The Fourth Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture: Review

1 October 1997

The Fourth Annual Tyndale lecture was given, unusually, by a Secretary of State, the Right Honourable Frank Dobson, MP, the Minister for Health in the new Labour government. He had come hotfoot from Brighton, where the Labour Party conference was being held and where that very morning he had been answering questions on the National Health Service. To switch from politics to Tyndale shows an admirable mental agility, not to mention the possession of a hinterland - a life and interest beyond politics - a quality which Dennis Healey has found so sadly lacking in most politicians.

In the Archbishop's absence abroad, we were welcomed to the Great Hall of the Library by the Bishop at Lambeth. Professor David Daniell introduced the Minister to us and we heard with amusement how Mr Dobson came to be giving the address. At the end of a Radio 4 broadcast of Any Questions, the panel were asked to choose a favourite book. Mr Dobson unhesitatingly chose Tyndale's 1526 translation of the New Testament. This was greeted with loud cheers in the kitchen of the Daniell home. Professor Daniell promptly wrote to the Minister inviting him to give this year's lecture, and here he was.

It was interesting to see how Frank Dobson would effect the considerable change of gear from contemporary politics to sixteenth century prose, but he accomplished it with ease. He showed an appreciation of Tyndale's achievement, speaking movingly of Tyndale's work as the most important and influential boot: in the English language, pointing to Tyndale's plain and pithy sentences which have done so much to shape the word patterns of English with an instinctive feeling for the music of our language. We were reminded that the Prime Minister had described English as the world's dominant language and that this is due in no small measure to Tyndale.

Frank Dobson saw Tyndale's work as not only revolutionary in the strength and simplicity of his translation, but also in his determination that the Bible should be open to all men. The Minister identified Tyndale as spreader of knowledge, as opposed to those hoarders of knowledge who tried to suppress him. The hoarders always exist and know that knowledge is power; it can allow unmerited advance and financial gain and give a footing for snobbery. The privileged few 'in the know' do their best to preserve their mystique and, in Tyndale's case, allow the hierarchy of the church to wield their authority. Thus, Dobson understood Tyndale to have established the foundation for argument, dissent and mounted an early challenge to deference. Today, such a man would fight for a Freedom of Information Act, said Dobson, and for the free dissemination of knowledge of all kinds, which is the road to progress.

Frank Dobson gave us all food for thought in the fresh links he made between Tyndale the political realities of today.

Joan Bridgman

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