the most significant moment of the english reformation -- 6/6/16

Today's selection -- from Tudors by Peter Ackroyd. Sometimes circumstances can change rapidly. In the 1520s, an English translation of the Bible by William Tyndale had been deemed heresy. But by the late 1530s, with King Henry VIII's cataclysmic split from the Catholic church, having an English translation of the Bible became not only desirable but mandatory. Its introduction helped usher in a fertile period of English literature, with such luminaries as John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Alfred Tennyson, and eventually William Shakespeare, and also helped fuse the English identity with the Protestant faith:

Possibly a copy of Thomas Cromwell's bible
printed by Miles Coverdale and Richard Grafton

"In a set of injunctions, published in the following year, an English Bible was introduced to the people. [The King's chief minister] Thomas Cromwell decreed that within a period of two years every church must possess and display a copy of the Bible in the native tongue; it was to be chained in an open place, where anyone could consult it. The edition used was that of Miles Coverdale, published in 1535 and essentially a reworking of Tyndale's original. Thus the man who had been denounced as a heretic, and whose translation had been burned by royal decree eleven years before, was now the un­heralded and unsung scribe of the new English faith. It was also ordered that one book comprising the Pater Noster, the Ave Maria, the Creed and the Ten Commandments was to be set upon a table in the church where all might read it; this also was to be in the English tongue.

"The translation has been described as one of the most signifi­cant moments in the history of reformation. It immediately identi­fied the English Bible with the movement of religious change, and thus helped to associate what would become the Protestant faith with the English identity. In the seventeenth century, in particular, cultural history also became religious history. ... The translated Bible also introduced into England a biblical culture of the word, as opposed to the predominantly visual culture of the later medieval world; this refashioned culture was then to find its fruits in Milton and in Bunyan, in Blake and in Tennyson.

The English Bible also helped to fashion a language of devotion. Coverdale was the first to introduce such phrases as 'loving kindness' and 'tender mercy'. A tract of the time declared that 'Englishmen have now in hand, in every church and place, the Holy Bible in their mother tongue'. It was said that the voice of God was English. A seventeenth-century historian, William Strype, wrote that 'everybody that could bought the book, or busily read it, or got others to read it to them'. It was read aloud, in St Paul's Cathedral, to crowds who had gathered to listen. The king's men also hoped that the reading of the Bible would inculcate obedience to the lawful authorities, except that obedience was now to the king rather than to the pope. ...

"Cromwell also ordered the clergy to keep silent on matters of biblical interpretation, not to be 'babblers nor praters, arguers nor disputers thereof, nor to presume that they know therein that they know not'. It was of the utmost importance to be quiet on matters of doctrine for fear of provoking more discord and discontent in a country that had narrowly avoided a damaging religious war."


Peter Ackroyd


Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I


St. Martin's Griffin


Copyright 2012 by Peter Ackroyd


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