Weekend: Books: A Matter of Life and Death; If God Spare My Life. by Brian Moynahan (Little, Brown. Pounds 17.99). Reviewed by Christine Barker
Byline: Christine Barker
Even today in the 21st century after the birth of Christ, when His teachings are spurned, even vilified, the majority of homes in the British Isles possess a copy of the English Bible.
Dusty and largely forgotten, it hardly ever gets taken down and read. Very few people, even though they pay lip service to Christianity, dip into the glorious language of the Psalms, or pay heed to what St Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Even fewer know the extraordinary story behind the translation of The Bible from its original Latin - The Vulgate - into the King James version, and today the even more idiomatic text still used in our churches.
The name of the scholar who translated most of the Old Testament, and all of the New into our mother tongue is hardly a household word. While most children know that it was Guy Fawkes who almost succeeded in blowing up the Houses of Parliament, probably very few have ever heard of William Tyndale.
Yet it was Tyndale, born on the Herefordshire borders, who took on the Catholic establishment when he began his colossal task of putting an English Bible in front of the English people. And he was martyred for his pains.
In a riveting new study of the life and work of William Tyndale - John Foxe in his famous, and almost contemporary Book Of Martyrs, spells it Tindale - Brian Moynahan unveils the scholarly Tyndale as a fiery reformer.
In the late 15th and 16th centuries the Catholic hierarchy was still in command of the religious lives of the majority of people in the known world. Medievalism ruled, and the Church had absolutely no desire to share the secrets of its trade, along with its influence and wealth. The Vulgate Bible was all in Latin. To the layman it was incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo.
But translating the Bible meant handing over the Word of God to the laity - the ploughboy and the mercenary soldier, the serving wench and the uneducated daughter of the nobility. To Rome a Bible in many European tongues was unthinkable. But Tyndale had other ideas. Young, learned - a Cambridge graduate - he had a burning desire to open up the secrets of the great book that dominated so many lives.
He also had the sheer nerve to tackle the Establishment. The fact that he was born at the right point in history may have helped. Henry VIII, although inordinately fond of his title of Defender of the Faith, was still quite prepared to defy the Pope over the question of annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
For Tyndale, a young tutor, it seemed the ideal opportunity. Lutheran books were arriving in London from Germany and the Low Countries. …