'That Which Varies Is Not Truth'

Editor's note: this is a summary of the opening paper
by Neil Inglis at the San Diego Conference, February 2000.

Neil Inglis reviewed the 3-volume Historia de los Heterodoxos Espanoles by Marcelino Menendez Pelayo. A 19th-century historian and staunch Roman Catholic, Pelayo attempted to encapsulate and pass judgement on the lives of scores of individuals who, in various ways, incurred the wrath of the Ecclesiastical authorities over the centuries. While expressing occasional sympathy for individual reformers (e.g. the physician Michael Servetus), and demonstrating unconcealed horror at the bloodbaths of the Reformation Period, Pelayo - to nobody's surprise - consistently sides with the Catholic Church, time and again defending the actions of the Inquisition (or 'Holy Office'). Tyndalians must swallow hard at the views expressed in these pages; for Pelayo applauds the Holy Office for its 'tolerance', its 'benignity', and (believe it or not), its 'meekness'!

We Tyndalians are at a disadvantage when we confront such an author, who shares none of our values or assumptions; on every topic you care to name (human rights, the importance of Bible translation, the role of women, the forces of nature, and cause-and-effect relationships), Pelayo stands apart from us. And vet confront him we must, for Pelayo's heirs are publishing and circulating their views to this day: these new historians are less blunt and forthright than Pelayo, perhaps, vet at bottom they too believe that the Reformation was a distraction that vernacular bibles do not matter, that he Catholic Church would have reformed itself if left to its own devices, and that - all in all - the world was a merrier place before the men of William Tyndale's generation came along with their awkward questions, their Bible translations, and their revolutionary ideas. Pelayo accuses the Protestants of lacking originality, but would he care for them if he found them truly novel? In Pelayo's world there is no innovation no trial-and-error; only religious error, followed by a trial and inexorable punishment.

It can be tricky to pick apart the beliefs of a man such as Pelayo, who, after all, spent his life on the barricades attacking and belittling the Protestant Reformation. Unconventional ripostes may hold the key, for example, economic theories pertaining to resources and incentives provide fruitful tools for analysis, especially as they pass completely over Pelayo's head (Pelayo is untroubled by the official confiscation of heretics' assets, and yet this flagrant abuse of property rights deserves much closer consideration).

Furthermore, Pelayo uses certain types of reasoning when engaged in straightforward narration in which he holds no personal or emotional stake; but when he switches to the role of the polemicist (as he often does) he is found to false different categories of issues, which, on closer inspection, are found to clash rather unexpectedly with the arguments he employs while wearing his hat as a historian.

A review of Pelayo's work thus equips Tyndalians with many useful insights (and debating tools) as they go about the task of honouring William Tyndale and other religious reformers in a 21st-century world that, to a surprising extent, continues to be hostile to the message we bring.

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