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October 6 –  William Tyndale

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

William Tyndale (c.1494-1556)reformer of the Church

Born to a yeoman family in Stinchcombe, Gloucestershire, where Lollard influences appear to have survived, he studied in Magdalen Hall, Oxford from 1510-15, gaining an MA and being ordained, possibly in 1514. He appears to have met Erasmus when he was teaching in Cambridge, gaining from him a passionate commitment to translation of the Bible4 into the vernacular. For some 18 months, he lived with Sir John and Lady Walsh in Little Sodbury, possibly as a tutor, and took a lively part in the theological discussion in their home Suspected of unorthodoxy, he translated Erasmus’ Enchiridion to underline his Christian commitment. He needed episcopal support to translate the New Testament, but Bishop Tunstall of London refused that in late 1523.. Tyndale, however, had built up support among London merchants like Humphrey Monmouth, who later were to help to distribute his translations.

He went to Hamburg in early 1524 and later that year moved to Wittenberg. His New Testament translation was published in Cologne in 1525 and Worms in 1526 after narrowly escaping confiscation by the authorities.  Some copies reached England in 1526. Many were burnt and Sir Thomas More, in his Dialogue concerning heresies published in 1529, attacked numerous alleged errors in translation, claiming that English was not a suitable language for conveying theological truth. Tyndale forcibly replied the following year in Answer to More, to which More replied in his Confutation. Tyndale was living clandestinely in Antwerp, supported by some English merchants there. In addition to continuing his translations, he wrote on aspects of Christian discipleship in Parable of the wicked Mammon and Obedience of a Christian man in 1528 and Practice of prelates in 1530. For a time he was assisted by George Joye, but their partnership broke up because of deep differences over translation.

Thomas Cromwell made several attempts to contact Tyndale through Stephen Vaughan, but his attempts to persuade Tyndale to return home failed, because he did not trust the goodwill of Henry VIII. Fluent in Hebrew and Greek, Tyndale also made discerning use of Luther in Prologue to Romans (1528) the Pentateuch (153o), Jonah (1531), Genesis 1534). He was constantly frustrated by printing mistakes, but was an outstanding translator, putting the Scriptures into vivid and readily understandable English which still resonates with readers.

A sharp critic of the papacy and medieval formularies, he was constantly at the risk of arrest. Finally betrayed by Henry Phillips, he was imprisoned at Vilvorde near Brussels in May, 1534 on the orders of Henry VIII.  His trial for heresy was very comprehensive, but he continued to revise the New Testament and translate the Old Testament. He was strangled and burnt on 6 October, 1536.

Though sometimes abrasive personally, he could also be warm and generous in pastoral care.He demonstrated the positive features of Reformation discipleship.  His translations were incorporated into officially approved English Bibles up to the Authorised Version, so that his influence continued until late in the 20th century.

by Rev Dr Ian Breward