The 2nd Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture


by David Daniell
Lambeth Palace 12 September 1995

Chair: His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On behalf of the Tyndale Society I want to say how grateful we are for your Grace's interest in our work, and for your welcome this evening — indeed, for inviting us here tonight. We remember with pleasure the eve of Tyndale's Quincentenary day, just under a year ago, and the fine address on Tyndale that you gave then, in this room. That you are a Patron of the Tyndale Society honours us greatly. And I myself feel almost to stand here, having been introduced by you, in this beautiful and historic place.

But I standing here this evening I must be creating some sort of record for pure cheek. I have been primarily a Shakespeare scholar all my life, and here I am, brought up a nonconformist to boot, in Lambeth Palace lecturing the Archbishop of Canterbury on the history of the Church of England. But God moves in a mysterious way, and by a series of curious moves of Providence I have now some claim to knowledge of William Tyndale, which might turn out to be useful, and I hope interesting.

On a morning in May 1535, William Tyndale was at work in his cramped and crowded room in the English House in Antwerp. This — roughly like an Oxford College — was the home of prosperous English merchants, and it had an effective diplomatic immunity. The merchants had their own chaplain, John Rogers. Tyndale was by now a European leader in Hebrew studies: he was beyond sight of anyone in England. His understanding of the Greek New Testament and its theology was ahead even of Luther's Wittenberg, as thanks to Professor Carsten Peter Thiede we now understand. He can be watched consulting essential texts in German and French as well as Latin and the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament as he worked. This is not to mention the local Flemish (and Professor Guido Latre is beginning to find evidence of the importance of Antwerp Flemish in Tyndale's translation work). And I have not spoken at all yet of English, of which he was a master I believe, on good technical grounds, surpassed only by Shakespeare.

That morning in May he had finished and printed the New Testament, twice, in 1526, revised in 1534. The first five books of the Old Testament had been printed five years before, in 1530, and he now had the next quarter of the Old Testament, the main historical books, in manuscript ready for a press. Ahead of him lay the flat plains of Ezra- Nehemiah and Esther, and then the shining heights of Job and the Psalms, and further off, the towering prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. What would we give for Tyndale's Job ! We have enough evidence to know that he would have been supreme in his understanding of Hebrew poetry, and how to put it into English.

In the early summer of 1535 Tyndale would have had high hopes that he could finish the Old Testament, and fulfil his calling to the work. He was betrayed by the malice, self-pity, villainy and deceit of an egregious Englishman called Henry Phillips. He, an Oxford graduate in law and wanted criminal, was the paid agent of a conspiracy to destroy Tyndale originating, I believe, from the new Bishop of London, Stokesley, and channelled through the Catholic University of Leuven. Phillips had inveigled himself into the English House, and on that morning in May got the unsuspecting Tyndale into an alley outside, where officers waited. He was taken to a prison cell in Vilvoorde castle outside Brussels where he was kept for sixteen months until he was taken out and put to death.

We know that conditions in that cell were very bad, and we know that he was allowed no books of any kind — we had in the British Library exhibition the only autograph document of his to have survived, his moving letter from the cell (in Latin) asking for his own warm clothing, a light for the evenings, and his Hebrew Bible and grammar. There is no evidence that any of these were supplied. It is unlikely, in view of one of his chief ‘heresies’, giving the Bible to the laity, and translating from the original Bible languages (and thus implying that the Church could be in error). What is often not pointed out is that Tyndale, the supreme master of the English language of that century until Shakespeare at the end of it, would have heard no English spoken from the moment of his arrest for all those weary months until his death. English was not known outside England. His jailer spoke Flemish. His interrogations were in Latin; his published books had to be translated into Latin for the inquisitors from Leuven to be able to read them. That work of translation was done by Henry Phillips. There is more to this story. I tell it in more detail in my biography: and those of you who are members of the Tyndale Society and subscribe to our journal, Reformation, will find in the first number a reconstruction of Tyndale's ‘lost’ book, his answer from jail to his accusers.

Moreover, that gracious letter from his cell gives no hint of the emotion that must have gripped Tyndale from the second that he was locked into his dark, cold, wet place — despair. The hindsight is so dazzling, of this master of English who transformed our everyday language, of this translator who gave England a Bible language supreme above all other nations (a matter of hard fact, not chauvinism), whose work circled and changed the religious life of the globe for almost five centuries, that we forget that as the door thudded shut on that tiny black space he had no knowledge that what he had done had had any effect. The curtain that fell then would have been solid indeed. The unbearable irony is that less than twelve months after his dying cry at the stake, ‘Lord, open the King of England's eyes’, King Henry VIII licensed an English Bible; and two years after that decreed that an English Bible was to be placed in every church. Had that runaway traitor, the scoundrel Henry Phillips, not been deeply mired in the results of his stealing and gambling away all his father's money, and sold himself to Stokesley for thirty pieces of silver, Tyndale might have lived those few extra months not only to finish the Old Testament but to return to England.

As what, I wonder ? I shall return to that question before I finish. Let me now spend a few minutes recalling to your memory where the English Reformation had got to in May 1535. The death of Cardinal Wolsey five years before had removed the first orchestrator of the anti-reform campaigns in England, under the banner of rooting out ‘Lutheranism’. But the attacks on Luther were now in cleverer hands: three years after Wolsey's death Sir Thomas More had headed the European attacks on Luther in his often scurrilous Latin works against the German reformer. More had also, clearly to our translator's surprise, begun his personal printed attacks on Tyndale in English which were in the end abandoned after three quarters of a million words — Tyndale's sole reply was a ninth of that in length. But in May 1535, More himself was now in the Tower for refusing the oath that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church in England, and two months after Tyndale's arrest he was executed (he was canonised, incidentally, just before the Second World War, as was John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, executed for the same cause, the only two significant Catholic martyrs of the time).

Henry had been married to Anne Boleyn for two and a half years, and their child, Elizabeth, was now two. Anne had been Queen for two years. She was interested in the European reform movement; she was a scholar who supported the Bible in English: she had exactly a year to live. Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury, and he, like Henry, had, two years before, been excommunicated by the pope. Successive acts of Parliament had recently denied the pope's power to appoint English bishops, and forbidden all payment of taxes to Rome. In spite of sharp repression, the clamour at all levels for the internal reform of church practices had been rising for nearly two centuries: now at Henry's firm denial of the pope's authority in England, there had been no large-scale Catholic uprising. Thomas Cromwell was the King's Secretary, and the first commissioners were being sent out to uncover ‘the manifest sin, vicious carnal and abominable living’ (I quote) in the abbeys and monasteries. These lands were passing into private hands, and the new landlords had a vested interest in seeing that the papacy and the monasteries would never return.

Seven years earlier, Anne Boleyn had given Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man, to Henry to read: the King was reported to have been enthusiastic, saying ‘This is a book for me and all kings to read.’ Tyndale was in that book ahead of his time. Once free of the pope, he wrote, subjects should not disobey the monarch; but that monarch should himself give account only to God. Tyndale was already raising that later Reformation fighting standard, the principle of the godly prince, one law for a whole nation and so on. So far so good. Tyndale's next book, The Practice of Prelates, an attack on pope-appointed bishops, Thomas Wolsey, corrupt monks and friars, and the scheming around the divorce of Catherine, was said to have angered Henry greatly. He probably never saw it. The jungle of politics was exceptionally thick, and it is often now impossible to work out exactly what was the volatile king's mood, what was said in his name without him having any knowledge, and what he was suddenly manoeuvered into and had no time to keep up with, like (the most dramatic example) the execution of his Queen, Anne.

Some time before his arrest, Tyndale had received in Antwerp direct private communication from Cromwell expressing the king's wish to show ‘mercy, pity and compassion’ to Tyndale if he would return to England. Tyndale had replied that he would arrive within two days, and never write more (he means polemic books) and throw himself at the King's feet — but only if the king would ‘grant only a bare text of scripture to be put forth among his people’ as in the rest of Europe; he would be happy for the translator to be of the king's own choosing. Well, of course, the king did that very thing, allowing ‘Thomas Matthew's’ Bible to be licensed: but by that time Tyndale had been for some months dead. It does seem that the King, and Cromwell, and possibly even Cranmer, were ignorant of the fact that ‘Thomas Matthew’ stood for William Tyndale, whose translation it is, assembled by John Rogers, except for the second half of the Old Testament which is by Coverdale — and it is not a bare text, but has elucidatory marginal notes and other matter.

Through the dense clotting of the politics we can make out, as in that licensing, that King Henry, now as Supreme Head of the English Church, was giving greater weight to laymen. His recent Chancellor, Thomas More, had been a layman; so was his present Secretary, Thomas Cromwell. His House of Commons was anti-clerical: so were the temporal lords. There can be no doubt that while Tyndale was in prison, the mood of the country was steadily, and rapidly, changing. Tyndale gave his life for the right of lay people to have the whole Bible in their own language. Before his death, and increasingly after, the country, month by month, moved further and further not just from papal authority but from the doctrines of Rome. Having the whole Bible in English revealed to ordinary men and women that the New Testament spoke of two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, not seven. Such knowledge gave more and more weight, for example, to courageous refusals to pay priests for what was not sanctioned by — or mentioned in — Scripture. Mortuaries, for example, usually exorbitant demands for cash or property for the conduct of rituals at a death, were not in the New Testament. Nor was purgatory (that doctrine had been invented by the church in the 12cent. for various purposes). That particular discovery cut rapidly and fatally into the profitable insistence of masses for the dead, as well as the scandal of the sale of indulgences. John Frith, a close friend of Tyndale, and England's brightest theological mind, had been burned in 1533 for denying purgatory and transubstantiation, the Roman doctrine whereby the bread and wine of the mass did ‘really and carnally’ become the flesh and blood of Christ. Like the martyrdoms under Queen Mary, such a death only hastened eventual reform in England: all Europe was shocked at Frith's execution. He died, it was said, to establish a necessary article — that the faith of the Church had to be based on the New Testament.

A brutal undoing of reform came three years after Tyndale's death, in 1539, with the passing by Parliament, supported by the King, of the notorious Six Articles, which made denial of transubstantiation punishable by death, and restored former practices. This was a blow to the German Lutherans, who increasingly looked to Henry to lead a united Protestant Europe. Archbishop Cranmer, with Cuthbert Tunstall and other bishops, had just entertained three German delegates here at Lambeth Palace for a year, and it was no doubt in this very room that they sought agreement. Significantly they found it in doctrine, but the Lutherans stood firm against continued ‘abuses’ of practice, and the Six Articles sealed the separation. Parliament in 1543 forbade reading of the Bible even at home by women and ignorant people. There exist copies of ‘Matthew's Bible’ of the time with all the marginal notes inked over.

The Six Articles were repealed by an early Parliament in the reign of young Edward VI. Reform moved very rapidly forward — forty editions of the Bible in English were published in London in that short reign. What was urgently needed was uniformity, especially a common service book in English, and we are to see Thomas Cranmer in this palace studying liturgical examples from all over Europe before chairing the meetings at Windsor and Chertsey which produced the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549.

What, in this making of the Church of England, would Tyndale have approved? Indeed, what had he contributed that dozen years before — for that is all it was between Tyndale's martyrdom for heresy and Cranmer's working on that first Prayer Book in this room.

I should like to argue that Tyndale at the time of his arrest was thinking ahead to a peculiarly English Reformation, one that was, I shall suggest, only in the end partly fulfilled by the Anglican settlement.

To fill in quickly the position elsewhere. Luther's ninety-five theses against indulgences, the starting-gun for everything, had been nailed up in 1517. He had been excommunicated in 1521. His powerful writings, and sermons, printed and pirated everywhere, had already for two decades spread like fire across Europe. They were brilliant expositions of Scripture, particularly of Paul's epistles. He further attacked transubstantiation, and the denial to the laity of the Communion in both kinds. He taught that justification by faith freed Christians from obligations to do good works. He was now in 1535 struggling with some success to unite Germany, and Lutheran Europe and Scandinavia, politically, but he had done much to do so linguistically with his translation of the New Testament and much of the Old.

In Switzerland, Zwingli, whose career was so parallel, had quarrelled with Luther over the Lord's Supper, and failed to agree in Augsburg. He had been killed in battle in 1531. Swiss reform was fragmenting. In France, Calvin was finishing the first edition of the Institutes. Calvinism as a force was still a dozen years away.

To see what was particularly English about our Reformation, let us begin with what Tyndale wrote about Church government.

First, he approved the monarch as head of a Church, as long as that monarch obeyed God. A main section of his Obedience of a Christian Man is ‘The obedience of subjects unto Kings, princes and rulers’, and it is, as usual with Tyndale, full of the New Testament. It opens with most of Romans 13, in his own translation —

Let every soul submit himself unto the authority of the higher powers. For there is no power but of God. The powers that be, are ordained of God ...

(note that phrase, ‘the powers that be’, so familiar, and first seen in 1526 being one of so many common phrases that were Tyndale's inventions.)

Even evil rulers must not be resisted: they are the rod and scourge wherewith God chastiseth us ... A christian man ... receiveth all things of the hand of God, both good and bad, both sweet and sour, both wealth and woe. (Obedience, Parker Society, p. 197)

But an equally central section of this book is ‘The duty of kings and of the judges and officers’. Kings should remember that

the people are God's, and not theirs: yea, are Christ's inheritance and possession, bought with his blood. The most despised person in his realm is the king's brother and fellow-member with him in the kingdom of God and of Christ ... let him become a brother ... (p. 202)

Secondly, Tyndale's most powerful polemic writing is always against those corrupt Church practices which the new English Church under Henry and later Edward had dismantled — first, of course, what he, Tyndale, calls ‘the belly brotherhood of monks and friars’, which were still increasing daily. ‘Thou must offer unto their bellies, and then they pray bitterly for thee.’ (PS 343) It is noticeable that in all his frequently intemperate attacks on Tyndale, Sir Thomas More never once defends the clergy. Tyndale gives a quotation from the profession of a novice of the Observants, who in answer to his promising to keep the rules of St Francis, is told by the father

And I promise you again everlasting life. O blasphemy (cries Tyndale). If eternal life be due unto the pilled [bald] traditions of lousy friars, where is the testament become that God made unto us in Christ's blood? (p. 227)

He notes

they juggle through dumb ceremonies ... and make merchandise with feigned words: penance, a poena et a culpa, satisfaction, attrition, character, purgatory pick purse: and ... through confession they make the sacraments and all the promise of none effect or value (p. 342)

All the European reformers identified the figure of ‘antichrist’ (who is referred to, you will recall, in the first epistle of John ...‘even now there are many antichrists come already’ as Tyndale translates it (1 Jn 2 )) with the corrupt practices of the Church of the time. Tyndale's Obedience has a section headed ‘Antichrist’, in which he lays about him with exhilarating force against the money-demands of the multitude of clergy. Every parish, remember, however poor, was responsible for the provision of whatever was said to be required. I want to quote from this at a little more length, if only to ask you to note the power of English prose used as no-one else could come anywhere near in 1528 — we have to wait until much later in the century for any prose as Shakespearean as this:

None shall receive the body of Christ at Easter, be he never so poor a beggar, or never so young a lad or maid, but they must pay somewhat for it. Then mortuaries for forgotten tithes, as they say ... They will forget nothing. No man shall die in their debt: or if any man do, he shall pay it when he is dead. They will lose nothing. Why? It is God's: it is not theirs. It is St Hubert's rents, St Alban's lands, St Edmond's right, St Peter's patrimony, say they, and none of ours. Item: if a man die in another man's parish, besides that he must pay at home a mortuary for forgotten tithes, he must there pay also the best that he there hath: whether it be an horse of twenty pound, or how good soever he be: either [or] a chain of gold of an hundred marks or five hundred pounds if it so chance. It is much, verily, for so little painstaking in confession, and in ministering the sacraments. Then bead rolls. Item chrysome [baptism], churchings, banns, weddings, offering at weddings, offering at buryings, offering to images, offering of wax and lights, which come to their vantage ... The hallowing, or rather conjuring, of churches, chapels, altars, super-altars, chalice, vestments, and bells. Then book, bell, candlestick, organs, chalice, vestments, copes, altar-cloths, surplices, towels, basins, ewers, ship [for holding incense], censer, and all manner ornament, must be found them freely: they will not give a mite thereunto. Last of all, what swarms of begging friars are there ! The parson sheareth, the vicar shaveth, the parish priest polleth, the friar scrapeth, and the pardoner pareth; we lack but a butcher to pull off the skin. (pp. 237-8)

We can see the attraction of a church being simply a group of believers sitting in a parlour with an English Bible, a matter I shall return to.

Tyndale makes justly high demands of bishops.

To preach God's word is too much for half a man: and to minister a temporal kingdom is too much for half a man also. Either other requireth an whole man. One therefore cannot well do both. He that avengeth himself on every trifle is not meet to preach the patience of Christ ... He that is overwhelmed with all manner riches and doth but seek more daily is not meet to preach poverty ... (p. 207)
Who slew the prophets ? (he asks) Who slew Christ ? Who slew his apostles ? Who the martyrs, and all the righteous that ever were slain ? The kings and the temporal sword at the request of the false prophets ... [that is, the bishops: his own fate precisely, at the long-reaching hand, I am sure, of Stokesley, Bishop of London] (p. 242)

Tyndale attacks those very practices which were all temporarily reinstated three years after his death under the Six Articles but then mercifully swept away by Edward: compulsory confession to the ear, communion for lay men and women in only one kind (if at either), compulsorily celibate priests. He writes well about the need, as well as the New Testament command, for a married clergy.

He must have a wife for two causes. One, that it may thereby be known who is meet for the room. He is unapt for so chargeable an office, which had never household to rule. Another cause is that chastity is an exceeding seldom gift, and unchastity exceeding perilous for that degree, inasmuch as the people look as well unto the living as unto the preaching, and are hurt at once if the living disagree, and fall from the faith, and believe not the word. (p. 230)

We are beginning to construct a Tyndalian church which does not at first sight look very different from the Church of England as it so quickly became after his death. Thirdly, Tyndale's support of a Church of England's modest and unified Prayer Book in English can be identified in his attacks against the prolixity, the Latin and the superstition of services of his time. William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer have several vital things in common, and among those is an ability to know an entire field as a scholar but to get to the very heart of the matter with simple directness. Cranmer's liturgical studies here in this library led him to reduce the number of responds and antiphons in each service quite drastically, and to throw out from the daily services altogether traditional readings from the lives of the saints, and the offices of the Blessed Virgin Mary, putting in their place in Matins and Evensong and Communion readings in English from the whole New Testament three times a year, and all the Old Testament in English once a year. That was a Tyndalian thing to do, and of course Tyndale, though he could not be named, had largely provided the Bible translations.

Equally Tyndalian was Cranmer's shift, to us so obvious, from a Christianity entirely in Latin, to English. Here is Tyndale:

What then saith the pope ? What care I for Paul ? I command by virtue of obedience to read the gospel in Latin. Let them not pray but in Latin, no, not their Pater noster. If any be sick, go also and say them a gospel, and all in Latin ... It is verily as good to preach it to swine as to men if thou preach it in a tongue they understand not. How shall I prepare myself to God's commandments ? How shall I be thankful to Christ for his kindness ? How shall I believe the truth and promises which God hath sworn, while thou tellest them unto me in a tongue which I understand not ? (p. 234)

Tyndale is scathing about superstition replacing the faith even in the mass. Of the clergy, he writes:

If any of them happen to swallow his spittle, or any of the water wherewith he washeth his mouth, ere he go to mass: or touch the sacrament with his nose: of if the ass forget to breathe on him [i.e. the bread], or happen to handle it with any of his fingers which are not anointed, or say Alleluia instead of Laus tibi Domine or Ite missa est instead of Benedicamus Domino, or pour too much wine in the chalice, or read the gospel without light, or make not his crosses aright, how trembleth he ! How feareth he ! What an horrible sin is committed ! I cry God mercy, saith he, and you my ghostly father. But to hold an whore, or another man's wife, to buy a benefice, to set one realm at variance with another, and to cause twenty thousand men to die on a day, is but a trifle and a pastime with them. (p. 248)

In the preface to his little book answering Sir Thomas More's Dialogue against him he writes

Judge whether it be possible that any good should come out of their dumb ceremonies and sacraments into thy soul. Judge their penance, pilgrimages, pardons, purgatory, praying to posts, dumb blessings, dumb absolutions, their dumb pattering, and howling, their dumb strange holy gestures, with all their dumb disguisings, their satisfactions and justifyings. ( Answer, Parker Society, p.9)
‘Dumb’ of course because in Latin.

It is curious to speculate what William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer would have made of each other. Both were high scholars — Cranmer was at Cambridge, and, incidentally, a Fellow of Jesus College while Erasmus was in that University teaching Greek — and both had far-reaching minds and sympathies across many borders. Both men welcomed fellow-workers from whatever distance, one of whom, for Cranmer, was several times the conservative Cuthbert Tunstall. (So highly had Bishop Tunstall come to be respected, at the end of his long life, that Queen Elizabeth did not punish him for his refusal to take the oath of Supremacy with imprisonment in the Tower, to join the Marian bishops there, but allowed him to be here at Lambeth Palace, virtually as a guest rather than a prisoner, for the nine weeks until his death at the age of 85. His tomb is here, in St Mary's alongside the palace.) Cranmer entertained for many months here at Lambeth senior continental Protestants like the Italians Peter Martyr and Bernadino Ochino, the Polish former Catholic bishop John a Lasco, and from Strasbourg Martin Bucer and Fagius. Both Tyndale and Cranmer understood the implications of reform, and Cranmer's Homilies of 1547, to be read in all churches, forcefully clarifying Christian doctrine and behaviour, may parallel Tyndale's Obedience of a Christian Man of 1528. Cranmer wrote a prologue to the Great Bible of 1539, which he commanded, on behalf of King Henry, to be placed in all churches, possibly unaware how much of it was Tyndale's. Both were especially masters of English prose. Both were martyred.

Cranmer's greatest gift to our nation, even beyond the making of the first Prayer Books, must surely be the phrasing of those superb collects and other prayers. Obviously such work did not come out of nowhere. Cranmer, a profound and learned scholar, sat in this room learning how others had done it. He is, as I said, like Tyndale in his ability to take in a whole continent of scholarship — but more importantly, like Tyndale to rework it in English of lapidary beauty, memorably speaking directly to the heart: for Tyndale's ‘But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart’ or ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you’ or ‘For this thy brother was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found’ we can quote

Grant we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people, pardon and peace: that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind: through Jesus Christ our Lord. (21st Sunday after Trinity)

That is Cranmer's translation of the fourth century Gelasian Sacramentary.

Or O almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise: that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found: through Jesus Christ our Lord. (4th Sunday after Easter)

I have not time to analyse with you here how the rhythmic construction of those sentences is so compelling, and why the groundwork of Anglo-Saxon monosyllables (entirely in the first) is so finely decorated in the second with three polysyllables (affections, commandest, manifold), the first two from Latin. These are conscious rhetorical devices greatly used by Tyndale, as is the skill with making a cadence of Saxon monosyllables ending with a firm consonant (with a quiet mind, true joys are to be found).

Now, while it is clear that both men, Tyndale and Cranmer, made use of an older Late Middle English prose tradition of short sentences for meditation — the same English stream fed both — I believe that Cranmer also consciously imitated Tyndale's happy genius with short Saxon phrases and constructed cadences, whereby the great mysteries of our faith are so simply and memorably expressed.

The time would be too short for me to tell, as Tyndale translated the Greek in Hebrews 11, of all the ways in which Tyndale anticipated the English Church as it was made under King Edward, survived Queen Mary, and was established under Queen Elizabeth. I have in any case a major point still to get to. But I cannot leave the Anglican settlement without saying something about the central matter of the doctrine of the Lord's Supper. All the reformers revolted from the Roman mass and transubstantiation, and its further sense that the ritual is a sacrifice performed by the priest only, in which the people are only spectators. Cranmer's Prayer Book was solidly reformist against such a mass, though against heavy opposition. Luther had formulated a middle way of considerable difficulty which he called ‘consubstantiation’, which here need not detain us, except to say that Cranmer does not seem to have stopped at that staging-post, but gone straight from the Roman to his final view, that the sacraments were ‘effectual signs of grace’, that is, they not only typify but convey to the faithful that which they signify. I do not have time to dwell on the controversies around this first 1549 Prayer Book, and its subsequent revisions up to 1662, and I here rather blithely leap over chasms. Article 28 of the 39 (revised from Cranmer's 42) calls the Supper of the Lord

not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death ... [to be received] rightly, worthily and with faith ...

It is sometimes said that Tyndale, as he visibly moved away from Luther in his eleven years out of England, went over to the Swiss reformer Zwingli's view of the sacraments as no more than ‘bare signs’. I do not see this. Cranmer's ‘effectual signs’ are in fact closer to Tyndale's expressed belief, for what Tyndale hammers home every time he mentions the sacraments is that their effectiveness is dependent, thanks to the loving gift of God's grace, on the faith of the believer, making them ‘effective’ rather than ’bare’.


I want now to move on to some new ground.

Anglicanism must always be grateful for Richard Hooker's wise and mediating attempt, at the end of the troubled 16th century, to clarify the position of the Church of England. His Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity declared that the foundation of the English Church, as I am sure all here remember, is on three pillars: the Bible, tradition and reason.

Hooker in such elegant prose was formulating what Anglicanism was made of right from its beginnings under Henry VIII. And it is here that I think Tyndale would not be happy.

I asked a while ago what Tyndale would have become if he had survived and been welcomed, or tolerated, in England. He was 42 when he was killed in 1536, and he could indeed have lived the further twenty-two years, as Cuthbert Tunstall did, to see Elizabeth on the throne — provided he survived Queen Mary's, and Cardinal Pole's, burnings. His fellow translator, Miles Coverdale, became Bishop of Exeter under Edward (though he lost that post under Mary and became an exile, working in Switzerland on the Geneva Bible). I am sure Tyndale would not have become a bishop, though a man of his calibre and learning was desperately needed. (One of the griefs in reading the history of the English Reformation is the thoroughness of the repeated cullings of the finest minds and spirits, and not by any means of Top People only — one can think without difficulty of two dozen outstanding theological thinkers and Bible scholars who would have been invaluable to Elizabeth, and to England, and could well have led England into a second and further wave of reformation, which might have had the effect — and here's a giddy thought — of preventing the seventeenth century upheavals, and civil war.)

At the root of all William Tyndale did is his understanding that the heart of the Greek New Testament is God's free gift of faith: works, on which the Church of his day was almost completely founded, were second to that. It was the gift of faith, of being justified by faith alone, from which good works came, as naturally, as he wrote several times, as leaves on the tree. In that doctrine he was expressing what he read in St Paul, particular in the epistle to the Romans, at first alerted by Luther's exposition of it, which he reprinted, with his own additions, as the prologue to Romans in his 1534 New Testament. Tyndale's first two publications that were not translations were accounts of Romans, and they make the first two Protestant tracts in English. The pope, as we heard, care not at all for Paul, and the whole European Reformation can justly be summed up in a phrase as the rediscovery of Paul, and particularly Romans. (Incidentally as I travel round the kingdom and meet Professors of Theology who are by training Sociologists or Psychologists I understand why no-one reads Karl Barth on Romans any more, and grieve a little.) That gift of faith is first received through awareness of the law and the promises, as Tyndale, following Paul, repeatedly said: and that awareness comes through reading God's word. Tyndale gave his entire life to, and for, making those promises available to everyone who could read or hear English.

Two of Hooker's three bases I believe Tyndale would not have been happy with. Church tradition as he knew it he was wary of — particularly that perverse and pervasive one, so totally false but so essential to Sir Thomas More, that was said to be the unwritten tradition of practices, secretly handed down through popes and bishops from the — also unwritten — actions of Jesus right through to the clergy, and thus taking precedence over Scripture. Tyndale abhorred this notion, rightly, as it was an invented blank cheque. He loathed anything that was not demonstrably founded by Christ himself, visible in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament. Cranmer's original preface to his 1549 Prayer Book notes that curates shall not now need many costly books, — ‘but this book and the Bible’. Tyndale would have heartily agreed with that so far as the Prayer Book represents the Bible. But I believe even the 1549 Prayer Book would not for him have gone far enough away from practices ultimately from Rome not the New Testament.

In this he would not have been alone in that stormy time between 1540 and 1560. Nor in denying Hooker's third base, reason. To Tyndale reason is a weaselly thing, allowing in too much about which the Bible and Church tradition were both silent. His Oxford theological education had been based on Aristotle, not the Bible, and he never forgot that distortion. True, he knew the importance of separating out, as it was put, ‘things indifferent’ from necessary articles of faith, and the Bible and the Church were unlikely to be silent about necessary articles. But God, as Tyndale knew and so often wrote, defies reason — he has many stories from the Bible to support the point.

No — and here I have to come delicately, like Agag (the phrase from 1 Samuel is Tyndale's) for this, your Grace, may be the end of a beautiful friendship — I believe that Tyndale would not have become an Anglican at all. I think that he would have been one of those who from early in Queen Elizabeth's reign became disillusioned with the incompleteness of the Church of England's remove from Rome, on the strongest Bible grounds. I shall not call him a Puritan, for that is indeed a weaselly word, meaning six different things before breakfast (and the fact that it means subtly and often unconsideredly altered things in England and in America is a cross that historians have to bear). I believe that Tyndale would have been a Separatist. Separatists were loose collections of men and women who in the earliest years of reform might or might not be practising members of the Church of England, who met to study the Bible and receive communion, who had no priests, unless the local vicar was sympathetic, as happened, and who were far closer to the New Testament ‘congregations’ as Tyndale correctly translated the Greek word ekklesia, than most Anglican churches of the time. Sir Thomas More's objections to Tyndale all boil down, all the three quarters of a million words, to his declaration that Tyndale has mistranslated less than half-a-dozen Greek words. All these words (the details are well known) are about the same thing — the right of lay believers to congregate, study a Bible in their own language, and call themselves Christian.

There are two immediate difficulties. First, such small front-parlour gatherings for Bible study, worship, prayer and communion (‘conventicles’ was only one word; ‘prophesyings’ was a later one, though those tended to be different) were far more common from the 1540s on than has usually been reported. They were not glamorous. Even John Foxe in his Acts and Monuments only reports the gory bits, the persecutions and martyrdoms, which were frequent: and now in the mid 1990s revisionist historians have much more impact with descriptions of the destruction of images which went on. Separatist gatherings are extremely hard to identify. They are to some extent the successors of the Lollards, themselves successors of John Wyclif of the 1380s and his English Bible and anti-clericalism. Lollards after Wyclif had no grand leaders or international theologians, but were sufficient to alarm the church authorities continually (they were the cause of the banning of English translations in 1408, and Lollards were being burned even in Tyndale's time) — and still do, as one of the fashions of modern Catholic revisionism is to deny that there were more than a handful of Lollards at any one time, against evidences from the South and West, East Anglia, the Midlands, and Yorkshire. There is an oft-quoted book by Donald Smeeton which argues that Tyndale was more influenced by Lollard doctrine than by Luther. That is a fair try, but quite wrong. Separatists, like Lollards, tend to break the surface only in reports by enemies (bishops or local church commissioners) which are naturally suspect. But throughout England, and not only in the south east, all these little Separatist Bible-reading groups in their small way laid down, like coral, massive reefs — on which, to extend the metaphor, Queen Mary's attempts to restore Roman Christianity foundered. There was much wrong with Mary's policy: one chief error was her failure even to begin to know there was something to be understood about the laity. Cardinal Pole had not been in England for 34 years, and the mood of the land had changed. It is a little like Winston Churchill's astonishment at the Labour landslide in 1945: a brilliant war leader, he had not begun to grasp what war had done to the nation.

What had happened to England between 1526 (the date of Tyndale's first New Testament) and 1553 when Mary came to the throne was that the Bible in English had arrived, and had been read, massively, usually in small groups of lay men and women. That was William Tyndale's doing. Not to understand the massivity of that change among the laity is to get the period wrong, I am convinced. Again and again we meet, in John Foxe and elsewhere, some church official's astonishment at the thoroughness of the Bible knowledge of often the humblest men and women: men and women, I add, who often could not read, a telling point for the power of these ‘conventicles’ or whatever. Further, recent research has revealed two important elements in these groups, again often only revealed in accounts of their punishments, too often death by hanging or burning. Women seem to have had equal status with men. And this kind of Protestantism was a youth movement. A long new section in A. G. Dickens' 1989 revision of his classic and definitive The English Reformation gives some of the increasing evidence. His description of apprentices and even schoolboys dying for their faith is hard reading. He ends those pages

These stories of rebellious youth have hitherto received less attention than they deserve. They illustrate the vitality of the early Reformation with greater force than does that more familiar image of elderly bishops witnessing to their faith at the stake in Oxford and elsewhere. (p.338)

And Foxe, as I remarked, is only recording the vivid events he knew. That Separatist gatherings were not the stuff of headlines or best-selling popular histories can be shown by quotation from a letter of a little later — . Here is a Lord's Day:

We begin with a prayer; after, read some one or two chapters of the Bible, give the sense thereof, and confer upon the same: that done, we lay aside our books, and after a solemn prayer made by the first speaker, he propoundeth some text out of the Scripture, and prophesieth out of the same by the space of one hour or three quarters of an hour. After him standeth up a second speaker ... [he is followed similarly by] the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc. as the time will give leave. Then the first speaker concludeth with prayer as he began with prayer, with an exhortation to contribution to the poor, which collection being made, is also concluded with prayer. This morning exercise beginneth at eight of the clock and continueth until twelve of the clock. The like course and exercise is observed in the afternoon from two of the clock unto five or six of the clock. Last of all the business of the government of our church is handled. (B.R.White, The English Separatists, pp.126-7)

We can see why frenzied Protestant mobs smashing holy images make better copy. But we must not avoid seeing the way the English Bible is biting deeply into English life.

I have been reading a new book by Richard Overy, a historian of the second world war at King's College London, called Why the Allies Won (1995). By 1942, almost the entire resources of continental Europe were in the hands of Germany, and Japan had wiped out the western colonial presence in Asia in a couple of months. Democracy appeared to have had its day. Yet out of the flames of destruction, and the bodies of 55 million people, a new world order was built in 1945. Professor Overy gives unexpected accounts of why the allies won — for example, what went into the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic, by a whisker. One of the most powerful chapters is about the siege of Stalingrad. At the root of that tremendous halting and reverse of the unbeatable German army lay the extraordinary fact that, though Hitler so rapidly ranged into the industrial heartland of the Soviet Union to make it his, just ahead of the German army the Russians under near-incredible conditions dismantled their war-factories and reconstructed them a thousand miles further east, where they produced the tanks and planes which, in the huge surprise counter-attack, flung the Germans back (finally to Berlin). That astonishing removal of the factories and workers by rail, so that from shut-down near Moscow production began again in Siberia within six days, was the result of communist planning. We in the West, of course, know all about communist planning: it is either a total farce, or viciously brutal. Farce or murder did not unite the Russians in that, hitherto largely unreported, colossal enterprise, the removal of 1,523 iron, steel, and engineering plants to distant safety. No — the appeal was to the survival of Mother Russia, and that emotion had the immense national driving power that was needed.

So we who know the sixteenth-century know all about the history of the figures who controlled the 1530s and 1540s and 1550s and 1560s: but we have not yet had the history of the thousands of ordinary men and women with their Bibles and day-long study. The driving-force there is the release that the New Testament can bring to a heart, mind and soul, from reading Paul and believing, from hearing the Gospels and believing (so many of Jesus's miracles are about release). No-one has even told us what Bible was being read in any detail. Some historians (few, in fact) remark on people reading ‘the Bible’. Which one, and what it said, in text or margins, is rarely remarked. Throughout the decades from the mid-1520s, what was read was Tyndale, in whatever form. Quite unknown to him at his death, Tyndale's work was biting deeply into ordinary, unsung, English life,

What was being read, by everybody at every level, from 1560 for a century was the Geneva Bible, especially in its revisions of 1576 and 1599, a high achievement of Renaissance and Reformation scholarship, a complete home-study-aid (of which the text is still largely Tyndale). It is a matter of astonishment that we do not yet have any decent modern edition of that Bible. Church historians have been shown up by a Marxist, no less, Christopher Hill, in his recent and revelatory The English Bible and the Seventeenth-century Revolution (1993), where he shows that the Geneva Bible caused that world turned upside down upheaval. We know all about the Geneva Bible, of course: it is either ridiculous (‘the Breeches Bible’) or with marginal notes so appallingly Calvinist as to rule it out of serious consideration. Those judgements are passed down from historian to historian without any of them having read a copy, it seems. Those infamous notes are no more Calvinist than the Thirty-Nine Articles — a serious comparison.

To write about Tudor popular religion, now a fashion, without putting the English Bible central is to be quite out of kilter. I need a further hour to explain the importance of the Geneva Bible, but I will spare you. I will merely share with you a conviction borne out of continual study of that Bible and the literature of the period. If by some terrible mistake at the divine computer keyboard the whole Geneva Bible was deleted from English life from 1560 to 1660, among very much else that extraordinary uprush of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama would be wholly deflated.

Tyndale was passing on what he understood from the New Testament — a gathered church, a congregation led by elders and, instead of priests or even presbyters, ministers; the New Testament affirming, in Luther's phrase, the priesthood of all believers. An early marginal note in his abandoned Cologne New Testament of 1525 has against Matthew 16 ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my congregation’ the explanation that the rock is the faith, not Peter, adding ‘Then is every Christian man and woman Peter’, something more shocking than Luther's ‘priesthood of all believers’. Central to such Separatist bodies was their over-riding concern, a passionate desire to recover the inner life of New Testament Christianity. They understood something called a conditional covenant, a ‘mutualist’ position which needs a learned footnote not appropriate at this moment, which was something taken wholly, and uniquely, from Tyndale.

Out of these numerous, and often now invisible, Separatist groups some dating back to Queen Mary's reign, came at the end of the century the denominations we call Congregationalists, and Baptists — the latter quite free of influence, it has been definitively shown, from continental Anabaptists. Those original English Baptists have grown to be world-wide making, I am told, the largest Protestant denomination; and in various forms (not always to me acceptable) they now dominate much of American religious life. That was true from the very beginning. In 1648 Governor William Bradford of New Plymouth, leader of that North American settlement, and one of the Pilgrim Fathers, found that generations were growing up with hazy knowledge of their origins. He wrote an account which refers specifically to their development from Bible-studying, Separatist, proto-Baptist, congregations in England in the 1590s, and even a London conventicle in Queen Mary's day. The chief scholar of Separatism, B. R. White of Oxford, concludes his study with the words

...the Separatist tradition developed the inner core of a species of churchmanship which, powerful and flexible as it was, provided the characteristic organization not only of the sectaries of the Great Rebellion, but also much of New England Protestantism, and ultimately, that of the United States. (p.169)

I must be careful. It is one thing to claim, correctly, that Tyndale was the creator of our very influential Bible language. Or that the scholarly phrase ‘without Erasmus, no Shakespeare’ might well extend to ‘without Tyndale, no Shakespeare’. It is quite another to claim that Tyndale caused the United States of America.

But there is a grain of truth there. You will note that my title was ‘Tyndale and the Making of the English Churches’. Certainly he anticipated the Church of England, and can be seen to stand at the head of the first and peculiarly English Reformation. But I am sure he anticipated even more the still unregarded second wave, producing in the light of God's Word a cherished and English individualism which spread world-wide.

Valid XHTML 1.0!