Excerpts From David Daniell's William Tyndale - A Biography

JUNE 14, 2015

The role of the Sola Scriptura:

This is something that has not until this point been brought into the debate about the English Reformation. There is nothing in the Mirror of the Gospel doctrines, and of course no hint of the writing of Paul and others in the epistles and in Revelation, all the very bedrock of Christian theology. Only when the whole Bible, as given originally in Greek and Hebrew, was printed in English could it be seen that the Bible preceded the Church and gave it all its authority. Only then could not only New Testament theology but also that system of internal reference–within the New Testament itself, within the Old Testament itself, and so fully linking the two–be visible to everybody.

Catholic revisionist historians miss the vital point. The Gospels-as-pap represents no New Testament theology. The Church would never permit a complete printed New Testament in English from the Greek, because in that New Testament can be found neither the Seven Sacraments nor the doctrine of purgatory, two chief sources of the Church’s power. The recent remark ‘there was nothing in the character of religion in late medieval England which could only or even best have been developed within Protestantism’,1 only points to how far religion in late medieval England was from mainstream Christianity. An elementary working knowledge of the Bible, the ultimate root of the Christian faith, could only have been developed within Protestantism. ‘When all is said and done, the Reformation was a violent disruption, not the natural fulfilment, of most of what was vigorous in late medieval piety and religious practice’.2 Such piety and practice, in many ways admirable, we must reply, was imprisoned in a little world of recent Church tradition, while the vast continents of historic Bible revelation, towered over by the mountain range of Paul’s theology, were forbidden territory: no ‘natural fulfilment’ would ever set foot there. ‘On the eve of the Reformation there were probably over 50,000 Books of Hours or Primers in circulation among the English laity. No other book commanded anything like such readership…'3 That is no doubt true, but it ignores the fact that during the English Reformation, lay men and women were so hungry tor the Bible in English that they were often prepared to die for it. Nobody was burned alive for ‘The Little Hours of the Virgin’.

Data on book production:

Caxton, Pynson, de Worde–that is almost all. Yet, as noticed above, by 1476, when Caxton first set up his press at Westminster, there were already presses abroad in seventy European towns in eight European countries. ‘We know the names of a thousand printers operating before the year 1500, and the titles of about 30,000 books which they produced… Between 1517 and 1520 Luther’s thirty publications probably sold well over 300,000 copies.4 In London, when Tyndale arrived there, the two printers, Pynson and de Worde, were responsible for over 70 per cent of the English output; imports from foreign presses accounted for 17 per cent; other printers made only 10 per cent of books.5 It is a fairly miserable story. Printers came and went, like T. Berthelet, H. Pepwell or J. Rastell; sometimes working their presses, sometimes not. When Tyndale was preaching in St Dunstan’s in Fleet Street, Wynkyn de Worde’s press was down the hill towards Ludgate, in the shadow of St Bride’s church, and there were only possibly four others apart from Pynson doing occasional work. The quality was about good enough for schoolbooks or practical manuals, but never anything to write home about. The strategy was to have a rapid turnover of small cheap popular books, and, in de Worde’s case, not to fuss about aesthetics.

  1. Duffy, E. The Stripping of the Altars, New Haven and London, 1992 p.4 ↩︎

  2. Ibid. ↩︎

  3. Ibid. ↩︎

  4. Dickens, A.G Reformation and Society in Sixteenth-Century Europe, 1966, p. 51. ↩︎

  5. Bennett, H.S. English Books and Readers 1475 to 1557, Cambridge, 1969, p. 188. ↩︎