Thursday, October 6, 2011

William Tyndale

William Tyndale was an English Franciscan priest turned Protestant reformer (sic) inspired by the continental heresies of Luther et al. He was an outspoken dreamer, of strict moral character if stubborn and proud, who had more than a touch of the firebrand in him.

He based his English translation of the Bible not simply on the Latin Vulgate, but on the on the Greek (provided by Erasmus), on the Hebrew, and on the translations of Martin Luther. Tyndale then used the recently-invented printing press to disseminate his flawed translation into English, which is credited by the Anglican political figures in England with leading to the spread of confusion and turmoil among the masses.

Tyndale was a scholar of no little ability. At the same time his translation of the Scriptures -- which later served as the chief foundation for the King James Version -- was marred by his perversion of many passages (i.e. due to the theological bias of the translator), all in the service of continental Protestantism. For example, he used “overseer” instead of “bishop,” “elder” instead of “priest,” “love” instead of “charity,” and “congregation” instead of “church” -- modifications that were less about rendering an accurate translation in the vernacular than undermining the Catholic position. His version of the Bible is credited with having about 2,000 inaccurate translations and errors. These numerous errors are the chief objection to Tyndale’s work -- that, and not that he rendered the Scriptures in the local tongue.

His polemical writings were also heavily accented with na├»ve political teachings, which earned him the wrath of the rulers of the day for their anti-establishment tenor. Tyndale was especially critical of his king’s severe taxes and ambitious build-up of naval power.

Tyndale’s translation was also banned by the Anglicans, who took his criticisms of their king very badly and would have seen Tyndale's writings burned and the man himself executed. His practice of including revolutionary notions in his Scriptural translations was deemed dangerous to public order. The political unrest he caused as much as the suppression of his writings is why he fled England for the continent.

Because his Scriptural translation was considered heretical by the Anglicans, Tyndale had earned the displeasure of his king, who was not known for his forbearance. Henry VIII subsequently asked the Emperor Charles V to have Tyndale arrested and returned to England. Tyndale was eventually taken into custody in Belgium (Flanders). He spent 500 days in prison, received a brief trial, and was executed for heresy. His dying words were, “Lord! Open the King of England's eyes.” It would seem that perhaps in William’s view at least, his chief quarrel lay not so much with the Catholic Church as with his own Anglican monarch.

At Tyndale’s trial, the main charges against him were as follows:
1) he maintained justification by faith alone and
2) belief that the Gospel alone could save,
3) professed that human tradition was not binding,
4) denied the freedom of the will and
5) the existence of purgatory, and
6) asserted that neither the Blessed Virgin Mary nor the saints pray for us in their own persons and
7) that neither the Blessed Virgin nor Mary the saints should ever be invoked.

You’ll note that "translating the Scriptures into the vernacular" is not among the reasons given for his condemnation.

Flanders was where Calvinistic Protestantism began to flourish in Belgium in the 16th century. Tyndale was a harbinger of religious and political unrest akin to what the Flemish were witnessing in Germany to the south. If one thinks the internecine wars instigated by Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli were a good and necessary thing, then one will naturally be inclined to see Tyndale as a martyr for the Protestant cause. If, however, one takes the Catholic view that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their disciples were profoundly wrong, and that the consequence of embracing their errors was eternal damnation, then the spectacle of executing an unrepentant public heretic who blithely urged the populace to tread the broad path that leads to social unrest and personal perdition seems less surprising.

Regarding his trial, the custom would have been for an ecclesiastical court to read the charges against him, and then see if he acknowledged the errors. He would not have been tried by a civil court because he was a Franciscan priest -- he fell under Church jurisdiction.

If he repudiated the errors, then he could have been spared or sentenced with some penance or a fine. Given that Tyndale was a public and persistent heretic and a source of grave civil scandal, the penalty would have been severe.

If he persisted in professing the errors, then he would have been stripped of his clerical faculties and handed over to the state for punishment. In Tyndale's case, the punishment inflicted by the Belgium state for his offenses was death. The Flemish were still substantially Catholic at the time, and the pernicious errors of Luther were something they wanted to keep out at all costs.

Today William Tyndale is still lauded by the "Scripture Alone" crowd. My experience has been that folks of that camp won’t care about much else except how Tyndale provided a seemingly plausible argument for dismissing clerical authority and opening the way for recourse to relying on personal interpretations of the Bible (think "apostle of liberty" and "liberty of conscience"). Everything else is window dressing.

2 comments:

ESG said...

Dear Mr. Sean:

Do you you have any documentation for this paragraph?:

"At Tyndale’s trial, the main charges against him were as follows:
1) he maintained justification by faith alone and
2) belief that the Gospel alone could save,
3) professed that human tradition was not binding,
4) denied the freedom of the will and
5) the existence of purgatory, and
6) asserted that neither the Blessed Virgin Mary nor the saints pray for us in their own persons and
7) that neither the Blessed Virgin nor Mary the saints should ever be invoked."

I cannot fin any primary documentation for what exactly Tyndale was charged with, and would appreciate your assistance in tracking this down.

Thanks!

ESG
esgiunta[at]yahoo[dot]com

Sean said...

Tyndale was tried for heresy; the list given here shows the particulars of his writings that were used to justify the charge. My point was that translating the Bible was not one of the reasons given - something that I've seen implied or even stated in many writings.

I don’t read Flemish, so I’ve been obliged to go with English sources. A text that correctly omits translation of the Bible from the list of charges is “William Tyndale: A Biography (by Daniel, 1994), pp. 377-78 (see http://tinyurl.com/ks6e8fv ), where we see the offenses named by the Flemish theologian Jacob Latomus of Louvain: “the sacraments, the order of priests and the power of the keys, vows, fasting, images, worship of saints, the authority of the Pope.” Latomus was charged with making the Catholic Church’s formal inquiries into Tyndale’s writings; not once does the inquisitor mention Tyndale’s translation of the Bible. Tyndale was condemned for spreading Lutheranism.