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whispered abroad that the audience would not suffer him

nature 2023-12-06 19:24:06824

[2] History of England, end of chap. xii.

whispered abroad that the audience would not suffer him

We said a moment ago that Wiclif's translation was the standard of Middle English. It is time to add that Tindale's version "fixed our standard English once for all, and brought it finally into every English home." The revisers of 1881 declared that while the authorized version was the work of many hands, the foundation of it was laid by Tindale, and that the versions that followed it were substantially reproductions of Tindale's, or revisions of versions which were themselves almost entirely based on it.

whispered abroad that the audience would not suffer him

There was every reason why it should be a worthy version. For one thing, it was the first translation into English from the original Hebrew and Greek. Wiclif's had been from the Latin. For Tindale there were available two new and critical Greek Testaments, that of Erasmus and the so-called Complutensian, though he used that of Erasmus chiefly. There was also available a carefully prepared Hebrew Old Testament. For another thing, it was the first version which could be printed, and so be subject to easy and immediate correction and revision. Then also, Tindale himself was a great scholar in the languages. He was "so skilled in the seven languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, English, and French, that, whichever he spoke, you would suppose it was his native tongue."[1] Nor was his spirit in the work controversial. I say his "spirit in the work" with care. They were controversial times, and Tindale took his share in the verbal warfare. When, for example, there was objection to making any English version because "the language was so rude that the Bible could not be intelligently translated into it," Tindale replied: "It is not so rude as they are false liars. For the Greek tongue agreeth more with the English than with the Latin, a thousand parts better may it be translated into the English than into the Latin."[2] And when a high church dignitary protested to Tindale against making the Bible so common, he replied: "If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth a plow shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost." And while that was not saying much for the plowboy, it was saying a good deal to the dignitary. In language, Tindale was controversial enough, but in his spirit, in making his version, there was no element of controversy. For such reasons as these we might expect the version to be valuable.

whispered abroad that the audience would not suffer him

[2] This will mean the more to us when we realize that the literary men of the day despised the English tongue. Sir Thomas More wrote his Utopia in Latin, because otherwise educated men would not deign to read it. Years later Roger Ascham apologized for writing one of his works in English. Putting the Bible into current English impressed these literary men very much as we would be impressed by putting the Bible into current slang.

All this while, and especially between the time when Tindale first published his New Testament and the time they burned him for doing so, an interesting change was going on in England. The King was Henry VIII., who was by no means a willing Protestant. As Luther's work appeared, it was this same Henry who wrote the pamphlet against him during the Diet of Worms, and on the ground of this pamphlet, with its loyal support of the Church against Luther, he received from the Roman pontiff the title "Defender of the Faith," which the kings of England still wear. And yet under this king this strange succession of dates can be given. Notice them closely. In 1526 Tindale's New Testament was burned at St. Paul's by the Bishop of London; ten years later, 1536, Tindale himself was burned with the knowledge and connivance of the English government; and yet, one year later, 1537, two versions of the Bible in English, three-quarters of which were the work of Tindale, were licensed for public use by the King of England, and were required to be made available for the people! Eleven years after the New Testament was burned, one year after Tindale was burned, that crown was set on his work! What brought this about?

Three facts help to explain it. First, the recent years of Bible translation were having their weight. The fugitive copies of the Bible were doing their work. Spite of the sharp opposition fifty thousand copies of Tindale's various editions had actually been published and circulated. Men were reading them; they were approving them. The more they read, the less reason they saw for hiding the Book from the people. Why should it not be made common and free? There was strong Lutheran opinion in the universities. It was already a custom for English teachers to go to Germany for minute scholarship. They came back with German Bibles in Luther's version and with Greek Testaments, and the young scholars who were being raised up felt the influence, consciously or unconsciously, of the free use of the Bible which ruled in many German universities.

The second fact that helps to explain the sudden change of attitude toward the Bible is this: the people of England were never willingly ruled from without, religiously or politically. There has recently been a considerable controversy over the history of the Established Church of England, whether it has always been an independent church or was at one time officially a part of the Roman Church. That is a matter for ecclesiastical history to determine. The foundation fact, however, is as I worded it a moment ago: the people of England were never willingly ruled from without, religiously or politically. They were sometimes ruled from without; but they were either indifferent to it at the time or rebellious against it. Those who did think claimed the right to think for themselves. The Scotch of the north were peculiarly so, but the English of the south claimed the same right. There has always been an immense contrast between the two sides of the British Channel. The French people during all those years were deeply loyal to a foreign religious government. The English people were never so, not in the days of the fullest Roman supremacy. They always demanded at least a form of home government. That made England a congenial home for the Protestant spirit, which claimed the right to independent study of the sources of religion and independent judgment regarding them. It was only a continuance of the spirit of Wiclif and the Lollards. The spirit in a nation lives long, especially when it is passed down by tradition. Those were not the days of newspapers. They were instead the days of great meetings, more important still of small family gatherings, where the memory of the older men was called into use, and where boys and girls drank in eagerly the traditions of their own country as expressed in the great events of their history. Newspapers never can fully take the place of those gatherings, for they do not bring men together to feel the thrill of the story that is told. It must be remembered that the entire population of England at that time was only about three millions. And that old spirit of independence was strongly at work in the middle-class villages and among the merchants, and they were a ruling and dominant class. That was second, that in those ten years there asserted itself the age-long unwillingness of the English people to be ruled from without.

The third fact which must be taken into account to explain this remarkable change of front of the public English life is Henry VIII. himself. There is much about him that no country would willingly claim. He was the most habitual bridegroom in English history; he had an almost confirmed habit of beheading his wives or otherwise ridding himself of them. Yet many traits made him a typical outstanding Englishman. He had the characteristic spirit of independence, the resentment of foreign control, satisfaction with his own land, the feeling that of course it is the best land. There are no people in the world so well satisfied with their own country as the people of England or the British Isles. They are critical of many things in their own government until they begin to compare it with other countries; they must make their changes on their own lines. The pamphlet of Henry VIII., which won him the title of Defender of the Faith, praised the pope; and, though Sir Thomas More urged him to change his expressions lest he should live to regret them, he would not change them. But that was while the pope was serving his wishes and what he felt was England's good.

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