Thomas More's controversy with William Tyndale
In 1528, the Bishop of London wrote to Sir Thomas More, requesting that he examine the works of certain "sons of iniquity" and explain "the crafty malignity of these impious heretics" to "simpleminded people." He sent More examples of the Lutheran writers and gave him permission to read such books in order to lead an attack against them. Tyndale was not mentioned in the letter, but his New Testament must have been among the books sent to More. Other tracts by Tyndale, published while More was working on his book, seem to have convinced him that Tyndale was the greatest danger among the Lutheran writers. In 1529, Sir Thomas More launched an attack against the reformists, especially Luther and Tyndale, in a volume called A Dialogue Concerning Heresies.
More's charges against Tyndale were broad. While he took issue with specific words in Tyndale's translation ("congregation" instead of "church," "senior" instead of "priest," "repentance" instead of "penance," "love" instead of charity," for examples), he was more concerned with condemning Tyndale as a fraud, a hypocrite, a devil, a man "puffed up with pride and envy." In 1530 More also took an active part in a church council that condemned Tyndale's works.
Tyndale answered More in July of 1531 in An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue. In it Tyndale confirms More's worst fears by appealing to the scriptures as the ultimate authority to evaluate not only church doctrine but also church practice and by explicitly attacking the church hierarchy. He also accused More of having traded his earlier humanist convictions for wealth and power. More replied a year later in a long work, The Confutation of Tyndale, in which he repeats and intensifies his attacks, advocates the burning of Tyndale's books, and prophesies that Tyndale will burn in hell for his sins. He also supported the burning of heretics such as Tyndale: "and for heretics, as they be, the clergy doth denounce them; and, as they be well worthy, the temporality doth burn them; and after the fire of Smithfield hell doth receive them, where the wretches burn forever."
Many Lutheran scholars fled to the continent to avoid the persecution More described. Tyndale, along with many Protestant-leaning scholars, resided in Antwerp, a free city, but surrounded by territory under control of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and a relative of Catherine of Aragon. Early in 1535. Tyndale became friends with Henry Phillips, a visiting Englishman. Phillips presented himself to Tyndale as sympathetic to the Lutheran cause, but plotted with the emperor's magistrates to arrest Tyndale. In May, 1535, Phillips invited Tyndale out to dinner and, upon leaving his residence, identified him to waiting guards who apprehended him. Although by this time, England had separated from the Catholic Church and Tyndale had some supporters in the government, the Church of England continued to fight against Lutheranism. Tyndale's friends appealed to the English government to intervene, but to no avail. After a sixteen month imprisonment, an ecclesiastical panel convicted Tyndale of heresy in August, 1536 and turned him over to the secular authority. In October of the same year he was executed, being first strangled and then burned at the stake.
trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds. But the word of God was
not bound. Herefore I endure all things, for the elect's sake, that
they might also obtain that salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal
Comfort to Persecuted Bible Readers
. . .
Five Objections: Answered
2. They say that Scripture needs a pure and quiet mind, and that laymen are too cumbered with worldly business to understand it. This weapon strikes themselves: for who is so tangled with worldly matters as the prelates?
3. They say that laymen would interpret it each after his own way. Why then do the curates not teach the people the right way? The Scripture would be a basis for such teaching and a test of it. At present their lives and their teaching are so contrary that the people do not believe them, even when they preach truth…
4. They say our tongue is too rude. It is not so. Greek and Hebrew go more easily into English than into Latin. Has not God made the English tongue as well as others? They suffer you to read in English of Robin Hood, Bevis of Hampton, Hercules, Troilus, and a thousand ribald or filthy tales. It is only the Scripture that is forbidden. It is therefore clearer than the sun that this forbiddal is not “for love of your souls, which they care for as the fox doth for the geese.”
5. They say we need doctors to interpret Scripture [because] it is so hard… There are errors even in Origen and Augustine; how can we test them save by the Scripture?… We do not wish to abolish teaching and to make every man his own master, but if the curates will not teach the gospel, the layman must have the Scripture, and read it for himself, taking God for his teacher.
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