An Answer to Inglis: Marius and Tyndale

I was delighted to find a review of the late Richard Marius’s 1984 book, Thomas More, in the December 2000 (No. 17) Tyndale Society Journal, especially since it was written by my friend, Neil Inglis. William Tyndale would no doubt salute Inglis for what is indeed a ‘re-view’. My introduction to the witty and thoughtful Inglis at the San Diego - Point Loma Nazarene University to be exact - 2000 Tyndale conference the previous February had been one the highlights of that meeting for me, along with the world debut of David Daniell’s Penguin edition of The Obedience of a Christian Man. (The sight of the scholarly Daniell wrapped in a raincoat indoors due to unseasonably chilly southern California weather put me in mind of William Tyndale’s cold confinement in the Low Country in the last winter of his life. Happily, both scholars, Tyndale and Daniell, were not stopped by the cold.)

Regrettably, it is now too late for me to take Marius and Inglis to dinner and let them discuss Tyndale and More over a bottle of wine. Marius, I suspect, would come off as a far more objective critic of Tyndale’s adversary than Inglis admits, even without the irenic influence of the fruit of the grape. Marius was, I think, no more critical of Tyndale than was C.S. Lewis, who was readier to pardon Tyndale’s verbal excesses rather than More’s. What is certain is that Richard Marius was first a painfully honest scholar, as are all my fellow collaborators brought most ironically together by Yale University’s St. Thomas More Project and Catholic University of America’s Independent Works of William Tyndale. From the days, at least of some of us, at Yale, through encouragement, albeit temporary, from Duke University Press, to our current contract with Catholic University of America Press, our journey has not been easy.

Richard Marius was an early and enthusiastic supporter of our efforts to make available William Tyndale’s independent works, i.e. those that were not translations of Scripture, in a modern scholarly edition. He saw the need of historians, theologians, and students of English literature for complete and ready accessibility to what William Tyndale wrote. Twenty years ago, as Inglis notes, Marius wrote, ‘We lack a good modern edition of [Tyndale’s] works.’ The increasing availability of Tyndale’s scriptural translations, thanks in large part to David Daniell, and the completion of the four-decade-plus Yale complete works of More demanded that Tyndale receive his own scholarly due for his writings on aspects of ‘Word, Church, and State’, the well-chosen title of the 1998 collected essays on Tyndale from the Catholic University of America Press. Marius was a member of the editorial board for Word, Church, and State.

As a senior scholar and mentor, Marius worked with us from the beginning of our ‘Tyndale Project’. In 1987 at the Modern Language Association meeting in San Francisco, he moderated a Tyndale panel with papers by younger scholars Drew Clark, John Dick, Anne Richardson, and Anne O’Donnell. All have continued to spread the word about the importance of Tyndale. Marius became a member of our advisory board, acknowledged opposite the title page of the first volume of The Independent Works, An Answere Vnto Sir Thomas Mores Dialogue, which was published in 2000, less than a year after Marius’s death. The last revisions of that work by its primary editor, Anne O’Donnell, included a note on his passing.

Part of my recent Christmas vacation from Coastal Carolina University was spent reading the newly published Catholic University Press edition of Tyndale’s Answere. My motivation was mainly that my edition of Tyndale’s Exposition of the Fyrste Epistle of Seynt Ihon is scheduled for subsequent publication as part of the Independent Works series. It was, I confess, thrilling to hold the first modern edition of Tyndale’s Answere, although not quite on the level of the awe I felt almost thirty years ago when a librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library handed me one of the four surviving copies of Tyndale’s 1531 Exposition of 1 John.

Inglis’s first quote from Marius, at least in part, perfectly fits Tyndale’s Answere: ‘[W]e are easily hypnotized into a trance of inattention.’ The Answere in its latest edition is an extraordinary work of scholarship, but it is not easy reading. It will challenge all readers for it is crammed with information, although I don't see any more of what Marius calls ‘monumental self-righteousness’ in Tyndale than in More. It is, in a sense, Tyndale’s Summa Contra Morum. (Anyone who has had to read Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica will recall the daunting task which large doses of that work present.) Fortunately, Tyndale’s humor goes with his conviction, but only a specialist or a Tyndale fanatic like myself will read all of the Independent Works’ Answere. (I should add that students of philology or anyone long puzzled as to the sources of Tyndale’s quotes in the Answere should welcome this edition.)

The ‘answer’, of course, is that Tyndale had to respond to Thomas More, he had to do it point by point, at least in this work, and he countered More’s jocularity by the unabashed righteousness of his beliefs. (Remember that Utopia’s Hythlodaeus, the ‘trifler’, is More’s invention.) Fortunately for Tyndale’s readers - and especially for me as a graduate student looking for a dissertation topic that wouldn't keep me in the library of the St. Thomas More project at Yale beyond the term of G.I. Bill support for me and my family of four - Tyndale somehow found time between his flight from persecutors, his language studies, and his scriptural translations to write livelier works such as his Expositions of John and Matthew and The Obedience.

But back to Inglis, Marius, and More. Perhaps it is impossible to be objective about More if one is convinced that Tyndale was totally right and More mostly wrong. Richard Marius tried to find a middle way. Like Erasmus in his time, Marius was criticized from both sides, just as he, like C.S. Lewis, criticized both More and Tyndale. I hope, at least, that Neil Inglis will consider my voucher for Marius’s respect for Tyndale and objectivity about More. Having taken arms with wit and conviction against Richard Marius’s old book, perhaps Inglis will go after other media next. It may not be too late, even in 2001, to shake A Man For All Seasons from its perch in the hierarchy of 20th century films. It will certainly be an easier target than Marius’s biography, but one still worthy of Inglis’s attention.

Donald J. Millus Coastal Carolina University, January, 2001

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