Hans-Jörg Modlmayr:
Letter from Germany / Neue Psalmen 17

Dear Gordon,
I thank you for your kind invitation to write about William Tyndale for the TSJ ‘from a German perspective (e.g. Is he more than a footnote to Luther?), and how does a broadcaster view his approach and methods (Is there anything for us to learn here?).’

I don't claim to be a relative of Saul but when I was driving through the night in late August 1994 the BBC programme on Tyndale, ‘Let There Be Light’, struck me, no, exhilarated me in a most wonderful way. It was clear to me that I had to do broadcasts on him and preparing them was wonderfully inspiring. I repeat the word ‘wonderful’ because Tyndale's language, pure in the Yale texts, is such a humanely charming voice, clear and varied, beautifully modulated and rhythmical. In short you look at the marvels of life through the eyes of the innocent visionary whose sense of wonder and enthusiasm directly translates to you. What makes Tyndale so special is the truthfulness of the vision — untainted by the interferences of clerical lust for control over the spiritual.

The older I become the more amazed I am about the clerical castes of any generation and culture (priests, courtiers, bureaucrats, academics and all sorts of other species of ‘fonctionnaires’). Looking at the clerical cast of mind I cannot help pitying its adepts because of their fundamental predicament, i.e. that they are — excuse the pun — ‘out’— ‘cast(e)s’. They are put in charge — or have usurped their positions — of the holy sources of life-inspiring traditions which are continually revitalized by — to use Tolkien's term — the ‘sub-creators’, the artists.

To look at Tyndale and More from this perspective is interesting because the two diametrically opposed temperaments of highly gifted men can teach us to understand the mechanics of our culture. It all boils down to the alternative of power, of control, of social and psychic engineering on the More side (with all the tempting fascinations of its backwaters) and the single-handed tightrope balancing act of a Tyndale who, in the end, follows his personal calling and ignores the lures and threats of power.

Power-worshippers are, by definition, cold fish. They are attracted by the ‘beauties’ of structures and their grip on the mechanics of life gives them the impression that by manipulation they can gain ultimate control. Unless he succeeds in assassinating his king or emperor the courtier will never ‘be’ the centre of power, just as the priest can never actually become god because he, the priest, can only impersonate the godhead.

Tyndale's humility — his requests for warmer clothes and light go to the heart — springs from his pure vision, unadulterated by the temptations of power. What a pity that More was unable to listen to Tyndale; Tyndale could have healed More's ice-cold soul.

In our present climate of resurging fundamentalisms (fundamentalisms which pour liquid concrete into the sources of traditional revelation) our ancient European legacies threaten to become virulent again. Diagnosing the trends which more and more come to the fore it seems that Europe's old sins were never sincerely shriven, that they were simply hidden away in history's ice-boxes and if we are not wary the whole of Europe will become apocalyptically Bosnified. The Crusades and the Inquisition, the witch-hunts, have never been truly regretted from deep inside. All of us, one way or another, are like Claudius — we are profiting from the blatant injustices inflicted on countless victims.

What can we learn from Tyndale's approach and from his methods? I feel that we are learning a good deal if we simply tune into his world of cadences, cadences which make us much more aware of the miracles of creation. Like John Constable, Tyndale helps us to appreciate the smallest details as fragments of the impenetrable mystery of life and through the enthusiasm gained from the beauty of the fragment we draw courage to weather the various crises which test our stamina.

Anyone who works with and for people can learn from Tyndale. It is the concern and love for what one is about to broadcast that matters. Precision, the right tone, colour and rhythm all follow naturally if one really takes one's calling seriously. Tyndale's dedication to his mission, his patient acceptance of adversity, his perseverance, his never tiring search for the perfection of his craft, all his quiet talents set us an encouraging example not to give up. Each of us has to make a constructive contribution and through the encouragement of a Tyndale some of us get the extra nudge we sometimes need.

Language is Tyndale's medium and, partly thanks to him, English has become the most effective means of communication; it is the very handling of this medium which Tyndale has developed to its full potential. Tyndale has freed religious language from its legalistic straitjacket, he has made a closed book accessible to all and thus he has proved that arcane knowledge can be freed from the obscurantism of clerical castes, who use it in order to justify and sanctify ‘the powers that be’.

You ask about Luther. When I read the Bible in German I only really enjoy myself when I get out my 1545 facsimile Luther text. The excitement of Luther's discoveries of the Hebrew original is electrifying. His German is so fresh and visual, so dynamic and ‘at it’.

Tyndale's language, however, has an extra quality. For the sake of simplification I call it the John Constable tone. Infinite variety, a warm ground tone, a feeling of inspiring love and respect permeate Tyndale's language. There is always some kind of distant Welsh harp music — string plucking — which holds the masses of sounds together.

What Tyndale's language really achieves is that it reproduces the very life-process of nature — it is organic in contrast to being schematic, it is inspired by an unbroken trust in the renewal of life, it is minutely truthful in detail, and it always serves as a medium of communicating relevant information. In other words — it is universal in its complexity and it touches us because Tyndale was moved by the faithful love for his Bible and for his audiences, past, present and future.

Here in Germany we are especially close to Tyndale who has learned from Luther and who has our deep sympathies because of what he had to suffer under the imperial system. I wonder if our Europe is able to learn from Tyndale? I fear we do not have many more chances. And yet I'm hopeful because of the exciting renaissance of Tyndale's achievement.

My next broadcast on Tyndale is for the heartland of Luther and I'm hopeful that some more listeners will be introduced to his beautiful English.

Best wishes

Hans-Jörg Modlmayr (translated by the editor)
Neue Psalmen: 17 New Psalms: 17
endlich löst at last you loose
du dich vom Kreuz, yourself from the cross,
steigst herab, climb down,
bist befreit are freed
den Rufmödern character-assassins
kehrst du den Rücken, you turn your back on,
die Inquisitoren the inquisitors
siehst du nicht mehr you see no more
der Frühling the Spring
kommt zu dir, comes to you,
die Einsamkeit bricht breaks the solitude
in Auschwitz in Auschwitz
kommst du you come
wieder zur Welt back to the world

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