THE REFORMATION and REFORM
There are two streams that divide this book The Reformation and Reform. The Reformation is historical. GODSPEED does its best to give a fair overview of the times, of its moods, its eating habits, the struts and beams that held it together, what the individual expected from life, what life gave back and so on. Reform, however, is a continual event, perennial, a living force that never ages (or sleeps), that migrates through time, in this instance through the word and opinion of the reformers, and through the pages of this book with its powerful medicines.
Reform lives in their words, even as it does in this little book.
The real charm of GODSPEED is its voice. As it says in the prologue, this book
...doesn't pretend to be a history,
and it doesn't always behave like a devotional.
It is certainly not burdened with academicspeak. Nor is the language syrupy or overripe with affectation or hyperbole. Tyndale, Luther, Wycliffe, Calvin, and the many others like them deserve better than that. Restraint, simplicity, and clarity are perhaps the greatest honor an author can bestow on a subject, allowing the reformer to take center stage. The pitch is even. The lyricism that usually accompanies devotional literature is present, but restrained, showing its might only where necessary and most effective, singing only when asked. Below is a typical entry.
HISTORY IS MODEST. The relevance we take from it is sometimes shy, sometimes conspicuous. Then there are those rare seasons whose relevance seems to jump off the page, that fold into the present tense with such ease it takes on an uncanny resemblance to life as we know it today. If that is the case, and I suspect it is, that makes the reformer's opinion relevant. But more about that later.
The reformer is outrageously sane, or most of them, and therefore, sober, of a quiet mind. They had little choice. Sobriety was necessary for survival, for keeping one's head (literally). The Middle Ages was experiencing its death rattle, with all its illusions, its powerful sorceries, all the props that held it together. The same nail Luther used to post his 95 Theses was the nail in its coffin. Most of the reformers had to move about circumspectly, under fire as they were, under the meddling and all-seeing eye of the Roman Church, jealous over their possession. This truth of every day life affected how they processed their thoughts, their responses to life, and what they chose to communicate to the generations that would come after them.
All scripture at the close of each entry is presented in its original form, as the translator first wrote it down. Why the original spelling (orthography)? For authenticity, certainly, but also for the experience, the unexpected charm. When you read the Christmas story as you will in many of the December entries, you may get a sense of how they saw it, how they heard it, what it made them feel to see and hear it in their own tongue, and for the first time. The word godspeed entered the English language in Tyndale's 1526 New Testament.
Yf ther come eny vnto you and bringe not this learninge him receave not to housse: nether bid him God spede. For he that biddeth him God spede is parttaker of his evyll dedes.
—2 JOHN 1 [The New Testament was divided only by chapters.]
There were bits of vernacular scripture before Tyndale came along (Wycliffe), but its outlaw status and the expense of pre-printing press documents made it impossible for the general believer to have anything like real access. And John Wycliffe's English translation was taken not from the original Hebrew and Greek but from Jerome's 4th century Latin Vulgate, an unreliable manuscript at best. It wasn't until 1526 that an English scripture was drawn from the original Greek manuscripts, then later (1531) from the Hebrew.
And ther were in the same region shepherdes abydinge in the felde and watching their flocke by nyght. And loo: the angell of ye lorde stode harde by the and the brightnes of ye lorde shone rounde aboute them and they were soare afrayed. But the angell sayd vnto them: Be not afrayed. For beholde I bringe you tydinges of greate ioye yt shal come to all ye people: for vnto you is borne this daye in the cite of David a saveoure which is Christ ye lorde. And take this for a signe: ye hall fynde ye chylde swadled and layed in a manger.
—LUKE 2, WILLIAM TYNDALE NEW TESTAMENT, 1526
"And loo: the angel of ye lorde . . . " I love that. And loo, reading scripture, or any text from early modern England may be an acquired taste, but it brings the age right to the surface, how Tyndale heard it, how they heard it who read him. Have fun with it. (Our current spelling is not much of an improvement.)
The whole point is to enjoy yourself as you explore the heart and opinion of these brave men and women, these sober and inspired souls whose words have lost none of their resonance, none of their sheen, their power or range after so many centuries. But don't be alarmed if they explore back. Discover the harmonies between you and them, the empathies still possible in spite of the years.
Below is an audio version of the April 18 entry.
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