Four Reforming Powers – Which Reformed England? – Papal Reform? – Episcopal Reform? – Royal Reform? – What Is Required in a Legitimate Reform? – The Share of the Kingly Power – Share of the Episcopal Authority – High and Low Church – Political Events – The Greek and Latin New Testament – Thoughts of Erasmus – Enthusiasm and Anger – Desire of Erasmus – Clamours of the Priests – Their Attack at Court – Astonishment of Erasmus – His Labours for This Work – Edward Lee; His Character – Lee's Tragedy – Conspiracy
IT was within the province of four powers in the sixteenth century to effect a reformation of the church: these were the papacy, the episcopate, the monarchy, and Holy Scripture. The Reformation in England was essentially the work of Scripture.
The only true Reformation is that which emanates from the word of God. The Holy Scriptures, by bearing witness to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, create in man by the Holy Ghost a faith which justifies him. That faith, which produces in him a new life, unites him to Christ, without his requiring a chain of bishops or a Roman mediator, who would separate him from the Savior instead of drawing him nearer. This Reformation by the word restores that spiritual Christianity which the outward and hierarchical religion had destroyed; and from the regeneration of individuals naturally results the regeneration of the church.
The Reformation of England, perhaps to a greater extent than that of the continent, was effected by the word of God. This statement may appear paradoxical, but it is not the less true. Those great individualities we meet with in Germany, Switzerland, and France-men like Luther, Zwingle, and Calvin-do not appear in England; but Holy Scripture is widely circulated. What brought light into the British isles subsequently to the year 1517, and on a more extended scale after the year 1526, was the word-the invisible power of the invisible God. The religion of the Anglo-Saxon race-a race called more than any other to circulate the oracles of God throughout the world-is particularly distinguished by its biblical character.
The Reformation of England could not be papal. No reform can be hoped from that which ought to be not only reformed, but abolished; and besides, no monarch dethrones himself. We may even affirm that the popedom had always felt a peculiar affection for its conquests in Britain, and that they would have been the last it would have renounced. A serious voice had declared in the middle of the fifteenth century: "A reform is neither in the will nor in the power of the popes.”
The Reformation of England was not episcopal. Roman hierarchism will never be abolished by Roman bishops. An episcopal assembly may perhaps, as at Constance, depose three competing popes, but then it will be to save the papacy. And if the bishops could not abolish the papacy, still less could they reform themselves. The then existing episcopal power, being at enmity with the word of God, and the slave of its own abuses, was incapable of renovating the church. On the contrary, it exerted all its influence to prevent such a renovation.
The Reformation in England was not royal. Samuel, David, and Josiah were able to do something for the raising up of the church, when God again turned his face towards it; but a king cannot rob his people of their religion, and still less can he give them one. It has often been repeated that "the English Reformation derives its origin from the monarch;" but the assertion is incorrect. The work of God, here as elsewhere, cannot be put in comparison with the work of the king; and if the latter was infinitely surpassed in importance, it was also preceded in time by many years. The monarch was still keeping up a vigorous resistance behind his intrenchments, when God had already decided the victory along the whole line of operations.
Shall we be told that a reform effected by any other principle than the established authorities, both in church and state, would have been a revolution? But has God, the lawful sovereign of the church, forbidden all revolution in a sinful world? A revolution is not a revolt. The fall of the first man was a great revolution: the restoration of man by Jesus Christ was a counter-revolution. The corruption occasioned by popery was allied to the fall: the reformation accomplished in the sixteenth century was connected therefore with the restoration. There will no doubt be other interventions of the Deity, which will be revolutions in the same direction as the Reformation. When God creates a new heaven and a new earth, will not that be one of the most glorious of revolutions? The Reformation by the word alone gives truth, alone gives unity; but more than that, it alone bears the marks of true legitimacy; for the church belongs not unto men, even though they be priests. God alone is its lawful sovereign.
And yet the human elements which we have enumerated were not wholly foreign to the work that was accomplishing in England. Besides the word of God, other principles were in operation, and although less radical and less primitive, they still retain the sympathy of eminent men of that nation.
And in the first place, the intervention of the king's authority was necessary to a certain point. Since the supremacy of Rome had been established in England by several usages which had the force of law, the intervention of the temporal power was necessary to break the bonds which it had previously sanctioned. But it was requisite for the monarchy, while adopting a negative and political action, to leave the positive, doctrinal, and creative action to the word of God.
Besides the Reformation in the name of the Scriptures, there was then in England another in the name of the king. The word of God began, the kingly power followed; and ever since, these two forces have sometimes gone together against the authority of the Roman pontiffs-sometimes in opposition to each other, like those troops which march side by side in the same army, against the same enemy, and which have occasionally been seen, even on the field of battle, to turn their swords against each other.
Finally, the episcopate which had begun by opposing the Reformation, was compelled to accept it in despite of its convictions. The majority of the bishops were opposed to it; but the better portion were found to incline, some to the side of outward reform, of which separation from the papacy was the very essence, and others to the side of internal reform, whose mainspring was union with Jesus Christ. Lastly, the episcopate took up its ground on its own account, and soon two great parties alone existed in England: the scriptural party and the clerical party.
These two parties have survived even to our days, and their colors are still distinguishable in the river of the church, like the muddy Arve and the limpid Rhone after their confluence. The royal supremacy, from which many Christians, preferring the paths of independence, have withdrawn since the end of the 16th century, is recognized by both parties in the establishment, with some few exceptions. But while the High Church is essentially hierarchical, the Low Church is essentially biblical. In the one, the Church is above the Word below; in the other, the Church is below and the Word above. These two principles, evangelism and hierarchism, are found in the Christianity of the first centuries, but with a signal difference. Hierarchism then almost entirely effaced evangelism; in the age of Protestantism, on the contrary, evangelism continued to exist by the side of Hierarchism, and it has remained de jure, if not always de facto, the only legitimate opinion of the church.
Thus there is in England a complication of influences and contests, which render the work more difficult to describe; but it is on that very account more worthy the attention of the philosopher and the Christian.
Great events had just occurred in Europe. Francis I had crossed the Alps, gained a signal victory at Marignano, and conquered the north of Italy. The affrighted Maximilian knew of none who could save him but Henry VIII. "I will adopt you; you shall be my successor in the empire," he intimated to him in May 1516. "Your army shall invade France; and then we will march together to Rome, where the sovereign pontiff shall crown you king of the Romans." The king of France, anxious to effect a diversion, had formed a league with Denmark and Scotland, and had made preparations for invading England to place on the throne the "white rose,"-the pretender Pole, heir to the claims of the house of York. Henry now showed his prudence; he declined Maximilian's offer, and turned his whole attention to the security of his kingdom. But while he refused to bear arms in France and Italy, a war of quite another kind broke out in England.
The great work of the 16th century was about to begin. A volume fresh from the presses of Basle had just crossed the channel. Being transmitted to London, Oxford, and Cambridge, this book, the fruit of Erasmus's vigils, soon found its way wherever there were friends of learning. It was the New Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ, published for the first time in Greek with a new Latin translation-an event more important for the world than would have been the landing of the pretender in England, or the appearance of the chief of the Tudors in Italy. This book in which God has deposited for man's salvation the seeds of life, was about to effect alone, without patrons and without interpreters, the most astonishing revolution in Britain.
When Erasmus published this work, at the dawn, so to say, of modern times, he did not see all its scope. Had he foreseen it, he would perhaps have recoiled in alarm. He saw indeed that there was a great work to be done, but he believed that all good men would unite to do it with common accord. "A spiritual temple must be raised in desolated Christendom," said he. "The mighty of this world will contribute towards it their marble, their ivory, and their gold; I who am poor and humble offer the foundation stone," and he laid down before the world his edition of the Greek Testament. Then glancing disdainfully at the traditions of men, he said: "It is not from human reservoirs, fetid with stagnant waters, that we should draw the doctrine of salvation; but from the pure and abundant streams that flow from the heart of God." And when some of his suspicious friends spoke to him of the difficulties of the times, he replied: "If the ship of the church is to be saved from being swallowed up by the tempest, there is only one anchor that can save it: it is the heavenly word, which, issuing from the bosom of the Father, lives, speaks, and works still in the gospel." These noble sentiments served as an introduction to those blessed pages which were to reform England. Erasmus like Caiaphas, prophesied without being aware of it.
The New Testament in Greek and Latin had hardly appeared when it was received by all men of upright mind with unprecedented enthusiasm. Never had any book produced such a sensation. It was in every hand: men struggled to procure it, read it eagerly, and would even kiss it. The words it contained enlightened every heart. But a reaction soon took place. Traditional Catholicism uttered a cry from the depths of its noisome pools (to use Erasmus's figure). Franciscans and Dominicans, priests and bishops, not daring to attack the educated and wellborn, went among the ignorant populace, and endeavored by their tales and clamors to stir up susceptible women and credulous men. "Here are horrible heresies," they exclaimed, "here are frightful antichrists! If this book be tolerated it will be the death of the papacy!"-"We must drive this man from the university," said one. "We must turn him out of the church," added another. "The public places re-echoed with their howlings," said Erasmus. The firebrands tossed by their furious hands were raising fires in every quarter; and the flames kindled in a few obscure convents threatened to spread over the whole country.
This irritation was not without a cause. The book, indeed, contained nothing but Latin and Greek; but this first step seemed to augur another-the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue. Erasmus loudly called for it. "Perhaps it may be necessary to conceal the secrets of kings," he remarked, "but we must publish the mysteries of Christ. The Holy Scriptures, translated into all languages, should be read not only by the Scotch and Irish, but even by Turks and Saracens. The husbandman should sing them as he holds the handle of his plow, the weaver repeat them as he plies his shuttle, and the wearied traveler, halting on his journey, refresh him under some shady tree by these godly narratives." These words prefigured a golden age after the iron age of popery. A number of Christian families in Britain and on the continent were soon to realize these evangelical forebodings, and England after three centuries was to endeavor to carry them out for the benefit of all the nations on the face of the earth.
The priests saw the danger, and by a skillful maneuver, instead of finding fault with the Greek Testament, attacked the translation and the translator. "He has corrected the Vulgate," they said, "and puts himself in the place of Saint Jerome. He sets aside a work authorized by the consent of ages and inspired by the Holy Ghost. What audacity!" and then, turning over the pages, they pointed out the most odious passages: "Look here! this book calls upon men to repent, instead of requiring them, as the Vulgate does, to do penance!" (Matthew 4: 17.) The priests thundered against him from their pulpits: "This man has committed the unpardonable sin," they asserted; "for he maintains that there is nothing in common between the Holy Ghost and the monks-that they are logs rather than men!" These simple remarks were received with a general laugh, but the priests, in no wise disconcerted, cried out all the louder: "He's a heretic, an heresiarch, a forger! he's a goose... what do I say? he's a very antichrist!”
It was not sufficient for the papal janissaries to make war in the plain, they must carry it to the higher ground. Was not the king a friend of Erasmus? If he should declare himself a patron of the Greek and Latin Testament, what an awful calamity!... After having agitated the cloisters, towns, and universities, they resolved to protest against it boldly, even in Henry's presence. They thought: "If he is won, all is won." It happened one day that a certain theologian (whose name is not given) having to preach in his turn before the king, he declaimed violently against the Greek language and its new interpreters. Pace, the king's secretary, was present, and turning his eyes on Henry, observed him smiling good humouredly. On leaving the church, every one began to exclaim against the preacher. "Bring the priest to me," said the king; and then turning to More, he added: "You shall defend the Greek cause against him, and I will listen to the disputation." The literary tribunal was soon formed, but the sovereign's order had taken away all the priest's courage. He came froward trembling, fell on his knees, and with clasped hands exclaimed: "I know not what spirit impelled me."-"A spirit of madness," said the king, "and not the spirit of Jesus Christ." He then added: "Have you ever read Erasmus?"-"No, Sire."-"Away with you then, you are a blockhead." "And yet," said the preacher in confusion, "I remember to have read something about Mofia," (Erasmus's treatise on Folly.)-"A subject, your majesty, that ought to be very familiar to him," wickedly interrupted Pace. The obscurant could say nothing in his justification. "I am not altogether opposed to the Greek," he added at last, "seeing that it is derived from the Hebrew." This was greeted with a general laugh, and the king impatiently ordered the monk to leave the room, and never appear before him again.
Erasmus was astonished at these discussions. He had imagined the season to be most favorable. "Everything looks peaceful," he had said to himself; "now is the time to launch my Greek Testament into the learned world." As well might the sun rise upon the earth, and no one see it! At that very hour God was raising up a monk at Wittemberg who would lift the trumpet to his lips, and proclaim the new day. "Wretch that I am!" exclaimed the timid scholar, beating his breast, "who could have foreseen this horrible tempest!"
Nothing was more important at the dawn of the Reformation than the publication of the Testament of Jesus Christ in the original language. Never had Erasmus worked so carefully. "If I told what sweat it cost me, no one would believe me." He had collated many Greek MSS. of the New Testament, and was surrounded by all the commentaries and translations, by the writings of Origen, Cyprian, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyril, Jerome, and Augustine.
Hic sum in cameo meo! he exclaimed as he sat in the midst of his books. He had investigated the texts according to the principles of sacred criticism. When a knowledge of Hebrew was necessary, he had consulted Capito, and more particularly Oecolampadius. Nothing without Theseus, said he of the latter, making use of a Greek proverb. He had corrected the amphibologies, obscurities, hebraisms, and barbarisms, of the Vulgate; and had caused a list to be printed of the errors in that version.
“We must restore the pure text of the word of God," he had said; and when he heard the maledictions of the priests, he had exclaimed: "I call God to witness I thought I was doing a work acceptable to the Lord and necessary to the cause of Christ." Nor in this was he deceived.
At the head of his adversaries was Edward Lee, successively king's almoner, archdeacon of Colchester, and archbishop of York. Lee, at that time but little known, was a man of talent and activity, but also vain and loquacious, and determined to make his way at any cost. Even when a schoolboy, he looked down on all his companions. As child, youth, man, and in mature years, he was always the same, Erasmus tells us; that is to say, vain, envious, jealous, boasting, passionate, and revengeful. We must bear in mind, however, that when Erasmus describes the character of his opponents, he is far from being an impartial judge. In the bosom of Roman Catholicism, there have always existed well-meaning, though ill-informed men, who, not knowing the interior power of the word of God, have thought that if its authority were substituted for that of the Romish church, the only foundation of truth and of Christian society would be shaken. Yet while we judge Lee less severely than Erasmus does, we cannot close our eyes to his faults. His memory was richly furnished, but his heart was a stranger to divine truth: he was a schoolman and not a believer. He wanted the people to obey the church and not trouble themselves about the Scriptures. He was the Doctor Eck of England, but with more of outward appearance and morality than Luther's adversary. Yet he was by no means a rigid moralist. On one occasion, when preaching at the palace, he introduced ballads into his sermon, one of which began thus: “Pass time with good company."
And the other: -
“I love unloved.”
We are indebted to Secretary Pace for this characteristic trait.
During the sojourn of Erasmus in England, Lee, observing his influence, had sought his friendship, and Erasmus, with his usual courtesy, had solicited his advice upon his work. But Lee, jealous of his great reputation, only waited for an opportunity to injure it, which he seized upon as soon as it occurred. The New Testament had not been long published, when Lee turned round abruptly, and from being Erasmus's friend became his implacable adversary. "If we do not stop this leak," said he when he heard of the New Testament, "it will sink the ship." Nothing terrifies the defenders of the human traditions so much as the word of God.
Lee immediately leagued himself with all those in England who abhorred the study of Scripture, says Erasmus. Although exceedingly conceited, he showed himself the most amiable of men, in order to accomplish his designs. He invited Englishmen to his house, welcomed strangers, and gained many recruits by the excellence of his dinners. While seated at table among his guests, he hinted perfidious charges against Erasmus, and his company left him “loaded with lies. -“ In this New Testament,” said he, "there are three hundred dangerous, frightful passages... three hundred did I say? ... there are more than a thousand!" Not satisfied with using his tongue, Lee wrote scores of letters, and employed several secretaries. Was there any convent in the odor of sanctity, he "forwarded to it instantly wine, choice viands, and other presents." To each one he assigned his part, and over all England they were rehearsing what Erasmus calls Lee's Tragedy. In this manner they were preparing the catastrophe; a prison for Erasmus, the fire for the Holy Scriptures.
When all was arranged, Lee issued his manifesto. Although a poor Greek scholar, he drew up some Annotations on Erasmus' book, which the latter called "mere abuse and blasphemy;" but which the members of the league regarded as oracles. They passed them secretly from hand to hand, and these obscure sheets, by many indirect channels, found their way into every part of England, and met with numerous readers.There was to be no publication-such was the watchword; Lee was too much afraid. "Why did you not publish your work?" asked Erasmus, with cutting irony "Who knows whether the holy father, appointing you the Aristarchus of letters, might not have sent you a birch to keep the whole world in order!"
The Annotations having triumphed in the convents, the conspiracy took a new flight. In every place of public resort, at fairs and markets, at the dinner-table and in the council-chamber, in shops, and taverns, and houses of ill-fame, in churches and in the universities, in cottages and in palaces, the league blattered against Erasmus and the Greek Testament. Carmelites, Dominicans, and Sophists, invoked heaven and conjured hell. What need was there of Scripture? Had they not the apostolical succession of the clergy? No hostile landing in England could, in their eyes, be more fatal than that of the New Testament. The whole nation must rise to repel this impudent invasion. There is, perhaps, no country in Europe, where the Reformation was received by so unexpected a storm.
Effects of the New Testament in the Universities – Conversations – A Cambridge Fellow – Bilney Buys the New Testament – The First Passage – His Conversion – Protestantism, the Fruit of the Gospel – The Vale of the Severn – William Tyndale – Evangelization at Oxford – Bilney Teaches at Cambridge – Fryth – Is Conversion Possible? – True Consecration – The Reformation Has Begun
WHILE this rude blast was rushing over England, and roaring in the long galleries of its convents, the still small voice of the Word was making its way into the peaceful homes of praying men and the ancient halls of Oxford and Cambridge. In private chambers, in the lecture-rooms and refectories, students and even masters of arts, were to be seen reading the Greek and Latin Testament. Animated groups were discussing the principles of the Reformation. When Christ came on earth (said some) He gave the Word, and when He ascended up into heaven He gave the Holy Spirit. These are the two forces which created the church-and these are the forces that must regenerate it.-No (replied the partisans of Rome), it was the teaching of the apostles at first, and it is the teaching of the priests now.-The apostles (rejoined the friends of the Testament of Erasmus)-yes, it is true-the apostles were during their ministry a living scripture; but their oral teaching would infallibly have been altered by passing from mouth to mouth. God willed, therefore, that these precious lessons should be preserved to us in their writings, and thus become the ever undefiled source of truth and salvation. To set the Scriptures in the foremost place, as your pretended reformers are doing, replied the schoolmen of Oxford and Cambridge, is to propagate heresy! And what are the reformers doing (asked their apologists) except what Christ did before them? The sayings of the prophets existed in the time of Jesus only as Scripture, and it was to this written Word that our Lord appealed when he founded his kingdom. And now in like manner the teaching of the apostles exists only as Scripture, and it is to this written word that we appeal in order to re-establish the kingdom of our Lord in its primitive condition. The night is far spent, the day is at hand; all is in motion-in the lofty halls of our colleges, in the mansions of the rich and noble, and in the lowly dwellings of the poor. If we want to scatter the darkness, must we light the shriveled wick of some old lamp? Ought we not rather to open the doors and shutters, and admit freely into the house the great light which God has placed in the heavens?
There was in Trinity Hall, Cambridge, a young doctor, much given to the study of the canon law, of serious turn of mind and bashful disposition, and whose tender conscience strove, although ineffectually, to fulfill the commandments of God. Anxious about his salvation, Thomas Bilney applied to the priests, whom he looked upon as physicians of the soul. Kneeling before his confessor, with humble look and pale face, he told him all his sins, and even those of which he doubted. The priest prescribed at one time fasting, at another prolonged vigils, and then masses and indulgences which cost him dearly. The poor doctor went through all these practices with great devotion, but found no consolation in them. Being weak and slender, his body wasted away by degrees, his understanding grew weaker, his imagination faded, and his purse became empty. "Alas!" said he with anguish, "my last state is worse than the first." From time to time an idea crossed his mind: "May not the priests be seeking their own interest, and not the salvation of my soul?" But immediately rejecting the rash doubt, he fell back under the iron hand of the clergy.
One day Bilney heard his friends talking about a new book: it was the Greek Testament printed with a translation which was highly praised for its elegant latinity. Attracted by the beauty of the style rather than by the divinity of the subject, he stretched out his hand; but just as he was going to take the volume, fear came upon him and he withdrew it hastily. In fact the confessors strictly prohibited Greek and Hebrew books, "the sources of all heresies;" and Erasmus's Testament was particularly forbidden. Yet Bilney regretted so great a sacrifice; was it not the Testament of Jesus Christ? Might not God have placed therein some word which perhaps might heal his soul? He stepped forward, and then again shrank back.... At last he took courage. Urged, said he, by the hand of God, he walked out of the college, slipped into the house where the volume was sold in secret, bought it with fear and trembling, and then hastened back and shut himself up in his room.
He opened it-his eyes caught these words: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief He laid down the book, and meditated on the astonishing declaration. "What! St. Paul the chief of sinners, and yet St. Paul is sure of being saved!" He read the verse again and again. "O assertion of St. Paul, how sweet art thou to my soul!" he exclaimed.This declaration continually haunted him, and in this manner God instructed him in the secret of his heart. He could not tell what had happened to him; it seemed as if a refreshing wind were blowing over his soul, or as if a rich treasure had been placed in his hands. The Holy Spirit took what was Christ's, and announced it to him. "I also am like Paul," exclaimed he with emotion, "and more than Paul, the greatest of sinners!... But Christ saves sinners. At last I have heard of Jesus.”
His doubts were ended-he was saved. Then took place in him a wonderful transformation. An unknown joy pervaded him; his conscience, until then sore with the wounds of sin, was healed; instead of despair he felt an inward peace passing all understanding. "Jesus Christ," exclaimed he; "yes, Jesus Christ saves!"... Such is the character of the Reformation: it is Jesus Christ who saves, and not the church. "I see it all," said Bilney; "my vigils, my fasts, my pilgrimages, my purchase of masses and indulgences were destroying instead of saving me. All these efforts were, as St. Augustine says, a hasty running out of the right way."
Bilney never grew tired of reading his New Testament. He no longer lent an attentive ear to the teaching of the schoolmen: he heard Jesus at Capernaum, Peter in the temple, Paul on Mars' hill, and felt within himself that Christ possesses the words of eternal life. A witness to Jesus Christ had just been born by the same power which had transformed Paul, Apollos, and Timothy. The Reformation of England was beginning. Bilney was united to the Son of God, not by a remote succession, but by an immediate generation. Leaving to the disciples of the pope the entangled chain of their imaginary succession, whose links it is impossible to disengage, he attached himself closely to Christ. The word of the first century gave birth to the sixteenth. Protestantism does not descend from the gospel in the fiftieth generation like the Romish church of the Council of Trent, or in the sixtieth like some modern doctors: it is the direct legitimate son-the son of the master.
God's action was not limited to one spot. The first rays of the sun from on high gilded with their fires at once the gothic colleges of Oxford and the antique schools of Cambridge.
Along the banks of the Severn extends a picturesque country, bounded by the forest of Dean, and sprinkled with villages, steeples, and ancient castles. In the sixteenth century it was particularly admired by priests and friars, and a familiar oath among them was: “ As sure as God's in Glo'ster!" The papal birds of prey had swooped upon it. For fifty years, from 1484 to 1534, four Italian bishops, placed in succession over the diocese, had surrendered it to the pope, to the monks, and to immorality. Thieves in particular were the objects of the tenderest favors of the hierarchy. John de Giglio, collector of the apostolical chamber, had received from the sovereign pontiff authority to pardon murder and theft, on condition that the criminal shared his profits with the pontifical commissioners.
In this valley, at the foot of Stinchcomb hill, to the southwest of Gloucester, there dwelt, during the latter half of the fifteenth century, a family which had taken refuge there during the wars of the Roses, and assumed the name of Hutchins. In the reign of Henry VII the Lancasterian party having the upper hand, they resumed their name of Tyndale, which had been borne of yore by many noble barons. In 1484, about a year after the birth of Luther, and about the time that Zwingle first saw light in the mountains of the Tockenburg, these partisans of the red rose were blessed with a son, whom they called William. His youth was passed in the fields surrounding his native village of North Nibley, beneath the shadows of Berkeley Castle, or beside the rapid waters of the Severn, and in the midst of friars and pontifical collectors. He was sent very early to Oxford, where he learned grammar and philosophy in the school of St. Mary Magdalene, adjoining the college of that name. He made rapid progress, particularly in languages, under the first classical scholars in England-Grocyn, W. Latimer, and Linacre-and took his degrees. A more excellent master than these doctors-the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture-was soon to teach him a science which it is not in the power of man to impart.
Oxford, where Erasmus had so many friends, was the city in which his New Testament met with the warmest welcome. The young Gloucestershire student, inwardly impelled towards the study of sacred literature, read the celebrated book which was then attracting the attention of Christendom. At first he regarded it only as a work of learning, or at most as a manual of piety, whose beauties were calculated to excite religious feelings; but erelong he found it to be something more. The more he read it,the more was he struck by the truth and energy of the word. This strange book spoke to him of God, of Christ, and of regeneration, with a simplicity and authority which completely subdued him. William had found a master whom he had not sought at Oxford-this was God himself. The pages he held in his hand were the divine revelation so long mislaid. Possessing a noble soul, a bold spirit, and indefatigable activity, he did not keep this treasure to himself. He uttered that cry, more suited to a Christian than to Archimedes: ευρηχα, I have found it. It was not long before several of the younger members of the university, attracted by the purity of his life and the charms of his conversation, gathered round him, and read with him the Greek and Latin gospels of Erasmus. "A certain well-informed young man," wrote Erasmus in a letter wherein he speaks of the publication of his New Testament, "began to lecture with success on Greek literature at Oxford." He was probably speaking of Tyndale.
The monks took the alarm. A barbarian," continues Erasmus, "entered the pulpit and violently abused the Greek language."-"These folk," said Tyndale, "wished to extinguish the light which exposed their trickery, and they have been laying their plans these dozen years." This observation was made in 1531, and refers therefore to the proceedings of 1517. Germany and England were beginning the struggle at nearly the same time, and Oxford perhaps before Wittemberg.
Tyndale, bearing in mind the injunction: "When they persecute you in one city, flee ye into another," left Oxford and proceeded to Cambridge. It must needs be that souls whom God has brought to his knowledge should meet and enlighten one another: live coals, when separated, go out; when gathered together, they brighten up, so as even to purify silver and gold. The Romish hierarchy, not knowing what they did, were collecting the scattered brands of the Reformation.
Bilney was not inactive at Cambridge. Not long had the "sublime lesson of Jesus Christ" filled him with joy, before he fell on his knees and exclaimed: "O Thou who art the truth, give me strength that I may teach it: and convert the ungodly by means of one who has been ungodly himself." After this prayer his eyes gleamed with new fire; he had assembled his friends, and opening Erasmus's Testament, had placed his finger on the words that had reached his soul, and these words had touched many. The arrival of Tyndale gave him fresh courage, and the light burnt brighter in Cambridge.
John Fryth, a young man of eighteen, the son of an inn-keeper of Sevenoaks in Kent, was distinguished among the students of King's College by the promptitude of his understanding and the integrity of his life. He was as deeply read in the mathematics as Tyndale in the classics and Bilney in canon law. Although of an exact turn of mind, yet his soul was elevated, and he recognized in Holy Scripture a learning of a new kind. "These things are not demonstrated like a proposition of Euclid," he said; "mere study is sufficient to impress the theories of mathematics on our minds; but this science of God meets with a resistance in man that necessitates the intervention of a divine power. Christianity is a regeneration." The heavenly seed soon grew up in Fryth's heart.
These three young scholars set to work with enthusiasm. They declared that neither priestly absolution nor any other religious rite could give remission of sins; that the assurance of pardon is obtained by faith alone; and that faith purifies the heart. Then they addressed to all men that saying of Christ's at which the monks were so offended: Repent and be converted!
Ideas so new produced a great clamor. A famous orator undertook one day at Cambridge to show that it was useless to preach conversion to the sinner. "Thou who, for sixty years past," said he, "hast wallowed in thy lusts, like a sow in her mire, dost thou think that thou canst in one year take as many steps towards heaven, and that in thine age, as thou hast done towards hell?" Bilney left the church with indignation. "Is that preaching repentance in the name of Jesus?" he asked. "Does not this priest tell us: Christ will not save thee. Alas! for so many years that this deadly doctrine has been taught in Christendom, not one man has dared open his mouth against it!" Many of the Cambridge fellows were scandalized at Bilney's language: was not the preacher whose teaching he condemned duly ordained by the bishop? He replied: "What would be the use of being a hundred times consecrated, were it even by a thousand papal bulls, if the inward calling is wanting? To no purpose hath the bishop breathed on our heads if we have never felt the breath of the Holy Ghost in our hearts?" Thus, at the very beginning of the Reformation, England, rejecting the Romish superstitions, discerned with extreme nicety what constitutes the essence of consecration to the service of the Lord.
After pronouncing these noble words, Bilney, who longed for an outpouring of the Holy Ghost, shut himself up in his room, fell on his knees, and called upon God to come to the assistance of his church. Then rising up, he exclaimed, as if animated by a prophetic spirit: "A new time is beginning. The Christian assembly is about to be renewed... Some one is coming unto us, I see him, I hear him-it is Jesus Christ.... He is the king, and it is he who will call the true ministers commissioned to evangelize his people.”
Tyndale, full of the same hopes as Bilney, left Cambridge in the course of the year 1519.
Thus the English Reformation began independently of those of Luther and Zwingle-deriving its origin from God alone. In every province of Christendom there was a simultaneous action of the divine word. The principle of the Reformation at Oxford, Cambridge, and London was the Greek New Testament, published by Erasmus. England, in course of time, learned to be proud of this origin of its Reformation.
Alarm of the Clergy – The Two Days – Thomas Man's Preaching – True Real Presence – Persecutions at Coventry – Standish Preaches at St. Paul's – His Petition to the King and Queen – His Arguments and Defeat – Wolsey's Ambition – First Overtures – Henry and Francis Candidates for the Empire – Conference between Francis I and Sir T. Boleyn – The Tiara Promised to Wolsey – The Cardinal's Intrigues with Charles and Francis
THIS revival caused great alarm throughout the Roman hierarchy.
Content with the baptism they administered, they feared the baptism of the Holy Ghost perfected by faith in the word of God. Some of the clergy, who were full of zeal, but of zeal without knowledge, prepared for the struggle, and the cries raised by the prelates were repeated by all the inferior orders.
The first blows did not fall on the members of the universities, but on those humble Christians, the relics of Wickliffe's ministry, to whom the reform movement among the learned had imparted a new life. The awakening of the fourteenth century was about to be succeeded by that of the sixteenth, and the last gleams of the closing day were almost lost in the first rays of that which was commencing. The young doctors of Oxford and Cambridge aroused the attention of the alarmed hierarchy, and attracted their eyes to the humble Lollards, who here and there still recalled the days of Wickliffe.
An artisan named Thomas Man, sometimes called Doctor Man, from his knowledge of Holy Scripture, had been imprisoned for his faith in the priory of Frideswide at Oxford. (A.D. 1511) Tormented by the remembrance of a recantation which had been extorted from him, he had escaped from this monastery and fled into the eastern parts of England, where he had preached the Word, supplying his daily wants by the labor of his hands.
This "champion of God" afterward drew near the capital, and assisted by his wife, the new Priscilla of this new Aquila, he proclaimed the doctrine of Christ to the crowd collected around him in some "upper chamber" of London, or in some lonely meadow watered by the Thames, or under the aged oaks of Windsor Forest. He thought with Chrysostom of old, that "all priests are not saints, but all saints are priests." "He that receiveth the word of God," said he, "receiveth God himself; that is the true real presence. The vendors of masses are not the high-priests of this mystery; but the men whom God hath anointed with his Spirit to be kings and priests." From six to seven hundred persons were converted by his preaching.
The monks, who dared not as yet attack the universities, resolved to fall upon those preachers who made their temple on the banks of the Thames, or in some remote corner of the city. Man was seized, condemned, and burnt alive on the 29th March 1519.
And this was not all. There lived at Coventry a little band of serious Christians-four shoemakers, a glover, a hosier, and a widow named Smith-who gave their children a pious education. The Franciscans were annoyed that laymen, and even a woman, should dare meddle with religious instruction. On Ash Wednesday (1519), Simon Morton, the bishop's sumner, apprehended them all, men, women, and children. On the following Friday, the parents were taken to the abbey of Mackstock, about six miles from Coventry, and the children to the Greyfriars' convent. "Let us see what heresies you have been taught?" said Friar Stafford to the intimidated little ones. The poor children confessed they had been taught in English the Lord's prayer, the apostles' creed, and the ten commandments. On hearing this, Stafford told them angrily: "I forbid you (unless you wish to be burnt as your parents will be) to have anything to do with the Pater, the credo, or the ten commandments in English.”
Five weeks after this, the men were condemned to be burnt alive; but the judges had compassion on the widow because of her young family (for she was their only support), and let her go. It was night: Morton offered to see Dame Smith home; she took his arm, and they threaded the dark and narrow streets of Coventry. "Eh! eh!" said the apparitor on a sudden, "what have we here?" He heard in fact the noise of paper rubbing against something. "What have you got there?" he continued, dropping her arm, and putting his hand up her sleeve, from which he drew out a parchment. Approaching a window whence issued the faint rays of a lamp, he examined the mysterious scroll, and found it to contain the Lord's prayer, the apostles' creed, and the ten commandments in English. "Oh, oh! sirrah!" said he; "come along. As good now as another time!" Then seizing the poor widow by the arm, he dragged her before the bishop. Sentence of death was immediately pronounced on her; and on the 4th of April, Dame Smith, Robert Hatchets, Archer, Hawkins, Thomas Bond, Wrigsham, and Landsdale, were burnt alive at Coventry in the Little Park, for the crime of teaching their children the Lord's prayer, the apostles' creed, and the commandments of God.
But what availed it to silence these obscure lips, so long as the Testament of Erasmus could speak? Lee's conspiracy must be revived. Standish, bishop of St. Asaph, was a narrow-minded man, rather fanatical, but probably sincere, of great courage, and not without some degree of piety. This prelate, being determined to preach a crusade against the New Testament, began at London, in St. Paul's cathedral, before the mayor and corporation. "Away with these new translations," he said, "or else the religion of Jesus Christ is threatened with utter ruin." But Standish was deficient in tact, and instead of confining himself to general statements, like most of his party, he endeavored to show how far Erasmus had corrupted the gospel, and continued thus in a whining voice: "Must I who for so many years have been a doctor of the Holy Scriptures, and who have always read in my Bible: In principio erat VERBUK-must I now be obliged to read: In principio erat SERMO?" for thus had Erasmus translated the opening words of St. John's Gospel. Risum teneatis, whispered one to another, when they heard this puerile charge: "My lord," proceeded the bishop, turning to the mayor, "magistrates of the city, and citizens all, fly to the succor of religion!" Standish continued his pathetic appeals, but his oratory was all in vain; some stood unmoved, others shrugged their shoulders, and others grew impatient. The citizens of London seemed determined to support liberty and the Bible.
Standish, seeing the failure of his attack in the city, sighed and groaned and prayed, and repeated mass against the so much dreaded book. But he also made up his mind to do more. One day, during the rejoicings at court for the betrothal of the Princess Mary, then two years old, with a French prince who was just born, St. Asaph, absorbed and absent in the midst of the gay crowd,meditated a bold step. Suddenly he made his way through the crowd, and threw himself at the feet of the king and queen. All were thunderstruck, and asked one another what the old bishop could mean. "Great king," said he, "your ancestors, who have reigned over this island, -and yours, O great queen, who have governed Aragon, were always distinguished by their zeal for the church. Show yourselves worthy of your forefathers. Times full of danger are come upon us, a book has just appeared, and been published too by Erasmus! It is such a book that, if you close not your kingdom against it, it is all over with the religion of Christ among us.”
The bishop ceased, and a dead silence ensued. The devout Standish, fearing lest Henry's well-known love of learning should be an obstacle to his prayer, raised his eyes and his hands toward heaven, and, kneeling in the midst of the courtly assembly, exclaimed in a sorrowful tone: "O Christ! O Son of God! save thy spouse!... for no man cometh to her help."
Having thus spoken, the prelate, whose courage was worthy of a better cause, rose up and waited. Every one strove to guess at the king's thoughts. Sir Thomas More was present, and he could not forsake his friend Erasmus. "What are the heresies this book is likely to engender?" he inquired. After the sublime came the ridiculous. With the forefinger of his right hand, touching successively the fingers of his left, Standish replied: "First, this book destroys the resurrection; secondly, it annuls the sacrament of marriage; thirdly, it abolishes the mass." Then uplifting his thumb and two fingers, he showed them to the assembly with a look of triumph. The bigoted Catherine shuddered as she saw Standish's three fingers, -signs of the three heresies of Erasmus; and Henry himself, an admirer of Aquinas, was embarrassed. It was a critical moment: the Greek Testament was on the point of being banished from England. "The proof, the proof," exclaimed the friends of literature. "I will give it," rejoined the impetuous Standish, and then once more touching his left thumb: "Firstly," he said,... But he brought forward such foolish reasons, that even the women and the unlearned were ashamed of them. The more he endeavored to justify his assertions, the more confused he became: he affirmed among other things that the Epistles of St. Paul were written in Hebrew, "There is not a schoolboy that does not know that Paul’s epistles were written in Greek,” said a doctor of divinity, kneeling before the king. Henry, blushing for the bishop, turned the conversation, and Standish, ashamed at having made a Greek write to the Greeks in Hebrew, would have withdrawn unobserved. "The beetle must not attack the eagle," was whispered in his ear. Thus did the book of God remain in England the standard of a faithful band, who found in its pages the motto, which the church of Rome had usurped: The truth is in me alone.
A more formidable adversary than Standish aspired to combat the Reformation, not only in England, but in all the West. One of those ambitious designs, which easily germinate in the human heart, developed itself in the soul of the chief minister of Henry VIII; and if this project succeeded, it promised to secure forever the empire of the papacy on the banks of the Thames, and perhaps in the whole of Christendom.
Wolsey, as chancellor and legate, governed both in state and in church, and could, without an untruth, utter his famous Ego et rex meus. Having reached so great a height, he desired to soar still higher. The favorite of Henry VIII almost his master, treated as a brother by the emperor, by the king of France, and by other crowned heads, invested with the title of Majesty, the peculiar property of sovereigns, the cardinal, sincere in his faith in the popedom, aspired to fill the throne of the pontiffs, and thus become Deus in terris. He thought, that if God permitted a Luther to appear in the world, it was because he had a Wolsey to oppose to him.
It would be difficult to fix the precise moment when this immoderate desire entered his mind: it was about the end of 1518 that it began to show itself. The bishop of Ely, ambassador at the court of Francis I, being in conference with that prince on the 18th of December in that year, said to him mysteriously: "The cardinal has an idea in his mind... on which he can unbosom himself to nobody... except it be to your majesty." Francis understood him.
An event occurred to facilitate the cardinal's plans. If Wolsey desired to be the first priest, Henry desired to be the first king. The imperial crown, vacant by the death of Maximilian, was sought by two princes: -by Charles of Austria, a cold and calculating man, caring little about the pleasures and even the pomp of power, but forming great designs, and knowing how to pursue them with energy; and by Francis I, a man of less penetrating glance and less indefatigable activity, but more daring and impetuous. Henry VIII, inferior to both, passionate, capricious, and selfish, thought himself strong enough to contend with such puissant competitors, and secretly strove to win "the monarchy of all Christendom." Wolsey flattered himself that, hidden under the cloak of his master's ambition, he might satisfy his own. If he procured the crown of the Caesars for Henry, he might easily obtain the tiara of the popes for himself; if he failed, the least that could be done to compensate England for the loss of the empire, would be to give the sovereignty of the church to her prime minister.
Henry first sounded the king of France. Sir Thomas Boleyn appeared one day before Francis I just as the latter was returning from mass. The king, desirous to anticipate a confidence that might be embarrassing, took the ambassador aside to the window and whispered to him: "Some of the electors have offered me the empire; I hope your master will be favorable to me." Sir Thomas, in confusion, made some vague reply, and the chivalrous king, following up his idea, took, the ambassador firmly by one had, and laying the other on his breast, exclaimed: "By my faith, if I become emperor, in three years I shall be in Constantinople, or I shall die on the road!" This was not what Henry wanted; but dissembling his wishes, he took care to inform Francis that he would support his candidature. Upon hearing this Francis raised his hat and exclaimed: "I desire to see the king of England; I will see him, I tell you, even if I go to London with only one page and one lackey.”
Francis was well aware that if he threatened the king's ambition, he must flatter the minister's, and recollecting the hint given by the bishop of Ely, he said one day to Boleyn: "It seems to me that my brother of England and I could do, indeed ought to do... something for the cardinal. He was prepared by God for the good of Christendom... one of the greatest men in the church... and on the word of a king, if he consents, I will do it." A few minutes after he continued: "Write and tell the cardinal, that if he aspires to be the head of the church, and if anything should happen to the reigning pope, I will promise him fourteen cardinals on my part. Let us only act in concert, your master and me, and I promise you, Master Ambassador, that neither pope nor emperor shall be created in Europe without our consent.”
But Henry did not act in concert with the king of France. At Wolsey's instigation he supported three candidates at once: at Paris he was for Francis I; at Madrid for Charles V; and at Frankfort for himself. The kings of France and England failed, and on the 10th August, Pace, Henry's envoy at Frankfort, having returned to England, desired to console the king by mentioning the sums of money which Charles had spent. "By the mass!" exclaimed the king, congratulating himself at not having obtained the crown at so dear a rate. Wolsey proposed to sing a Te Deum in St. Paul's, and bonfires were lighted in the city.
The cardinal's rejoicings were not misplaced. Charles had scarcely ascended the imperial throne, in despite of the king of France, when these two princes swore eternal hatred of each other, and each was anxious to win over Henry VIII. At one time Charles, under the pretense of seeing his uncle and aunt, visited England; at another, Francis had an interview with the king in the neighborhood of Calais. The cardinal shared in the flattering attentions of the two monarchs. "It is easy for the king of Spain, who has become the head of the empire, to raise whomsoever he pleases to the supreme pontificate," said the young emperor to him; and at these words the ambitious cardinal surrendered himself to Maximilian's successor. But erelong Francis I flattered him in his turn, and Wolsey replied also to his advances. The king of France gave Henry tournaments and banquets of Asiatic luxury; and Wolsey, whose countenance yet bore the marks of the graceful smile with which he had taken leave of Charles, smiled also on Francis, and sang mass in his honor. He engaged the hand of the Princess Mary to the dauphin of France and to Charles V, leaving the care of unraveling the matter to futurity. Then, proud of his skillful practices, he returned to London full of hope. By walking in falsehood he hoped to attain the tiara: and if it was yet too far above him, there were certain gospelers in England who might serve as a ladder to reach it. Murder might serve as the complement to fraud.
Tyndale – Sodbury Hall – Sir John and Lady Walsh – Table-talk – The Holy Scriptures – The Images – The Anchor of Faith – A Roman Camp – Preaching of Faith and Works – Tyndale Accused by the Priests – They Tear Up What He Has Planted – Tyndale Resolves to Translate the Bible – His First Triumph – The Priests in the Taverns – Tyndale Summoned Before the Chancellor of Worcester – Consoled by an Aged Doctor – Attacked by a Schoolman – His Secret Becomes Known – He Leaves Sodbury Hall
WHILE this ambitious prelate was thinking of nothing but his own glory and that of the Roman pontifcate, a great desire, but of a very different nature, was springing up in the heart of one of the humble "gospelers" of England. If Wolsey had his eyes fixed on the throne of the popedom in order to seat himself there, Tyndale thought of raising up the true throne of the church by re-establishing the legitimate sovereignty of the word of God. The Greek Testament of Erasmus had been one step; and it now became necessary to place before the simple what the king of the schools had given to the learned. This idea, which pursued the young Oxford doctor everywhere, was to be the mighty mainspring of the English Reformation.
On the slope of Sodbury hill there stood a plain but large mansion, commanding an extensive view over the beautiful vale of the Severn, where Tyndale was born. It was inhabited by a family of gentle birth: Sir John Walsh had shone in the tournaments of the court, and by this means conciliated the favor of his prince. He kept open table; and gentlemen, deans, abbots, archdeacons, doctors of divinity, and fat rectors, charmed by Sir John's cordial welcome and by his good dinners, were ever at his house. The former brother-at-arms of Henry VIII felt an interest in the questions then discussing throughout Christendom. Lady Walsh, herself a sensible and generous woman, lost not a word of the animated conversation of her guests, and discreetly tried to incline the balance to the side of truth.
Tyndale, after leaving Oxford and Cambridge, had returned to the home of his fathers. Sir John had requested him to educate his children, and he had accepted. William was then in the prime of life (he was about thirty-six), well instructed in Scripture, and full of desire to show forth the light which God had given him. Opportunities were not wanting. Seated at table with all the doctors welcomed by Sir John, Tyndale entered into conversation with them. They talked of the learned men of the day-of Erasmus much, and sometimes of Luther, who was beginning to astonish England. They discussed several questions touching the Holy Scriptures, and sundry points of theology. Tyndale expressed his convictions with admirable clearness, supported them with great learning, and kept his ground against all with unbending courage. These animated conversations in the vale of the Severn are one of the essential features of the picture presented by the Reformation in this country. The historians of antiquity invented the speeches which they have put into the mouths of their heroes. In our times history, without inventing, should make us acquainted with the sentiments of the persons of whom it treats. It is sufficient to read Tyndale's works to form some idea of these conversations. It is from his writings that the following discussion has been drawn.
In the dining-room of the old hall a varied group was assembled round the hospitable table. There were Sir John and Lady Walsh, a few gentlemen of the neighborhood, with several abbots, deans, monks, and doctors, in their respective costumes. Tyndale occupied the humblest place, and generally kept Erasmus's New Testament within reach in order to prove what he advanced. Numerous domestics were moving about engaged in waiting on the guests; and at length the conversation, after wandering a little, took a more precise direction. The priests grew impatient when they saw the terrible volume appear. "Your Scriptures only serve to make heretics," they exclaimed. "On the contrary," replied Tyndale, "the source of all heresies is pride; now the word of God strips man of everything and leaves him as bare as Job. "The word of God! why even we don't understand your word, how can the vulgar understand it?"-"You do not understand it," rejoined Tyndale, "because you look into it only for foolish questions, as you would into our Lady's Matins or Merlin's Prophecies.Now the Scriptures are a clue which we must follow, without turning aside, until we arrive at Christ; for Christ is the end."-"And I tell you," shouted out a priest, "that the Scriptures are a Dedalian labyrinth, rather than Ariadne's clue-a conjuring book wherein everybody finds what he wants."-"Alas!" replied Tyndale; "you read them without Jesus Christ; that's why they are an obscure book to you. What do I say? a den of thorns where you only escape from the friars to be caught by the brambles." "No!" exclaimed another clerk, heedless of contradicting his colleague, "nothing is obscure to us; it is we who give the Scriptures, and we who explain them to you."-"You would lose both your time and your trouble," said Tyndale; "do you know who taught the eagles to find their prey? Well, that same God teaches his hungry children to find their Father in his word. Far from having given us the Scriptures, it is you who have hidden them from us; it is you who burn those who teach them and if you could, you would burn the Scriptures themselves.”
Tyndale was not satisfied with merely laying down the great principles of faith: he always sought after what he calls "the sweet marrow within;" but to the divine unction he added no little humor, and unmercifully ridiculed the superstitions of his adversaries. "You set candles before images," he said to them; "and since you give them light, why don't you give them food? Why don't you make their bellies hollow, and put victuals and drink inside? To serve God by such mummeries is treating him like a spoiled child, whom you pacify with a toy or with a horse made of a stick."
But the learned Christian soon returned to more serious thoughts; and when his adversaries extolled the papacy as the power that would save the church in the tempest, he replied: "Let us only take on board the anchor of faith, after having dipped it in the blood of Christ, (Tyndale's Expositions [Park. Soc.], p. 15) and when the storm bursts upon us, let us boldly cast the anchor into the sea; then you may be sure the ship will remain safe on the great waters." And, in fine, if his opponents rejected any doctrine of the truth, Tyndale (says the chronicler) opening his Testament would set his finger on the verse which refuted the Romish error, and exclaim: "Look and read." (And lay plainly before them the open and manifest places of the Scriptures, to confute their errors and confirm his sayings. (Foxe, Acts, 5, p. 115.)
The beginnings of the English Reformation are not to be found, as we have seen, in a material ecclesiasticism, which has been decorated with the name of English Catholicism: they are essentially spiritual. The Divine Word, the creator of the new life in the individual, is also the founder and reformer of the church. The reformed churches, and particularly the reformed churches of Great Britain, belong to evangelism.
The contemplation of God's works refreshed Tyndale after the discussions he had to maintain at his patron's table. He would often ramble to the top of Sodbury hill, and there repose amidst the ruins of an ancient Roman camp which crowned the summit. It was there that Queen Margaret of Anjou halted; and here too rested Edward IV, who pursued her, before the fatal battle of Tewkesbury, which caused this princess to fall into the hands of the White Rose. Amidst these ruins, monuments of the Roman invasion and of the civil dissensions of England, Tyndale meditated upon other battles, which were to restore liberty and truth to Christendom. Then rousing himself he would descend the hill, and courageously resume his task.
Behind the mansion stood a little church, overshadowed by two large yew trees, and dedicated to St. Adeline. On Sundays, Tyndale used to preach there, Sir John and Lady Walsh, with the eldest of the children, occupying the manorial pew. This humble sanctuary was filled by their household and tenantry, listening attentively to the words of their teacher, which fell from his lips like the waters of Shiloah that go softly. Tyndale was very lively in conversation; but he explained the Scriptures with so much unction, says the chronicler, "that his hearers thought they heard St. John himself." If he resembled John in the mildness of his language, he resemble Paul in the strength of his doctrine. "According to the pope," he said, "we must first be good after his doctrine, and compel God to be good again for our goodness. Nay, verily, God's goodness is the root of all goodness. Antichrist turneth the tree of salvation topsy-turvy: (Antichrist turneth the roots of the trees upward. Tyndale, Doctrinal Treatises (Park. Soc.), p. 295.) he planteth the branches, and setteth the roots upwards. We must put it straight.... As the husband marrieth the wife, before he can have any lawful children by her; even so faith justifieth us to make us fruitful in good works.But neither the one nor the other should remain barren. Faith is the holy candle wherewith we must bless ourselves at the last hour; without it, you will go astray in the valley of the shadow of death, though you had a thousand tapers lighted around you bed."
The priests, irritated at such observations, determined to ruin Tyndale, and some of them invited Sir John and his lady to an entertainment, at which he was not present. During dinner, they so abused the young doctor and his New Testament, that his patrons retired greatly annoyed that their tutor should have made so many enemies. They told him all they had heard, and Tyndale successfully refuted his adversaries arguments. "What!" exclaimed Lady Walsh, "there are some of these doctors worth one hundred, some two hundred, and some three hundred pounds, and were it reason, think you, Master William, that we should believe you before them?" Tyndale, opening the New Testament, replied: "No! it is not me you should believe. That is what the priests have told you; but look here, St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Lord himself say quite the contrary." The word of God was there, positive and supreme: the sword of the spirit cut the difficulty.
Before long the manor-house and St. Adeline's church became too narrow for Tyndale's zeal. He preached every Sunday, sometimes in a village, sometimes in a town. The inhabitants of Bristol assembled to hear him in a large meadow, called St. Austin's Green. But no sooner had he preached in any place than the priests hastened thither, tore up what he had planted, called him a heretic, and threatened to expel from the church every one who dared listen to him. When Tyndale returned he found the field laid waste by the enemy; and looking sadly upon it, as the husbandman who sees his corn beaten down by the hail, and his rich furrows turned into a barren waste, he exclaimed: "What is to be done? While I am sowing in one place, the enemy ravages the field I have just left. I cannot be everywhere. Oh! if Christians possessed the Holy Scriptures in their own tongue, they could of themselves withstand these sophists. Without the Bible it is impossible to establish the laity in the truth."
Then a great idea sprang up in Tyndale's heart: "It was in the language of Israel," said he, "that the Psalms were sung in the temple of Jehovah; and shall not the gospel speak the language of England among us?... Ought the church to have less light at noonday than at the dawn?... Christians must read the New Testament in their mother-tongue." Tyndale believed that this idea proceeded from God. The new sun would lead to the discovery of a new world, and the infallible rule would make all human diversities give way to a divine unity. "One holdeth this doctor, another that," said Tyndale; "one followeth Duns Scotus, another St. Thomas, another Bonaventure, Alexander Hales, Raymond of Penaford, Lyra, Gorram, Hugh de Sancto Victore, and so many others besides... Now, each of these authors contradicts the other. How then can we distinguish him who says right from him who says wrong? How?... Verily, by God's word." Tyndale hesitated no longer While Wolsey sought to win the papal tiara, the humble tutor of Sodbury undertook to place the torch of heaven in the midst of his fellow-countrymen. The translation of the Bible shall be the work of his life.
The first triumph of the word was a revolution in the manor-house. In proportion as Sir John and Lady Walsh acquired a taste for the gospel, they became disgusted with the priests. The clergy were not so often invited to Sodbury, nor did they meet with the same welcome. They soon discontinued their visits, and thought of nothing but how they could drive Tyndale from the mansion and from the diocese.
Unwilling to compromise themselves in this warfare, they sent forward some of those light troops which the church has always at her disposal. Mendicant friars and poor curates, who could hardly understand their missal, and the most learned of whom made Albertus de secretis mulierum their habitual study, fell upon Tyndale like a pack of hungry hounds. They trooped to the alehouses, and calling for a jug of beer, took their seats, one at one table, another at another. They invited the peasantry to drink with them, and entering into conversation with them, poured forth a thousand curses upon the daring reformer: "He's a hypocrite," said one; "he's a heretic," said another. The most skillful among them would mount upon a stool, and turning the tavern into a temple, deliver, for the first time in his life, an extemporaneous discourse. They reported words that Tyndale had never uttered, and actions that he had never committed. Rushing upon the poor tutor (he himself informs us) "like unclean swine that follow their carnal lusts," they tore his good name to very tatters, and shared the spoil among them; while the audience, excited by their calumnies and heated by the beer, departed overflowing with rage and hatred against the heretic of Sodbury.
After the monks came the dignitaries. The deans and abbots, Sir John's former guests, accused Tyndale to the chancellor of the diocese, and the storm which had begun in the tavern burst forth in the episcopal palace.
The titular bishop of Worcester (an appanage of the Italian prelates) was Giulio de' Medici, a learned man, great politician, and crafty priest, who already governed the popedom without being pope. Wolsey, who administered the diocese for his absent colleague, had appointed Thomas Parker chancellor, a man devoted to the Roman church. It was to him the churchmen made their complaint. A judicial inquiry had its difficulties; the king's companion-at-arms was the patron of the pretended heretic, and Sir Anthony Poyntz, Lady Walsh's brother, was sheriff of the county. The chancellor was therefore content to convoke a general conference of the clergy. Tyndale obeyed the summons, but foreseeing what awaited him, he cried heartily to God, as he pursued his way up the banks of the Severn, "to give him strength to stand fast in the truth of his word.
When they were assembled, the abbots and deans, and other ecclesiastics of the diocese, with haughty heads and threatening looks, crowded round the humble but unbending Tyndale. When his turn arrived, he stood forward, and the chancellor administered him a sever reprimand, to which he made a calm reply. This so exasperated the chancellor, that, giving way to his passion, he treated Tyndale as if he had been a dog. "Where are your witnesses?" demanded the latter. "Let them come forward, and I will answer them." Not one of them dared support the charge-they looked another way. The chancellor waited, one witness at least he must have, but he could not get that. Annoyed at this desertion of the priests, the representative of the Medici became more equitable, and let the accusation drop. Tyndale quietly returned to Sodbury, blessing God who had saved him from the cruel hands of his adversaries, and entertaining nothing but the tenderest charity towards them. "Take away my goods," he said to them one day, "take away my good name! yet so long as Christ dwelleth in my heart, so long shall I love you not a whit the less." Here indeed is the St. John to whom Tyndale has been compared.
In this violent warfare, however, he could not fail to receive some heavy blows; and where could he find consolation? Fryth and Bilney were far from him. Tyndale recollected an aged doctor who lived near Sodbury, and who had shown him great affection. He went to see him, and opened his heart to him. The old man looked at him for a while as if he hesitated to disclose some great mystery. "Do you not know," said he, lowering his voice, that the pope is very antichrist, whom the Scripture speaketh of?... But beware what you say... That knowledge may cost you your life." This doctrine of Antichrist, which Luther was at that moment enunciating so boldly, struck Tyndale. Strengthened by it, as was the Saxon reformer, he felt fresh energy in his heart, and the aged doctor was to him what the aged friar had been to Luther.
When the priests saw that their plot had failed, they commissioned a celebrated divine to undertake his conversion. The reformer replied with his Greek Testament to the schoolman's arguments. The theologian was speechless: at last he exclaimed! "Well then! it were better to be without God's laws than the pope's." Tyndale, who did not expect so plain and blasphemous a confession, made answer: "And I defy the pope and all his laws!" and then, as if unable to keep his secret, he added: "If God spares my life, I will take care that a plowboy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do."
All his thoughts were now directed to the means of carrying out his plans; and, desirous of avoiding conversations that might compromise them, he thenceforth passed the greater portion of his time in the library. He prayed, he read, he began his translation of the Bible, and in all probability communicated portions of it to Sir John and Lady Walsh.
All his precautions were useless: the scholastic divine had betrayed him, and the priests had sworn to stop him in his translation of the Bible. One day he fell in with a troop of monks and curates, who abused him in the grossest manner. "It's the favor of the gentry of the county that makes you so proud," said they; "but notwithstanding your patrons, there will be a talk about you before long, and in a pretty fashion too!... You shall not always live in a manor-house!"-"Banish me to the obscurest corner of England," replied Tyndale; "provided you will permit me to teach children and preach the gospel, and give me ten pounds a-year for my support.... I shall be satisfied!" The priests left him, but with the intention of preparing him a very different fate.
Tyndale indulged in his pleasant dreams no longer. He saw that he was on the point of being arrested, condemned, and interrupted in his great work. He must seek a retreat where he can discharge in peace the task God has allotted him. "You cannot save me from the hands of the priests," said he to Sir John, "and God knows to what troubles you would expose yourself by keeping me in your family. Permit me to leave you." Having said this, he gathered up his papers, took his Testament, pressed the hands of his benefactors, kissed the children, and then descending the hill, bade farewell to the smiling banks of the Severn, and departed alone-alone with his faith. What shall he do? What will become of him? Where shall he go? He went forth like Abraham, one thing alone engrossing his mind: -the Scriptures shall be translated into the vulgar tongue, and he will deposit the oracles of God in the midst of his countrymen.