Statues of Liberty: William Tyndale

Oct 1, 2017 by

[…]  ‘Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty,’ wrote Henry David Thoreau, and I am nominating the original ‘Rebel Priest’, William Tyndale, who disobeys his bishop and bequeaths to us our foundational freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

Most people know Tyndale as the greatest Bible translator in the English tongue. But beyond this, Tyndale becomes the ‘Father of Modern English.’ Working with a language lacking precision and standardisation, Tyndale shapes the syntax, grammar, and vocabulary of English more than Chaucer or Shakespeare during its transition from Middle English to Early Modern English. Tyndale constructs the refined speech of a nation that becomes the lingua franca of the world.

Tyndale’s lesser-known contribution to liberty, tolerance and the British and American constitutional order parallels his outstanding achievements in language and Bible translation. Liberty and language are intertwined in the work of the great reformer who seeks the ‘democratisation of the Bible’.

Constitutional lawyer Michael Farris, in From Tyndale to Madison: How the Death of an English Martyr led to the American Bill of Rights, debunks the standard mythology that the Enlightenment is responsible for the religious and other freedoms we enjoy today. It is Tyndale who sows the seeds of this exceptional accomplishment, he argues.

In 1522, Oxford scholar and cleric William Tyndale secures a position in Little Sodbury, Gloucestershire, as tutor for the children of the lord of the manor, Sir John Walsh, and his wife, Lady Anne. A theological debate erupts between him and another cleric, in which Tyndale demonstrates that his interlocutor’s position is contrary to the Bible.

The priest defiantly seeks to put down Tyndale’s biblical knowledge by claiming that the church is better off with the Pope’s laws than God’s laws. ‘I defy the Pope and all his laws,’ retorts the original Rebel Priest. ‘If God spare my life many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of Scripture than you do.’

Envious clerics fabricate charges of heresy. Tyndale is brought to trial. ‘This I suffer because the priests of the country be unlearned,’ he exclaims. How true! But none of the clergy publicly stand as his accusers and Tyndale is exonerated.

Read here


Related Posts


Share This