A hero for the information age
Dec 18th 2008
From The Economist print edition
From The Economist print edition
Subversion, espionage and a man who gave his life to disseminate the Word
Getty ImagesAN EMERGING nation looks increasingly confident as a player on the world stage, thanks to a mixture of commercial prowess and deft diplomacy. In its capital and in coastal cities, you can feel the excitement as small manufacturers, retailers and middlemen find new partners across the sea. But the country’s masters face a dilemma: the very technology, communications and knowhow that are boosting national fortunes also threaten to undermine the old power structure.
China in the 21st century, contemplating the pros and cons of the internet? No, Tudor England, at the time when a gifted, impulsive young man called William Tyndale arrived in London—not to make his fortune, but to transform the relationship between ordinary people and the written word. As he soon discovered, London in 1523 was a city where ideas as well as goods were being disseminated at a pace that frightened the authorities, triggering waves of book-burning and repression.
As a side effect of close commercial ties with northern Europe, England was being flooded with the writings of a renegade German monk called Martin Luther, who had openly defied the Pope and insisted on a new reading of the Bible which challenged some of the Catholic church’s long-established dogmas.
In some ways, Tyndale was poorly equipped to survive, let alone thrive, in this feverish atmosphere. He was no wheeler-dealer; more of an idealistic scholar whose linguistic gifts were so remarkable, and hence so subversive, that he was drawn into high religious politics.
Thanks to a network of businessmen, Tyndale dodged from one city to anotherHis ruling passion was a simple one: he wanted to render the defining texts of his age and culture—the Old and New Testaments—in an accurate English translation which even “the boy that driveth the plough” could grasp. And the fact that he eventually fulfilled this aim, and paid for it with his life, should be acknowledged more frequently by anybody who cares about freedom of expression.
But for many of the bustling Londoners whom the young Tyndale met, questions of diplomacy, taxes and war were at least as pressing as those of theology or linguistics. King Henry VIII and his adviser Thomas Wolsey were trying to manoeuvre between two continental giants: the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, whose realms included Spain and (with varying degrees of real power) much of Teutonic middle Europe. Gamesmanship alone was unlikely to succeed unless the kingdom was willing to demonstrate its military power from time to time; so King Henry imposed new taxes and started planning an ambitious programme of ship-building.
Harsh taxation was a source of much grumbling among the sort of friends that Tyndale began to make. Denied house-room by the bishop of London, he found accommodation with a member of London’s merchant class—the kind of man who was less interested in geopolitical games than in taking advantage of the new commercial relationships with the great business centres of northern Europe: Antwerp, Cologne and Hamburg.
In all these places, and in several other German cities, the art of printing books at a reasonable cost and in large numbers was more advanced than it was in England. London, however, was well supplied with book-sellers, who were prepared to shop around the continent to find material for a growing body of literate customers. Thanks to commerce, and the increasing complexity of occupations such as ship-building, the number of English people who learned to read for purely practical as well as devotional reasons was growing.
Trade between England and the continent was facilitated by a German colony in London (living near the present-day site of Cannon Street railway station) and well-established groups of English businessmen in the commercial cities of Europe. And largely thanks to this network Tyndale was able to spend most of the final decade of his life dodging between one city and another, delivering bits of newly completed work to efficient presses whose output would duly cascade into England.
Tyndale has been described as one of the fathers of English literature. An exaggeration? No, the claim stands up. It is generally agreed that the founding texts of modern English are the plays of William Shakespeare and the Authorised or King James version of the Bible. Wasn’t the latter a team effort? In fact, that is only partially true. On investigation, we find one outstanding wordsmith whose prose decisively influenced the lovely cadences of the King James translation. But of course, he wasn’t around when it was published; Tyndale had been strangled, and then burned to death, in Belgium, 75 years earlier, crying out as he died, “may God open the eyes of the English king.”
Tyndale was ultimately more influential, and also in many ways a nobler figure than the more famous religious martyrs of the Tudor era, the Catholic Thomas More and the Protestant Thomas Cranmer. Both More and Cranmer served their time as enforcers of religious intolerance before falling victim to it themselves. No such stain sullies the record of Tyndale.
Tyndale was not a charming sophisticate like More. Like many a hyperactive genius, he seems to have lacked social grace, and was rather bad at reading the minds of people around him. The modern term for that is autistic; he would probably have found some neater way to describe a personality that is so absorbed with a rich inner world that it lacks the spare energy to decipher other people’s thoughts.
His life’s vision and dying supplication—for English people to have access to the Bible in their own language—came to pass (to use one of his own famous phrases) rather swiftly. A year after his death, a complete Bible—two-thirds of which had been translated by Tyndale, the rest by his associate Miles Coverdale—was published by royal permission. This electrified a nation where only a decade earlier, bishops had frantically tried to suppress copies of Tyndale’s subversive work. Six copies of the new translation were put on display in Old St Paul’s Church, and a spontaneous public reading of the entire text soon began. One man would stand at the lectern and proclaim the word until his voice gave out and a replacement stepped in. As a direct legacy of that heady moment, the Church of England is required by law to display a complete, accessible Bible in all its places of worship.
A candidate, then, for elevation as England’s national hero? Perhaps. But look more closely at Tyndale’s life, and it gets harder to present or understand him in purely national terms. In fact, what made Tyndale’s achievement possible was the burgeoning of international trade in goods, ideas and technology, as a counterweight to national tyranny.
How so? Consider the monarch whom Tyndale confronted. Just as Stalin eschewed world revolution in favour of “socialism in one country”, the project of Henry VIII—at least after his break with the Pope in 1530—could be described as “theocracy in one country”. In other words, an effort to establish total political and ideological control by blocking out foreign influence and crushing all rival centres of power at home. To do this, he was (like Stalin) prepared to use and then discard one trusted lieutenant, and one ideological slogan, after another.
AFPThat might sound shocking. Conventional English history sees Henry through a rose-tinted haze: a rambunctious old dog whose type-alpha personality had the happy effect of freeing England from the tyranny of papal authority. Remember, though, his purpose in throwing off Roman authority was not to usher in freedom, but to pave the way for an even more ruthless theocracy of his own.
It was a commonplace of the Soviet era that only people who were slightly abnormal, and utterly indifferent to their own comfort or survival, could find the courage to protest effectively against a totalitarian regime at the height of its powers. And Tyndale fits that description rather well. The main difference between his situation and that of the Soviet dissidents is that, fortunately, Henry’s England was much less successful in sealing off the realm from foreign ideas and influences.
When Tyndale went to Cambridge in 1517, the university was already bubbling with the new learning which had recently been introduced by the Dutch scholar Erasmus. Among many other innovations, Erasmus had rejected the idea that study of the Bible should be confined to a Latin version produced in the year 400. As the Dutchman argued, the proper way to decipher that text was to go to the originals (Greek for New Testament, Hebrew for the Old) and parse them with the best available tools of linguistic science.
To the sharp-minded, polyglot Tyndale, all that was obvious, and he was pretty careless about where he expressed that opinion. As tutor to the family of a gentleman in Gloucestershire, he dismissed the Church’s claim to monopolise the reading and understanding of holy writ with a bluntness that startled the local clergy (even the ones who secretly agreed) and caused gossip in nearby alehouses; in other words, people said, he was siding with that German firebrand, Luther.
In the mercantile circles of London where Tyndale later found a home, people were excited not just by Luther’s ideas but also by the relative freedom enjoyed by Germany’s emerging statelets; the astonishing thing was not merely that Luther had protested, but also that he had actually survived the experience, and gone on to translate the Bible into German.
Thanks to the traders who had spirited Luther’s works, along with more conventional merchandise, through England’s ports, people in London learned what was going on in Germany with remarkable speed. And for exactly that reason, the climate in London was growing harsher.
Tyndale was helped, by Londoners with more worldly wisdom than himself, to go to Germany under a false name, with his half-completed rendering of the New Testament tucked deep inside his trunk. And from the moment he arrived in Hamburg, his life turned into a cat-and-mouse game of sneaking from one north European city to another, in search of rapid presses and nimble protectors.
Agents of the English king were fanning out all over the continent, meanwhile, there were plenty of people in the Teutonic lands (especially in the Low Countries where the Emperor was trying hard to enforce his writ) who did not want the Bible to be translated into English or any other modern language.
There was much tragicomedy in the contest between England’s thought police on one hand, and the evasive powers of Tyndale, or rather his canny Dutch, German and English friends, on the other. In 1525 the bishop of London recruited what he thought was a reliable agent in Antwerp, an Englishman called Augustine Packington, who promised to buy up all the copies of Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament that were rolling off the presses and pouring into England.
The “agent”—whose real sympathies lay with Tyndale—took the bishop’s money, bought lots of the offending books, and sent them to the bishop, who duly burned them in public. Imagine the bishop’s dismay when—as a contemporary account has it—a new and improved edition of Tyndale’s Testament began arriving “thick and threefold” in London. Tyndale had simply pocketed the bishop’s money and used it to finance a fresh version of his translation.
Faced with protests from the bishop, Packington used his wits to wriggle out of an awkward interrogation. “Surely, I bought all that were to be had, but I perceive that they have printed more since. I see that it will never be better as long as they have letters and stamps, wherefore you were best to buy the stamps too, and so you shall be sure.” Realising he had been outwitted, the bishop merely smiled.
The port of Antwerp, a power-house of international trade, served for a time as Tyndale’s safest refuge—but it was also the place where he met his downfall. In the end, his entrepreneurial friends’ cunning failed to protect him from the consequences of his own relative innocence.
Defending human dignity from tyranny can often mean sacrificing one's lifeTyndale had secured living quarters in the Antwerp home of an English merchant, Henry Pointz, who grew intensely protective of his brainy but unworldly lodger. But not protective enough, as it tragically turned out. A wealthy, mysterious Englishman named Henry Philips arrived in the port and rapidly gained Tyndale’s trust, and hence access to the Pointz household. Returning from a business trip, Pointz quickly came to suspect that the oily newcomer was a spy. But he failed to prevent his translator friend walking into a horrible trap. As he emerged from the Pointz family home; the tall Philips pointed down at the diminutive wordsmith who was duly marched off to jail.
A determined eurosceptic might argue that Tyndale’s capture and execution was the first, ghastly example of a pan-European arrest warrant, made possible by an early version of Europol and the Lisbon treaty. That is true, in a way: he was arrested after Henry VIII made known his feelings to the Holy Roman Emperor who was sovereign of the Low Countries.
But Henry’s motives were more personal than theological. He was infuriated by a pamphlet which denounced his moves to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Theology was moving in Tyndale’s direction by the time of his death. England had half-switched to the Protestant cause, and Thomas Cromwell, the royal adviser, made a respectable stab at saving his compatriot’s life. However, having recently burned ten members of the ultra-Protestant Anabaptist movement, the regime of Henry VIII could hardly present itself as an advocate of religious freedom.
Jailed in the vast and forbidding fortress of Vilvoorde, Tyndale could easily have saved his life by agreeing with the Catholic hierarchy that the Bible was best left in Latin for the clergy to peruse. But he maintained his refusal in a way that impressed his Flemish jailers. “He had so preached to them who had him in charge…that they reported of him, that if he were not a good Christian man, they knew not whom they might take to be one.”
A hero for all nations, then? Whether in the land of his birth or the town of his death, Tyndale buffs are still regrettably thin on the ground, and it is hard to follow his trail. The atmosphere of medieval Antwerp can still be dimly apprehended in the foggy, cobbled streets and high gabled houses near the seafront; but nobody at the local tourist office has any idea where the “English House” was. As for Vilvoorde, the place of Tyndale’s death, just a handful of keen locals have worked passionately to investigate and commemorate the local martyr. One of them is Wim Willems, a Protestant theology professor who divides his time between his Flemish homeland and central Africa.
“It’s when I go to Rwanda that Tyndale’s message really comes alive,” he explains. “I tell my African students to think for themselves, to make own their own free and informed decisions about what is valid in their native, traditional cultures and in the cultural values of Europe, including the humanism that Tyndale personifies.” And in Rwanda, more than in most parts of Europe, people can readily understand that defending human dignity from tyranny can often mean sacrificing one’s life. Perhaps some of China’s dissidents should consider adopting him too.
《見證的火炬，第十一章:風起雲湧》-威廉.丁道爾 (作者:約翰·甘乃迪; 編譯:劉志雄)
威廉. 丁道爾（WILLIAM TYNDALE）
威廉丁道爾是以洛斯馬士在牛津的學生，他可能是在十五世紀末 出生在色文（Severn）的山區裡，他準確的出生資料目前已不可考查。 他在牛津的時候，慕以洛斯馬士的大名，而接觸到希臘文聖經。因著 在這本聖經上下的功夫，不但使丁道爾經歷到神話語的影響力，也立 下了以後英國改教運動的基石。不久他就和一批志同道合的朋友，常 聚在一起研讀希臘文聖經。這些因為讀了神話語而得到啟示的人，在 他們的生活中所表現出來的權柄常常會使得那些神職人員坐立不安， 恐怕他們的權柄受到威脅 。丁道爾離開牛津到劍橋去，在那裡他同樣 地找到一群被聖經能力所感召的人，他們一樣地飢渴要更多學習主的 話，所以見證的光在劍橋也開始發亮。
神職人員的警覺增加了，以洛斯馬士（Erasmus）可喜可賀的工 作所帶來的影響，需再用力去破壞。最可怕的反對不下於一個名叫吳 斯理（Cardinal Wolsey）的樞機主教。他是羅馬教宗的使節及英國 的大法官。他的名著「我與我的國王」（Ego et meus rex）給讀者 看見一些有關他在國家中所享有的權力。吳斯理的野心 昭然可見，想 奪取聖彼得的座位。為達到此一目的，他就先要成為天主教傳統的偉 大鼓吹者，及官方教會頑強的護衛者，以對付致命的異端。而此刻應 中他的目的。
丁道爾在神職人員的壓力下離開了劍橋，逃到鄉下，就在蘇別利 豪（Sodbury Hall）有一位名叫約翰瓦西（John Walsh）貴族的家 中，住了十八個月，他就作了他們家中小孩的家庭教師。瓦西家中時 常高朋滿座，因為瓦西爵士勤於學習，並且很好客，所以座上都是當 地的貴族以及一些飽學之士，在席間的談話很自然就會談到新的學習 風潮，路德，以洛斯馬士以及聖經。丁道爾義不容辭地就扮演著一位 充滿熱情的機敏的答辯者，他隨身帶著希臘文的聖經，所有的論點， 都以聖經為依據。
瓦西爵士和夫人對這孩子的家庭教師所持的論點並非不表同情 的。丁道爾成功地激起許多高級聖職人員的憤怒。在蘇別利豪的大型 餐會上，這些神職人員對於聖經的無知一次又一次地暴露出來，而這 位沒什麼名氣的學者卻能夠藉著神的話，清楚地攻破那些天主教遺傳 的迷信。丁道爾對於神職人員對聖經的無知深為驚訝，這也造成他決 心獻身要把神的話以英國人的語文翻譯出來。在蘇別利豪，這些教士 們無知的程度得以完全彰顯，有些被派來給他洗腦的著名神學者使得 他說出這句不朽的名言﹕「神若給我年歲，不需幾年，一個鄉下的年 輕農夫都能在聖經上比你們知道得多一點。」
為了完成神所給他的使命，從他三十歲開始，丁道爾被迫逃亡海 外，他的餘生所過著的正是流亡的日子，他開始以堅定的意志來面對 難於想像的艱難和失望。他從一處逃到另一處，以免被追殺，更重要 的是要確保他的手抄翻譯本不至被燒燬。主後1526年，他的英文新約 聖經的第一版終於問世。他的一些朋友為了讓神能夠透過祂的話向祂 的子民溝通，就偷偷運送一些聖經到英國，其中有些人不幸被捕而喪 生。倫敦的主教杜士高（Tunstall）發佈命令，他禁止任何人持有英 文新約聖經。他警告人們要小心這種具傳染性致命的毒草。杜士高並 要求學者湯馬士莫耳（Thomas More，另譯多馬摩耳）以他精深的語 文技巧來貶低丁道爾的作品，他批評丁道爾的新約聖經翻譯得錯誤百 出，一無是處。然而後世的學者還是承認丁道爾的新約聖經翻譯以及 舊約聖經翻譯均是相當的有水平。丁道爾承認個人的有限，以致難免 有錯誤，他並要求如果發現任何與原文不符的錯誤，均應加以改正。 後來的欽訂本聖經幾乎大部分都是採用丁道爾原來的翻譯。
後來丁道爾還是被一個英國人出賣，他遭到以異端的罪名被捕及 定罪。主後1536年，在靠近布魯塞爾（Brussels）的維寫勒德 （Vilvorde）地方，他被帶到刑場去。他被綁在一個木製的十字架上， 身邊堆滿了木柴，火焰把一個曾經承載了一個偉大靈魂的身驅燒成灰 燼。威廉丁道爾就進入了他榮耀的獎賞裡。
丁道爾最後的一年是在歐洲大陸度過的，可是在英國各地卻是風 雲湧起。亨利八世（Henry VIII）因著教皇的心口不一，未能如他所 願地做一些事，於是決心與羅馬教會一刀兩斷。在主後1534年，他宣 佈英國國王將成為英國教會的首腦，因此英文聖經就可以不再受控 制。在主後1535年，邁爾柯耳道（Miles Coverdale，另譯科威對勒） 印刷了第一本的英文新舊約聖經，當然大部分是根據丁道爾的版本。 就在丁道爾殉道的時候，這份第一次自由發行的英文聖經在英國出 版。主後1538年，皇家宣佈在每一個教堂裡都放置英文聖經，使任何 一個想要讀的人都可以自由地去讀。雖然丁道爾已經不在地上，無法 分享這個喜訊，他在天上想必是分外高興他一生的勞苦努力所帶出的 結果。
亨利八世被人稱為英國改教之父。如果我們認為改教不過是把 英國和羅馬分割開來的話，那麼這個稱呼還說得過去，可是事實上， 這位肥胖放蕩的君王是一個極為自私自利的小人，為了他個人的私 慾，他連自己的妻子，或任何其他的人或事物（包括基督教和天主教）， 都可以犧牲，怎麼能夠稱這樣一個人為屬靈運動之父呢﹖真正的屬靈 運動乃是藉著復活基督的大能使重生的男女得以自由地遇見主，並在 教會中向世界見證榮耀的救主。屬靈的運動乃是建立在復活常存神話 語的根基上，神用丁道爾在十六世紀的英語世界中再一次建立一個穩 固的根基，好讓教會得以建造。從五旬節以來，儘管仇敵努力想要摧 毀它，真正的教會一直存在於世上，宗教改革所帶來的有生命的教會， 也同樣地會面對仇敵的攻擊。