William Tyndale – “strangled and burned at the stake” – for making a Bible you could read…
And speaking of themes in this blog…
One prevalent theme is that the more you know about the Bible – and how it was written – the more spiritual progress you can make.
That brings up the fact that last October 6 was the Feast Day for “William Tyndale, Priest.” More to the point, he also published the first Bible that you as a “vulgar person” could actually read for yourself. And for that he was strangled and burned at the stake.
The thing is, you can’t really learn more about the Bible – and how it was written – unless you as an individual have one you can actually read. But for the first 1,500 years of the Christian faith, you didn’t have that option. (Unless you were a priest, and could read Latin.)
In plain words, back in the “good old days, “the clergy” held a monopoly on the Bible.
To find out what the Bible said, you – who were likely illiterate – had to rely on the local parish priest. (And/or his superiors, in a far-away country.) That is, your priest told you what the Bible said, and you had no choice but to take his word for it.
In other words, you had no choice but to rely on “stale rehashes” from your parish priest, and many of those were illiterate themselves. To repeat, you had to rely on what other people said the Bible said, rather than being able to read it yourself. In legal circles they call that hearsay.
One example: A witness testifies at trial that “Sally told me Tom was in town,” as opposed to being able to testify, “I saw Tom in town.” The question is: Which form of evidence is considered more reliable? To most people – and based on centuries of legal precedent – a witness saying “I heard someone say Tom was in town” is dubious proof at best.
That all changed in 1525, when Tyndale first published the Bible in English.
(What was known then as a “vulgar tongue.” That is, “the national or vernacular language of a people … used typically to contrast such a language with Latin.”)
But Tyndale paid dearly for publishing the first Bible not written in Latin. As shown in the top illustration, the powers that be had him first strangled, then burned at the stake. And all of that just so you – today- could read the Bible in “good old English…”
Which brings up again the most recent Feast Day, October 6. (The term “feast” here does not refer to a “large meal” – as in celebration – but rather to an “annual religious celebration dedicated to a particular saint.”) And the link “Tyndale” shows the Bible-readings and Collect for the day:
Almighty God, you planted in the heart of your servant William Tyndale a consuming passion to bring the Scriptures to people in their native tongue, and endowed him with the gift of powerful and graceful expression and with strength to persevere against all obstacles: Reveal to us your saving Word, as we read and study the Scriptures…
See also William Tyndale, which included a note on Miles Coverdale. (Basically Coverdale finished the work that Tyndale started, but was unable to finish – due to his being executed.)
Six copies were set up for public reading in Old St Paul’s Church, and throughout the daylight hours the church was crowded with those who had come to hear it. One man would stand at the lectern and read until his voice gave out, and then he would stand down and another would take his place. All English translations of the Bible from that time to the present century are essentially revisions of the Tyndale-Coverdale work.
And that of course includes the King James Bible. (The one God uses…)
Another reason he was executed? Tyndale taught that salvation was a free gift from God, available to all. But that cut into the revenue of the Church at the time. Unlike Tyndale – and Martin Luther – the religous “powers that be” at the time taught that you could earn your way into heaven, through “good works and penance.” Which of course brought in a lot of money. (As through the Church selling indulgences.)
That is, the medieval Church sold indulgences as “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” But we digress. (Or perhaps not…)
See, the strange, ironic and/or incongruous thing about all this is that Tyndale’s death was largely the work of Sir Thomas More. “Saint Thomas” is venerated as a saint (“and martyr“) by the Roman Catholic Church. (See e.g. the CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA.) As Wikipedia noted:
More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. He also wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an imaginary ideal island nation.
But then he himself ran afoul of the powers that be, in the person of King Henry VIII. That episode in his life was popularized by the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons. “The title reflects [the] portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience and as remaining true to his principles and religion under all circumstances and at all times.”
More opposed the King’s separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to acknowledge him as Supreme Head of the Church of England and refusing to acknowledge Henry’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason and beheaded.
But at least he wasn’t “strangled and burned at the stake.” See Decapitation – Wikipedia:
Decapitation … was sometimes considered the honorable way to die for an aristocrat… [I]n England it was considered the privilege of noblemen to be beheaded. This would be distinguished from a dishonorable death on the gallows or through burning at the stake. In medieval England, the punishment for high treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered but in the case of nobles and knights it was often commuted to beheading…
Which leads to the phrase, “Thank God for commutation!”
But seriously – that was a bit of sarcasm – that takes us to some recent Daily Office Readings. For example: the readings for Monday, October 5 included 1st Corinthians 10:14-11:1:
Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’ If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice’, then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience – I mean the other’s conscience.
That loosely translates to “Eat what the heck they put in front of you, and stop whining!”
Then there’s Psalm 127, one of the readings for Tuesday, October 6. Which leads to the fact that some people tend – in my view – to take isolated passages of the Bible way out of context. One example is people who “handle” snakes, based on .) (See On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I.) Another example is people who take Psalm 127, verses 3-5, “way out of context:”
[T]he “Quiverfull Movement” can be found at sites including Quiverfull – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; What Is Quiverfull? – Patheos, part of “No longer quivering,” an ostensible “gathering place for women escaping and healing from spiritual abuse;” 5 Insane Lessons from My Christian Fundamentalist Childhood …; and/or QuiverFull .com :: Psalm 127:3-5.
Which means we wouldn’t have the “Quiverfull” movement if it hadn’t been for Bill Tyndale.
Meanwhile, there’s the matter of karma and/or “turnabout is fair play…”
“Sir Thomas More … after his sentence of death.”
The upper image is courtesy of William Tyndale – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The caption: “William Tyndale, before being strangled and burned at the stake, cries out, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes,’ woodcut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563).”
The portrait-image of Tyndale is courtesy of the link, William Tyndale.
Re: Clergy. See also Benefit of clergy, a principle of English law which originally meant that “clergymen could claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of the secular courts and be tried instead in an ecclesiastical court under canon law.” In other words a priest charged with murder or rape – for example – could demand to be tried by a “court” of his fellow priests.
Various reforms limited the scope of this legal arrangement to prevent its abuse. Eventually the benefit of clergy evolved into a legal fiction in which first-time offenders could receive lesser sentences for some crimes (the so-called “clergyable” ones). The legal mechanism was abolished in 1823 with the passage of the Judgement of Death Act which gave judges the discretion to pass lesser sentences on the first-time offenders.
The “witness – trial” image is courtesy of Famous Trials – UMKC School of Law – Prof. Douglas Linder. The specific trial image is from the Selected Images link at O. J. Simpson Trial (1995). The caption: “Simpson tries on ‘the gloves that did not fit.'”
The image of “King James” is courtesy of the James I link included in King James Version – Wikipedia. The caption: “Portrait after John de Critz, c. 1606.”
Re: “Quiverfull.” See also On Pentecost – “Happy Birthday, Church!”:
On the other hand, it could be argued this is another example of some people taking isolated Bible passages out of context, like those who handle snakes based on Mark 16:17-18, or those who have a “quiverfull” of children based on a passage from Psalm 127.
The lower image is courtesy of Thomas More – Wikipedia. The full caption: “William Frederick Yeames, The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death, 1872.” See also Karma – Wikipedia, and the idiom: “turnabout is fair play – Wiktionary.” (An idiom is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning.) Also:
An idiom’s figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. There are thousands of idioms, and they occur frequently in all languages. It is estimated that there are at least twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language.
Other sources for this post include: William Tyndale | Christian History, William Tyndale Bible History, and William Tyndale – Christian History Facts – Christianity.