Last night’s Choral Eucharist in the University Chapel was a simply wonderful service. The Chapel Choir was in joyous voice, an immediate tribute to the work of Katy Cooper, our new Director of Chapel Music. The setting of the Mass, which I had not heard before, I had imagined might be a rather plain affair – but it was nothing of the sort. Taken from the Wanley Partbooks (ca 1550 and so contemporary with the first Book of Common Prayer) it was sumptuous. A true delight.
Allied to this was the reflection on William Tyndale from our own Charlotte Methuen. Her sermon follows below (and you may wish to visit her own blog: https://cmethuen.wordpress.com). I wonder how strange Tyndale would have found the shape of our liturgy. In a recent programme for BBC, Melvyn Bragg described Tyndale as ‘one of the greatest men of English history’ and ‘with Shakespeare, a co-founder of the English language’. At the Chapel, we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible four years ago; and so it seems fitting that we should now have remembered Tyndale, on whose translation the KJV relied so heavily. There is a sense that Tyndale is suddenly gaining the recognition so richly merited.
But for students of Thomas More, like me, Tyndale represents a challenge to our interpretation of More who prosecuted a campaign against Tyndale and his translation into the vernacular, ending in Tyndale’s execution for heresy. The tension between More and Tyndale continues for me.
Here is Dr Methuen’s sermon:
[readings: Proverbs 8.4-11; 2 Timothy 3.12-end John 17. 6-8, 14-19]
I can’t help thinking that William Tyndale would have been astonished to find himself at the head of a list of writers from the Anglican Poetic Tradition. Tyndale after all was never an Anglican: having lived for several years in exile, he was executed in Antwerp on 6 October 1536, just two years after the Act of Supremacy removed the English church from papal authority, and thirteen years before the first Book of Common Prayer would be promulgated in 1549. It was that liturgical development that began to make of the Church in England the Church of England and to shape the tradition of Anglicanism which emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Tyndale was never an Anglican, and he was also not strictly a poet. But he was an engaged and talented Bible translator, and one who gave to the English language many of the rhythms and phrases which would inspire generations of Anglican thinkers, whether preachers, poets, or theologians, or a combination of all three.
Born in around 1494, Tyndale graduated BA at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 13 May 1512, and was made a subdeacon later that year. He was ordained deacon and then priest in March and April 1515, and took his MA in Oxford in July 1515, before beginning the study of theology, also at Oxford. At some point during his theological studies he encountered a copy of Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum, a revised Latin translation of the New Testament, printed alongside the original Greek (or most of it ). Tyndale clearly became fascinated by the New Testament. Erasmus had dreamed of the ploughboy reading the Bible at the plough, and Tyndale wanted to make that possible for the people of England. As a good Graecist, he also wanted the New Testament in English to offer a good translation of the Greek. And increasingly, from the early 1520s, he wanted his translation to reflect the insights of the theology he was beginning to learn from the Reformers. At some point he had encountered Luther’s work, probably whilst he was still at Oxford, and became a passionate disciple of the new, biblical, theology
We don’t know much about what happened to Tyndale in this period, but he certainly went to Germany (though probably not to Wittenberg). In 1525, he published a first fragment of the New Testament in English in Cologne. It included a prologue, based on Luther’s prologue to his 1522 German translation of the New Testament. Only this prologue and the beginning of Matthew’s gospel are extant, but, as David Daniell says, “[some of] the words of Jesus that have chimed down the centuries appear here first—‘Ask and it shall be given you: Seek and ye shall find: Knock and it shall be opened unto you’; ‘Enter in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction’.”
Tyndale went on to revise his New Testament in 1534. He also learned Hebrew, probably in Germany, and translated the Pentateuch, which was published during his lifetime, and many of the historical books of the Old Testament, which was not. After his execution, Miles Coverdale produced an English “translation” of the rest of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha, translating them from earlier German and Latin translations rather than from the Hebrew, and published these with Tyndale’s translations. These were then incorporated into the so-called Matthew Bible which was printed after Tyndale’s death in 1537. Daniell suggests that about half the Old Testament translation and all the New Testament were Tyndale’s, and the rest, including the Psalms, was Coverdale’s. The Matthew Bible in turn became the Great Bible which from 1540 was to be placed in every parish church in England and Wales on order of the King and government. So Tyndale’s New Testament became available to everyone in England and Wales, and it was being read in Scotland as well. Over the next century, the Geneva Bible, the Bishops’ Bible and King James’ Authorised version would all take the Great Bible – and with it Tyndale’s New Testament – as their starting point.
But this was not just about books: it was about reading, and access to Scripture. People all over the country could now read the New Testament, the Scriptures in their own language. David Daniell puts it like this: “The great change that came over England from 1526, the ability of every ordinary man, woman, and child to read and hear the whole New Testament in English, accurately rendered, was Tyndale’s work, and its importance cannot be overstressed. The Vulgate was incomprehensible to the ploughboy and most of his familiars throughout the land. Now all four gospels could be read, often aloud, in their entirety, and the whole of Paul. … There is no shortage of evidence of the gatherings of people of all ages, all over the country, to read and hear these English scriptures—and reading meant, so often, reading aloud.” Wills in 1579 put copies of Tyndale’s works in Edinburgh: he did not only appeal to the English, but to all who spoke English. And he continued to be read, for our modern translations still resonate with Tyndale’s language.
What did all this mean to Tyndale? The closing section of our reading today from 2 Timothy gives us a clue, I think. It reads in his translation: “For all scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to amend and to instruct in righteousness.” This passage probably sets out the fundamental reason why Tyndale believed his work of translation to be so important. But it is clear that there was more to his understanding of the importance of Scripture than teaching and correction. In his Pathway into the Holy Scripture, an expanded version of the Prologue to his 1525 Cologne New Testament, which he published separately in around 1536, Tyndale wrote of his joy at discovering the gospel: “Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word, and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy.” He believed that giving people access to God’s Word, in their own language, would teach them the ways of righteousness – but he believed too that it would open them to joy.
For me, a key verse in the passage from John’s gospel we have just heard read sums up Tyndale’s life. In his translation these words of Jesus to God the Father, about his disciples, read: “I have given them thy words, and the world hath hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
That was Tyndale’s experience too. He gave God’s “words” – God’s Word – to the world, and there were those in the world who hated him for doing so, condemned him as a heretic, and executed him. He died for doing it. But that gift of God’s Word in English proved lasting. The world – the English-speaking world – took his gift and made it their own, and in doing so gave it back to God.
May God be praised.
our series of evening choral services, sung by the University Chapel Choir under the direction of Katy Cooper, our recently appointed Director of Chapel Music, begins this evening at 6pm with as Choral Eucharist.This session we are exploring and reflecting upon the Anglican poetic tradition and for this service we begin with William Tyndale, who is remembered within the Anglican communion this day, the anniversary of his execution for heresy in 1536. Tyndale’s translation into English of the New Testament from the Greek will be heavily used in the production of the King James Bible; and it is not unreasonable to thus see him as founding that great poetic tradition within Anglicanism.
The Preacher this evening will be the Revd Canon Dr Charlotte Methuen who teaches at Glasgow University and has published on the Reformation.
The music for this evening, and for all the services in this series, has been chosen to cohere as best as possible with the theme of the service; typically offering either a setting of the poet’s work or contemporary with the poet’s life.
All are welcome at the service.
Setting for the Eucharist:: From the Wanley Partbooks (ca 1549-1552)
Introit: If ye Love me Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
Anthem: Blessed are the peacemakers (from Four Peace Motets) Ronald Stevenson (1928-2015)
Organ Voluntary: Voluntary in A Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)
Do join us!
Blessings to all
GU Anglican Chaplaincy Choral Eucharist: Tuesday 10th March 2015 at 6pm
We are joined this evening by Ann Loades CBE, who will preach on our theme of The Peace of the World.
Professor Loades is Honorary Professor in the University of St Andrews, having previously held the Chair of Theology at Durham University, where she is Emerita Professor of Divinity. Ann Loades was made a CBE in the 2001 Honours list for services to Theology. She has written and published extensively on feminist theology; and amongst other areas of study she has long published on the work or Dorothy L Sayers.
Do please join us – all welcome!
our service this week will mark the beginning of Lent and our readings will be those of the day:
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
The Collect for Lent:
Almighty and everlasting God, you despise nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our brokenness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
We shall hear this Collect in each of our services in Lent.
May God be with you and give you the strength and discipline to keep a Holy Lent.
GU Anglican Chaplaincy Choral Evensong: Tuesday 10th February 2015 at 6pm
We are joined this evening by the Revd Canon Dr Scott Robertson who will preach on our theme of The Peace of the World.
Canon Robertson is Rector of St Margaret of Scotland and is the Diocesan Director of Ordinands. He is also the convenor of our Church and the Academy seminars.
Do please join us – all welcome!
we gather in the University Memorial Chapel for our celebration of the Eucharist this Thursday at 1.10pm and afterwards, for tea/coffee/conversation in One A The Square.
The gospel reading will be from last Sunday (Epiphany 3), Mark 1. 14-20:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
Our prayers will be for all those who are pursuing their sense of vocation, praying that they may be ever faithful to their sense of call. Anyone wishing to discuss affirmation of their sense of discipleship through Confirmation might have a word with me after the service (or any time, but especially during the next couple of weeks). If any of our community have yet to be baptised then this too is a good time to talk to me about it.
with blessings to all