The Third Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture, October '96 — an appreciation

'You are going all the way to England just to attend a lecture given by Professor Thiede on Tyndale?' 'Well, yes', I replied and added rather apologetically 'He is an extremely good lecturer and he is speaking on Tyndale and the European Reformation'. However, it was obvious from the shoulder shrugging and eye movements — gestures on which Prof Desmond Morris could have based a minor thesis — that nobody flies in for a single lecture, even at Lambeth Palace, and that clearly this Tyndale Society must be encouraging fanatics!

Determined not to be late for the great event I arrived uncharacteristically far too early at the forbidding doors of Lambeth Palace. The taxi driver, anticipating my predicament, obligingly whooshed me back over the bridge to Church House bookshop — free of charge because having started an interesting discussion on the Reformation on the way from Paddington he felt it would provide an excellent opportunity to conclude it with a few more remarks on Luther et al.

A fortune on books later, I arrived at the aforesaid, now open, doors to overhear Priscilla Frost, the Tyndale Society's ever efficient secretary, persuading a nun who had travelled up from Wantage for the day that she really could not leave now to catch the last bus home — Wantage, it seems, is barely linked with the capital of the country. It was probably easier to get there in Tyndale's time. She, Priscilla, would guarantee her a lift back, if necessary, to ensure that she did not miss the lecture or incur Reverend Mother's displeasure.

The audience began to fill the impressive Great Hall of the Library at Lambeth Palace. For quite a few of us it was a reunion as we had been at the 2nd Oxford International Tyndale Conference and the sequel so ably organized in Leuven, Belgium, by Dr Guido Latré in September 1996. The welcoming remarks made, the assembly sat enthralled as Prof Carsten Peter Thiede launched into a fascinating, tightly argued lecture on Tyndale and the European Reformation.

'I pray thee, stay with us; go not to Wittenberg' pleaded the Queen of Denmark in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Prof Thiede began his lecture with this quotation. This mention of the town where Luther studied, wrote and held the chair of Theology, to which Barnes fled in 1531 and where Tyndale was able to expand his knowledge of classical languages was an apt introduction. Thiede made the point, with numerous examples, that we must always be ready to put the European Reformation in its literary and philological context. He gave us a detailed reasoning as to why Tyndale's plea to Bishop Tunstall to give him employment was based on a translation of Isocrates. Thiede is sure that this choice was no mere whim on Tyndale's part but conformed to the prevailing intellectual trends in Europe.

Prof Thiede dwelt at some length on the quality and accuracy of Tyndale's translation which he acknowledged as being extremely good. He also emphasized that Tyndale released the Bible from its 'Latin straight jacket'. He suggested, perhaps with an eye on his mainly British audience, that Europeans were the poorer for not being able to understand English and, thus, unable to follow Tyndale's scholarship and arguments.

He made an interesting point, which has long been dear to my own heart, that the influence of Tyndale on the Geneva Bible is very marked and urged further study in this area. He concluded his lecture by saying that Tyndale was an excellent all-rounder in comparison with Luther who was not as scholarly and Calvin who was too political.

The audience seemed delighted with this polished lecture delivered in faultless English which will be printed in the next volume of the Society's academic journal Reformation due shortly. Immediately afterwards there was a lively reception and then a goodly proportion of those present wandered down the road to partake of a light supper in the company of the lecturer and our tireless, ebullient chairman, Prof. David Daniell. Socialising continued over the meal, whose quality regretfully did not match the level of the discussions. The Tyndale Society is a truly interdisciplinary one. Where else would you find a cleric, an artist, a farmer, a retired judge and a computer specialist earnestly exchanging views on the Reformation over the soup? No doubt my erstwhile taxi driver would have joined in if I had thought in time to invite him!

Was the lecture worth the flight? Well, Carsten thought it worthwhile enough to fly in to give it, and I flew in to hear it. After all, it is merely the more comfortable continuation of a Reformation tradition — Hamlet, Barnes and Tyndale to Wittenberg, Thiede to London. The difference is that we, twentieth century citizens, travelled to London by car, plane and train whereas Tyndale was obliged to use sailing boat and horse in his quest for refuge and intellectual stimulation. Yes, it was an excellent lecture and, as I remarked at the time, Carsten is so enthusiastic and utterly convincing that it is hard to disagree with him on virtually any subject he cares to expound upon. One could, in the spirit of Shakespeare's King of Denmark, say '... your intent in going back to school in Paderborn, it is the most retrograde to our desire'.

Valerie Offord, Hon. Archivist,
Holy Trinity Church, Geneva

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