This Day In Literary History
On October 4th, 1535, the first complete English language copies of the Bible were printed, based on the translations of the legendary English scholar, linguist, and polemicist William Tyndale, and his protege, Miles Coverdale.
The Bible's Old Testament was originally written in Aramaic and Hebrew, the New Testament in Ancient Greek. During the first three centuries A.D., most copies of the Bible were handwritten in either Greek or Hebrew. The first complete Latin translation appeared between the late 4th and early 5th centuries.
The Catholic Church adopted the Latin Bible as the "official" Bible, and it would remain so for many centuries. Although scholars would translate biblical passages into many different languages over the centuries, the Church mandated that Latin was the only true language of the Bible.
Masses were performed in Latin, the lyrics for sacred music were written in Latin, and so were the Catholic missals. No matter what country one lived in or what native language one spoke, Latin was a required language of study for the faithful.
The Church would not abolish the Latin Mass until 1962. By then, some compromises had been made, such as including translations of the Latin text in missals and allowing priests to perform select Masses in their native languages.
By the time of the Renaissance, scholars and humanists were calling for complete translations of the Bible in their native languages. The most prominent of these was William Tyndale.
Born to a noble family in Gloucestershire, England, he was well educated. Displaying a gift for linguistics, he became fluent in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
Although he belonged to the Church of England, (which was still part of the Roman Catholic Church at the time) and served as a deacon, Tyndale was openly critical of the Church.
He detested the zeal with which prominent Catholics defended a Church that he believed was thoroughly corrupt. He particularly hated the so-called scholars whom he believed had perverted the scriptures to conform to Church doctrine.
Tyndale determined to translate the Bible, in its entirety, into English. This way, he believed, the whole word of God would be within the reach of the common man. A conservative clergyman asserted to him that the Pope had decreed Latin to be the language of the faith and that "We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's!"
A furious Tyndale countered, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!"
Tyndale met with Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of the Church of England, (which was still Catholic) a renowned classicist, to ask for his help in obtaining permission to translate the Bible into English. Tunstall was not keen on the idea of an English Bible and turned him down.
Undaunted, Tyndale went ahead with his plans. Knowing that he couldn't risk working on his translation in England, (doing so would have been a capital offense) he went to Germany to work on it in secret.
He was supported by Protestants who were excited by the prospect of an English language Bible, which they believed would be a highly effective tool for reaching the masses and luring them away from the Catholic Church.
When Tyndale wasn't working on his translation, he wrote polemics criticizing the Church's doctrines and rites. In one of them, An Answer unto Sir Thomas More's Dialogue, he blasted the future Catholic saint's work, Dialogue Concerning Heresies.
This resulted in More's whopping 500,000 word rebuttal, Confutation of Tyndale's Answer. More believed Tyndale to be a "hell-hound in the kennel of the Devil," and attacked his polemics as "a filthy foam of blasphemies" from "a brutish, beastly mouth."
Although Tyndale's plan to translate the Bible into English infuriated More the most, it was one of his polemics that infuriated King Henry VIII.
In The Practyse of Prelates, Tyndale asserted that Henry's planned divorce from Catherine of Aragon (so he could marry Anne Boleyn) was against scripture and a plot orchestrated by Cardinal Wolsey (a high Church official) to ensnare Henry in the papal court of Pope Clement VII.
A furious Henry asked the German emperor, Charles V, to issue a warrant for Tyndale's arrest on charges of heresy and treason, and return him to England for trial. Germany had an extradition treaty with England.
Tyndale's English language Bible was published in October of 1535. Copies were smuggled into England and Scotland, where they were condemned by Cardinal Wolsey. For an entire year, he wandered through Europe as a fugitive.
During his year on the run, Tyndale managed to avoid the seemingly endless parade of authorities, spies, and bounty hunters that pursued him. He was finally captured in Antwerp, Belgium, and turned over to England.
In October of 1536, William Tyndale was tried for heresy, convicted, and sentenced to death. Thomas Cromwell attempted to intercede on Tyndale's behalf, but it was to no avail. Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake. His last words were "Lord, open the King of England's eyes!"
Tyndale's prayer was answered. King Henry VIII soon broke ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and four years after Tyndale's execution, his English language Bible was officially published in England, along with other English Bibles based on his translation, including King Henry's official Great Bible.
The famous King James Version, first published in 1611, which still remains the standard English language Bible, was mostly based on William Tyndale's translation.
Quote Of The Day
"Take heed, therefore, wicked prelates, blind leaders of the blind; indurate and obstinate hypocrites, take heed... ye will be the chiefest in Christ's flock, and yet will not keep one jot of the right way of his doctrine... ye keep thereof almost naught at all, but whatsoever soundeth to make of your bellies, to maintain your honour, whether in the Scripture, or in your own traditions, or in the pope's law, that ye compel the lay-people to observe; violently threatening them with your excommunications and curses, that they shall be damned, body and soul, if they keep them not. And if that help you not, then ye murder them mercilessly with the sword of the temporal powers, whom ye have made so blind that they be ready to slay whom ye command, and will not hear his cause examined, nor give him room to answer for himself." - William Tyndale
Today's video features a documentary on William Tyndale. Enjoy!