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But the time was coming when the Word of God could be no longer bound. For the last time the curate paid his entire annual stipend for a Bible. Already in 1452 the printing press began to make readers independent of the slow and scanty and costly products of the labors of the copyist. Superstition and error truly expressed their dread of this mighty auxiliary of reformation when they attributed the invention of printing to the devil. "We must stop this printing," said they, "or it will stop us."
The multiplication of copies of the original Scriptures at once led the way to a new translation of them into English. The author of this was William Tyndale, a graduate of the University of Oxford, and afterwards a regular priest of the Romish Church. How the light of truth first shone into his mind, we know not; nor have we space to dwell on the happy results of his preaching at Cambridge, or his bold confessions of the truth in the west of England, where he was a tutor in the household of Sir John Welch. In 1522 he formed the project of translating the Bible into his native tongue. "I defy the Pope and all his laws," said he to a learned Romish divine, " and ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth a plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do." A man who openly declared such sentiments and such intentions could not remain in safety on English soil. So after seeking in vain an asylum in London, he crossed the Channel and escaped beyond the immediate control of Henry VIII., the " Defender of the Faith."
Now commenced his "poure apostle's life," as a friend and fellow laborer of his calls it,— a life of hardship, of toil, of study, of hair-breadth escapes from the emissaries of his persecuting sovereign.
In 1526 he printed his translation of the New Testament, the first translation into English from the original Greek.
It was issued first in octavo, soon after in quarto. Finding its way at once into- England, it awakened persecution. The Bishop of London prohibited its circulation, and ordered every copy of it to be surrendered within thirty days. He preached against it at St. Paul's Cross, a noted preaching place, declaring that it contained two thousand errors of translation, and then kindled a bonfire before his pulpit and burned such copies of the offensive book as he had been able to seize. Sir Thomas More, the scholar and wit, wrote against it; and then he and Bishop Tonstall went to Antwerp and bought every copy they could secure. Here, however, they overleaped themselves. The love of gain even helped the cause of truth. The printers found that they •could make money, whoever bought the books, persecuting bishops or pious laymen. Rival and surreptitious editions, ignorantly corrupted, it is true, were therefore issued, and copies were rapidly multiplied. In the meantime Tyndale, assisted by Myles Coverdale, a countryman of kindred spirit, was going on with the translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. When the books of the Pentateuch were completed they were published, not all however at the same place. So wandering was the life which Tyndale was forced to lead, so hazardous was it to let his place of residence be known, that he printed these books at different presses, and sent them forth separately to the world.
Renewed prohibitions of the translation and circulation of the Scriptures in England prevented for the time the publication of any other of the Old Testament books, except the prophecy of Jonah. The work of translation, however, went on in secret, and advanced as far as the end of Chronicles. At the same time Tyndale was revising his New Testament, living in concealment either within the city of Antwerp or somewhere in its vicinity. The emissaries of Henry VIII. were all the while seeking to entice him back to England. Letters of theirs to their master may still be read, describing their failures. One speaks of Tyndale's astonishing learning, another tells how the water stood in Tyndale's eyes when he heard of Henry's offer of leniency to those who would amend, and reveals his declaration of willingness to suffer torture if the king would only permit a simple version made by any one soever, to be circulated in his realm. In 1534 Tyndale's revised New Testament appeared. Inaccuracies of translation in the former edition had been corrected. How correct it was may be inferred from the fact that, after the successive revisions of which our present translation is the result, " many of Tyndale's correct and happy renderings are left to adorn it." In point of perspicuity and noble simplicity, propriety of idiom and purity of style, it has been said that no English version has yet surpassed it. The year distinguished by the publication of this revised Testament was the last of Tyndale's freedom. By the craft of the agents of Henry, who was now more enraged at his opposition to his divorce than at his translations, he was seized and imprisoned in the dominions of the emperor, on a charge of heresy. Two years he lay a captive in Vilvoord, near Brussels, perhaps going on with the chosen work of his life. On Friday, the 6th of October, 1536, with the connivance of his own sovereign, he was led forth to die. But as he was fastened to the stake, ere his voice was silenced, the heroic martyr with a fervent zeal cried aloud: "Lord, open the King of England's eyes." He was then, according to a partially humane order, first strangled and then burned.
"His blood was shed
The martyr's prayer was heard.- Great changes had taken place in England even during those two years of his captivity. The King, irritated at the pope's opposition to his matrimonial projects, had renounced his allegiance to the Romish Church, and had declared himself head of the Church of England. The translation and circulation of the Scriptures was now freely spoken of, and yet the first translator of the Greek New Testament into English, by a strange inconsistency, was a prisoner on the continent under sentence of death. In 1534 the convocation of the English clergy voted that all prohibited books be called
Vol. XV. No. 58. 24
in, and that the King cause a new translation to be made by competent men, "that the laity do not contend concerning the Catholic faith or the Scriptures."
Encouraged by the favor expressed in this decree, although obeying no command, either regal or ecclesiastical, Myles Coverdale in 1534, just after the seizure of his fellow laborer Tyndale, began a new translation, and with an unequalled diligence and promptness such as the circumstances demanded, completed it in eleven months. It was printed somewhere on the continent, and was dedicated to the King and Queen of England. Its circulation in England was for a while hindered by the delay of the Bishops to whom it had been submitted for approval.
Queen Anne had been in the mean time beheaded by the King's will, and succeeded by Jane Seymour. The Queen Anne of the dedication must therefore be exchanged for Queen Jane. In 1536, the very year of Tyndale's martyrdom, this version found its way into use, — not authorized but simply permitted by the King, — the first translation of the whole Bible from the Original which Englishmen had yet possessed. Varied and extensive learning, careful examination of other versions, and above all, earnest love for the truth, had presided over the work of translation and had given a pledge of its correctness. Two reprints of this version in the following year, 1537, show how extensively it was circulated. The chief honor to which it is entitled is that of being the first translation of the entire Bible from the original tongues. In point of precision, in respect of euphony, indeed in regard of fearlessly correct rendering of the sacred text, Tyndale's New Testament and fragments of the Old are far superior to it. The martyr never translated "repent" "amend yourselves," and "repentance" "penance;" he never led his countrymen to believe that "there is joy before the angels of God over one syner that doeth penance." Had he done so, his version might not have been still prohibited while Coverdale's was permitted to enter the realm. Coverdale's version was in fact somewhat a matter of expediency. It was introduced as the only one that could at that time make its way through the weakened barriers which popery was striving to defend.
But the proscribed translation of Tyndale was destined yet to gain access to the English mind, and to be perhaps unwittingly approved by kingly authority. Before his imprisonment Tyndale had held many a conversation with an English chaplain resident in Antwerp. These interviews had resulted in the latter's adoption of the opinions of the former. To him Tyndale in captivity intrusted his unfinished MSS. The trust was received and sacredly fulfilled. In 1536 Tyndale was burned; in 1537, his translation of the New Testament and his versions of the Old, both printed and unprinted,— two-thirds of the whole Scriptures,— together with the remaining one-third translated by the editor, appeared in a handsome folio, — a loving tribute to the martyr's memory. This editor was John Rogers, destined to be the proto-martyr of the reign of Queen Mary. The name of Tyndale, though rightfully belonging to this version, would have ensured its rejection. In place of it appears the perhaps fictitious name of Thomas Matthew; and this Bible, printed on the continent and "set forth in England with the King's most gracious license," in 1537, though chiefly the work of Tyndale, is known as Matthew's Bible. The King of England's eyes were opening, though he knew it not.
Matthew's Bible had some notes and comments condemning certain papal errors. It therefore was received with little favor by many of the unreformed and half reformed clergy of England. To satisfy these, a version without note or comment was demanded. Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of the English Church, therefore obtained the royal permission to publish one. Rogers's or Matthew's Old Testament and Tyndale's New were made the basis of this version, which was a revised rather than a new one, — only the Psalms and a few other portions being entirely re-wrought. It was translated, we are told on the title page, " after the verity of the Hebrew and Greek texts, by the diligent study of diverse excellent learned men, ex