Monday 2 September 2002
Report compiled by Mary Clow, September 2002

Sir Francis Drake (1545-1596) is best known for defeating the Spanish Armada. On September 2nd in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, once a Spanish possession, Drake’s quintessentially English prayer was said in a service led by two Bishops for a congregation of more than one thousand:

‘Lord God, when you call your servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yields the true glory…

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Antwerp, The Rt Revd Dr Paul Van den Berghe, had invited the Church of England’s Bishop in Europe, The Rt Revd Dr Geoffrey Rowell, to hold an Anglican Evensong in commemoration of William Tyndale in the magnificent Gothic cathedral of Antwerp. This was the crowning moment of the Tyndale Society’s 4th International Conference, and it was followed by the official announcement in the Cathedral of the exhibition Tyndale’s Testament, installed in the city’s world-famous Plantin- Moretus museum of printing.

The huge congregation, besides participants in the Tyndale Conference and members of the local Anglican parish of St Boniface, included Dr Francine de Nave, Curator of the Plantin-Moretus, Eric Antonis, Alderman of Culture for the City of Antwerp, Dr Flora Carrijn, Director of the Lessius Hogeschool that hosted the Conference, and many other officials and townspeople of Antwerp. All rose as the two Bishops – robed in purple and scarlet - processed up the nave while the choir sang, in Latin, an introit by Tyndale’s contemporary Thomas Tallis, O nata lux de lumine.

In a movingly graceful gesture of reconciliation, Dr Van den Berghe gave up his throne for the duration of the service to Dr Rowell and, standing beside a copy of Tyndale’s Hertford College portrait, welcomed us:

‘Your Grace Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, Distinguished Guests, Brothers and Sisters, When months ago Professor Guido Latré came to me with the proposal to hold in this cathedral an opening academic ceremony for the major exposition on the work of William Tyndale in the Plantin-Moretus Museum of our city, we were honoured by this proposal. But in our opinion a cathedral as a Christian church cannot be reduced to a mere academic auditorium. Therefore I am grateful to the organising staff that they accepted my proposal to combine the opening ceremony with a proper religious and liturgical ceremony.

At the same time this was for us a welcome occasion to express publicly our honest willingness to a fraternal ecumenical relationship between our churches. We know that there is not yet a full communion between us, but in the love of Christ we say welcome to Your Grace Bishop Geoffrey Rowell and the Anglican Community for this event and especially for the Evensong you will celebrate.

William Tyndale was a humanist and a protestant martyr, who was killed unjustly, not only from our modern point of view, but also from the view of the Almighty. As far as it is possible and as it gives sense, we ask You and the Lord forgiveness for this crime and we hope that one day our still divided churches will acknowledge the martyrs of the other churches as well as their own.

In this spirit I ask Your Grace Bishop Geoffrey to take for the time of this service the chair of the bishop of Antwerp. God bless us all’.

Canon Dirk van Leeuwen, Chaplain of St Boniface’s English church in Antwerp, then led the Choral Evensong, which was sung by the English Chamber Choir under their director Guy Protheroe. All the music was English, of Tyndale’s time wherever possible, or shortly after as with the canticles by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625).

Professor David Daniell read the Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy 17, and Dr Deborah Pollard followed with the Epistle from 2 Timothy 3. Both texts of course were from Tyndale, 1530 and 1534 respectively. The entire congregation together recited the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in English (the service sheet gave them also in Dutch), and sang the English hymns All people that on Earth do dwell (based on Ps 100 in Daye’s Psalter of 1561), and George Herbert’s Teach me, my God and King.

Dr Rowell gave the following Homily:

‘Events have an after-life, and sometimes that after-life is surprising. This service being held in this cathedral this evening would, I believe, have both rejoiced and astonished William Tyndale, burnt at the stake in Flanders in 1536. He would surely have been touched – as I am deeply touched by your words, and your wonderful gesture, Bishop Paul, in inviting me to sit on your bishop’s chair for this service. On the night before he died Our Lord prayed for the unity of his church, and on the same night he stooped to wash his disciples feet in a gesture of humility, reminding us that without humility, reverence towards one another, there will and can be no unity.

Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones – so the Psalmist proclaimed; and the Christian church has had a long history of remembering before God and praising him for those countless men and women in whom something of the life and love and grace of Christ has been shown. In a memorable phrase the poet-priest, John Keble, spoke of the saints of God as the Saviour in his people crowned. Pre-eminently in the early church it was the martyrs who were first so honoured, and the origin of saints’ days is the pilgrimages to the tombs of the martyrs to celebrate the day of their death, their witness to Christ, and their heavenly birthday. For the same reason in the Catholic church relics are placed in the altar, linking the place of celebration of the Eucharist where Christ feeds his people with his own life, with that same life embodied in his holy ones.

But sharp questions arise when, in a divided Church, the martyrdom seen in one tradition, is seen as the crushing out of heresy by another. In the Reformation Church of England Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was a powerful compendium of those who had died for their faith. It signalled to many that England was an elect nation, and sadly that the Catholic church was a persecutor of those concerned to renew and reform the church. The burning of martyrs under the Catholic Mary Tudor was matched, however, by the martyrdom of many Catholics under her sister, Elizabeth. If you go to the Venerable English College in Rome, under the altar are the relics of the English martyrs, and you are immediately made aware of the many who went from there to witness to the Catholic faith and to sustain those who were not won by the Reformation. As in our age the wounds of a divided Christendom are healed – of which this service is a sign and symbol – the healing of these memories, and the honouring of each other’s martyrs can be a profound spiritual journey.

William Tyndale, who lived here in Antwerp for so many years, and whose precious gift to English Christians is the translation of the Scriptures into their own language, is a martyr whom we honour today. We do so here in this Catholic cathedral as a sign of the penitence that is needed for true ecumenism, and deep reconciliation – which is indeed needed for all reconciliation within human society with the family, or local communities, or between nations. A favourite saying that we find in many later Anglican writers is that men are usually right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. These are words of the philosopher, Leibniz, who was also in his day concerned with the reconciliation of different Christian communities and traditions. We need to see the truth with which each is concerned, and to see that truth in the light of Christ. For Tyndale the Gospel of God is good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy. To know God’s love in Christ as coming down to the lowest part of our human need means that we cannot but be glad and laugh from the low bottom of our hearts if we believe that the tidings are true. Faith is kindled and, Tyndale tells us, faith ever prayeth, our spirit waiting and watching on the will of God. As merciful as he feeleth God in his heart to himself-ward, so merciful he is to other; and as greatly as he feeleth his

own misery, so great compassion hath he on other. His neighbour is no less care to himself: he feeleth his neighbour’s grief no less than his own. The Spirit of God whose love is poured into our hearts is the way in which Christ dwells within us, and, as another great Anglican writer, William Law, puts it: a Christ not in us is a Christ not ours. Today as we honour the memory and the martyrdom and the Christian discipleship of William Tyndale we do so in Christ, and for Christ, and by the grace of Christ, and we pray in penitence and in faith for that unity which Christ willed, that we may be one, that the world may believe. God of God the One begotten, Light of Light, Emmanuel, In whose body joined together, All the saints for ever dwell, Pour upon us of thy goodness That we may for evermore, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost adore. (Bishop Christopher Wordsworth) Indeed, Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of his holy ones!’ Each Bishop in turn blessed the congregation, and then together they prayed: ‘And the blessing of God almighty, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.’ Evensong ended, we sat down for the formal opening of Tyndale’s Testament, the international exhibition which would run for 12 weeks in the Plantin-Moretus Museum. The museum’s Director, Dr de Nave, made the first speech in Dutch and, in tribute to the Tyndale Society present, also in perfect English. She was followed by Dr Guido Latré, of the Tyndale Society and also the curator of the exhibition, with his academic team of Paul Arblaster and Gergely Juhász. Dr Latré outlined the exhibition’s theme in Dutch, French and English, and illustrated it with scholars reading from bibles in Hebrew, Greek, Dutch and also Tyndale’s version. After this, we moved out of the Cathedral and across to the great renaissance Town Hall for a splendid reception given by the City of Antwerp.

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