William Tyndale. Like the subject of a cloak and dagger story from the
Cold War, Fr. Tyndale kept to the mission of God through dangerous places and
among dangerous people.
Tyndale received his B.A. and M.A. from Oxford and studied for his doctorate at
Cambridge. At 26, he was ordained a priest and served as a “domestic chaplain
and tutor” for a wealthy royal family in Gloucestershire, England. Later, he
served in the same position for an internationally known clothing merchant. As
a family school master, he was able to devote time away from the hierarchy of
the Church and do what he wanted; for one thing, he decided to translate into
English the work of a theologian named Erasmus, a prominent voice in the
Reformation who argued for a personal faith. In Erasmus’s writing, Tyndale
discovered one can have a direct relationship with God which was neither
mediated nor controlled by the Church. On his down time, Tyndale would debate
local clergy on this topic which landed him in hot water. Then, Tyndale began
his writing career. In The Parable of the Wicked Mammon, he wrote,
Remember, that God’s Son’s blood is stronger than all the sins
and wickedness of the whole world;
and therewith quiet thyself,
and thereunto commit thyself,
and bless thyself in all temptation with that holy candle.
Or else perishest thou,
though thou hast a thousand holy candles about thee,
a hundred ton of holy water,
a ship full of pardons,
a cloth-sack full of friars’ coats,
and all the ceremonies in the world,
and all the good works, deservings,
and merits of all the men in the world,
be they, or were they, never so holy.
Remember God’s word only lasteth for ever;
and that which he hath sworn doth abide,
when all other things perish.
The Church teaching during his time ran counter to his thinking which pointed to the uselessness of trying to build up blessings and good works. The preeminence of God’s word and the grace of God were not yet on the hearts and minds of the
Church or her clergy. So, Tyndale got in hot water again. Furthermore, he
believed his mission from God was to translate the Bible into English. At the
time, the Bible was in Latin. Period. Most English people could neither
understand nor read Latin so the Bible was of no use for study or for salvation.
Tyndale believed it should be open and available. So, of course, more hot
He sought and was denied permission to translate the Bible into English, and fled
to Germany with the help of the international merchant he worked for. With the
aid of Martin Luther, Tyndale finished his translation of the New Testament and
printed it in Cologne. Church authorities learned of his whereabouts and shut
down the press. Tyndale barely escaped with his life and literally a handful of
his notes. He went back into hiding and re-translated the Greek New Testament
into English; approximately 3,000 copies were made.
In 1526, Tyndale and his assistants smuggled the copies into England, much to the
outrage of the Church. He fled again and was never able to return to England,
the home he loved and missed terribly. He spent his remaining days living as a
fugitive in Germany where he couldn’t walk the streets in daylight for fear of
being captured. Later, he settled in Antwerp and translated the first five books
of the Bible which he had printed in 1529. A double spy, more or less, betrayed
Tyndale and handed him over to a band of men that took him captive. On October 6, 1536, The Rev. William Tyndale was hanged for translating the Bible and his body was burned. His final prayer was, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”
Only three years later, King Henry the 8th published in English the “Great Bible.” More than 100 years later, King James authorized a new version that now bears his name. Reportedly, Tyndale’s translations made up 90% of that version.
Fr. Tyndale was a man of convictions and held to what he believed was his mission from God – to open Scriptures for the English people to read. As we remember his life, may the Holy Spirit reveal to us God’s saving Word, as we read and study Scriptures, and hear them calling us to repentance and life.
- Fr. Marshall