First published in 1528, this treatise is one of the lesser known accomplishments of William Tyndale (1494-1536).
Tyndale’s aim is to simply lay out the structure of a Christian society and free the common layman to be obedient in his place. His style is very polemic. A rightoues indignation pervades most of the book, as Tyndale cites, bewails, and rebukes the abuses and scandals of the established Papal church. Tyndale pleads that the Scriptures be made available to all men. He traces both Scripture and history showing the necessity of simple knowledge of the gospel and basic morality which have been fantastically ignored, disguised, and hidden from the view of common Christian.
The causes of abuse are plentiful. Tyndale mocks the absurdities that pile up demanded by the four fold interpretation of the medieval period. “Of what text thou provest hell, will another prove purgatory, another limbo, and another shall prove of the same text that an ape hath a tail.” He pleads that the Scriptures be read and preached in the common tongue. Tyndale then labors to show all of the basic obediences that are owed: wives and husbands, servants and masters, children and parents, subjects and rulers. Spending more time on the civil rulers, he insists that the Pope is not a temporal ruler over the kings and princes of the land. Rather, that he too must submit to the civil authorities even as Christ did.
At the heart of obedience, Tyndale recognizes love as the chief motive. Recognizing that out of the salvation won in Christ flow all of the virtues of Christian living. And this is justification. He says, “Faith that loveth God’s commands justifieth a man.” Tyndale is chest deep in the trenchs of a battle that is somewhat peculiar to his day. From his vantage he sees somethings better and somethings worse. The Pope is the anti-Christ, the job of bishops is only to preach, Judas was the first pope, a pastor cannot proclaim forgiveness, and cloisters are from hell. He, like everyone, was a man of his time.
But Tyndale is still catholic, recognizing the efficacy and potency of the two sacraments. He explains that the others, in one way or another, can be subsumed under the two. Penance, confirmation, confession, and even some of the other rites that had grown up can all be found in the realities of baptism. Baptism works in much the same way “[a]s a child receive the full soul at the first day, yet groweth daily in the operations and works thereof.” And the effects of baptism continue until the believer is “full baptized at the last minute of death.” He says in another place, “For though that the washing of baptism be past, yet the power thereof, that is to say, the word of God which baptism preacheth, lasteth ever and saveth forever.”
Tyndale is fervent and irenic, but he is also humorous. I posted his reference to bishops’ testicles earlier this week, and there is more where that came from. Tyndale calls the monks and friars the “belly brotherhood”. Saying, “cloister love is belly love, cloister prayer is belly prayer…” He goes on to say that if you want anything from them you have to “offer unto their bellies and then they pray bitterly for thee.” While dismantling the doctrine of absolution, he comments on Purgatory: “[The Pope] taketh authority also to bind and loose in Purgatory. That permit I unto him for it is a creation of his own making. He also bindeth the angels. For we read of popes that have commanded the angels to set divers out of Purgatory. Howbeit I am not yet certified whether they obeyed or no.”
Perhaps the biggest piece missing is the duty to Mother Church. But this omission is hardly surprising given the climate Tyndale finds himself in. The Church has betrayed him and her people. Friars, monks, priests, and bishops are basking in their filthy riches and vile fornications while the commoners tremble to lift a finger fearing for their very souls. This betrayal broke that trust and gentle balance that must exist for true authority and true submission to take place in the Church. For all that I disdain of the splinters in the modern Church, for all the pettiness and divisiveness of Christians on all sides, the reality of the gross debauchery of the Papal regime during this era is foul and smells like hell. For as Tyndale says, “Christ said to Peter, the last chapter of John, feed my sheep, not sheer thy flock.”
For this Tyndale lived and died. For after completing the first ever translation of the Holy Scriptures into English, he was condemned as a heretic, devested of his preisthood, and finally publically strangled and burned on October 6, 1536.