Ampleforth College

The champagne and caviar bar at Heathrow Terminal Two, for people heading for the rigours of an Eastern European country, is a kind of decompression chamber, the Last Chance Saloon before arrival in Moscow or Bucharest - or so I find. Thus, last November on my way to Romania, I sat with a glass of bubbly and plate of gravadlaks contemplating the only other ‘fellow traveller’, a dark suit and clerical collar bespeaking for a ‘man of the cloth’. I propped my copy of Reformation on the bar towards him and began reading. Very soon we were in conversation. He was, like me, taking the necessary precautions prior to a visit to Moscow. He was not a member of the Tyndale Society, long shot potential perhaps, but more interestingly he was the Headmaster of Ampleforth College.

Thus it was that I found myself, on Friday 1st June, addressing sixty or so boys, and a few girls, from the sixth form at Ampleforth on the subject of William Tyndale. The talk was titled The Word, the Flesh and the Ploughboy with emphasis laid on Tyndale’s huge contribution to translation and to our English language. An early, subliminally timed, slide in the presentation bore the word ‘Reformation’ but only to point up the manner of Father Leo’s meeting with me.

Of great interest was the fact that Dom Henry Wansbrough taught at Ampleforth and he was, as we know, the editor and translator to the New Jerusalem Bible. A brilliant academic he presented a Bible which is tremendously ‘readable’. This was in 1985, more than half a millennium after Tyndale, and it is fascinating to compare. Mary is put up in the stable because there is no room in the ‘living space’. Quite correct - but who knows today that animals and humans shared the same house?

At other times Wansbrough strike a perfect note. His ‘at his word came locusts - hoppers beyond all counting’ leaves the AV standing with ‘he spake and the locusts came, and caterpillars, and that without number’. Wansbrough’s Psalm 105 is a joy.

There was an intake of breath and murmur of approval when I mentioned Tyndale’s ‘Tush’. The NJB’s ‘you definitely will not die’ does not cut the mustard. With the Yorkshire moors obscured by misty rain the word ‘mizzling’ struck home. ‘This is my dear son in whom I delight’ seemed good to them. And there was surprise, there always is, over the dozens of phrases from Tyndale that are part of our everyday conversations. They seem like folk sayings, they said, and they were right.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems were on the agenda for this year, probably every year, and I was able to develop thoughts on the difficulty of translation of music and rhythm with analogy to Tyndale’s mastery of these things. And the approach to obscure words, the simplicity of the language and the desire not to leave any word un-translated. The Ark’s Gopher tree, pine in Tyndale, goes to cedar in some translations and the French call it ‘resinous’ without saying which wood it is. The Norwegian Bible keeps with Gopher for safety - surely the man in the fjells would readily recognise the pine tree.

I left them with a picture of the end of Tyndale’s life and an appreciation of what the English owe to this remarkable man. It is a debt of gratitude that everybody, citizens of this country, be they Catholic or Muslims or non-believers should recognise. We are, indeed, lucky to have had William Tyndale amongst us.

Rowland Whitehead, June 2001

Valid XHTML 1.0!