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500 Years of the Reformation - William Tyndale (1490-1536)

The Magisterial Reformation - Post Tenebras Lux - Out of Darkness Light

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William Tyndale (1490-1536)

William Tindall, or Tyndale, or Tindal, although he did not suffer in England, ought to be ranked with the martyrs of our country, of which, from his great zeal, perseverance, and dispersing of truth, he may properly be esteemed the apostle. Though he went to heaven from a foreign land, he came on earth in the land of the ancient Britons. He was born on the borders of Wales, and brought up from a child in the university of Oxford, where, by long continuance, he grew and increased as well in knowledge of tongues and other liberal arts, as in the knowledge of the scriptures, whereunto his mind was singularly addicted; inasmuch, that lying then in Magdalen-hall, he read privily to certain of the students and fellows of that college, some parcel of divinity; instructing them in the knowledge and truth of the scriptures; and all that knew him reputed and esteemed him to be a man of most virtuous disposition, and of unspotted life.

Having remained some time at Oxford, he removed to the other university of Cambridge, where, after making great progress in his studies, he quitted, went to Gloucestershire, and engaged himself to a knight, named Welch, as tutor of his children. To this gentleman’s hospitable table used to resort several abbots, deans, and other beneficed men, with whom Tindall used to converse and talk of learned men, particularly of Luther and Erasmus; examining also many questions relative to the scriptures. Being learned and practised in religion, he spared not to avow unto them simply his opinions; and if they objected to his reasonings, he would shew them the book, and lay plainly before them the open and manifest places of the scriptures, to confute their errors, and confirm his sayings. And thus continued they for a certain season, reasoning and contending together, till at length they became envious, and bore a secret grudge in their hearts against him.

Not long after this it happened that certain of these great doctors invited Mr. Welch and his wife to a banquet, where they spoke to him without the fear of contradiction, uttering their blindness and ignorance. Then Welch and his wife coming home, and calling for Mr. Tindall, began to reason with him about those matters; when Tindall as usual, answered by scripture, maintained the truth, and reproved their false opinions. Then said the lady Welch, a stout and wise woman, “Well there was such a doctor who spent a hundred, another two hundred, and another three hundred pounds: and were it reason, think you, that we should believe you before them ?” Tindall gave her no answer at the time; and after that, because he saw it would not avail, he talked but little in those matters. However, he was about the translation of a book called Enchiridion militis Christiani, written by Erasmus, which, being finished, he delivered to his master and lady. After they had read and well perused the same, the doctorly prelates were not so often called to the house, neither had they the cheer and countenance when they came as before. This they well perceiving, and supposing that it came by the means of Tindall, refrained themselves, and at last utterly withdrew from the house.

As this grew on, the priests of the country clustered together, and began to storm upon Tindall, railing against him in ale-houses, and other places. Tindall himself, in his prologue to the first book of Moses, testifieth, that he “suffered much in that country by a sort of unlearned priests, being rude and ignorant, as God knoweth; who have seen no more Latin than that only which they read in their portueses and missals; which yet many of them can scarcely read, except it be Albertus, de secretis mulierum; in which yet, though they be never so sorrily learned, they pore day and night, and make notes therein, to assist the midwives, as they say; and also another called Lindwood, a book of constitutions to gather tithes, mortuaries, offerings, customs, and other pillage, which they call not theirs, but God’s part—the duty of holy church, to discharge their consciences withal. For they are bound that they shall not diminish but increase all things unto the uttermost of their powers, which pertain to holy church.” Thus these blind and rude priests flocking together to the ale-house, their preaching-place, railed against him, affirming that his sayings were heresy; adding, moreover, unto his sayings of their own heads, and so accused him secretly to the chancellor, and other of the bishop’s officers.
It followed not long after this, that there was a sitting of the bishop’s chancellor appointed, and warning was given to the priests to appear against Tindall. Whether he had any misdoubt by their threatenings, other knowledge given him that they would lay some things to his charge, it is uncertain; but certain it is that he doubted their privy accusations ; so that he, by the way, in going thitherwards, cried in his mind heartily to God, to give him strength to stand in the truth of his word. When the time came for his appearance before the chancellor, he threatened him grievously, reviling and rating at him as though he had been a dog, and laid to his charge many things whereof no accuser could be brought forth, notwithstanding the priests of the country were there present. And thus did Tindall escape out of their hands, and returned home.

There dwelt not far off a certain doctor, named Mummuth, who had been formerly chancellor to a bishop, and who had been an old familiar acquaintance with Tindall, and favoured him well. Unto him Tindall went, and opened his mind upon divers questions of the Scripture: for to him he durst be bold to disclose his heart. After some discourse, the doctor said, “Do you not know that the pope is the very antichrist whom the Scripture speaketh of? but beware what you say; for if you be perceived of that opinion, it will cost you your life; I have been an officer of his; but I have given it up, and defy him and all his works.” Soon after, Tindall happened to be in company of a certain divine, accounted a learned man, and in communing and disputing with him, he drove him to that issue, that the great doctor burst out into these blasphemous words, “We were better to be without God’s laws than the pope’s.” Tindall hearing this, full of godly zeal, and not bearing that blasphemous saying, replied, “ I defy the pope, and all his laws:” and added, that if God spared him life, ere many years, he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scripture than he did.

The grudge of the priests now increased more against Tindall, they never ceased barking at him, and laid many things to his charge, saying that he was a heretic in sophistry, in logic, and in divinity; more over, that he bare himself boldly to the gentleman in that country; but notwithstanding, shortly he should be otherwise talked withal. To whom Tindall said, that he was contented they should bring him into any county in England, giving him ten pounds a year to live with, and binding him to no more but to teach children, and to preach the gospel of Christ.
At length being so molested and vexed by the priests, he was con strained to leave that country, and to seek another place; and coming to Mr. Welch, he requested his permission to depart, saying, “Sitter, I perceive that I shall not be suffered to tarry long in this country, neither shall you be able, though you would, to keep me out of the hands of the spirituality; and also what displeasure might grow thereby to you by keeping me, God knoweth, for the which I should be sorry.” He accordingly departed, came up to London, and there preached awhile as he had done in the country before, and especially about the city of Bristol. At length bethinking himself of Tonstal, then bishop of London, and especially for his great commendation of Erasmus, who in his annotations so extolleth him for his learning, thus cast with himself, that if he might attain unto his service, he was a happy man. Coming to Sir Henry Gilford, the king’s comptroller, and bringing with him an oration of Isocrates, which he had then translated from the Greek, he desired him to speak to the bishop for him; which he did, and willed him moreover to write to the bishop, and accompany him. Thus he did and delivered his epistle to a servant. But God, who secretly disposeth the order of things, saw that was not the best for Tindall’s purpose, nor for the profit of his church, avid therefore gave him to find little favour in the bishop’s sight, who said, that his house was full, he had more than he could well find, and advised him to seek about in London, where he said he could lack no service. He therefore remained in London almost a year, marking with himself the course of the world, and especially the demeanour of the preachers, how they boasted themselves, and set up their authority and kingdom; also the pomp of the prelates, with other things more which greatly vexed him. Soon he understood, not only there to be no room in the bishop’s house for him to translate the New Testament, but also no place to do it in all England. And therefore, having some aid by God’s providence from his friend Humphrey Mummuth, and other good men, he took his leave of the realm, and departed to Germany. There, being inflamed with a tender care and zeal of his country, he studied how by all means possible to bring his countrymen to the same taste and understanding of God’s holy word and verity, which the Lord had endued him withal.

He perceived that the principal cause of the people’s blindness, and of the gross errors of the church, with all their evils, was the scriptures being concealed in an unknown tongue, by which the truth was kept out of sight, and the corruptions of the priests remained undetected. No wonder therefore all their labour was with might and main to keep it down, so that either it should not be read at all, or if it were, they would darken the right sense with the mist of their sophistry, and so entangle those who rebuked or despised their abominations, with arguments of philosophy, worldly similitudes, apparent reasons of natural wisdom; and with wresting the Scripture unto their own purpose, that they would so delude, and amaze them, expounding it in many senses, laid before the unlearned lay people, that though they were sure that all were false, yet could none solve their subtle riddles. These and other considerations moved this good man, who was no doubt stirred up of God, to translate the scripture into his mother tongue, for the utility and profit of the simple people of the country. He first began with the New Testament, which he translated about the year 1527. After that he took in hand the Old Testament, finishing the five books of Moses, with sundry learned and godly prefaces prefixed before every one, which he also did before thee New Testament. Nor was lee content with translating scripture: he also wrote divers other works under sundry titles, amongst which was, “The obedience of a Christian man,” wherein with singular dexterity he instructed all men in tile office and duty of Christian obedience, with several other treatises, as, “The wicked Mammon—The practice of prelates;” with expositions upon certain parts of the Scripture, and other books also, answering Sir Thomas More and other adversaries of the truth.

His books being compiled, published, and sent over to England, it is past description what a door of light they opened to the eyes of the whole nation, which before were many years shut up in darkness. At his first departure, he had taken his journey into the further parts of Germany, to Saxony, where he had conference with Luther, and other learned men in those quarters, whence, after he had continued a season, he came down into the Netherlands, and resided mostly in the town of Antwerp. His several publications, especially the New Testament, after they came into men’s hands, wrought singular profit to the godly, while ungodly priests, envying and disdaining that the people should be wiser than they, and fearing lest by the shining beams of truth, their hypocrisy and works of darkness should be discerned, took great offence; as at the birth of Christ, Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled with him. An accident befell our zealous and persevering martyr, which occasioned a considerable delay. Having finished the five books of Moses, he set sail to Ham-burgh intending to print them there. But, arm his voyage, he was shipwrecked and lost all his manuscripts, with almost all he possessed. He, however, in another vessel, pursued his voyage, and arriving at Hamburgh, where at his appointment, Mr. Coverdale tarried for him, and helped him in translating the whole five books of Moses, from Easter till December, in the house of Miss Margaret Van Emmerson, anno 1529. Having dispatched his business, he returned to Antwerp again.

When God’s will be that the New Testament in the common tongue should come abroad, Tindall added at the end a letter, wherein he desired thee learned to amend ought they found amiss. But the fathers of the clergy, not willing to have that book to prosper, cried out against it, that there were a thousand heresies in it, and that it was not to be corrected, but utterly suppressed. Some said it was impossible to translate the Scripture into English; others, that it was not lawful for the laity to have it in their mother-tongue; some that it would make them all heretics. To induce the temporal rulers also unto their purpose, they said that it would make the people rebel and rise against the king. All this Tindall himself declared, shewing moreover its truth; while they scanned and examined every tittle and point in the translation so narrowly, that there was not one letter therein, hut if it lacked a perfect form, they did mote it, and numbered it unto the ignorant people for a heresy. So great were then the forward devices of the English clergy, to drive the people from the text and knowledge of the Scripture, which they would neither translate themselves, nor yet suffer it to be translated by others.

The bishops and prelates of the realm, thus incensed and inflamed in their minds, and conspiring together with their councils, how to repeal the cause of their alarm, never rested till they had brought the king at last to their consent. By reason whereof, a proclamation in all haste was devised and set forth under public authority, but no just reason shewed, that the Testament of Tindall’s translation, with other works both of his and of other writers, were prohibited and denounced. This was about the year 1527. Not contented herewith, they proceeded further, how to entangle him in their nets, and to bereave him of his life. The means they employed to ensnare him were these. In the registers of London it appeareth that the bishops and Sir Thomas More brought several poor men to be examined before them, namely, such as had been at Antwerp: most studiously would they search and examine all things belonging to Tindall, where and with whom he hosted, where stood the house, what was his stature, in what apparel he went, what resort he had. All these things when they had diligently learned, as appeared by the examination of Simon Smith and others, then began they to work their works of darkness.

Tindall being in the city of Antwerp, had lodged about a year in the house of Thomas Pointz, an Englishman, who kept there an hostel of English merchants, when there arrived thither out of England, Henry Philips, his father being customer of Pool, a comely fellow, and in appearance a gentleman, having a servant with him; but wherefore he came, or for what purpose he was sent thither, no man could tell, unless it was for the work of darkness already mentioned. Tindall was frequently invited to dinner and supper amongst merchants; by the means whereof this Henry Philips became acquainted with him, so that in a short space Tindall conceived a great friendship and confidence for him, brought him to his lodging to the house of Thomas Pointz, had him once or twice to dinner and supper, and further entered into such friendship with him, that through his interest he lodged in the house of Pointz. He also shewed him his books and other secrets of his study, so little did Tindall then mistrust this traitor.

Pointz having no great confidence in the fellow, asked Tindall how he came acquainted with him, who answered, that he was an honest moan, tolerably learned, and very agreeable. Pointz, perceiving that he bare such favour to him, said no more, thinking that he was brought acquainted with him by some friend of his. Philips being in the city three or four days upon a time, desired Pointz to walk with him forth of the town to shew him the commodities thereof; and in walking together without the town, had communication of divers things, and some of the king’s affairs; by which talk Pointz as yet suspected nothing, but by the sequel he perceived more what he intended. In the mean time he learned, that he bare no great favour either to the setting forth of any good thing, or to the proceedings of the king of England, and perceived about him a deal of mystery, and a sort of courting him to make him subservient to his design, by the hopes of reward, he always appearing very full of money: but Pointz kept at a distance from all bribery. So Philips went from Antwerp to the court of Brussels, which is from thence twenty-four English miles, the king having there no ambassador; for at that time the king of England and the emperor were at a controversy, for the question betwixt Henry and the lady Katharine. Philips, as a traitor both against God and the king, was there the better retained, as also other traitors more besides him; and after he had betrayed Mr. Tindall into their hands, shewed himself likewise against the king’s own person. To make short, the said Philips did so much there, that he procured to bring from thence with him to Antwerp, that procurator-general, who is the emperor’s attorney, with certain other officers; which was not done with small charges and expenses, from whomsoever it came.

Sometime after, Pointz sitting at his door, Philips’ servant came unto him, and asked whether Mr. Tindall were there, and said, his master would come to him, and so departed. Whether his master Philips were in the town or not, it was not known; but at that time Pointz heard no more, neither of the master nor of the man. Within three or four days after, Pointz went on business to the town of Barrow, eighteen English miles from Antwerp, and in his absence Philips came again to Antwerp to the house of Pointz, and coming in, spake with his wife, asking her for Mr. Tindall, and whether he would dine there with him, saying, “What good meat shall we have?” She answered, “Such as the market will give.” Then went he forth as though he would purchase food, and set the officers which he brought with him from Brussels in the street and about the door. About noon he returned, went to Mr. Tindall, and desired him to lend him forty shillings; for, said he, I lost my purse this morning, coming over at the passage between this and Mechlin. Tindall took him forty shillings, the which was easy to be had of him, if he had it, for in the wily subtleties of this world he was simple and inexpert.

Then said Philips, “Mr. Tindall, you shall be my guest here to-day.” “No,” said Tindall, “ I am engaged this day to dinner, and you shall go with me, and be my guest, where you shall be welcome.” So when it was dinner time they went. At the going out of Pointz’ house, was a long narrow entry, so that two could not go in front. Tindall would have put Philips before him, but Philips would in no wise, but insisted on Tindalls going before. So Tindall, being a man of no great stature, went before, and Philips a tall and comely person, followed behind him. He had set officers on either side of the door upon two seats, who might see who came in the entry; and on coming through, Philips pointed with his finger over Tindall’s head down to him, that the officers which sate at the door might see that it was he whom they should take, as the officers themselves afterwards told Pointz, and said, that when they had laid him in prison, they pitied his simplicity when they took him. Then they seized him and brought him to the emperor’s procurator-general, where he dined. Then came the procurator-general to the house of Pointz and sent away all that was there of Mr. Tindall’s, as well his books as other things, and from thence Tindall was had to the castle of Pilford, eighteen miles from Antwerp, where he remained until he was put to death.

By the help of English merchants, letters were sent in favour of Tindall to the court of Brussels. Also, not long after, letters were directed from England to the council at Brussels, and sent to the merchant adventurers to Antwerp, commanding them to see that with speed they should be delivered. Then such of the chief of the merchants as were there at that time, being called together, required Pointz to take in hand the delivery of those letters, with letters also from them in favour of Tindall to the lord of Barrois and others. This lord, as it was told Pointz by the way, at that time had parted from Brussels, as the chief conductor of the eldest daughter of the king of Denmark, to be married to the palesgrave, whose mother was sister to the emperor, she being chief princess of Denmark. After he heard of his departure, he rode the same way, and overtook him at Achon, where he delivered to him his letters. When he had received and read them, he made no direct answer, but somewhat objecting, said—There were of their countrymen who had been burned in England not long before; as indeed there were Anabaptists burned in Smithfield: and so Pointz said to him, “Howbeit, whatsoever the crime was, if his lordship or any other nobleman had written, requiring to have had them, he thought they should not have been denied. “Well,” said he, “I have no leisure to write, for the princess is ready to ride.” Then said Pointz, “If it please your lordship, I will attend upon you unto the next baiting place,” which was at Maestricht. “If you will,” said the lord, “I will advise myself by the way what to write.” Upon this, Pointz followed him from Achon to Maestricht, which are fifteen English miles asunder; and there he received letters of him, one to the council there, another to the company of the merchant adventurers, and another also to the lord Cromwell in England.

So Pointz rode from thence to Brussels, and then and there delivered to the council the letters from England, with the lord of Barrow’s letters also, and received answers from England of the same by letters, which he brought to Antwerp to the English merchants, who required him to go with them into England. He very desirous to have Mr. Tindall out of prison, forbore no pains, nor regarded the loss of time in his own business, but diligently followed with the said letters, which he there delivered to the council, and was commanded to wait until he had others, if which he was not dispatched thence till a month after. At lengths the letters being delivered him, he returned again, and delivered them to the emperor’s council at Brussels, and there tarried for answer of the same. After he had impatiently and fearfully remained three or four days, he was told by one that belonged to the chancery, that Tindall should have been delivered to him according to the tenor of the letters; but Philips being there, followed the suit against Tindall, and hearing that he should be delivered to Pointz, and doubting lest he should be put from his purpose, he knew no other remedy but to accuse Pointz, saying, that he was a dweller in the town of Antwerp, and had been a succourer of Tindall, and was one of the same opinion; and that all this was only his own labour and suit, to have Master Tindall at liberty, and no man’s else.

Thus upon his information and accusation, Pointz was attached by the procurator-general, the emperor’s attorney, delivered to the keeping of two sergeants at arms; and the same evening was sent to him one of the chancery, with the procurator-general, who ministered an oath, that he should truly make answer to all such things as should be inquired of him, thinking they would have no other examinations of him but of his own message. The next day they came again, and had him in examination, and so five or six days successively, upon more than an hundred articles, as well of the king’s affairs as of the messages concerning Tindall, of his aiders and his religion. Out of these examinations, the procurator-general drew twenty-three or four articles, and declared the same against Pointz, the copy whereof he delivered to him to make answer thereunto, and permitted him to have an advocate and proctor in the law for his defence; and order was taken, that eight days after he should deliver unto them his answer, and from eight days to eight days to proceed till the process was ended. Also that he should send no messenger to Antwerp, where his house was, although only twenty-four English miles from Brussels, where he was now a prisoner; nor to any other place but by the post of Brussels; nor to send any letters, nor any to be delivered to him, but such as were written in Dutch; and the procurator-general, who was party against him, was to read them and examine them thoroughly, contrary to all right and equity, before they were sent or delivered. Neither might any be suffered to speak or talk with him in any other tongue or language, except only in the Dutch tongue so that his keepers who were Dutchmen, might understand what the contents of letters or talk should be. Saving that at one certain time the provincial of the white friars came to dinner where Pointz was prisoner, and brought with him a young novice, being an Englishman, whom the provincial after dinner, of his own accord bid to talk with Pointz, and so with him he was licensed to converse. The purpose and great policy of this was easy to be perceived. Between Pointz and the novice was much talk, as of Sir Thomas More, and of the bishop of Rochester. After this Pointz delivered up his answer to the procurator-general, and then at the days appointed he went forth with whatever he could gather as-evidence against him.

When the commissioners came to Pointz, Philips the traitor accompanied them to the door in following the process against him, as he had also done against Tindall, for so they that had Pointz in keeping shewed him. Thus Pointz was greatly troubled for his friend, and long kept in prison; but at length, when he saw no other remedy, by night he made his escape, and avoided their hands. Tindall however could not so escape, but remained in prison, and being brought unto his answer, was offered to have an advocate and a proctor; for in any criminal cause there, it is permitted to have council, to make answer in the law. Yet he refused to have any such, saying,—that he would answer for himself; and so he did. Still nothing that he could say served him; and at last, after much reasoning, when no reason would avail, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in time assembly at Augsburgh, and upon that vile statute brought forth to the place of execution, where he was tied to the stake, and strangled first by the hangman, and afterwards burnt. His martyrdom was at the town of Filford, anno 1536. As he stood firmly amidst the wood, with the executioner at his side ready to strangle him, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said in a loud and fervent manner— “Lord, open the eyes of the king of England!”

Such was the power of his doctrine, and sincerity of the life of this most amiable man and glorious martyr, that during his imprisonment, which was a year and a half, it is said he converted the keeper, his daughter, and other of his household. Also the prisoners that were with him conversant in the castle reported of him, that if he were not a good Christian, they could not tell whom to trust. Even the procurator-general being there, left his testimony of him, that he was a most learned, good, and godly man. An instance this remarkably resembling that of the Centurion who said of Christ, watching his crucifixion— “Certainly this was a righteous man.” It was reported of Philips who betrayed him that he fell a victim to a loathsome disease, being consumed by vermin that preyed upon his body.

To enumerate the virtues and actions of this blessed martyr would require much time and many pages. Suffice it to say, that he was one of those who, by his works, shone as a light amidst a dark world, and gave evidence that he had been called and commissioned to bring others to glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life.


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