Tyndale and the Bible in the Reformation

San Diego Conference Report, February 2000

For those who attend Tyndale conferences regularly it seems that they can and do get better and better! This was certainly true of the Second Pacific Coast Conference held at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego. California 24-27 February 2000. Delegates and friends came from all over North America, from Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Registration on Thursday afternoon was enlivened by a continuous showing of the Let there be light slide presentation which has proved so useful to and popular with Society members. This second edition contains some improved slide images but the fine narrative text remains largely unchanged.

After an excellent buffet dinner the historic Goodwin Chapel was filled to hear the dramatic monologue Fire for the Ploughboy, written and acted by Jack Caulfield. The performer's daughters ably assisted him with props and lighting. The staging of a monologue makes certain complex demands on both actor and hearers and this became evident during the course of this rather lengthy, two-act piece. Tyndale's letter from his prison cell, which appeared early in the performance, made the translator sound, in its bright and rapid utterance, almost cheerful completely masking its content. I am afraid that some found Jack's declamations a little over-dramatised possibly due to his very emotional response to the subject. The text which he has written and polished over several years, contains flashes of wit and humour and is moSt imaginative. He has obvious acting Skills, his memory is prodigious, his gestures and costume well judged. He must be congratulated on his unique contribution to the Conference and we know he is keen to refine his performance. He is a most welcome new member of our compare of international Tyndalians.

On Friday morning Dr Barry Ryan, our charming conference organiser who had worked so hard to see the venture off to a successful star introduced Michael Smythe from The Archives Bookshop, Pasadena, Michael was responsible throughout for book sales and also for the book launch of The Obedience of a Christian Man edited by David Daniell in the Penguin Classics series later in the day.

Following prayers Neil Inglis got the conference off to an amusing start with his witty and erudite paper That which varies is not truth. This proved to be a fascinating journey into the mind of the 19th century Spanish heresy hater, Marcelino Menendez Pelayo. Pelayo wrote a three volume history of Spanish and European heretics which labelled and categorised them in what can only be described as a compendious, unsubtle, racist, Protestant bashing treatise which was also tendentious and inconsistent. The author even claimed that the Inquisition was providential, liberal and tolerant! For those who need further enlightenment I refer them to Neil's summary of his talk.

Mary Clow's paper, illustrated with slides, Stepping Out of Time into Eternity provided a suitable contrast and balance. It gave a very moving account of the vicious intolerance of the English establishment towards the Scottish reforming covenanters. She related the sad story of the Nisbet clan of Ayrshire whose several members were cruelly persecuted. In the 1520s Murdoch Nisbet, using a Wycliffe text, transposed the Bible into Scots dialect and, with the knowledge of his son, secreted the manuscript in a vault beneath his farmhouse at Hardhill in Ayrshire. Soldiers repeatedly harried the local population and presbyters in their conventicles (large open-air gatherings for worship) and the memoirs of James Nisbet recount the looting and razing of the family house. The forced exile, subsequent deaths of virtually the whole family culminating in the capture and hanging of its head, John Nisbet, was described; and we were told that ironically, Nisbet's Scots dialect Bible survived all these trials. Such was the terrible price paid for non-conformity generations after the era of the 16th century reformers and the spectre of religious intolerance haunts us yet -- three centuries on!

Susan Fetch of Calvin College, Michigan presented a detailed history of the development of the prayer book from the mediaeval Book of Hours to the compelling presence of the prayer primer in the 16th century, intimately linked, as it was to the new vernacular Bible translations. We were led from an understanding of the monastic or canonical hours in the eighth century through to the flowering of books of hours in the 12th and 13th centuries; then still further on to the imp- books of the 15th and 16th imported - prayer centuries and were made aware of the increasing use of English in them during this period.

These books variously contained calendar/almanac material, the penitential psalms, the litany and dirge the psalms of the t Passion. Marian, prayers, indulgences and occasionally much lighter even secular material.

The speaker divided the printed primers into five categories: Traditional, Transitional, Reformist, Scriptural and Authorised. She showed us clearly the development from the written, illuminated gems to the later printed and woodcut illustrated ones that could be hand-coloured. A time came when the market was in danger of becoming swamped with primers so Henry VIII 'authorised' a primer preface in 1545. Under the Tudors there were five authorised prayer books. We were shown the beautiful small prayer book of Elizabeth Tyrwhit, which could be used as piece of jewellery. It is possible by close study of this book to see the development from the original book of hours through all the subsequent modifications to a personal prayer hook. Susan Felch will he publishing aspects of this work..

A paper Miracle in he early English Reformation by John Wright, a member of Point Loma University, provided detailed research on the controversy between Tyndale and Sir Thomas More -- the clash of temporal and spiritual authority and of the violence engendered in both action and word. He included a rationale of Tyndale's treatise The Obedience of a Christian Man with its seen requirement of the subject' obedience to his prince--the block upon which so many, including More, stumbled.

Donald Millus, from Coastal Carolina University, brought us his refreshing view of the Tyndale's Bible commentaries to John's epistles and to some of the controversial books of Tyndale that he has recently edited. He gave us an overview of the alterations, censorship and bowdlerised versions of these texts through several centuries, beginning with the inexcusable alterations of George Joye Deliberate omissions, word and style changes showed each editor's personal agenda. Tyndale, himself, did not revise any of is doctrinal theses but by the mid-19th century, with drastic editing, some of his works were becoming virtually unrecognisable. The work of the Parker Society had kept these texts alive and the name of William Tyndale in the minds of generations of students. As Donald Millus said 'No great thing appears suddenly and no great thing disappears suddenly.' [Editor's note: Professor Millus information concerning recent American publications on the Tyndale era can be found elsewhere in this Journal.]

A panel of the main speakers chaired by Susan Felch discussed points arising from the sessions and proved useful in tying many of the strands on the various papers together.

The high point of the conference was undoubtedly the lecture entitled Tyndale as Christian Prophet given by Professor David Daniell to launch his edited version of The Obedience of a Christian Man in the Penguin Classics of Series.

In a masterly summary Professor Daniell showed how, looking back from the opening of the year 2000, so little had changed over the hundreds of -ears of English society. He pointed out that surprisingly, the history of England contained the wonder, 'like a purple thread woven through it, of single kingship - which had survived from the 10th century until now! The monarchy had been made to change and adapt several times over that period and is to change yet again perhaps, as England becomes part of a powerful united Europe.

Most importantly one of the greatest changes had occurred in the 16th century when the European also coincided with the sudden surge of increased authority of our monarchy and the first appearance of tonight's book. He gave a brief outline of Christianity in our islands culminating with the challenge in church orthodoxy by the coming of what must be seen to be the key book in the story of the English Reformation-the Bible in English; the news of which spread like wind-driven fire across our land.

Professor Daniell reminded us that the important essay The Parable of the Wicked Mammon had preceded the publication of the Obedience of a Christian Man by five months. This new declaration that 'That faith the mother of all good works justifieth us ...' was made more excitingly real by the author's constant use of phrases deriving from his own New Testament translation. The Obedience ran alongside the earlier interpretation of Christ's teaching that 'everyman is other's debtor since love maketh all things common'. It described the social structure created by God to which everyone has to be obedient simply by being God's creature and Tyndale proceeds logically to describe this network of indebtedness and obligation.

Three important points were made in this lecture. Firstly, the challenge that this book posed to existing political and social life through its obvious biblical authority. Secondly. how incalculable was Tyndale's gift to the English-speaking people of his simple yet powerfully direct phrases and narratives which grew to become part of a new English plain style. Thirdly, the effect that such works as the Obedience had on theological enquiry.

Saturday morning's session opened with Martin Dotterweich talking on The Pastor as Annotator: Miles Coverdale and the English New Testament. Martin discussed the theology of annotation and how it was played out in practice. Explanations for confused readers could have been another title! A brief look at the life of Miles Coverdale preceded a fascinating general history of glosses to sacred texts. Martin made the point that Coverdale was basically an editor rather than translator acid tl-~at he worked in the Protestant way of attempting to use notes to guide and instruct readers. This meticulously researched paper Should appear in print to do it justice.

Herbert Samworth, from the Scriptorium in Michigan, gave a paper entitled The parable of the Wicked Mammon: Why so wicked? He cited the contemporary book reviews and, in particular, Sir Thomas More' reference to 'Tyndale's wicked and foolish book'. There followed an account of the writer's movements, of his association with William Roye and of the attempt to disassociate himself from the later satirical books of Rove and Barlow.

Tyndale was not an exact theologian. He was more interested in the practical effect of the doctrine of justification by faith and the gems neness of inward goodness -- 'Whosoever heareth and believeth hath the Spirit' -- than the theological accretions of Atonement and of the other sacramental processes of obtaining Divine pardon. Both Tyndale and Luther in their thinking went beyond inere moral ieformatloci to a radical reforming of the whole Christian Church. In any belief system there are two controlling principles: the Formal and the Material. The Formal sets the limits of authority. The Material defines the substance of teaching and the authority and content of the belief system. The established church, with its high authority from the beginning of the 16th century had supplanted the material principle, abrogating to itself spiritual powers which God had not given it. The reformers saw that they were bringing a double charge against it and correcting the balance by allowing Ordinary lay members the opportunity to view the true teaching in their own language. More and Tyndale were both intelligent and far sighted individuals who realised ideas were heading to a revolution which would destroy before repairing and that no compromise was possible between their positions. We should not be surprised at the violent reactions that were engendered. More saw discontinuity -- the break-up of order; Tyndale saw continuity with the Apostolic church. The latter was, however, no armchair revolutionary but had to think on the run as a fugitive.

Vivienne Westbrook gave us a most amusing and full description of The English Reformation Preface. She described the various types of prefaces and the techniques developed in the 16th century. She made the point that patronage made them quite important and often politically slanted. Her detailed account was filled with lengthy and interesting quotations from prefaces such as those of Edmund Beck, Roger Ascham, Miles Coverdale, Thomas Cranmer and William Whittingham. Various writers used the preface to encourage new readers to attempt difficult texts with the aid of glosses. They sometimes used strange and novel metaphors in their work. Prefaces throw light on the political and spiritual anxieties of the societies that produced them. Dr Westbrook's detailed work is best read, and I hope that it will appear as a paper in a future Tyndale Society publication.

A reporter is not able to attend all sessions so I was grateful that Neil Inglis was able to report on the workshop organised by Kristina Bross Reading Tyndale (see his short article in this Journal). It is to be hoped that Kathleen Kennedy will write up her research for us on the Endhoven Firm and Tyndale's New Testament. This promises to shift our thinking on printers and their business practices in the 16th century. The Endhovens operated in Antwerp specialising in printing Bibles and liturgical works. When Christopher Endhoven was imprisoned in England because of his printing activities and subsequently died there his widow, Catherine, successfully channelled the business into the profitable printing of decrees and ordinances whilst giving a lower profile to the controversial side. For instance. she dropped the printing of service books in 1534 but still accepted religious texts like those of George Joye and Zwingli. She took the precaution of using the well-known methods for avoiding detection to avoid confrontation with the authorities be they English or continental. In all, we were given a fascinating insight into a tale of 16th century feminine commercial success.

Andrew Hope gave the last paper of the conference entitled What happens when we die? Tyndale, Joye and the Authority of the Translator. He began by reminding us that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was not declared to be the official doctrine of the Christian church until the fifth Lateran Council in 1513. From Aristotle onward, there had been so many variations of philosophical ideas surrounding the state of the human soul after death that the church, with its great investment in the notion that the soul experienced a conscious existence without a body, had much trouble to reconcile its dicta with classical (heathen) statements. The church sought to fix the place and destiny of the soul in a Platonic universe, but conflicts arose from another quarter - the problem of interpreting puzzling biblical texts. When the reformers began to re-evaluate the sources of belief the orthodox position seemed rather weak. Andrew Hope told us of the contribution of the ideas of Luther and his followers -- the view that came to be known as Pyschopannychism. This held that the human soul was by nature immortal and that at death it slept until, at God's initiative, it awakened with a restored body to face judgement. This belief was held by Tyndale, who stuck to it faithfully, denying like Luther any temporal Purgatory or the possible intervention into human life of Saints.

A complicated history of these ideas and of others followed and we were given a detailed and finely investigated view of the conflicts Involved particularly when Tyndale himself was embroiled in a bitter controversy with George Joye. Tyndale had rather asked for trouble by humbly inviting revision by others to his translated texts. And the dispute when Jove took up his offer and the philosophical points he seemed to score against Tyndale's position was explained to us.

Psychopannychism became an article of faith to the early Anabaptists but was fiercely denounced by Calvin whose writings laid down their beliefs followed in future centuries by the Protestant church. Most of the Reformers believed Tyndale's emphasis and notions to have been misguided in his chosen word 'resurrection'. However, Joye's alternative was a unwieldy, awkward phrase and anyway our great translator was confident that a clear simple text would, in the long run purge itself of error. His chosen word won through all these troubles to survive in the Bible text we know today.

I look forward to a full transcript of Andrew Hope's brilliant piece of scholarship in a future edition of Reformation.

Professor Daniell closed the conference thanking warmly, on our behalf, Dr Barry Ryan, Marilyn Perucci and his faithful staff for all their hard work which had made it such an undoubted success. He spoke of the solid meat we had all received - and that meant all of us - both of academic and ploughboy stock' He looked forward, as we all do, to many more such feasts namely international Tyndale Conferences.

David Green, March 2000

(Additional notes from Valerie Offord)

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