What went wrong with Protestantism? It had the answers, after all. You stood alone before God, a sinner; no natural virtue could save you, only a sincere and loving faith in Christ's all- sufficient sacrifice. You didn't have to do anything; more, you couldn't do anything. From this, it followed that the sacraments, the cult of relics, pilgrimages, all the fancy phantasmagoria of medieval superstition would fall off easily as a scab. There would be no need to persecute others for their faith, because conscience would be everyone's guide. Luther himself proclaimed this principle at the Diet of Worms, so ushering in the modern sensibility: "Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
The Christian/coffee table explanation for the Reformers' subsequent descent into tyranny and intolerance makes much of the Fall of Man and the temptations of power. But, if this deeply engaging study is to be believed, the reasons why church reform did not transmute into political revolution lay in the small print of Protestantism itself.
The subject of this "biography" is William Tyndale, an irascible, rebarbative scholar who, in the fangs of Catholic persecution, translated the Bible into English. To understand why this was such an achievement in itself, one must remember the political conditions of the time. When Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey grew wise to the dangers of allowing the Bible to reach the populace, Tyndale fled to the Continent. …