Editorial

Things that seem opposite often turn out to be complementary, much as the triangulation of differently seeing eyes makes three dimensional vision possible.

One such opposition is that of past and future. Hans-Jörg Modlmayr, whose letter from Germany appears in this issue, recently staged his Dance of Death song cycle in Quedlinburg Cathedral, a site of serious significance since it was there that Henry II founded the German nation, and which Heinrich Himmler chose to be the spiritual centre of his own Imperial SS. The presentation, fifty years after the end of the war, was intended to address the future through a real focusing of the past.

Another apparent opposition is that of grace and law: ‘law/is what we read in its lines, between/them grace’. The inwardness of the spirit and the outwardness of conduct parallels that of the written and the spoken words. Christ promotes both: he confounds the Adversary with ‘it is written’; he teaches his followers ‘you have heard it said... but I say unto you.’ When it comes to translation there is an inevitable wrestling between the inner sense and the outward norms of language.

A third opposition which perplexes the church continually is that between tradition and reformation. In fact reformation normally claims to be a renewal of an older tradition than the one it is challenging. ‘Traditional’ is a label frequently attached these days to the language of the AV, with the paradoxical effect that Tyndale's words actually sound like a modernising, like a break with tradition.

It is indeed to Tyndale's credit that, in his translation, he makes the written word sound spoken; as if, indeed, the thoughts expressed had been conceived in an English-speaking mind. And so many languages have received the Scriptures translated not just from the Hebrew, the Greek, the Latin, but from the English.

Tyndale's enterprise started with an apparently simple aim, to put words spoken and written in the past into the hands of a common labourer in order that they might free his mind and soul. But beyond that hope the gesture reached to the renewal, or even the recreation, of Europe and its church, and through an imperial mission to the farthest comers of the world.

He was at home in the country among his Gloucestershire kin, at home with their local speech; he was equally at home in the great cosmopolitan city of Antwerp with its intellectual and sensual vigour described by Werner Waterschoot. But it is questionable whether he would have been at home in our absolutely suburban culture, which knows nothing of great enterprises or of common virtue.

The Europe and the world that are to be renewed must not be left to the brokers and bureaucrats of either persuasion. It deserves a fuller vision, of more dimensions, and of enormous wealth: one that indeed is worthy of being put into the hands of the common labourers of Gloucestershire and the world.

Hilary Day



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