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many works of the Greek classics; and here while some may only see how the sage of Rotterdam was improving his knowledge of the Greek tongue, and, at the same time, benefiting the world of letters, the moralist may fancy he beholds the Divine Being girding his unconscious servant for the better performance of the great work of his life, and that by which he has chiefly immortalized himself, viz., the publishing of the Greek Testament in 1516. Erasmus' was the first printed Greek Testament the world had seen. though the Hebrew text of the Old Testament had been published as early as 1488, and Bibles, translated from the vulgate, had been printed in Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch, German, and Bohemian, before the close of the fifteenth century,-the New Testament, in its original Greek, as yet existed only in manuscript. Erasmus collated five of these manuscripts, and the result, with a literal Latin translation subjoined (afterwards of considerable use to Tyndale in the preparation of his English version), went forth from the printing-office of his friend Frobenius, of Basle, on its enlightening mission. Many copies found their way into England and were eagerly read by some of the inquiring and devout amongst the more learned part of the community. But the bulk of the clergy raised an ignorant or insincere clamour, not only against the book, but against the very language in which it was written. They behaved like so many bats and owls whose "ancient, solitary reign" is molested by a bright light being suddenly thrust in upon them." The monks declared from the pulpit that "there was now a new language invented, called Greek, of which people should beware as the source of all heresies; that in this language had come forth a book called the New Testament, which was now in everbody's hands, and was full of thorns and briars; that there was also another language started up, which they called Hebrew, and that they who learned it were turned Jews." "Remember ye not," says Tyndale, in 1531, “how, within this thirty years, and far less, and dureth to this day, the old barking curs, Dun's disciples, and the like draff, called Scottists, the children of darkness, raged in every pulpit against Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and what sorrow the schoolmasters that taught the true Latin tongue had with them, some beating the pulpit with their fists for madness, and roaring out with open and foaming mouth, that if there were but one Terence and Virgil in the world, and that same in their sleeves, and a fire before them, they would burn therein though it should cost their lives?"
But, despite this terrible hurley-burley, the word of God pursued its way, failing not to produce its wonted effects. How blessed these were may be seen from the case of Bilney, an undergraduate of Oxford. He had become concerned for his soul, and grew more so, notwithstanding the penances his confessor prescribed. At last
At last he heard of Erasmus' Testament, and though he had been warned against it as the source of all error, he was determined to try whether it could do anything for him. So he stole out, bought the Testament, and secretly conveyed it to his chamber. Opening it," says Merle D'Aubigne, "his eyes caught the words This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' 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!' As he continued to ponder, it seemed as if a refreshing gale were blowing over his spirit, or as if a rich treasure had been placed in his hands. 'I also am like Paul, and more than Paul, I am the greatest of sinners. But Christ saves sinners; Christ, and not the Church; Christ, and not masses and indulgences.' And Bilney was saved." Thus, we may say,in the words of Dr. J. Hamilton, "the true hero of the English Reformation, was neither Henry, nor the better men who gave their bodies to be burned,--Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer; but the real reformer was that blessed book which England since has multiplied by at least fifty million copies, and which first found currency as the Greek Testament of Desiderius Erasmus."
The work so well begun by Erasmus was carried on by Tyndale, to our thinking one of the noblest characters in English history. When we hold intercourse with the living, or by means of history stand face to face with the dead, it is well to feel ourselves in the company of men whom we can thoroughly respect. Tyndale is one of such men. He strikes us as having a fuller, rounder character than Erasmus; one freer from flecks and flaws. The Englishman may not be altogether faultless, but at any rate he is less faulty than the Dutchman. You may respect the ability and learning of Erasmus, marvel at his industry, and admire the dexterity with which he discharges the winged shafts of ridicule at the enemies of truth, but you cannot help observing that this formidable archer is generally pretty snugly entrenched himself, and the suspicion that he is sufficiently careful of his own body, and certain to give over shooting rather than be shot at, crosses your mind. Bravery in a man, like modesty in a woman, is a quality that can least be spared. Unflinching courage, even in a bad cause, extorts unwilling admiration, but to blench when duty urges on, is to drop the fly into the pot of ointment. But Tyndale's character is heroic. The base of it consisted of a life-long, unswerving devotion to a noble purpose, but a devotion so built up and tempered with moderation and charity, that it is a delight to honour and hold fellowship with him. We know it has been the fashion with an extreme party in the Church of England to disparage Tyndale and his work; and why? Because they have looked at the Reformers and the Reformation through Romish spectacles,
which represent objects topsy-turvey, the trees as growing downward, and the water as flowing upward, and which even invert moral distinctions. Thereupon the poor victims of their own visual delusions have published their impressions to the world, and have gravely informed us that the Reformation was a curse, the Reformers a batch of traitors, and Tyndale himself an ignoramus and a fanatic.* But all this matters little. This mud will not stick for long; time drys it, and it soon drops off. The reputations of men do somehow right themselves with the passage of years, and Tyndale, we may be sure, will stand straight with the people of England at last. Some day it will be seen that if every benefactor of our country were to receive his due meed of acknowledgment and praise, Tyndale's monuments would stud the land; but in the absence of all this, he has a better monument, one much more worthy of him, in the wide currency of that Divine Book, for which he wrought, suffered, and died.
Our knowledge of the early part of Tyndale's life is very meagre. He was born about 1484, at an obscure village in Gloucestershire. Foxe says he was "brought up from a child at Oxford, where he was singularly addicted to the study of the Scriptures." From Oxford he went to Cambridge, about 1510, no doubt drawn thither by the fame of Erasmus, who filled the professorial chair of Greek there, from 1509 to 1524. It was during his University career that a change, identical in its cause and its effects, with that experienced by Bilney, at Oxford, was wrought in him. With the sense of his own fulness in the possession of the Word of God there silently grew upon him the painful sense of the people's lack. He soon "perceived by experience," he says, "how that it was impossible to establish the lay people in any truth except the Scriptures were laid before their eyes in their mother tongue, that they might see the process, order, and meaning of the text." But as yet he did not feel that he was the man to supply this urgent need; that inspiration was to come bye-and-by. And even now he was being prepared for his work; the fuel was being laid all ready for the enkindling fire. From the first he had refused to lend his voice to swell the insane clamour against the New Learning, had enlisted on the side of progress, and given himself heart and soul to the amassing of knowledge, sacred and profane; so that when his calling was to render the Scriptures into the English tongue, he was not hampered by a sense of inefficiency and dependency upon others, but had simply to draw upon the ample materials already at his disposal.
Tyndale returned about 1520 to his native county, as tutor in the family of Sir John Walsh, of Little Sodbury. The baronet
* See the Christian Ambassador, Vol. vii. p. 197.
and his lady being very hospitable people, their table was frequented by various portly abbots, fat rectors, and church dignitaries of all grades. Tyndale was thus brought into closer contact with the Romish system and its agents, and it is evident his opinion of both was not thereby heightened. The clerical guests and the tutor whiles got into controversies about Luther and Lutheranism, in which Tyndale often spiritedly defended the doctrines and measures of the Reformer. It was his wont too, to appeal to the Word of God, and to clinch his arguments by giving chapter and verse. Humiliated by repeated defeats, the dignitaries grew more chary of their presence at Sodbury Manor House, preferring, as Fuller remarks, "the loss of Squire Walsh's good cheer to the sour sauce of Master Tyndale's company." But who shall tell how much the struggle between appetite and honour cost them.
Soon detraction and persecution, the usual weapons of a bad cause, began to be used against Tyndale. He was cited to appear before the Chancellor of the diocese, on a charge of heresy. The Philistine clergy mustered in strong force to witness the fallen fortunes of their Samsonic foe; but after the Chancellor had threatened and rated him as though he had been a dog, he was allowed to depart without punishment. This narrow escape however did not make Tyndale hold his tongue, for it was soon after, while arguing with a Popish clergyman, who remarked that, "We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's," Tyndale uttered his memorable declaration, "I defy the Pope and all his laws; and if God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than he does."
Gloucestershire having now grown too hot for Tyndale, he turned his steps towards London; not with his brain teeming with plans for making his fortune, but with the hope that in the metropolis, he might give better effect to that glorious idea which was seething in his soul. Like the conventional hero of the story-books, who pictures the streets of London to be of gold, Tyndale seems to have had exaggerated notions of what he would find in the metropolis. In this emporium of learning, he will, he conceives, meet with zealous ecclesiastics-the munificent patrons of learning, and with everything else needful to him for the carrying out of his task. His plan was to seek out Tunstall, Bishop of London, of whose learning and liberality Erasmus had spoken highly in his annotations to the New Testament; and under his auspices translate the Scriptures into the vernacular. Through the interest of Sir John Walsh and Sir Harry Guildford, and on the strength of an oration of Isocrates-which he had translated from the Greek as a proof of his scholarship,-Tyndale secures an audience with the haughty churchman; but when with cold politeness he is bowed
out of the reception-room with the assurance that a man like him "could not lack a service in London," it becomes plain to the disappointed scholar that his imagination and Erasmus together have beguiled him, and he thus muses;-"Truly it was all in the tongue of Erasmus which maketh of little gnats great elephants, and lifteth up above the stars whoever giveth him a little exhibition."
When the door of the episcopal palace was closed against him, a wealthy citizen of London, Humphrey Munmouth, took him into his house for half-a-year. Here, clad in homespun garments, he worked hard and fared frugally. "He studied most part of the day and night at his book; and he would eat but sodden meat by his good-will, nor drink but small single beer."* Greater familiarity with city life sufficed thoroughly to dispel the glamour which imagination and report had once cast over his mind. "In London," he says, "I abode almost a year, and marked the course of the world and understood at the last, not only that there was no room in my lord of London's palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England." So, helped by the liberality of Munmouth, "he left his native country for ever, to suffer' as he elsewhere says, 'poverty, exile, bitter absence from friends, hunger and thirst, and cold, great dangers and innumerable other hard and sharp fightings,' but yet to achieve his work, and after death to force even Tunstall to set his name upon it."†
When in the year 1525 Tyndale was quietly pushing his New Testament through the press in the city of Cologne, who should find his way thither, but John Cochlæus, an ecclesiastic, whose hatred to vernacular versions, amounted almost to frenzy. Hearing a rumour of what was going on, during the course of his many dealings with the printers, he pricked up his ears, and set himself to sift the thing to the bottom.
Waiving for a time all considerations of his rank and profession, he foregathered with the printers, and having great faith in the adage, in vino veritas, he plied them with wine till one of them divulged the secret. Coclous now bestirred himself; the co-operation of the city senate was procured, and the further printing of the New Testament forbidden. But before a swoop could be made upon the precious sheets, Tyndale and his assistant Roye fled with them up the Rhine to Worms. In this city, which Luther's heroism had rendered famous (1521), Tyndale again addressed himself to his work, and under more favourable circumstances. Well aware that by this time his enemies in England were fully possessed *Munmouth petition to Wolsey written from prison, into which he was cast 1528 for befriending Tyndale and others. † Westcott. p. 36.