being strengthened by the fact that Joye, whose self-conceit was boundless, does not claim the authorship of it, as he certainly would have done had the work been his*.
[* On the point, which is not devoid of interest, the reader is referred to the excellent prefatory remarks of Professor Walter in Tindale’s Works, vol. iii. pp. 218 &c., and three letters in Notes and Queries, First Series.]
The treatise is, in reality, and exposition of the sixth chapter of John, and is not unworthy of Tindale’s acuteness as a controversialist; it retorts upon More with very great logical skill; and it exposes with very considerable force the absurdities and contradictions involved in the doctrine of transubstantiation. To the ordinary modern reader, however, much the most interesting and characteristic part of the treatise is that in which Tindale sketches his ideal of the Supper. We present it without note or comment to the judgment of the reader:-
“This holy sacrament therefore, would God it were restored unto the pure use, as the apostles used it in their time! Would God the secular princes, which should be the very pastors and head rulers of their congregations committed unto their care, would first command or suffer the true preachers of God’s Word to preach the Gospel purely and plainly, with discreet liberty, and constitute over each particular parish such curates as can and would preach the word, and that once or twice in the week, appointing unto their flock certain days, after their discretion and zeal to God-ward, to come together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper! At the which assembly the curate would propone and declare them, first, this text of Paul, 1 Cor. 11: ‘So oft as ye shall eat this bread, and drink of this cup, see that ye be joyous, praise, and give thanks, preaching the death of the Lord,’ &c. : which declared, and every one exhorted to prayer, he would preach them purely Christ to have died and been offered upon the altar of the cross for their redemption; which only oblation to be sufficient sacrifice, to peace the Father’s wrath, and to purge all the sins of the world. Then to excite them with all humble diligence, every man unto the knowledge of himself and his sins, and to believe and trust to the forgiveness in Christ’s blood; and for this so incomparable benefit of our redemption (which were sold bondmen to sin), to give thanks unto God the Father for so merciful a deliverance through the death of Jesus Christ, every one, some singing, and some saying devoutly, some or other psalm, or prayer of thanksgiving, in the mother tongue. Then, the bread and wine set before them, in the face of the Church, upon the table of the Lord, purely and honestly laid, let him declare to the people the significations of those sensible signs; what the action and deed moveth, teacheth, and exhorteth them unto; and that the bread and wine be no profane common signs, but holy sacraments, reverently to be considered, and received with a deep faith and remembrance of Christ’s death, and of the shedding of His blood for our sins; these sensible things to represent us the very body and blood of Christ, so that while every man beholdeth with his corporal eye those sensible sacraments, the inward eye of his faith may see, and believe steadfastly, Christ offered and dying upon the cross for his sins, how His body was broken and His blood shed for us, and hath given Himself whole for us, Himself to be all ours, and whatsoever He did to save us, as to be made for us, of His Father, our righteousness, our wisdom, holiness, redemption, sanctification, &c.
“Then let this preacher exhort them lovingly to draw near unto this table of the Lord, and that not only bodily, but also, their hearts purged by faith, garnished with love and innocency, every man to forgive each other unfeignedly, and to express, or at leastwise to endeavour them to follow, that love which Christ did set before our eyes at His last supper, when He offered Himself willingly to die for us His enemies; which incomparable love to command, bring in Paul’s arguments, so that thus this flock may come together, and be joined into one body, one spirit, and one people. This done, let him come down, and, accompanied honestly with other ministers, come forth reverently unto the Lord’s table, the congregation now set round about it, and also in their other convenient seats, the pastor exhorting them all to pray for grace, faith, and love, which all this sacrament signifieth and putteth them in mind of. Then let there be read apertly and distinctly the sixth chapter of John, in their mother tongue; whereby they may clearly understand, what it is to eat Christ’s flesh and to drink His blood. This done, and some brief prayer and praise sung or read, let one or other minister read the eleventh chapter of the first [Epistle] to the Corinthians, that the people might perceive clearly, of those words, the mystery of this Christ’s supper, and wherefore He did institute it.
“These with such like preparations and exhortations had, I would every man present should profess the articles of our faith openly in our mother tongue, and confess his sins secretly unto God; praying entirely that He would now vouchsafe to have mercy upon him, receive his prayers, glue his heart unto Him by faith and love, increase his faith, give him grace to forgive and to love his neighbour as himself, to garnish his life with pureness and innocency, and to confirm him in all goodness and virtue. Then again it behoveth the curate to warn and exhort every man deeply to consider, and expend [i.e. weigh] with himself, the signification and substance of his sacrament, so that he sit not down an hypocrite and a dissembler, since God is searcher of heart and reins, thoughts and affections, and see that he come not to the holy table of the Lord without that faith which he professed at his baptism, and also that love which the sacrament preacheth and testifieth unto his heart, lest he, now found guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (that is to wit, a dissembler with Christ’s death, and slanderous to the congregation, the body and blood of Christ), receive his own damnation. And here let every man fall down upon his knees, saying secretly with all devotion their Paternoster in English; their curate, as example, kneeling down before them: which done, let him take the bread and eft [i.e. after] the wine in the sight of the people, hearing him with a loud voice, with godly gravity, and after a Christian religious reverence, rehearsing distinctly the words of the Lord’s Supper in their mother tongue; and then distribute it to the ministers, which, taking the bread with great reverence, will divide it to the congregation, every man breaking and reaching it forth to his next neighbour and member of the mystic body of Christ, other ministers following with the cups, pouring forth and dealing them the wine, altogether thus being now partakers of one bread and one cup, the thing thereby signified and preached printed fast in their hearts. But in this meanwhile must the minister or pastor be reading the communication that Christ had with His disciples after His supper, beginning at the washing of their feet; so reading till the bread and wine be eaten and drunken, and all the action done: and then let them fall down on their knees, giving thanks highly unto God the Father for His benefit and death of His Son, whereby now by faith every man is assured of remission of his sins; as this blessed sacrament had put them in mind, and preached it them in this outward action and supper. This done, let every man commend and give themselves whole to God, and depart*.” (pp. 419-424.)
[* Tindale’s Works, vol. iii pp. 256, &c.]
* * * * * * *
6. TINDALE’S SECOND LETTER TO FRITH
Tindale, learning the fresh danger which
threatened his friend, wrote once again to comfort and strengthen
him for the terrible trial which awaited him.
It is exceedingly doubtful whether Tindale’s epistle ever reached Frith;
whether, in fact, Frith had not been martyred before it was dispatched or even
penned; but it is pervaded by the very spirit in which Frith acted, and thus
affords a most touching illustration of the perfect “like-mindedness”
by which the two friends were animated. Foxe has
entitled it, “A letter from William Tyndale, being in
“The grace and peace of God our Father, and of Jesus Christ our Lord, be with you. Amen. Dearly beloved brother John, I have heard say that the hypocrites, now they have overcome that great business which letted them [i.e., the royal divorce], or that now they have at the least way brought it at a stay, they return to their old nature again. The will of God be fulfilled, and that [what] He hath ordained to be ere the world was made, that come, and His glory reign over all.
“Dearly beloved, howsoever the matter be, commit yourself wholly and only unto your most loving Father and most kind Lord, and fear not men that threat, nor trust men that speak fair: but trust Him that is true of promise, and able to make His word good. Your cause is Christ’s Gospel, a light that must be fed with the blood of faith. The lamp must be dressed and sniffed daily, and that oil poured in every evening and morning, that the light go not out. Though we be sinners, yet is the cause right. If when we be buffeted for well-doing, we suffer patiently and endure, that is thankful with God; for to that end we are called. For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps, who did no sin. Hereby have we perceived love, that He laid down His life for us; therefore we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren. Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working thereby He is able even to subject all things unto Him.
“Dearly beloved, be of good courage, and comfort your soul with the hope of this high reward, and bear the image of Christ in your mortal body, that it may at His coming be made like unto His, immortal: and follow the example of all your other dear brethren, which chose to suffer in hope of a better resurrection. Keep your conscience pure and undefiled, and say against that nothing. Stick at [i.e. resolutely maintain] necessary things; and remember the blasphemies of the enemies of Christ, ‘They find none but that will adjure rather than suffer the extremity.’ Moreover, the death of them that come again [i.e. repent] after they have once denied, though it be accepted with God and all that believe, yet is it not glorious; for the hypocrites say, ‘He must needs die; denying helpeth not: but might it have holpen, they would have denied five hundred times: but seeing it would not help them, therefore of pure pride, and mere malice together, they speak with their mouths that [i.e. what] their conscience knoweth false.’ If you give yourself, cast yourself, yield yourself, commit yourself wholly and only to your loving Father; then shall His power be in you and make you strong, and that so strong, that you shall feel no pain, and [in?] that shall be to another present death: and His Spirit shall speak in you, and teach you what to answer, according to His promise. He shall set out His truth by you wonderfully, and work for you above all that your heart can imagine. Yea, and you are not yet dead; though the hypocrites all, with all they can make, have sworn your death. Una salus vivtis nullam sperare salutem. To look for no man’s help bringeth the help of God to them that seem to be overcome in the eyes of the hypocrites: yea, it shall make God to carry you through thick and thin for His truth’s sake, in spite of all the enemies of His truth. There falleth not a hair till His hour be come: and when His hour is come, necessity carrieth us hence, though we be not willing. But if we be willing, then have we a reward and thanks.
“Fear not threatening, therefore, neither be overcome of sweet words; with which twain the hypocrites shall assail you. Neither let the persuasions of worldly wisdom bear rule in your heart; no, though they be your friends that counsel. Let Bilney be a warning to you. Let not your visor beguile your eyes. Let not your body faint. He that endureth to the end shall be saved. If the pain be above your strength, remember, ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, I will give it you.’ And pray to your Father in that name, and He will cease your pain, or shorten it. The Lord of peace, of hope, and of faith, be with you. Amen.
“Two have suffered in
[* Editors have conjectured that by Riselles, Brussels is meant; and that Luke is the suburb of Brussels, now called Laeken: the very slightest inquiry would have informed them that Riselles is the Flemish name of Lille, as Luke is of Liege.]
“If, when you have read this, you may send it toAdrian [or John Byrte], do, I pray, that he may know that our heart is with you.
“George Joye at Candlemas, being at Barrow, printed two leaves of Genesis in a great form, and sent one copy to the king, and another to the new Queen [Anne Boleyn], with a letter to N. for to deliver them; and to purchase licence, that he might so go through all the Bible. Out of that is sprung the noise of the new Bible [report that there was to be a new translation]; and out of that is the great seeking for English books at all printers and bookbinders in Antwerp, and for an English priest that should print [i.e. that intended to print].
“This chanced the 9th day of May.
“Sir, your wife is well content with the will of God, and would not, for her sake, have the glory of God hindered.
“William Tyndale,” (pp. 428-432.)
* * * * * * *
7. TINDALE AS A REVISER
But before entering upon the narrative of this personal dispute, the work of Tindale deserves a more detailed notice. Tindale’s first version had been made under considerable difficulties, as we have formerly seen; and he was himself aware that it was susceptible of many improvements. Not only might the text be improved by more accurate, more clear, or more concise, renderings; but, in his own estimation, it was desirable to give the work completeness by separate introductions to each of the books, and by greater attention to the marginal glosses, with which, as with a brief commentary, it was equipped. All this was accomplished with great pains in the edition of 1534. He had diligently gone over the whole of his translation, not only comparing it once again with the Greek text of Erasmus, but bringing to bear upon it that enlarged experience of Hebrew which he had acquired in his translation of the Old Testament, and which he now saw to be of no small service in illustrating the Hellenistic of the New. In his “Epistle to the Reader,” he states the general principles on which he proceeded, and they are not unworthy of consideration.
“Here hast thou, most dear reader, the New Testament or covenant made with God in Christ’s blood, which I have looked over again, now at the last, with all diligence, and compared it unto the Greek, and have weeded out of it many faults, which lack of help at the beginning, and oversight, did sow therein. If aught seem changed, or not altogether agreeing with the Greek, let the finder of the fault consider the Hebrew phrase or manner of speech left in the Greek words; whose preterperfect tense and present tense is often both one, and the future tense is the operative mood also, and the future tense oft the imperative mood in the active voice, and in the passive ever. Likewise person for person, number for number, and an interrogation for a conditional, and such like, is with the Hebrews a common usage*. I have also in many places set light in the margin to understand the text by. If any man find faults either with the translation or ought beside (which is easier for many to do than so well to have translated it themselves of their own pregnant wits at the beginning, without an ensample), to the same it shall be lawful to translate it themselves, and to put what they lust thereto. If I shall perceive, either by myself or by my information of other, that aught be escaped me, or might more plainly be translated, I will shortly after cause it to be mended. Howbeit, in many places methinketh it better to put a declaration in the margin, than to run too far from to text. And in many places, where the text seemeth at the first chop hard to be understood, yet the circumstances before and after, and often reading together, make it plain enough.”
[* And yet this is the person who is supposed not to have known anything about Hebrew!]
The diligent correction promised in these words was faithfully and laboriously carried out, in such a manner as amply to justify the declaration of the title-page, that it was “corrected and compared with the Greek”.” The corrections introduced may be reckoned by thousands, and in the great majority of cases their obvious tendency is to bring the English version into closer correspondence with the Greek original. Tindale’s scholarship comes out in very marked contrast with the carelessness and ignorance of his rival. In the Sermon on the Mount, as we have just seen, Joye introduced eight changes in all, half of them mistakes, and none of them improvements; Tindale has made no fewer than forty-one changes in the same chapters, the merit of which is sufficiently indicated by the fact that, after several subsequent revisions, many of them still exist in the Authorized Version.
A specimen of Tindale’s “revision and correction” will make palpable to the reader the
enormous difference between his well-considered alterations and Joye’s trifling
and heedless changes. In
In Tindale’s version of 1534, it is thus amended, and brought nearer the Greek:- “Ye are the salt of the earth, but and if the salt have lost her saltness, what can be salted therewith*? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and be trodden under foot of men.”
[* On this reading see any critical edition of the New Testament.]
Again, in verse 16, the previous reading, “See that your light so shine before men,” is changed into the more literal and more beautiful, “Let your light so shine before men.” And similarly in the succeeding verse the incorrect rendering, “Ye shall not think that I am come to destroy the law,” is more accurately translated, “Think not that I am come”; and the phrase, “Heavenly Father,” in verse 45 and 48 of the old rendering, is replaced by the more euphonious as well as more accurate, “Father which is in heaven.”
In the sixth chapter, the first translation had omitted the Doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer; the revised version, founding upon a collation of other printed texts, has inserted it; and several minor improvements are also introduced; thus, e.g., “Consider the lilies” for “behold the lilies”’ “what ye shall put on” for “what raiment ye shall wear.” And in the seventh chapter, among other alterations, he effected a considerable improvement in the force of the last words of the sermon, by bringing the English into closer approximation to the Greek: “It was overthrown, and great was the fall of it,” had been the version of 1525; for which Tindale now substituted the simple rendering which we now use, and which retains the thetorical figure of the original: “and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.”
These changes may be taken as a specimen of the revision to which Tindale submitted his former translation; and only those who have some slight acquaintance with the difficulties that beset the revision of a finished work can fully appreciate the amount of care and labour which Tindale must have bestowed upon his task. (pp. 446-450.)
* * * * * * *
8. TINDALE’S REJOINDER TO JOYE
Such a work, with the accompanying prologues, glosses, and translations from the Old Testament, must have fully occupied all Tindale’s energies during the year 1534; and it is not surprising, therefore, that he should have been extremely indignant at the proceedings of Joye in attempting to deprive him of the fruit of his labours, by filling the market with a cheaper and inferior translation, and so curtailing the circulation of the new and improved version. His conduct appeared to Tindale so dishonourable, and his changes in the New Testament so dangerous, that he added to his revised edition, a second preface, directed especially against Joye; and it was the publication of this preface which led to the prolonged and bitter controversy to which we shall now briefly advert.
“Thou shalt understand, most dear reader,” so runs the address, “when I had taken in hand to look over the New Testament again, and to compare it with the Greek, and to mend whatsoever I could find amiss, and had almost finished the labour, George Joye secretly took in hand to correct it also, by what occasion his conscience knoweth, and prevented [anticipated] me, in so much that his correction was printed in great number, ere mine began [to be printed]. When it was spied and word brought me, though it seemed to divers others that George Joye had not used the office of an honest man, seeing he knew that I was in correcting it myself, neither did walk after the rules of the love and softness which Christ and His disciples teach us, how that we should do nothing of strife to move debate, or of vain-glory, or of covetousness; yet I took the thing in worth as I have done divers other in time past, as one that have more experience of the nature and disposition of that man’s complexion, and supposed that a little spice of covetousness and vain-glory (two blind guides) had been the only cause that moved him to do so; about which things I strive with no man, and so followed after, and corrected forth, and caused this to be printed without surmise or looking on his correction. But when the printing of mine was almost finished, one brought me a copy [of Joy’s edition], and showed me so many places in such wise altered that I was astonied [astounded], and wondered not a little what fury had driven him to make such change, and to call it a diligent correction.”
The changes which thus excited Tindale’s indignation were not, indeed, so numerous as he seems to have imagined; but, under the circumstances which have been already narrated, they were extremely irritating and offensive. Joys had had the assurance to reprint Tindale’s translation almost verbatim, while at the same time announcing his work as a ‘dilligent correction’; and not content with thus robbing the Translator of the fruit of his toil, had the further assurance to change the renderings in a few verses, so as to favour his own opinions on the question which he had so often debated with Tindale, the condition of the soul after death. Against this double injury Tindale protests with great vehemence. With obvious and unanswerable rhetoric he urged that Joye should have put his own name to a translation which so materially misrepresented the opinions of its actual author; he claimed no monopoly of the right to translate the Scriptures into English, but it was not lawful, he submitted, “nor yet expedient for the edifying of the unity of the faith of Christ, that whosoever will, shall by his own authority take another man’s translation, and put out and in, and change at pleasure, and call it a correction.”
As to the character of the changes, he proceeds to remark somewhat sarcastically, “George Joye hath had a long time marvellous imaginations about this word resurrection, that it should be taken for the state of souls after their departing from their bodies, and hath also, though he hath been reasoned with thereof and desired to cease, yet sown his doctrine by secret letters on that side the sea [in England], and caused great division among the brethren, insomuch that John Fryth, being in prison in the Tower of London, a little before his death, wrote that we should warn him and desire him to cease, and would have thus written against him, had I not withstood him. Thereto I have been since informed that no small number through his curiosity [whimsical speculations] utterly deny the resurrection of the flesh and body, affirming that the soul, when she is departed, is the spiritual body of the resurrection, and other resurrection shall there none be. And I have talked with some of them myself, so doted in that folly, that it were as good persuade a post, as to pluck that madness out of their brains. And of this is all George Joy’s unquiet curiosity the whole occasion; whether he be of the sad faction also, or not, to that let him answer himself.”
His own opinions on the subject Tindale sets forth at length in the noble and earnest protestation which has been repeatedly printed:-
“Concerning the resurrection, I protest before God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, and before the universal congregation that believeth in Him, that I believe, according to the open and manifest Scriptures and Catholic faith, that Christ is risen again in the flesh which He received of His mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, and body wherein He died: and that we shall all, both good and bad, rise both flesh and body, and appear together before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive every man according to his deeds: and that the bodies of all that believe and continue in the true faith of Christ shall be endued with like immortality and glory as is the body of Christ.
“And I protest before God, and our Saviour Christ, and all that believe in Him, that I hold of the souls that are departed as much as may be proved by manifest and open Scripture, and think the souls departed in the faith of Christ and love of the law of God, to be in no worse case than the soul of Christ was from the time that He delivered His Spirit into the hands of His Father until the resurrection of His body in glory and immortality. Nevertheless I confess openly that I am not persuaded that they be already in the full glory that Christ is in, or the elect angels of God are in; neither is it any article of my faith: for if it so were, I see not but then the preaching of the resurrection of the flesh were a thing in vain. Notwithstanding yet I am ready to believe it if it may be proved with open Scripture: and I have desired George Joye to take open texts that seem to make for that purpose, as this is, ‘To-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise’; to make thereof what he could; for I receive not in the Scripture the private interpretation of any man’s brain, without open testimony of any Scripture agreeing thereto.
“Moreover, I take God (which alone seeth the heart) to record to my conscience, beseeching Him that my part be not in the blood of Christ if I wrote of all that I have written throughout all my book aught of an evil purpose, of envy or malice to any man, or to stir up any false doctrine or opinion in the Church , or to be author of any sect, or to draw disciples after me, or that I would be esteemed or had in price above the least child that is born; save only of pity and compassion I had and yet have on the blindness of my brethren, and to bring them into the knowledge of Christ, and to make every one of them, if it were possible, as perfect as an angel of heaven; and to weed out all that is not planted of our Heavenly Father, and to bring down all that lifteth up itself against the knowledge of the salvation that is in the blood of Christ. Also my part be not in Christ if mine heart be not to follow and live according as I teach; and also if mine heart weep not night and day for mine own sin and other man’s indifferently, beseeching God to convert us all, and to take His wrath from us, and to be merciful as well to all other man as to mine own soul; caring for the wealth [welfare] of the realm I was born in, for the King and all that are thereof, as a tender-hearted mother would do for her only son.
“As concerning all I have translated or otherwise written, I beseech all men to read it for that purpose I wrote it, even to bring them to the knowledge of the Scripture; and as far as the Scripture approveth it so far to allow it; and if in any place the Word of God disallow it, there to refuse it, as I do before our Saviour Christ and His congregation. And where they find faults let them show me if they be nigh, or write to me if they be far off; or write openly against it and improve [disprove] it; and I promise them, if I shall perceive that their reasons conclude [are conclusive], I will confess mine ignorance openly.”
If Tindale’s animadversions upon Joye were severe, it will be admitted that the severity was not undeserved; the conduct of Joye would have been base even in an enemy of the Reformation, but in one who professed to be a friend, it was altogether inexcusable. Tindale’s remarks, naturally enough, stung him to the quick, and he prepared a defence of himself, which he proposed to publish to the world as widely, if possible, as the attack had been circulated. Mutual friends intervened, and attempted to arrest a controversy which was sure to be seized by the Romanists as a proof of the inevitable discord which attended all session from the pale of their communion. It was agreed accordingly that Joye should not publish his defence, and that Tindale should, in subsequent editions of His New Testament, modify the assertions of his damnatory epistle. From some cause, of which we have only Joye’s partial account, this agreement was not carried into execution; Joye’s defence was printed; and the minds of all lovers of the Reformation were scandalized by this public quarrel between two who for some years had been among the recognized leaders of the Reformation. (pp. 462-464.)
* * * * * * *
9. TINDALE’S SIGNED PRISON LETTER
We are now able to add, for the first time in this country, information of the highest interest from the pen of Tindale himself. The admirers of the great Translator have long regretted that not a single letter or document of any kind has been ascertained to be in existence, that was unquestionably written with Tindale’s own hand. The industry of a foreign investigator has at length been successful in discovering an original letter which was written by Tindale himself, and which at once invests the whole narrative of his imprisonment with that “touch of nature” that appeals irresistibly to human sympathies*. It would be unfair to the reader to withhold from him Tindale’s own original Latin; and we therefore place it here in the text with a literal rendering subjoined. The letter, it may be premised, has neither date nor superscription, but there is not the slightest doubt that it was written at Vilvorde in the winter if 1535, and that it was addressed to the Governor of the castle, who was no other than the very Marquis of Gergen-op-Zoom with whom Cromwell had already interceded in Tindale’s favour**.
[* The letter has been found in the Archives of
the Council of Brabant, by the learned and indefatigable M. Galesloot. With the kind permission of the
ever-courteous M. Gachard,
the precious document has been photographed at the expense of Mr. Fry, of
** Antoine de Berges, Marquis of Bergen-op-Zoom, was appointed Governor in 1530. Adolphe Van Wesele was Lieutenant of the castle.]
“Credo non latere te, vir praestantissime, quid de me statutm sit. Quam ob rem, tuam dominationem rogatum habeo, idque per Dominum Jesum, ut si mihi per hiemem hic manendum sit, solicites, apud dominum commissariumm si forte digrari velit, de rebus meis quash abet, mittere calidiorem birettum; frigus enim patior in capite nimium, oppressus perpetuo catarro qui sub testitudine [sic] nonnihil augetur. Calidiorem quoque tunicam, nam, haec quam habeo admodum tenuis est. Item pannum ad caligas reficiendas. Doplois [sic in original mistake for diplos] detrita est; camiseae detritae sunt etiam. Camiseam laneam habet, si mittere velit. Habeo quoque apud eum caligas ex crassiori panno ad superius induendum; noctuna biretta calidiora habet etiam: utque vesperi lucernam habere licit; tediosum quidem est per tenebras solitarie sedere, Maxime autem omnium tuam clementiam rogo atque obsecro ut ex animo agree velit apud dominum commissarium quatenus dignari velit mihi concedere Bibliam Hebraicam, Grammaticam Hebraicam, et Vocabularium Hebraicum, ut eo studio tempus conteram. Sie tibi obtingat quod maxime optas modo cum animae tuae salute fiat: Verum si aluid consilium de me ceptum [sic] est, ante hiemem perficieudum, patiens ero, Dei expectans voluntatem, ad bloriam gratiae Domini mei Jesu Christi, Cuius Spiritustuum simper regat pectus. Amen. W. Tindalus.”
“I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me [by the Council of Brabant]; therefore I entreat your lordship and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here [in Vilvorde] during the winter, you will request the Procureur to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin: also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woollen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procureur that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always that it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But if, before the end of the winter, a different decision be reached concerning me, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen. – W. Tindale.”
The picture presented in this letter, of the illustrious Martyr, sitting cold and dark and solitary in the damp cells of Vilvorde during the long cheerless nights of winter, and earnestly soliciting the favour of light, and the warm clothing, and above all, of books to solace him, must surely have reminded the reader of the great Apostle of the Gentiles sending for his “cloke and his books, but especially the parchments,” to defend himself against the damp and the tedium of his gloomy Mamertine dungeon; and it appeals irresistibly to the sympathies of every man who is not utterly destitute of human feelings.
It adds not a little to the interest of this letter, that it silences forever the idle objection so repeated by writers who take no trouble to examine into facts, that Tindale was absolutely ignorant of Hebrew, and was incapable either of reading or of rendering the Old Testament in its original language. To scholars, indeed, that question had long ago been set at rest by the examination of Tindale’s Version of the Pentateuch; and the testimony of Hermann Buschius was scarcely needed to assure them, that Tindale was quite sufficiently versed in Hebrew for the work that he had undertaken. Surely, however, after this pathetic request in the Translator’s own words, the groundless calumny will disappear for ever from our literature.
We take for granted that the modest requests of Tindale were acceded to; this much, at least, the Marquis of Bergen could scarcely refuse to one for whom Cromwell had interceded; and until the actual business of the trial commenced and occupied all his energies, we may suppose that Tindale was engaged on what had been the labour of his life, the translation of Holy Scripture into the English language. The Venerable Bede, dictating his translation of St. John on his deathbed, has been deemed a subject worthy of the highest art, a theme for the highest flights of poetry; will no genius be fired to commemorate in verse or on canvas the only worthy pendant which our literary annals present, Tindale in the gloomy vaults at Vilvorde, toiling bravely to finish his great work? How much he was able to accomplish of his task in the dreary confinement of his prison we have no means of ascertaining with any very definite precision; but there seems no reason whatever for disbelieving the uniform tradition which affirms, that before his death he had completed the translation of the Old Testament to the end of the Books of Chronicles. This part of his work, it is said, was transmitted to his former associate in Antwerp, John Rogers, and was printed by him along with the previous translations by Tindale of the Pentateuch and the New Testament, in which is usually known as Matthews’s Bible*. Of all this, direct proof cannot be given; but the presumption in its favour, from evidence both internal and external, is sufficiently strong to warrant its implicit reception.
[* See Westcott on the subject; I have not entered into the examination of any of the alleged posthumous works of Tindale.]
The trial of Tindale was, we believe, not begun till the commencement of 1536, and it had been unusually protracted. The process of written attack and defence must of necessity have occupied a considerable time; and it may have been midsummer before the trial was concluded. The verdict had been foreseen by the judges from the commencement, and was inevitable; but before pronouncing it, we cannot doubt that the question was once again submitted to the supreme authorities; that not only the Regent Mary of Hungary, but the emperor also, were asked to decide whether in this instance the statutes against heretics were to be enforced with full rigour, or whether the prerogative of mercy was to be exercised. Charles and Mary were not ignorant of the interest which Henry and Cromwell felt in Tindale; and with them it rested to decide whether the prisoner was to be set free, or to die the death of a heretic. They weighed the case doubtless with care, and took into consideration the comparative advantages of the two courses of conduct that were open to them. To pardon a convicted heretic would offend the clergy, and would stultify the legislation of many years against heresy: to give him up to death was to run the risk of offending Henry, or at least of disobliging Henry’s potent minister. As a question of interest, the decision was only too likely to be unfavourable to Tindale, and the consciences of the two supreme authorities would still further incline the verdict against him. No words of mercy came from those with whom the prerogative of mercy was lodged; and nothing remained for the Council of Brabant but to act as the law required*. (pp. 537-541.)
[* I have searched in vain for the correspondence which must have passed between Mary and Charles, but it may yet be discovered and throw light upon this most interesting subject.]
* * * * * * *
10. TINDALE EXECUTED ON OCTOBER 6, 1536.
According to Foxe, Tindale had a respite of nearly two months between his condemnation and his martyrdom; and one hopes that, after the solemn mummeries of degradation were duly accomplished, the calm interval of preparation was not interrupted by the officious ministrations of the priests and confessors who were usually intruded upon condemned heretics, to convince them, if possible, at the last moment, of their errors, and to induce them to recant. Tindale, it must have been manifest, was not likely to be influenced by such agents, and one would gladly believe, therefore, that he was spared this annoyance, and that he was permitted to prepare himself in peace for that dread ordeal of which he had before said to Frith, “Let not your body faint; he that endureth to the end shall be saved; if the pain be above your strength, remember, ‘Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name I will give it you,’ and pray for your Father in that name, and He shall ease your pain or shorten it.”
The death which he had to face was not, however, quite so terrible as that of Frith; by the laws of the emperor Anabaptists alone were burned alive; and though Tindale’s body was to be consumed, it would not be till after he had been reft of life by a mode of death much more speedily than the painful one of burning. He was to be strangled, and his body was then burned. Friday, October 6, was fixed as the day of his execution. The place was, doubtless, some spot on that side of the castle next the town, where it could easily be witnessed from the churchyard and from the walls that ran in front of what is now the Rue des Moines Blancs.
No record of the martyrdom has been given by any eye-witnesses; but the description given by Ensinas of an execution precisely similar may be here quoted, as probably in almost all its details applicable to the case of Tindale.
“A space was enclosed with palisades, and all were excluded except those who had to play a part in the martyrdom. In the midst of the enclosure was erected a large piece of wood in the shape of a cross as high as a man, and firmly fixed in the ground to the same depth. On the top was an iron chain fixed to the wood, and a hole in which a rope of hemp was inserted: and near the foot was piled an immense heap of brushwood. When all was ready the Procureur-General and the rest of the judges were conducted to the place that was prepared for them in the immediate neighbourhood of the fatal spot. Finally, the prisoner was led out, and was permitted to engage for a few moments in prayer.”
“He cried,” says Foxe, in
the sole detail he was given of Tindale’s death, “at
the stake with a fervent zeal and a loud voice, ‘Lord, open the King of
“This prayer finished, he was immediately led by the executioner to the stake; his feet were bound to the stake; the iron chain which hung from the tip was fastened round his neck, along with the hemp rope loosely tied in a noose. The faggots were piled around with quantities of straw, and heaped up till the victim almost seemed enclosed in a little hut. Then, at a signal from the Prucureur, the executioner stepped behind and tightened the rope with great force, so as in a few moments to strangle the victim. When life was extinct, the Procureur seized a torch and kindled the pile, which blazed forth with fury, and in a very short space completely consumed the body*.” (* Wicked Mammon and Obedience.)
“If they shall burn me,” he said eight years before, “they shall do none other thing than that I look for.” “There is none other way into the kingdom of life than through persecution and suffering of pain, and of very death, after the ensample of Christ*.” And now after a long interval the death which he had so long before anticipated had overtaken him; the untiring malice of his enemies had at length succeeded in cutting short his life; but the work was beyond their power. The spot where his ashes rest is unknown; but that work for which he lived and died has, like the seed in the parable, grown up into the mightiest trees. There is scarcely a corner of the habitable globe into which English energy has not penetrated; and wherever the English language is heard, there the words in which Tindale gave his Holy Scripture to his countrymen are repeated with heart-felt reverence as the holiest and yet the most familiar of all words. They are the first that the opening intellect of the child receives with wondering faith from the lips of its mother; they are the last that tremble on the tongue of the dying as he commends his soul to God. Assuredly it will not tend to diminish the reverence with which the universal English-speaking people regard their Bible, if they read a little more carefully the life of the heroic and simple-minded man to whose labour the English Bible was chiefly owing, and whose spirit still seems to reside in its grave, impressive sentences.
No laboured peroration is needed to set forth the character and virtues of Tindale. This biography mush have been unsuccessful indeed, if it has not presented a portrait which the reader has long ago recognized as that of a true Christian hero. Heroic is, in truth, the appropriate epithet for the character of Tindale; and heroic is the noblest and highest sense of that somewhat misused word. One feels instinctively that he was no ordinary commonplace man, no mere scholar, or active, energetic priest. He was no shrewd man of the world, but was ignorant as a child of the ordinary arts by which favour is propitiated and popularity so frequently won. His simplicity, his earnestness, his noble unselfishness, his love of truth, his independence, his clearness and force of mind, his invincible energy and power, - these mark him out as a true hero, one of those great men specially raised up and qualified for a noble work, whose lives always constitute a landmark in the annals of human history.
Of the excellence of his moral character, fortunately, no defence has ever been required. The Procureur-General is reported to have described him as “a learned, good, and godly man”; and friends and enemies, in his own time and in subsequent ages, have with one unvarying consent repeated the same encomium. No voice of scandal has ever been raised against him; and there are no black spots in his life which it is the duty of a biographer to attempt to whitewash.
The extent of his influence upon the Reformation
This, however, was after all but a subordinate part of Tindale’s work; that with which his name will be forever associated, and for which his memory will be for ever revered, is his translation of Holy Scripture. Of all English-speaking people, who is able adequately to treat? And this English Bible, it must once more be repeated, is the work of Tindale; is for the greater part exactly what he made it, and in every part speaks in that style which he infused into it. That exquisite felicity of language which has made it dear to the hearts of all classes, which has constituted it a true national treasure, it owes to Tindale. His translation was no dead piece of learned labour; it was instinct with the life of the man that produced it; it was the Word of God transmitted through the agency of one whom that Word was not an outward letter, but the very life of his soul. It is on this account that the individuality of Tindale is inseparably associated with the English Bible; its tone and spirit have, in a certain sense, come from him; no revision has ever presumed to touch what Tindale has stamped on it; no progress of scholarship is ever likely to efface from it that which makes it truly Tindale’s work.
It has been reserved for some of his own countrymen to impugn the scholarship of the great Translator. Perhaps, their discovery that the translation whose pre-eminent merit it is that it so closely represents the original, may be esteemed the highest and most curious achievement of literary stupidity in our times. But to state such a preposterous objection is to refute it. Such calumnies can do no injury to the memory of Tindale: they prove nothing but the ignorance and the recklessness of those who make them. Truth alone can stand the test of time and of research; and the more thoroughly that the life of Tindale is examined, the more has he hitherto been found to be deserving of the love and veneration of his countrymen. The more that his character and work are investigated, the more conspicuous is his Christian heroism. There is nothing to alloy the admiration with which we regard him, no taint of weakness, no suspicion of selfishness, no parade of pride. Humble and irreproachable in his life, zealous and devoted in his work, beloved by his friends, respected by his enemies, faithful unto death, where among the army of martyrs shall we find a nobler than William Tindale?
- (pp. 542-548.)