Month: January 2017

Dissent and Democracy in Modern American History



What is dissent? What role has dissent played in the development of American democracy? The Oxford English Dictionary helps us begin to answer the first question. The OED defines dissent as “difference of opinion or sentiment; disagreement” and the “opposite of consent.” This document collection encourages teachers and students to elaborate that definition and to develop answers to the second question by examining four case studies in dissent from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These case studies represent four very different forms of dissent: the mass demonstrations and violence of Haymarket, the parades and petitions of the women’s suffrage and anti-suffrage movements, the pamphlets and clinics of Margaret Sanger’s birth control crusade, and the free-speech forums and masquerade balls of the Dill Pickle Club. These case studies, in their variety, allow us to consider the different forms that dissent might take, and the different paths that these movements could follow within national history.

This document collection explores the role of dissent in the development of American democracy through four case studies from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

U.S. historians and political scientists often classify dissident movements along a spectrum from left to right, with the left side encompassing Communists, socialists, and others committed to greater economic and political equality, often achieved through government intervention, and the right side including those who embrace capitalist economics with little or no state regulation. However, these categories become more difficult to define in the area of civil liberties, which both the left and the right claim to embrace. For example, today, the civil rights and reproductive rights movements are both identified with the left, while the gun rights and pro-life movements are both identified with the right. In regard to these movements, neither the left nor the right can be characterized as simply for or against government intervention.

In American Dreamers: How the Left Changed America, Michael Kazin identifies two axes through which to interpret the history of leftist dissent in the United States. One axis concerns the relationships—and differences—between the political left and the cultural left. By political left, Kazin refers to movements and individuals, which advocate significant changes to national laws and, even, to the structure of government. Examples from this document collection include the Workingmen’s Party platform and the suffragists’ efforts to change voting laws. By cultural left, Kazin means the more amorphous, and often more widely accepted, set of artistic and literary practices that express dissent from prevailing cultural norms. Examples from this collection include the Dill Pickle Club records of “bohemian” life. As Kazin notes, there are plenty of moments when political and cultural activity intersect, however there are also many moments when they diverge and, as historians, it is useful to be able to distinguish between them. The second axis that Kazin identifies describes a tension within the goals of leftist movements, whether they are primarily political or cultural. That tension lies between, on the one hand, the desire to extend or protect individual liberties and, on the other hand, the desire to achieve social equality and justice. There are times when achieving collective good seems to require the sacrifice of individual freedoms and vice versa. Although Kazin writes specifically of the left, his terms provide a useful framework for many of the documents presented here and can help us formulate terms and questions for right-wing as well as left-wing movements.

Please consider the following questions as you review the documents

  • Develop a definition of dissent based on your reading of these documents. What do the documents have in common? How does the concept of dissent allow us to bring together documents that are, in many ways, quite different?
  • What forms has dissent taken in U.S. history? What are the objectives of the writers and organizations represented in these documents? In what ways do they dissent from the political and social conditions of their times? What are their methods for advocating change? What are their relationships to mainstream American politics and culture?
  • What is the role of dissent in a representative democracy such as the United States? Why have groups of Americans chosen to go outside of official channels (e.g., elections) in order to try to reform government and society? How have traditions of dissent changed the ways that Americans practice democracy?
  • In what ways does the pursuit of individual liberty conflict with the quest for social equality and justice? In what ways are these goals compatible?  


Tyndale’s Betrayal and Death

Tyndale’s Betrayal and Death

Tyndale's Betrayal and Death

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Brian Edwards
Tyndale’s Betrayal and Death
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eting out the elusive Tyndale and bringing about his demise: a devious ne’er-do-well named Henry (or Harry) Phillips.

Henry Phillips arrived in Antwerp during the early summer of 1535. He came from a wealthy and therefore notable English family, and his father, Richard, had been three times a member of parliament and twice high sheriff. In addition, Richard Phillips held the lucrative post of Comptroller of the Customs in Poole Harbor.

Henry Phillips was the third and last son in the family, and in 1533 he registered at Oxford for a degree in civil law. And being a man of some ability, he was apparently well-set to gain a good position and follow a respectable life.

However, Phillips had another side to his character that now came to deter him. Entrusted with a large sum of money by his father to pay to someone in London, Henry reached the big city and gambled away his trust.

What his movements were immediately after that we cannot be sure, but three years later, in the winter of 1536–37, he wrote from the Continent a series of long, penitent letters home, expressing his terrible poverty and the fact that his dire straits would soon end his life in abject misery unless his parents held out a hand of forgiveness and assistance. He was by then being branded as a traitor and rebel, and had found himself pursued by government agents and without a friend in the world.

After squandering his father’s money in London, Phillips had evidently come into contact with someone who was still anxious to apprehend Tyndale. Phillips was virtually stranded in Antwerp, afraid to return home and unable to leave the city. A young educated man from the university, with influential connections and a known disdain for the reformers, and now in a terrible financial mess, he was the ideal person to send on a new mission to kidnap Tyndale.

We may never know the identity of the powerful dignitary who so successfully used Phillips as his front man in the arrest of Tyndale, but the prime suspicion rests upon John Stokesley. His hatred of the reformers was venomous, and he boasted of the number of heretics he had killed. Beside Stokesley, even Thomas More appeared gentle.

Whoever his master was, Phillips received his orders, a servant and a liberal supply of money, then set off for Louvain. This city was in the province of Brabant, and the town, strongly against reform, was situated about 30 miles northeast of a small village of later historical importance called Waterloo. Phillips registered as a student at the university and, to explain his apparent wealth, spoke freely of holding two good benefices in the diocese of Exeter. From Louvain he could plan his strategy and ride along the direct road to Antwerp, less than 30 miles away.
Winning Their Confidence

Phillips threw himself into the company of the English merchants, and by his silver tongue and golden hand won the confidence of all except Thomas Poyntz, the man who gave Tyndale safe lodging in Antwerp. It was not long before Tyndale, who was frequently invited to dine with the merchants, found himself in the same company, and Henry Phillips had come face to face with his prey.

Unsuspecting, the reformer felt attracted to the easy manner and eloquent speech of the young student lawyer, and before long he invited him to the Poyntzes’ home. There he dined, admired Tyndale’s small library, warmly commended his labors, and talked easily of the affairs in England and the need for reform. He even stayed overnight.

Thomas Poyntz had misgivings about the relative stranger, but when Tyndale assured him of the man’s Lutheran sympathies, he put his doubts aside. This was the greatest mistake Tyndale ever made.

Phillips won the friendship of Poyntz, and after a few days the merchant took the visitor on a tour of Antwerp, readily answering all Phillips’ inquiries about the alleys, buildings and chief officers of the town. They talked about the king and his affairs, Poyntz and his affairs, Phillips and his affairs. It was all very amicable. What Poyntz only later realized was that Phillips was also gently sounding him out to see whether, for a good bribe, he would be willing to sacrifice Tyndale. For all his astute business abilities, Poyntz apparently did not pick up the veiled message until it was too late.

Within a few days Henry Phillips had gone. He had learned enough from his new friends to know that it would be useless to work through the merchants or officers of Antwerp; a warning would almost certainly reach Tyndale before he could be seized.

He was right in this. Antwerp was full of eyes, ears and mouths. As early as April of that year the Imperial attorney in Brussels had issued a warrant for the arrest of the three leaders of English reform: Tyndale, Joye and Dr. Barnes. This warrant was passed to the leaders at the Bergen in case one of the wanted men should visit the great trade fair held in that town in April. A helpful note forewarned the Antwerp merchants of all these official communications.

Thus Phillips rode straight to the court of Brussels, 24 miles distant and just a few miles west from Louvain. Ambassador Hackett had died in October 1534 and neither Henry of England nor Charles of the great Imperial Empire was in a hurry to see him replaced. Henry had finally substituted Anne and himself for Catherine and the pope; the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, and the recent Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, were already on their way to the scaffold; the pope was putting the finishing touches to a Bull to excommunicate this great “Defender of the Faith,” and Charles, because of all this, was not talking to King Henry.

Phillips therefore arrived at the Imperial Court at a time when he could act as his own ambassador and with valuable information against one of Henry’s subjects. With little delay, he obtained the services of the Emperor’s attorney and, with a small party of officers, set out on the road back to Antwerp.

Poyntz was sitting unusually lazily by his door when Phillips’ servant arrived, inquired whether William Tyndale was at home, and assured the merchant that his master would shortly call back to see the translator. He did not call back, and three or four days later Poyntz left Antwerp to conduct some business at Barrow, some 18 miles from the town. He expected to be away for a month or six weeks and Phillips, knowing this, decided to strike without further delay.

He arrived at the Poyntz home about May 21, 1535, and, in his courteous and charming manner, invited himself to lunch. He then returned into the town, presumably to set the officers in their appropriate place for ambush. Phillips’ scheme was working according to plan, only requiring that Tyndale, who had already been invited out to lunch that day, cancel the arrangement made with Mrs. Poyntz and invite Phillips to join him in the town. In this he was not disappointed.

But Henry Phillips could not resist one more victory over his already-condemned prize. Almost as an afterthought he asked Tyndale if he would kindly lend him two pounds, on the pretext that he had, that very morning, lost his purse. Tyndale, who according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was “simple and inexpert in the wily subtleties of this world,” willingly handed over the money (enough for a poor family to live on for two months) and the two men left the house.

Antwerp was, like all medieval towns, laced with twisting, narrow alleys that in places refused to allow two men to pass, and were sunless by reason of the overhanging buildings. As they left Poyntz’s home, just such an opening confronted them. Tyndale courteously stepped back to allow his guest to precede him. Phillips, a tall, handsome man, stood aside and insisted that the great reformer should have precedence.

Tyndale came to the opening and saw two officers ready to seize him, he hesitated and moved back, Phillips stood over him, pointing down with his finger as a sign that this was the man; he then jostled Tyndale forward into the officers, who bound him with ropes and brought him to the attorney’s residence and finally to the grim castle of Vilvoorde, just six miles north of Brussels.

The castle of Vilvoorde had been erected in 1374 by one of the dukes of Brabant, and since it was modeled upon the infamous Bastille, built in Paris at about the same time, its moat, seven towers, three drawbridges and massive walls made it an impregnable prison. The castle was used as the state prison for the Low Countries, and Tyndale was thrown into one of the foul-smelling, damp dungeons with nothing for company but the lapping moat, the squabbling moorhens outside, and the dripping walls and scurrying rats inside.

Here, in his solitary darkness, Tyndale waited for the end. The merchants, with all their power at Antwerp, were powerless here, and few would risk their livelihood to try to save him. His work that remained undone could never be completed. Tyndale knew he had “finished the course.”

When Thomas Poyntz galloped into Antwerp in reply to the urgent message from his wife, he discovered Tyndale’s room ransacked and all his books and papers taken. Poyntz was furious. He blamed himself, he blamed the merchants, he blamed the governor of the English House, he blamed Tyndale’s simplicity—but above all he blamed the authorities. This was an outrageous breach of the traditional privilege of the house of the English merchants. And the merchants lost no time in sending a strong letter of protest to the government of the Low Countries.

Letters of indignant complaint poured into the court at Brussels. Letters also began to arrive at the court of King Henry. And behind all this action was the never-tiring hand of faithful Thomas Poyntz. But it was a forlorn hope. Emperor Charles V was making up for lost time by turning upon the Lutherans with a vengeance, and Henry VIII, having toppled the pope over the cliffs of England, was anxious to prove he was still a loyal Roman Catholic and certainly no heretic. Just to demonstrate his point, 14 Dutch Anabaptists were sent to the stake in England within a few days of Tyndale’s arrest.

Thomas Poyntz determined to do something. He wrote to his brother John, who was lord of the manor of North Ockenden in Essex, and urged him to make representation in the court. The death of Tyndale, Poyntz urged, “will be a great hindrance to the gospel and, to the enemies of it, one of the highest pleasure.” The king never had a more loyal subject than Tyndale, suggested Poyntz, nor a man of higher reputation. Poyntz’s letter breathes a zeal and loyalty to the reformer that reveals the close relationship between the two men, and their common faith in Christ.

Though Poyntz failed in his attempts to rescue Tyndale, it must stand to the merchant’s credit that he gave himself unstintingly to his attempts, regardless of the cost to himself. Eventually, he was banished from the Low Countries, lost most of his merchant interests in consequence, was separated from his wife and family for many years and, when he finally succeeded to his brother’s estate at North Ockenden, was too poor to live there. He died in 1562, and his epitaph in the church building at North Ockenden speaks of his suffering and imprisonment, “for faithful service to his prince and ardent profession of evangelical faith.”

It is little comfort to know that for his Judas-like betrayal Henry Phillips gained nothing either. He spent the next few years fleeing from King Henry’s agents. They reached him in Rome, and then in Paris, where he arrived “altogether ragged and torn,” and where he stole some clothes from an old friend who had helped him. He once returned to London, but was forced back to Louvain, from whence he wrote the begging letters home.

In the autumn of 1538 he arrived in Italy, as a Swiss mercenary with German boots having walked from Flanders. By 1542 he passes from history, as a prisoner under threat of losing his eyes or his life. Disowned by his family, by his country, by almost every prince on the continent and even by those with whom he collaborated in his terrible crime, he died, Foxe conjectures, “consumed at last with lice.”
The Trial and Imprisonment

But back in 1535, Tyndale, shivering in the dungeons of the Castle of Vilvoorde, was too great a man to entertain any petty hopes for revenge over Henry Phillips. He had never expected his death to be other than violent; he had been too long exposed to the dangerous life of the hunted exile to waste time mourning his present state.

He knew his trial would be little more than a formality; but during that event he might have opportunity for speaking of his Savior, and thus he must prepare his defense well. In addition, he continued with the work so close to his heart, his writing and translation.

As Tyndale toiled and the autumn of 1535 faded, his chest and head labored with heavy catarrh; he shivered through the day, and shivered all night as well. As he penned his little treatise, Faith Alone Justifies Before God, winter drew on and the light began to fail; a few hours a day was all he could use for writing. The remainder of the time he sat in darkness. But he must finish his work, for this was to be his summary of the evangelical gospel; since he was going to die anyway, there must be no doubt as to why he died.

The winter was harsh, and though he was too bold for Christ to plead for release, and too wise to consider it of any value if he had, he determined to ask the prison governor, who also happened to be the Marquis of Bergen, for a few essentials to help him with his study, and to maintain a little longer the flickering life that shivered in his body. The letter was written in Latin, and it is the only letter in Tyndale’s own hand that has survived (see a copy of it in A Letter from Prison).

The letter is typical of Tyndale; there is no cringing flattery, no frantic plea for mercy, no long and tedious defense or protests of loyalty, faithful service, humble obedience and so on, all of which is so familiar in letters from 16th-century condemned cells. Tyndale asks for his needs, determines to go on with his study, longs only for the salvation of his captors, and is ready for whatever God’s sovereign purpose may be. Whether his request was granted cannot yet be told.

Finally, the long-awaited trial began. Tyndale had been in the castle for 18 months, and now everything was set. A long list of charges was drawn up:

“First, he had maintained that faith alone justifies.

“Second, he maintained that to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and to embrace the mercy offered in the gospel, was enough for salvation.

“Third, he averred that human traditions cannot bind the conscience, except where their neglect might occasion scandal.

“Fourth, he denied the freedom of the will.

“Fifth, he denied that there is any purgatory.

“Sixth, he affirmed that neither the Virgin nor the Saints pray for us in their own person.

“Seventh, he asserted that neither the Virgin nor the Saints should be invoked by us….” And so the list continued.

Early in August of 1536, the reformer was condemned as a heretic. A few days later the pageant of casting him out of the Church took place. In the town square a crowd gathered. The great doctors and dignitaries assembled in due pomp and array, and took their seats on the high platform. Tyndale was led out, wearing his priest’s robes. He was made to kneel and his hands were scraped with a knife or a piece of glass as a symbol of having lost the benefits of the anointing oil with which he was consecrated to the priesthood.

The bread and wine of the mass were placed in his hands, and at once withdrawn. This done, he was ceremoniously stripped of his priest’s vestments, reclothed as a layman, and handed over to the attorney for secular punishment. The Church would condemn, but always left it to the secular officers to stain their hands with the murder. But for Tyndale the end was not yet. He was taken back to Vilvoorde Castle and for some unexplained reason remained a prisoner for two more months.
The Execution

Then, early in the month of October 1536, William Tyndale was led out of the castle toward the southern gate of the town. The sun had barely risen above the horizon when he arrived at the open space, and looked out over the crowd of onlookers eagerly jostling for a good view. A circle of stakes enclosed the place of execution, and in the center was a large pillar of wood in the form of a cross and as tall as a man.

A strong chain hung from the top, and a noose of hemp was threaded through a hole in the upright. The attorney and the great doctors arrived first, and seated themselves in state nearby. The prisoner was brought in and a final appeal was made that he should recant.

Tyndale stood immovable, his keen eyes gazing toward the common people. A silence fell over the crowd as they watched the prisoner’s lean form and thin, tired face; his lips moved with a final impassioned prayer that echoed around the place of execution: “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

His feet were bound to the stake, the iron chain fastened around his neck, and the hemp noose was placed at his throat. Only the Anabaptists and lapsed heretics were burnt alive. Tyndale was spared that ordeal.

Piles of brushwood and logs were heaped around him. The executioner came up behind the stake and with all his force snapped down upon the noose. Within seconds Tyndale was strangled.

The attorney stepped forward, placed a lighted torch to the tinder, and the great men and commoners sat back to watch the fire burn. Not until the charred form hung limply on the chain did an officer break out the staple of the chain with his halbert, allowing the body to fall into the glowing heat of the fire; more brushwood was piled on top and, while the commoners marveled “at the patient sufferance of Master Tyndale at the time of his execution,” according to Foxe, the attorney and the doctors of Louvain moved off to begin their day’s work, never imagining that within months at least part of the plea in Tyndale’s dying prayer would be answered affirmatively.

Brian H. Edwards is the author of God’s Outlaw, a 1976 book about William Tyndale, published by Evangelical Press and now in its third printing. This article is adapted from a chapter in that book, used by gracious permission of Brian and Evangelical Press. Brian is minister of a congregation in Surrey, England, and has authored four other books

Copyright © 1987 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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Issue 16

John Wycliffe -Dr. Ryan M. Reeves, lecture

Published on May 26, 2014

Ryan M. Reeves (PhD Cambridge) is Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Twitter: Instagram:

William Tyndale

William Tyndale

Forbidden to work in England, Tyndale translated and printed in English the New Testament and half the Old Testament between 1525 and 1535 in Germany and the Low Countries. He worked from the Greek and Hebrew original texts when knowledge of those languages in England was rare. His pocket-sized Bible translations were smuggled into England, and then ruthlessly sought out by the Church, confiscated and destroyed. Condemned as a heretic, Tyndale was strangled and burned outside Brussels in 1536.

Photo: Statue of William Tyndale by Lawrence Holofcener (2000), Millennium Square, Bristol, United Kingdom.
© Brian Buxton.

Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament was taken almost word for word into the much praised Authorised Version (King James Bible) of 1611, which also reproduces a great deal of his Old Testament. From there his words passed into our common understanding.

People across the world honour him as a great Englishman. His solitary courage, and his skill with languages – including, supremely, his own – enriched English history and then reached out to affect all English-speaking nations.

His influence has been as wide as Shakespeare’s. His phrases are so well-known that they are often thought to be proverbial – ‘let there be light’, ‘we live and move and have our being’, ‘fight the good fight’, ‘the signs of the times’, ‘the powers that be’, ‘a law unto themselves’, and hundreds more. The familiar words telling the great Bible stories are usually Tyndale’s.

Elsewhere on this website you will find more information about his life and his works, together with some recommended Resources for further study.

Aims of the Tyndale Society

The aims of the Society are to promote a greater knowledge and understanding of the importance of the contribution made by Tyndale to the English Reformation by his Biblical translations and theological writings, and to encourage relevant research and study.

Membership of the Society is international and we warmly encourage anyone interested in its aims to join. The Society is in no way a credal body and all are welcome into membership regardless of their personal religion or other philosophy of life. Lower down this page is information on membership and applying to become a member.

A Brief History of the Society

David DaniellThe Tyndale Society was inaugurated in 1995. It followed on from the activities organised the previous year by the William Tyndale Quincentenary Trust. The founder chairman, holding office until 2005, was Professor David Daniell, author of the major modern biography of Tyndale and editor of editions of several of his works. Sadly David passed away on 1st June 2016.

Professor David Daniell (1929-2016)

The Society pursues these purposes primarily through publications and events. There are two regular publications. The Tyndale Society Journal, issued twice a year, includes several in depth articles by members and others, as well as book reviews, notices, reports of events, and other Society matters. From 2014 Reformation is issued twice a year and is an academic journal with a range of articles by scholars specialising in Reformation issues.

International conferences have been held in several centres, including Tyndale’s place of education, Hertford College, Oxford, where the Society’s twentieth anniversary was marked in 2015. Major conferences have also been held in Antwerp and Geneva. More localised events, both residential conferences and study days, have been organised in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America.

In England it has been customary to hold an annual carol service in the church of St. Mary Abchurch, in the city of London, with singing led by the English Chamber Choir and readings from Tyndale’s translations.

Tyndale famously said that he wanted “the boy that driveth the plough” to have the Scripture. At an early stage the society appointed a Ploughboy Convenor to co-ordinate the taking of the story of Tyndale into a variety of groups through talks, audio-visual presentations etc.

More recently a Fellowship of Tyndale Theologians was inaugurated by the Reverend Dr. Ralph Werrell through which those engaged in studying aspects of Tyndale’s theology could make contact with others researching similar areas and could identify topics to which attention could usefully be given. Dr. Werrell himself has published The Theology of William Tyndale (2006), The Roots of Tyndale’s Theology (2013), and The Blood o

William Tyndale
William Tyndale

More information about: William Tyndale

William Tyndale was born around 1494 in Gloucestershire and educated at Oxford and Cambridge University where he became a strong supporter of church reform. He was ordained as a priest in around 1521 and returned to Gloucestershire to serve as a chaplain to a member of the local gentry. Tyndale’s controversial opinions began to attract the attention of the church authorities.

An English Bible

In 1523, Tyndale moved to London with the intention of translating the New Testament into English, an act that was strictly forbidden. He passionately believed that the Bible should determine the practice and doctrine of the Church and that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language. Tyndale was setting himself against the established Church in England as these sorts of ideas were closely associated with Martin Luther and other controversial Protestant religious reformers.

In 1524, Tyndale left England for Germany with the aid of London merchants. He hoped to continue his translation work in greater safety and sought out the help of Martin Luther at Wittenberg. Just one year after his English New Testament was completed and printed in Cologne in 1525, copies were being smuggled into England – the first ever Bibles written in the English vernacular.

In hiding

Tyndale’s work was denounced by authorities of the Roman Catholic Church and Tyndale himself was accused of heresy. He went into hiding and began work on a translation of the Old Testament directly from Hebrew into English. The emissaries of the King Henry VIII and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey were unable to track him down and the location of Tyndale’s hiding place remains a mystery to this day.

Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church in 1534 signalled the beginning of the English Reformation, and Tyndale believed it was safe to carry on his work in public. He moved to Antwerp (in modern Belgium) and began to live more openly.


Soon afterwards Tyndale was betrayed by his friend Henry Phillips. He was arrested for heresy by imperial authorities and imprisoned for over 500 days in Vilvoorde Castle. On 6 October 1536, Tyndale was tried and convicted of heresy and treason and put to death by being strangled and burned at the stake. By this time several thousand copies of his New Testament had been printed.

It was reported that Tyndale’s last words before his death were “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Just three years later Henry VIII published his English “Great Bible” based on Tyndale’s work. Even though Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament remained unfinished at his death, his work formed the basis of all subsequent English translations of the Bible, including the ‘King James’ version of 1611.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“Tyndale” redirects here. For the English family, see Tyndall. For other uses, see Tyndale (disambiguation).
William Tyndale
William Tyndale.jpg
Born c. 1494
Gloucestershire, England
Died c. 6 October 1536
near Vilvoorde, Duchy of Brabant, Seventeen Provinces
Cause of death Executed by strangling, then burnt at the stake
Alma mater Magdalen Hall, University of Oxford
Known for Tyndale Bible

William Tyndale (/ˈtɪndəl/;[1] sometimes spelled Tynsdale, Tindall, Tindill, Tyndall; c. 1494–1536) was an English scholar who became a leading figure in Protestant reform in the years leading up to his execution. He is well known for his translation of the Bible into English. He was influenced by the work of Desiderius Erasmus, who made the Greek New Testament available in Europe, and by Martin Luther.[2] A number of partial translations had been made from the seventh century onward, but the spread of Wycliffe’s Bible resulted in a death sentence for any unlicensed possession of Scripture in English—even though translations had been accomplished and made available in all other major European languages.[3][4]

Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English one to take advantage of the printing press, and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation. It was taken to be a direct challenge to the hegemony of both the Roman Catholic Church and the laws of England maintaining the church’s position. In 1530, Tyndale also wrote The Practyse of Prelates, opposing Henry VIII‘s annulment from Catherine of Aragon on the grounds that it contravened Scripture.[5]

Reuchlin‘s Hebrew grammar was published in 1506. Tyndale worked in an age in which Greek was available to the European scholarly community for the first time in centuries. Erasmus compiled and edited Greek Scriptures from the Textus Receptus following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Constantinople’s fall helped to fuel the Renaissance and led to the dispersion of Greek-speaking intellectuals and texts into a Europe which previously had no access to them. A copy of The Obedience of a Christian Man fell into the hands of Henry VIII, providing the king with the rationale to break the Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534.[6][7][page needed]

In 1535, Tyndale was arrested and jailed in the castle of Vilvoorde (Filford) outside Brussels for over a year. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. His dying prayer was that the King of England’s eyes would be opened; this seemed to find its fulfilment just two years later with Henry’s authorisation of the Great Bible for the Church of England, which was largely Tyndale’s own work. Hence, the Tyndale Bible, as it was known, continued to play a key role in spreading Reformation ideas across the English-speaking world and, eventually, to the British Empire.

In 1611, the 54 scholars who produced the King James Bible drew significantly from Tyndale, as well as from translations that descended from his. One estimate suggests that the New Testament in the King James Version is 83% Tyndale’s and the Old Testament 76%.[8] His translation of the Bible was the first to be printed in English, and became a model for subsequent English translations; in 2002, Tyndale was placed at number 26 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.[9][10]


John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe

English theologian
Alternative Titles: John Wiclif, John Wicliffe, John Wyclif, John Wycliff

John Wycliffe, Wycliffe also spelled Wycliff, Wyclif, Wicliffe, orWiclif (born c. 1330, Yorkshire, England—died December 31, 1384, Lutterworth, Leicestershire), English theologian, philosopher, church reformer, and promoter of the first complete translation of the Bible into English. He was one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. The politico-ecclesiastical theories that he developed required the church to give up its worldly possessions, and in 1378 he began a systematic attack on the beliefs and practices of the church. The Lollards, a heretical group, propagated his controversial views.

Early life and career

Wycliffe was born in the North Riding of Yorkshire and received his formal education at the University of Oxford, where his name has been associated with three colleges, Queen’s, Merton, and Balliol, but with some uncertainty. He became a regent master in arts at Balliol in 1360 and was appointed master of the college, but he resigned in 1361 to become vicar of Fillingham, the college’s choicest living, or church post. There is some doubt as to whether or not he became soon afterward warden of Canterbury Hall, a house for secular (pastoral) and regular (monastic) clergy; but there was a petition from the university to the pope in 1362 to “provide” for him, and he was given a prebend (a stipend) at Aust in the church of Westbury-on-Trym. He drew his prebend while residing elsewhere, a practice he condemned in others. In 1363 and 1368 he was granted permission from the bishop of Lincoln to absent himself from Fillingham in order to study at Oxford, though in 1368 he exchanged Fillingham for Ludgershall, a parish nearer the university. He became a bachelor of divinity about 1369 and a doctor of divinity in 1372.

Political activities and theories

On April 7, 1374, Edward III appointed Wycliffe to the rectory of Lutterworth in place of Ludgershall, and about this time the theologian began to show an interest in politics. He received a royal commission to the deputation sent to discuss with the papal representatives at Brugge the outstanding differences between England and Rome, such as papal taxes and appointments to church posts. In this work, Wycliffe showed himself to be both a patriot and a king’s man.

He complemented this activity with his political treatises on divine and civil dominion (De dominio divino libri tres and Tractatus de civili dominio), in which he argued men exercised “dominion” (the word is used of possession and authority) straight from God and that if they were in a state of mortal sin, then their dominion was in appearance only. The righteous alone could properly have dominion, even if they were not free to assert it. He then proceeded to say that, as the church was in sin, it ought to give up its possessions and return to evangelical poverty. Such disendowment was, in his view, to be carried out by the state, and particularly by the king. These politico-ecclesiastical theories, devised with ingenuity and written up at inordinate length, may be criticized as the work of a theorizer with a limited sense of what was possible in the real world. Exhibiting an ingenuousness and lack of worldly wisdom, he became a tool in the hands of John of Gaunt (1340–99), Duke of Lancaster and a younger son of Edward III, who, from motives less scrupulous than those of Wycliffe, was opposed to the wealth and power of the clergy.

Wycliffe preached acceptably in London in support of moderate disendowment, but the alliance with Gaunt led to the displeasure of his ecclesiastical superiors, and he was summoned to appear before them in February 1377. The proceedings broke up in disorder, and Wycliffe retired unmolested and uncondemned. That year saw Wycliffe at the height of his popularity and influence. Parliament and the king consulted him as to whether or not it was lawful to keep back treasure of the kingdom from Rome, and Wycliffe replied that it was. In May Pope Gregory XI issued five bulls against him, denouncing his theories and calling for his arrest. The call went unanswered, and Oxford refused to condemn its outstanding scholar. Wycliffe’s last political appearance was in the autumn of 1378 when, after Gaunt’s men killed an insubordinate squire who had taken refuge in Westminster Abbey, he pleaded for the crown before Parliament against the right of sanctuary. Wycliffe defended the action on the ground that the king’s servants might lawfully invade sanctuaries to bring criminals to justice.

Wycliffe’s attack on the church

He returned to Lutterworth and, from the seclusion of his study, began a systematic attack on the beliefs and practices of the church. Theologically, this was facilitated by a strong predestinarianism that enabled him to believe in the “invisible” church of the elect, constituted of those predestined to be saved, rather than in the “visible” church of Rome—that is, in the organized, institutional church of his day. But his chief target was the doctrine of transubstantiation—that the substance of the bread and wine used in the Eucharist is changed into the body and blood of Christ. As a Realist philosopher—believing that universal concepts have a real existence—he attacked it because, in the annihilation of the substance of bread and wine, the cessation of being was involved. He then proceeded on a broader front and condemned the doctrine as idolatrous and unscriptural. He sought to replace it with a doctrine of remanence (remaining)—“This is very bread after the consecration”—combined with an assertion of the Real Presence in a noncorporeal form.

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Meanwhile, he pressed his attack ecclesiastically. The pope, the cardinals, the clergy in remunerative secular employment, the monks, and the friars were all castigated in language that was bitter even for 14th-century religious controversy. For this exercise, Wycliffe was well equipped. His restless, probing mind was complemented by a quick temper and a sustained capacity for invective. Few writers have damned their opponents’ opinions and sometimes, it would appear, the opponents themselves, more comprehensively.

Yet most scholars agree that Wycliffe was a virtuous man. Proud and mistaken as he sometimes was, he gives an overall impression of sincerity. Disappointed as he may have been over his failure to receive desirable church posts, his attack on the church was not simply born of anger. It carried the marks of moral earnestness and a genuine desire for reform. He set himself up against the greatest organization on earth because he sincerely believed that organization was wrong, and if he said so in abusive terms he had the grace to confess it. Neither must his ingenuousness be forgotten. There was nothing calculated about the way in which he published his opinions on the Eucharist, and the fact that he was not calculating cost him—in all probability—the support of John of Gaunt and of not a few friends at Oxford. He could afford to lose neither.

Translation of the Bible

From August 1380 until the summer of 1381, Wycliffe was in his rooms at Queen’s College, busy with his plans for a translation of the Bible and an order of Poor Preachers who would take Bible truth to the people. (His mind was too much shaped by Scholasticism, the medieval system of learning, to do the latter himself.) There were two translations made at his instigation, one more idiomatic than the other. The most likely explanation of his considerable toil is that the Bible became a necessity in his theories to replace the discredited authority of the church and to make the law of God available to every man who could read. This, allied to a belief in the effectiveness of preaching, led to the formation of the Lollards. The precise extent to which Wycliffe was involved in the creation of the Lollards is uncertain. What is beyond doubt is that they propagated his controversial views.

In 1381, the year when Wycliffe finally retired to Lutterworth, the discontent of the labouring classes erupted in the Peasants’ Revolt. His social teaching was not a significant cause of the uprising because it was known only to the learned, but there is no doubt where his sympathies lay. He had a constant affection for the deserving poor. The archbishop of Canterbury, Simon of Sudbury, was murdered in the revolt, and his successor, William Courtenay (1347–96), a more vigorous man, moved against Wycliffe. Many of his works were condemned at the synod held at Blackfriars, London, in May 1382; and at Oxford his followers capitulated, and all his writings were banned. That year, Wycliffe suffered his first stroke at Lutterworth; but he continued to write prolifically until he died from a further stroke in December 1384.


It is no wonder that such a controversial figure produced—and still produces—a wide variety of reactions. The monks and friars retaliated, immediately and fiercely, against his denunciations of them, but such criticism grew less as the Reformation approached. Most of Wycliffe’s post-Reformation, Protestant biographers see him as the first Reformer, fighting almost alone the hosts of medieval wickedness. There has now been a reaction to this, and some modern scholars have attacked this view as the delusion of uncritical admirers. The question “Which is the real John Wycliffe?” is almost certainly unanswerable after 600 years.

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“John Wickliffe” redirects here. For the ship, see John Wickliffe (ship).
For the American author who wrote under this name, see H. Bedford-Jones.
John Wycliffe
Wycliffe by Kirby.jpg
Born 1320 A.D.
Ipreswell, Yorkshire, England
Died 31 December 1384 A.D.
Lutterworth, Leicestershire, England
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Era Medieval philosophy
Notable ideas
Wycliffe’s Bible

John Wycliffe (/ˈwɪklɪf/; also spelled Wyclif, Wycliff, Wiclef, Wicliffe, Wickliffe; c. 1320 – 31 December 1384)[1] was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, Biblical translator, reformer, and seminary professor at Oxford. He was an influential dissident within the Roman Catholic priesthood during the 14th century.

Wycliffe attacked the privileged status of the clergy, which was central to their powerful role in England. He then attacked the luxury and pomp of local parishes and their ceremonies.[2]

Wycliffe was also an advocate for translation of the Bible into the vernacular. He completed a translation directly from the Vulgate into Middle English in the year 1382, now known as Wycliffe’s Bible. It is probable that he personally translated the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and it is possible he translated the entire New Testament, while his associates translated the Old Testament. Wycliffe’s Bible appears to have been completed by 1384, with additional updated versions being done by Wycliffe’s assistant John Purvey and others in 1388 and 1395.

Wycliffe’s followers were known as Lollards and followed his lead in advocating Predestination, Iconoclasm, and Caesaropapism, while attacking the veneration of Saints, the Sacraments, Requiem Masses, Transubstantiation, monasticism, and the very existence of the Papacy.

Beginning in the 16th century, the Lollard movement was regarded as the precursor to the Protestant Reformation. Wycliffe was accordingly characterised as the evening star of scholasticism and the Morning Star of the English Reformation.[3] Wycliffe’s writings in Latin greatly influenced the philosophy and teaching of Czech reformer Jan Hus, whose execution in 1415 sparked a revolt and led to the Hussite Wars.[4]