TODAY WE HONOR THE MEMORY OF WILLIAM TYNDALE (1494-1536), martyred on this day, 6 October 1536. Outlaw to church and state, he was put to death simply because he was not one of them. Single-minded to a fault, he could be a real piece of work at times (I empathize), but he had little choice. He didn't know how much time he had. A price on his head, a target on his back, Death nipping at his heels (though he would not be bullied). His sole purpose was to translate an English scripture for those who had none, those who were denied the liberties it promised, who knew only a vengeful tyrant ready to pounce at the slightest misstep. Tyndale offered something different, something they were hungry for and were hardly aware of. By the time his New Testament was smuggled into England (1526), appetite was waiting on it when it arrived. Tyndale was the first to translate, "God is love." In the midst of continuous flight and a struggle to survive, Tyndale entered the following phrases and more into the English language:
Give us this day our daily bread
In him we live and move and have our being
Behold I stand at the door and knock
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
Behold, the lamb of God
I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE
And it came to pass
Be not weary in well doing
Seek and ye shall find
In my father's house are many mansions
God is love
Yeah, that Tyndale. And 38 years before King James was even born.
Death and treachery stalked him everywhere, at all times, so he had to account for his life every day for the 12 years he labored. That is why his Paul is so rich, so rhapsodic, why it has such marvelous "stick." Is this the day? Tomorrow? The next? The great Sir Thomas More, now St. Thomas More, the “man for all seasons" himself, the patron saint of politicians, wanted nothing more than to see Tyndale with “a firebrand burning at his back.”
And Tyndale had no church. The church of his day was soulless, lost, and raging. The world was on fire. He survived on community and Scripture, sufficient in H8 culture. [Henry VIII]
I woke in the middle of the night last night with Tyndale on my mind. I lay there in a sleepless twist, tapping the sheets with my fingers. On this eve of his martyrdom, I began considering what he might say were he able to take a good long look at us now. Would his heart break? Would he think his life's work, the very scripture he bled for, that he burned for both literally and figuratively, was in vain? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It seems to have had some effect over the centuries.
Reading and translating Tyndale, I think he would say our current rage is driven by blind faith, that it is juvenile and ill-informed at best, that it makes puppets, or worse, slaves of us, fools, driven, as it is, by the darkest, most primitive instincts awakened in us. [THE OBEDIENCE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN, 1528, paraphrased]
The church wants her prophets. She exalts them in her imagination. She cries out for them. She also wants honey poured in her ear. She can’t have both. Not in the age of H8. And not today. Not this day. October 6 is, or should be, a sacred day. It is to me.
I know the risks I am taking. If you feel you must write me off or curse the day I was born, you miss the point anyway.
I've rewritten this article a few times, doing my best to take out of it what sting I can. That said, watch this simple image video. Let it do the heavy lifting for me. It is sweet to the ear. That was Tyndale. Love was his cause, his god. I've included the entire text below, if you want to read along. The words were written by William Tyndale, many years ago while under a sentence of death. Part prayer, part instruction, part benediction, listen to what he has to say, every word. He paid a price for each of them. I think we owe him that. Lean in if you must. He lived under pressures we cannot imagine, so his words have weight, reach, and consequence. They are tender with reconciliation and mercy, lots and lots of mercy for their 482 years. Reason doesn't have to shout. They are his words, not mine. This is his day.
"For no worldly purpose," he says, "but love." So, peace. Again, peace. Sobriety. Clarity. And Godspeed.
WHY I LOVE YOU
Christ is the cause why I love you, why I am ready to do the uttermost of my power for you, and why I pray for you. And as long as the cause abides, so long lasts the effect: even as it is always day so long as the sun shines. Do therefore the worst you can unto me, take away my goods, take away my good name; yet as long as Christ remains in my heart, so long I love you not a whit less, and so long are you as dear unto me as mine own soul, and so long am I ready to do you good for your evil, and so long I pray for you with all my heart: for Christ desires it of me, and has deserved it of me.
Your unkindness compared unto his kindness is nothing at all; yea, it is swallowed up as a little smoke of a mighty wind, and is no more seen or thought upon. Moreover, that evil which you did to me, I receive not of your hand, but of the hand of God, and as God’s scourge to teach me patience, and to nurture me: and therefore have no cause to be angry with you, more than the child has to be angry with his father’s rod; or a sick man with a sour or bitter medicine that heals him, or a prisoner with his fetters, or he that is punished lawfully with the officer that punishes him. Thus is Christ all, and the whole cause why I love you. And to all can nothing be added.
Let love interpret the law: that you understand this to be the final end of the law,
and the whole cause why the law was given: even to bring you to the knowledge of God, how he has done all things for you, that you might love him again with all your heart and your neighbor for his sake as yourself and as Christ loved you.
Love makes all things common; every man is the other’s debtor, and every man is bound to minister to his neighbor, and to supply his neighbor’s lack of that wherewith God has endowed him. If your brother or neighbor therefore has need, and you have the means to help him and yet show not mercy, but withdraw your hands from him, then you rob him of his own, and are a thief.
Every Christian man to another is Christ himself: and your neighbor’s need has as good a right in your goods as has Christ himself. And look, what you owe to Christ you owe to your neighbor’s need: to your neighbor you owe your heart, yourself, and all that you have and can do. The love that springs out of Christ excludes no man, neither puts difference between one and another. In Christ, we are all of one degree, without respect of persons.
In Christ there is neither French nor English; but the Frenchman is the Englishman’s own self, and the English the Frenchman’s own self. In Christ there is neither father nor son, neither master nor servant, neither husband nor wife, neither king nor subject: but the father is the son’s self, and the son the father’s own self; and the king is the subject’s own self, and the subject is the king’s own self; and so forth. I am thou thyself, and thou art I myself, and can be no nearer of kin. We are all the sons of God, all Christ’s servants bought with his blood; and every man to the other Christ his own self.
I love you not now because you are my father, and hast done so much for me;
or my mother, and hast borne me, but because of the great love that Christ has shown me. I serve you, not because you are my master, or my king, for hope of reward, or fear of pain, but for the love of Christ; for the children of faith are under no law, but are free. The Spirit of Christ has written the living law of love in their hearts; which drives them to work of their own accord freely and willingly, for the great love’s sake only which they see in Christ, and therefore need they no law to compel them. Christ is all in all things to them that believe, and the cause of all love.
If we be in Christ we work for no worldly purpose, but of love.
THE OBEDIENCE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN, 1528
TYNDALE OLD TESTAMENT, “Prologue Showing the Use of the Scripture,” 1531
THE PARABLE OF THE WICKED MAMMON, 1528