Printed from the Blue Letter Bible
Biographical Sketches of the Translators & Reformers
In the year 1324, or about that time, according to the conjectures of all his biographers, Wycliffe was born, in the parish bearing the same name, in Yorkshire, England. His name has been spelled in nearly twenty different ways; but we have followed the custom of the Editors of his Bible, published first by the University Press at Oxford, 1850. Nothing is known of his childhood or early youth. In the year 1340, at the age of sixteen years, he was admitted as a student at Queen's College, Oxford, which was then first founded. He was soon transferred from this to Merton College of the same University, which from having been longer established, possessed superior advantages, and at that time could boast of having connected with it some of the most learned men of the age. The college students at that period devoted most of their time to the study of scholastic theology and civil law. Wycliffe took high rank as a scholar. Even the Roman Catholic historians confess that he was a subtle disputant, and second to none in philosophy. He did not, however, confine himself to the prescribed studies. He carefully read the writings of the fathers, and although the Sacred Scriptures were then almost entirely neglected by the ecclesiastic, Wycliffe devoted much time to their study. About the year 1360 he appears as a bold and successful assertor of the rights of the University against Mendicant Friars, who had become so numerous and powerful at Oxford as almost to threaten the entire ruin of the University. Their endeavor was to lead young men who had entered Oxford to be educated, to leave the University for the Monastery, and so powerful was their influence that, it is said, the number of students was reduced from thirty thousand to six thousand. In testimony of their gratitude for his services, and in compliment to his talents, the university made him, in 1361, blaster of Baliol College, and presented him to the living of Fillingham, which he afterwards exchanged for that of Ludgershall. Four years after, in 1365, he was appointed Warden of Canterbury Hall in Oxford, by Archbishop Islip, its founder. The diploma conferring this honor declares Wycliffe to be "a person in whom his Grace very much confided, and on whom he had fixed his eyes for that place on account of the honesty of his life, his laudable conversation and knowledge of letters." Islip died the next year, and Bishop Langham was raised to the See of Canterbury. He was a monk and was strongly attached to the religious orders which Wycliffe had so boldly censured. His dislike to the Reformer was so great, that he deprived him of the office which the founder of the college had conferred on him. An appeal was made at the Court of Rome; but after delay of four years, the Pope confirmed the action of the Archbishop.
In 1372 Wycliffe was appointed, by the Chancellor and Regents of the University Professor of Divinity. This was the greatest honor which they could offer him, and it shows conclusively the high estimation in which he was then held. He was soon called upon to take part in the controversy which was being waged between the Court of Rome and the English Sovereign. The Pope had demanded annual payment of 1,000 marks, as tribute money, and as an acknowledgement that the sovereignty of England was under the authority of the successor of St. Peter. Edward the Third had for several years declined to make these payments, and it was now threatened that his Majesty would be cited to appear for trial before the Sovereign Pontiff Edward appealed to Parliament, who resolved to resist the charge by force, if necessary, and Wycliffe maintained and defended the rights of the King against the Pope. In 1374 Wyclifle was sent to the Continent upon an embassy to the Pope, to treat concerning the liberties of the Church in England. He remained abroad two years, carefully studying the policy of the Pontiff, and returned to England more thoroughly convinced of the gross corruption of the Romish Church; while his zeal in exposing her errors and vices was considerably increased, and his opportunities for spreading his views were very great. Wycliffe's doctrines gave so much offence to the clergy of the Romish Church, that in 1377 he was summoned to appear before a convocation which met in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, to answer for his heresies; but the assembly broke up in confusion without taking measures against him. But later in the same year the Pope commanded that he should be arrested, and kept in security till further orders. The University was enraged, and debated whether to receive the Pope's messenger or dismiss him disgracefully. But Wycliffe concluded to meet his accusers face to face, at a Synod appointed for the purpose at Lambeth, in January, 1373. Whether they would have silenced the Reformer or not, is uncertain, for during their deliberations a mandate from the queen mother forbade their proceeding against him, and he was dismissed with the simple command to abstain from preaching his doctrines in future. About this time he was engaged in translating the Bible. His writings abound with sound Protestant views on the supreme authority of the Scriptures as a guide to faith and practice; but his enemies took advantage of some disturbance which they unjustly charged to his teaching, and he was banished from the University in 1353, retiring to his living at Lutterworth where he died in 1384. The translation of the Bible was the chief and crowning glory of his life, and the lever by which the Papal power in Great Britain was overthrown. We are confident that an impartial examination of his claims will confirm his right to be called the most important agent in producing the Protestant Reformation. More than a century before Luther was born, Wycliffe had planted the seeds of the Reformation, and with great boldness and perseverence had promulgated those principles which were to shake the Romish Church to its centre. He was the "Morning Star of the Reformation," the pioneer and patriarch of Protestantism, and his name should have the highest place on the roll of its honored heroes.
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To no mere man does the world owe more, than to William Tyndale, the chief of the English Reformers. He was born (probably) in 1485, the year in which Henry VII. came to the throne; there is some doubt with regard to the exact time. The Romish Church was never to appearance more firmly established in England than at this period. The King made close alliance with the Pope, and all classes seemed content in submitting to his authority. But the foundations of the Church were, nevertheless, insecure; the period of its worst oppressions and abuses was running out, and the man who was to do more than all others to overthrow its influence in England was already born. The materials for the narration of Tyndale's early life are scanty. The first notice we have is of his being sent to Oxford, where, says Foxe, "he increased as well in the knowledge of tongues and other liberal arts, as especially in the knowledge of the Scriptures, whereunto his mind was singularly addicted." In 1517 or 1518, he left Oxford for Cambridge, where he remained as a student for a year or two, leaving in 1520 for Gloucestershire, his native county, than which there was no part of England more under Papal dominion; nowhere were the abuses of the Church more flagrant, or the ignorance of its ministers more extreme. Tyndale's bold rebukings of these things made him extremely unpopular, and being secretly charged with holding heretical opinions, he was summoned before his bishop, who reproved him severely; whereupon he left the county for London, hoping to be able to execute a desire, which had long been in his heart, of translating the New Testament. Wycliffe's, the early English translation in existance, had become obsolete. The Bible was a sealed book to the people; and the clergy, consulting their own interest; strove to keep it so. They perverted its teachings to their own support, they wrested its meaning to their own purposes, and they darkened its truth with the mist of their own sophistry. But Tyndale found, to use his own words "not only was there no room in my Lord of London's palace to translate the New Testament, but also that there was no place to do it in all England." So, in January, 1524, a voluntary exile, alone and unsupported, he left London for Hamburg, where; for more than a year, he labored on his translation. In May, 1525, he went to Cologne, in order to print his translation there- But Cochlaeus, the noted controversialist, who happened to be in Cologne at this time discovered that the printing was going on, and determined to stop it. He prevailed upon the city authorities to interdict the printer from proceeding, while he wrote to Henry, to Wolsey, and to Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, to warn them against the translation, that they might keep this "most pernicious article of merchandise" from entering the ports of England. So Tyndale leaves for Worms, then a Lutheran city, where the printing is finishedone edition containing the commentary of the translator, the other the simple text. By the spring or summer of 1526, copies of these editions must have been in England, where prohibition was violently made against them by the ecclesiastical authorities, and all persons were warned, under pain of excommunication to deliver up "all such books as contained the translation of the New Testament." But the attempts to suppress them were not entirely successful, and the number of readers increased, both in England and abroad, though the authorities burned all the books they could obtain.
To a man like Tyndale, death could have come only as a blessing from God. The sorrows, the trials, the toils of life were over. The reward had come. A life like his deserves special remembrance in these days. The times in which we live are so happy, so free from religious persecution, that we are likely to forget our blessings from their very commonness. There is but little opportunity for the exercise of the self-devotion and faith of the Reformation, we are likely to have the worthless substitute instead of the priceless original. There can be no better remedy for this than to honor the true virtues in the lives of the martyrs of the past. We give on the preceding page a facsimile of Tyndale's first New Testament, which will be interesting to our readers, from the antique beauty of its typography.
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This man is chiefly famous, because under his direction, in 1535, the first translation of the whole Bible ever printed in English was completed. It is supposed to have been printed in Zurich, and was issued in folio, and dedicated to Henry VIII. In the dedication, the translator tells his Majesty, that the Pope gave him the title of Defender the Faith, "only because his Highness suffered his Bishops to burn God's Word, the root of faith, and to persecute the lovers and ministers of it;" but at the same time intimates his conviction, that the title will prove a prophecy, "that by the righteous administration of his grace, the faith shall be so defended, that God's Word, the mother of faith, shall have its free course through all christendom, but especially in his grace's realme." Coverdale was born in Yorkshire, about 1486, and became an Augustine Monk. When he translated his Bible he was in exile for his reforming principles. Being allowed to return to England, he was made Almoner to Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry. He was made Bishop in Edward VI's reign, but lost his place, and was imprisoned when Mary came to the throne. At the King of Denmark's request he was set at liberty, and permitted to depart from the, kingdom, to which he afterwards returned upon the accession of Elizabeth. He was greatly attached to the principles of the Puritans, and therefore would not accept of his Bishopric. A small living was given to him, from which he was afterwards deposed because his principles were obnoxious to the ruling powers. He died in great poverty, in the year 1569; a sad fate for a man uuiversaliy esteemed for his piety, his Scriptural learning, and godly diligence in preaching God's Holy Word.
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This prelate, one of the most eminent that ever filled the See of Canterbury, was born July 2, 1489, at Aslacton, in Nottinghamshire. At the age of fourteen he was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge, where by his diligence and ability he soon acquired a very high reputation, and quickly obtained a fellowship and the degree of M. A. The former he soon lost by marrying; but upon the death of his wife, which happened soon after their marriage, he was again admitted fellow of his Collegea very unusual thing, and an evidence of the high esteem in which he was held. By Cardinal Wolsey he was offered a fellowship at Oxford, which he declined; and in 1523, he took the degree of D.D., and was appointed theological lecturer and examiner; in both of which positions he rendered essential service to the cause of learning and religion. About this time he was called upon to give an opinion on the subject of King Henry's divorce from Catharine, when he said the subject must be narrowed down to the question, as to whether a man could marry his brother's wife, which was to be decided by Scripture in England, as well as at Rome. Cranmer produced a work upon the subject, which so completely coincided with Henry's opinion, that the King made him Archbishop of Canterbury, and in this position he decreed a divorce between Henry VIII and Catharine, and confirmed the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn. These acts excited the enmity of the pope, who threatened excommunication; but Cranmer set him at defiance, and immediately began to interest himself in the Reformation. He very soon procured an act of Parliament which abolished forever the pope's supremacy in England, and declared the king sole head of the Church. His next objects were the translation of the Scriptures into English, and the dissolution of the monasteries. The high rank to which he had attained naturally made him many enemies, who sought his ruin; but he was protected by the king, who appointed him one of the executors of his last will, and one of the regents of the kingdom. Upon the death of Henry, in 1546, Cranmer crowned the young king, and during the short reign of that monarch was very zealous in promoting the Reformation. In 1553 he chewed himself adverse to the settlement of the crown on Lady Jane Grey, though, upon the death of Edward, he avowedly espoused her cause, and became a member of her council. But Mary came to the throne, and Cranmer was in disgrace, while his friends urged him to seek safety in a foreign country. But for the Reformation's sake he would not leave. He was soon arrested for high treason in espousing Lady Jane Grey's cause, was convicted, and lost his see. He asked for pardon, and it was granted only that he might be tried for heresy, of which he was also convicted. Now that the pope's party were again in the ascendancy, he was most cruelly treated, and, seared by the prospect of death, he signed a recantation of his religious principles. But his enemies were not satisfied with his recantation, but demanded his life also, and a writ was signed for his burning. Being asked before a council to make a last profession of his faith, he renounced his recantation, and said that the hand which signed it should be first punished. Enraged at this unexpected declaration, the mob dragged him to the stake, and here his resolution was undaunted. He stretched forth his right hand into the flame till it was consumed, saying, "This is the hand that wrote it, therefore it shall first suffer punishment!" In a short time he died, repeating the words of the martyr Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Such was the end of Thomas Cranmer, in the 67th year of his age. He was a man o great candor and a firm friend. He rather excelled in great industry and good judgment, than in quickness of apprehension. He was truly hospitable, frequently entertaining large numbers of his poor neighbors.
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Bede, usually entitled the Venerable Bede, was born at Sunderland, and died at Jarrow, a convent on the right bank of the Tyre, in the year 733, aged sixty-three. His writings were numerous, including translations of portions of the New Testament; but his most famous production was his "Ecclesiastical History of the English," written in Latin. A touching anecdote is told of his dying hour. He had not completed his version of St. John's Gospel, and the heavy shades of death were gathering upon him. His boy-scribe reminded him, that one chapter was yet untouched; and the dying man nerved himself to the task, till exhaustion required relief. Still the boy hung round him, saying, "Dear Master, one sentence remains yet unwritten." "Write quickly," was the reply: as the last words flowed from his lips upon the parchment page, the scribe said, "It is done." "Well," said Bede, "thou hast spoken the truth; all is ended. Take my head in thy hands. I would sit where I have been wont to pray, there to call upon my Father." So, resting upon the floor of his cell, chanting "Glory be to the Father and to the Son," his soul was wafted on as by wings of angels into the presence of that Spirit, who was the last breath upon his lips.
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This eminent Reformer derived his surname, as was common in those days, from his native village of Hussinetz, in the southwestern corner of Bohemia. The memorials which have come down to us of his early life are very scanty, such only as could be gathered from the short and simple annuals of the poor. He is said to have been born on the 6th of July, 1373. At the age of sixteen be went a poor boy to the University of Prague, where he was made a Master of Arts in 1396. In 1400 he was appointed preacher at the University Chapel of Bethlehem, a church recently built and endowed by two wealthy Bohemians, for the preaching of the gospel in their native tongue. For an honest, ardent man, burning with desire to spread God's truth, this was a commanding position; and Huss filled it so well that he made an enemy of the Archbishop of Prague, who at last succeeded in having him banished to his native village. Here he passed his time probably in the study of Wycliffe's writings, which had been sent over from England, or which a young student of Prague, named Jerome, had brought with him. The good seed, falling into his honest and good heart, brought forth fruit, and led him to undertake a translation of certain books of the Old and New Testaments into the vulgar tongue. Upon the death of his enemy, the archbishop, Huss returned to Prague, and began again his zealous attacks upon the abuses of the Church. He was an earnest speaker; we quote from his sermon."Not willing that the blood of souls should be required at my hands, I traced, as I was able, in the Holy Scriptures, the future dangers impending over the souls of men." The people were in his favor, and the entire kingdom became more and more filled with his doctrines, till soon great disturbances arose. The clergy were aroused and Huss was compelled once more to retire to the country. But he was not allowed to live in peace. The Council of Constance was convened in 1414, and he was summoned before it, to answer to the charges brought against him, having been promised the safe conduct, or passport of the Emperor Sigismond. But the Emperor proved false to his word, and the council were determined to condemn him. He was declared a heretic, given the opportunity to recant and sentenced to be burned at the stake. On the 6th day of July, 1415, just as he had completed his forty-second year, he was led forth for the burning. IIe was bound to the stake, fagots and heaps of straw were piled around him, and another offer was made him to recant, which he boldly rejected. The fire was set, and as it enwrapped him he was heard to say thrice," Jesus, son of the living God, have pity upon me!" His ashes were scraped together and thrown into the Rhine; but his followers dug out the precious earth where be was burned, and sent it to Prague.
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This man, the son of a respectable Leicestershire farmer, was born about the year 1470. At the age of fourteen he was sent to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he was distinguished for his rapid proficiency in the studies of the place. Here he took his degrees and was ordained, being at the time a very zealous Romanist. He was greatly alarmed, while at the University, at the prevalence of Lutheran opinions and violently combatted them. But upon meeting a pious clergyman, a Mr. Thomas Bilney, who from reading Luther's works, had become a secret friend of the Reformation, Latimer's feelings were changed, and he was compelled to acknowledge the errors in which he had been educated. He inveighed against Romish superstitions and observances, and so became obnoxious to the generality of the clergy, who endeavored to ruin him, and would certainly have done so, had not King Henry been one of his friends. He was very popular as a preacher, his very popularity with the people made him only the more hated by the bigoted among the clergy. He was frequently arrested by command of the bishops, and ordered to give up his views. But he did not accede to their demands. After the passing of the bloody statute, or the act of the six articles, Latimer protested against it by his conduct, resigned his bishopric, and retired into the country, intending here to pass the remainder of his days. But an accident compelling him to come to London for surgical assistance, he was seized and imprisoned in the Tower during the rest of King Henry's reign. On the accession of Edward VI. he was set at liberty, and being now one of the most eloquent preachers of the age, he was appointed to deliver the Lent sermons before the king, in the first three years of his reign. He preached, wherever he was found to be most serviceable, till Popery was re-established in the reign of Queen Mary, when he was cited to appear before a council in London. He immediately obeyed, was loaded with reproaches, and committed to the Tower, where he bore his sufferings with true Christian humility. Being treated with great cruelty, and urged to give up his opinions, he so steadfastly refused that he was excommunicated, and afterwards condemned to death, together with Ridley. Even the fear of death did not make him falter. The time of execution was the 10th of October, 1555, and the place was on the north side of the city of Oxford, neat Baliol College. Ridley was dressed in his bishop's robes, and Bishop Latimer wore his prison garb. The fire was speedily kindled, and at the sight of the flames Latimer exclaimed, "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out." Such was the glorious and triumphant end of Hugh Latimer, who had been in defatigable in the discharge of the duties of life, and who exhibited the most astonishing firmness and composure in the several trials to which he was exposed for expounding evangelical doctrine.
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This eminent English prelate was descended from an ancient family in Northumberland, and was born early in the sixteenth century. He was educated chiefly at Cambridge University, where he took his Master's Degree in 1525. He was soon after ordained priest, and went to the Sorbonne, in Paris, for further education, remaining on the continent till 1529. He had been brought up a zealous adherent of the Pope, but on his return to England, and while he was senior proctor of Cambridge University, the question of the Pope's supremacy in England was debated. Ridley had been an earnest student of the Scriptures, and was well qualified to give an opinion upon the subject; and through his arguments the University came to the following resolution:" That the Bishop of Rome had no more authority and jurisdiction derived to him from God, in this Kingdom of England, than any other foreign bishop." In 1540 he was made one of the King's Chaplains, and also presented with a prebendal stall in Canterbury Cathedral. While here he employed all his talents in exposing the abuses of Romanism, and charges were brought against him by his enemies; but the King and Cranmer were in his favor, so the charges came to naught. The Bishop of London, Bonner, having been deprived of his position, Ridley succeeded to the Bishopric in 1549-50, and soon after he directed that the altars in the churches or his diocese should be removed, and tables put in their place for the celebration of the Lord's Supper; to take away the false belief which the people had, of sacrifices to be offered upon altars. In 1552 he visited the Princess Mary, and offered to preach before her, but being a steadfast papist, she would not listen to him. Upon the death of Edward VI., Ridley attempted to set Lady Jane Grey, on the throne; failing in this, he was compelled to ask pardon of Mary, which she refused to grant. He was committed to the Tower, and after eight month's imprisonment conveyed to Oxford, where he was, on the 1st of October, 1555, condemned to death for heresy. The 15th of the same month was the day set for his execution, when he and Latimer were led out to die at the same time. "Be of good heart, brother Latimer," he said, "for God will either assuage the fury of the flames, or else give us strength to endure them." Being asked to recant his opinions, he steadfastly refused, and died with great composure amid the cruel flames. He was unquestionably one of the most eminent instruments in promoting the cause of the Reformation. In private life he was the pattern of all virtues; his temper was excellent; his manners affable and agreeable; and of the benevolence of his heart he gave abundant proofs in his great liberality to the poor. Besides this, he was very learned, his memory was great, and he had such a fund of general knowledge withal, that he deserved to be compared to the best men of his age, as his works, sermons, and sundry disputations in both the Universities well testified.
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This eminent divine and martyr was born in Lancashire, in the year 1500, and was educated at Cambridge, where he took a very high stand in scholarship. Being sent as Chaplain to the factory at Antwerp, he rendered important assistance to Tyndale and Coverdale in their work of translating the Bible into English. In the year 1537, a famous edition of the Bible was issued in folio, and from the name affixed to it as that of the supposed editor, it is usually called Matthew's Bible. It was printed abroad, at the expense of the English printers, Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, and was set forth with the King's most gracious license. It is now generally conceded that Rogers was the real editor of this work, for to him Tyndale had bequeathed parts of his Old Testament in manuscript. Its New Testament is Tyndale's over again, its Pentateuch is slightly varied, and the rest of the Old Testament differs but little from Coverdale. John Rogers sealed his testimony to the truth with his blood. In the reign of Edward VI. he returned to England and was made a prebend in St. Paul's Cathedral. On Mary's accession to the throne, such a bold, outspoken adherent to the faith of the Gospel could not fail to give offence; and at last he had the glorious privilege of ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving a blessed memory which will be honored wherever the English Bible is read. He was burned at Smithfield, on February 4th, 1555, the first martyr of the reign of bloody Mary. He had been previously taken to Bishop Bonner to be degraded; he craved one petition from the Bishop that he might speak a few words to his wife and children before he was burned; this was denied to him. "Then" said he, "you declare what your charity is."
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Although the most earnest efforts were made during Queen Mary's reign to hinder the preaching of the Gospel, and the truth seemed almost to be crushed to earth, still there were some devoted preachers who feared not to risk their lives in Christ's cause. One of these was the Rev. Laurence Saunders, who was a man born of good parentage, and educated at Eton and at King's College, Cambridge. After his graduation he engaged in trade, but when the Reformation in the reign of Edward VI began, he resigned his mercantile pursuits, obtained a license and began to preach. Being a man of much ability he was very popular, and was appointed by the authorities as lecturer in the College at Fotheringham, and afterwards to a position in the Cathedral of Litchfield,from here he went to an important parish in London. On Sunday, October 15th, 1553, Mr. Saunders delivered a sermon from his parish pulpit, which created so much excitement that he was arrested on the afternoon of the same day, by the order of the Bishop of London. His imprisonment lasted one year and three months, during which time he wrote several letters to the leading Reformers, Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, to his wife, and to other friends, upon the subjects so dear to his heart. He was summoned for examination before the Queen's Council, Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and other Bishops being present. He claimed liberty of conscience as against the usurped authority of the Bishop of Rome, and all other abuses; and being threatened by the council, he exhorted them to beware of shedding innocent blood, though he would accept the will of God, whether it were for life or death. They were unable to prevail upon him to recant his doctrines, and so excommunicated and degraded him, and sentenced him to be executed. On the 8th of February, 1555, he was led forth to execution, going barefooted, and in an old gown. Even at the stake they could not conquer his determination to preach the blessed Gospel of Christ. Going to the stake he embraced it, and said, "Welcome the cross of Christ, welcome everlasting life!" Soon the fire raged around him, and he fell asleep in Jesus.
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In a brief summary of the history of the Reformation, as a distinct, well-defined, aggressive force, we have to consider only the period of about one hundred and thirty years, between the dates 1517 and 1648. Between these limits the Reformation invaded every nation in Europe. In England, the temper of an untamed people hacked the imperious will of Henry tore volt against the hated supremacy of Rome. Here it was no new quarrel. The power of the Pope had been strictly bounded, long before, by king and baron; while Wickliffe spoke to the better heart and conscience of the nation, and his truth continued long after his ashes had floated out to their "vast and wandering grave." In France we have the story of long and bitter conflict, and a doubtful victory of despotism at the end. First, the gradual joyous spread of a tenderer, deeper, freer faith, through hymns and popular chants; then a long, silent, peaceable endurance, for forty years, of the tyranny that strove to exterminate it; then the sudden blazing out and long rancor of religious wars, and the wholesale series of assassinations which we call the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. But it is in Lower Germany and along the Lower Rhine, among the numerous populations of the industrious poor, that the new faith finds its warmest disciples. It was in the Christian hymns that rose amidst the hum of daily toil, that kept time to the darting of the shuttle and the pulses of the loom, that swelled from vast congregations, floated in the manly tones of the way-faring laborer, it was in these Christian hymns, and sacred melodies, and oft-quoted words of Holy Writ, that the vital religion of the time became blended with all affections and tasks of home, and sanctified the daily lives of thousands.
It would also be interesting to sketch the group of remarkable men who from time to time bore the standard that Luther first set flying. Melancthon, the gentle, scholarly associate, the clear and and refined intellect, whose feebler personality is so dominated by the intensely vitalized will of the great Reformer; Carlstadt, the radical, who takes at one grasp what he can take of the new doctrine, and puts it to its plainest uses; Calvin, ascetic, in ill health, and exile, who follows out the Reformed faith with thorough consistency, as heroic a man as ever lived, and as true as steel when the faith is to be proved by any act or suffering of his own; the clear headed and true-hearted Zwingli, who fell for the faith on the field of battle:these, and a host of other names, throng upon the memory, and inspire us with renewed devotion to God's truth as revealed in Holy Scripture, and in the lives of His suffering servants.
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Everybody knows the story vividly outlined, in even the most meagre sketch, of that first uprising of the free intellect in rebellion against spiritual usurpation and tyranny. The cheery, fair-complexioned boy, born at Eisleben, Saxony, in 1483, nursed on the breast of poverty, earning his nightly penny in the street-chorus of Christian hymns; the youth, startled by his companion's sudden death to "a horrible dread of the last day, craving with his very marrow that he might be safe;" the recluse student, coming upon his copy of the Holy Scriptures as a new and infinitely precious treasure; the pious monk, already looked on as the likely leader of a reform in Christian morals, on that journey to Rome which he "would not have missed for a thousand florins," climbing the Santa Scala painfully on his knees among the retinue of pilgrims, and struck as with a flash by these words of St. Paul, The just shall live by faith; the key ever after to his religious life; the "young doctor, fresh from the forge, glowing and cheerful in the Holy Ghost," withstanding to his face the impudent monk Tetzel, and raising a storm of revolutionary passion with his ninety-five Theses on Indulgences; the brave reformer, resolute in his defiance of the enthroned Lie that tyrannized over the soul of Christendom; the condemned and sentenced heretic, standing unbaffled before the powers of the Empire and the Church at Worms, and uttering his defence in those electric words, the assertion for all time of the liberty of the Christian conscience; the prisoner in the "Patmos" of Wartburg, fighting face to face with Satan, scattering with unseen hand from those friendly towers the words brave and timely that make his name a power among the people, and carrying on the great work that identifies his strong homely idiom with the language of the people's Bible;these pictures have been stamped indelibly on the history of the time, and they bring fresh to our thought nearly all that is worth remembering in the first few years of the great revolutionary era. In the year 1522 Luther began his colossal work, the translation of the Scriptures. His own account of his purposes is brief but clear. "I translated not only John's Gospel, but the whole New Testament, in my 'Patmos.' But Melancthon and I have begun to revise the whole of it, and it will by the blessing of God, do us credit. . . . We wish the work to be distinguished by the simplicity of its style." The first efforts of printing had been employed in the promulgation of the Scriptures; and Germany possessed translations of parts of the Bible so far back as the year 1477. But they were few, repulsive to the eye, and, from their rudeness, scarcely less repulsive to the understanding. We can imagine, then, with what delight Luther's translation was welcomed. Matthew's Gospel was first published; then Mark's; then the Epistle to the Romans. The entire New Testament appeared so early as 1523. To promote the circulation, the volume was made as cheap as possible; and the parts were also published separately. Luther's still more arduous labor, the translation of the Old Testament was instantly begun. And he thus writes on the 2d of November, "In my translation of the Old Testament I am only in Leviticus. It is in conceivable how much writing letters, business, conversation, and many other things have interrupted my progress. I am now determined to shut myself up and use dispatch, so that the five books of Moses may be sent to press by January. We shall print them separately, after that we shall proceed to the historical parts of Scripture, and lastly to the Prophets. The size and price render it necessary to make these divisions in the publication."
The Romish advocates were up in arms on the appearance of a work which has always been fatal to the delusions of Rome; but it was received with joy by the people, and Luther saw it spread to the borders of the land. This translation still stands at the head of all the German versions. Its simplicity, force and dignity have had no rivals, and like our own authorized version, it is appealed to as the finest example of the old national tongue. By reason of it, if for nothing else, Luther still leads his nation. Even now his name is in Germany what Washington's is in America, and is in like manner revered by liberal and conservative alike. His translation of the Bible united the two jarring dialects, the Swabian and the Frankish, into one great speech, and thus, says Bunsen, "preserved the only unity which in our days remains to the German nation, that of language, literature, and thought." Though, since these words of Bunsen's were written, German unity has been brought about in another way.
The twenty-five years that elapsed between Luther's release from the sheltering towers of Wartburg and his death, were years of an incessant struggle, in which he stands always in the front rank, to receive the scars and bruises of the fight. His words are "half-battles." "They say," he writes, "that these hooks of mine are too keen and cutting. They are right. I never meant them to be soft and gentle. My only regret is that they cut no deeper" Erasmus shrinks from the stern warfare his satire has done its share in kindling, and Luther says of him, "He has attacked the Pope, and is now drawing his head out of the noose." He says again, "I care not about being accused of violence. It shall be my glory and honor henceforth to have it said how I rage and storm against the Papists. I will leave them no rest from my curses till I sink into my grave. . . . Yet I keep towards all the world a kind and loving heart. Often in the night, when unable to sleep, I ponder in my bed painfully and anxiously how they may be won to repent before a fearful judgment overtakes them. But it seems that it must not be." With his fiery, positive, self-centred faith, Luther was sorely troubled at the religious dissension and chaos of opinions that followed the course of the Reformation; "Many think," said he, "that my path is on roses; but God knows how far my heart is from any such feeling." He says "at times I am merry, at times I am sad. . . . . I hold that a great darkness will follow this gospel light, and that soon after the last day will come." From the first, people heard him gladly. "Where I found one for the Pope, I found three for you," said Miltitz, in the first year of the controversy. Shouts of sympathy, welcome, and good cheer greeted him in the very streets of Worms. Printers spread his tracts in large numbers, cheapjly, neatly, accurately; while those of his opponents they charged double the price for, and sent them out full of blunders. German soldiers proclaimed him Pope before Clement's own face, in the streets of Rome. Theologians of free spirit looked to him as their undaunted leader. The oppressed peasantry were sure of his large-hearted sympathy in the helpless struggle for their rights against feudal chiefs. But at every hand he had cause of tumult, anxiety, and grief. "Where our Lord God builds a church," said he, "the devil builds a chapel close behind it." So wore on his troubled and stormy life through the conflict of those five and twenty years, till the 15th of February, 1546, when he fell asleep gently, with his last breath commending his spirit to the "Lord of Truth," and testifying in death his reliance on the faith whereby he had lived.
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The first English transltion of the New Testament, 12 mo., from the original Greek was printed in Antwerp, (1,500 copies) in 1526. Bishop Tunstall and Wolsey, went abroad to destroy the nest, as they thought, of this viper's brood. At Antwerp, an English merchant offered them all they wished to buy, even to the last copy. The Bishop caught at the bait. "Gentle Mr. Packington," he replied, "do your diligence, and get them; and with all my heart I will pay for them, whatever they cost you; for the books are naught, and I intend surely to burn them at St. Paul's Cross." Packington's speech to Tyndale is equally quaint. "William, I know thou art a poor man, and hast a heap of books by thee; for which thou hast endangered thy friends and beggared thyself; and I have gotten thee a merchant, which with ready money shall despatch thee of all thou hast." "who is he?" "The Bishop of London." "O, that because he will burn them." "Yes." "I am the gladder," said Tyndale, "for these two benefits; I shall get money to bring myself out of debt, and the whole world will cry out against the burning God's Word; and the overplus of money shall make me more studious to correct the said New Testament, and newly to imprint the same; and I trust the second will much better like you than the first." So the books were burned in great quantities at St. Paul's Cross the same year. But a single copy of this edition is believed to be extant, and that in the Baptist Library in Bristol, England. In 1529-30 other copies were printed which found their way into England to such an extent that Dr. Stokesly, then Bishop of London, caused all the New Testaments and many others of Tyndale's works which he bought up should be brought to St. Paul's Churchyard and there burned, which was done in May, 1531. In 1531 Tyndale had prepared and printed in Antwerp a second enlarged and more perfect edition of the New Testament, 8vo. A copy of this edition is now in the British Museum. In 1538 Coverdale and the English printer Richard Grafton, had 2,500 copies the Bible, printed in France in the English language; the whole edition was seized and condemned to the flames, a few copies only being saved.
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Thomas Wolsey, was the son of a butcher at Ipswich, Suffolk, and born there in 1471. He finished his education at Magdalen College, Oxford, and after he had taken his degrees, he became Master of the school dependent upon that College, where he had under his tuition three sons of the Marluis of Dorset, by whom he was presented with the living of Lexington, in Somersetshire, into which he was inducted in 1500. His advancement was very rapid, first as domestic chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and afterwards as Chaplain to the household of Henry VII. His manners were those of the true courtier, very insinuating, and he rose rapidly in the King's favor, who consulted him on all occasions, and showered positions of dignity upon him. His preferments, civil and ecclesiastical, very speedily succeeded one another, and even profusely accumulated; till finally in 1515, he was made a Cardinal. Thus promoted, his pride and love of pomp kept pace with his rank. He kept great trains of servants, and the sons of noblemen were among his menials, while his equipage and furniture were of the costliest kind. His connection with Bishop Bonner cannot be lost sight of, a man whose character stands out in deeds of blood as long as the remembrance of Christian Martyrs are cherished. But his fall was approaching, and the first step to it was the divorce of Henry VIII from Catherine. Anne Boleyn, on her marriage with the King, employed her influence in effecting Wolsey's downfall. He lost the favor of the King, who caused him to be indicted for treason, and to be conducted to London for trial. On his way from his palace at York to London, he was seized with a disorder which obliged him to stop at Liecester. His disorder in a few days terminated his life, in the 60th year of his age. Shortly before he expired, he closed a conversation with the constable of the Tower, which related to the King, with this memorable exclamation, "Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King, he would not, in my grey hairs, have given me over to my enemies." Thus he sunk to the grave, a victim to tyranny, but to a tyranny which he himself had formed; exhibiting an instructive example to all future ministers of the insecure possession of power and wealth, acquired by extortion and oppression; and of the folly of placing confidence in princes governed by conceit, caprice and personal ambition. Still, he had lived long enough to be the means of great injury to the cause of the Reformation. If persecution of God's ministers, and burning of God's Word could have destroyed the truth, it would have perished during his brief career, so strong was the opposition he made to it. But God overruled his wickedness. and "made the wrath of man to praise Him."
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Cite This Page:
Jackson, William F.B. "Biographical Sketches of the Translators and Reformers," The Parallel Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 1 Jul 2002. 20 May 2013.
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