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Friday, October 29, 2010

Reformation Day 2010

Every year, we set aside a couple days in October to study some aspect of the Protestant Reformation. My intent this year was to study the English Reformation and focus on the men who were at one time or another associated with the study group at the White Horse Inn in Cambridge. As I began preparing for this study, however, I quickly realized that we could not adequately cover all of the men associated with the White Horse Inn in a day or two. So I decided to narrow our focus to two men: Thomas Bilney and William Tyndale.

LMH was given the assignment of writing about Bilney's conversion (here). SJH wrote about Bilney's first trial and his abjuration (here), and ASH wrote about Bilney's last trial and execution (here). For background information, I gave them each excerpts from J. H. Merle D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation and a Wikipedia article about Bilney.

Since SJH had previously written a biographical essay of William Tyndale (here), I gave KGH the unusual assignment of writing a fictional story about William Tyndale's days with the Walsh family from the perspective of Catherine Walsh (here).* I contributed an essay about the role of the Word of God in the English Reformation (here).

In addition to their writing assignments, LMH, SJH, and ASH worked on other projects as well. LMH took a hymn (Trinity Hymnal #299) and set it to a new tune. SJH illuminated I Chronicles 16:34, and ASH prepared a polyglot version of I Timothy 1:15 in Greek, Latin, and Tyndale's English.

Because of a death in the family, we had to forego our usual afternoon of Medieval games.

*J.H. Merle D'Aubigne writes that William Tyndale was hired by Sir John Walsh to tutor his two small sons. However, according to, Sir John Walsh married Ann Dinley, and together they had four children: Catherine (1510), Maurice (1515), Ann (1515), and Mabell (1517). After Ann Dinley Walsh died, Sir John married Anne Pointz, and together they had one daughter, Margaret (1525).

The Tutor's Faith - Historical Fiction

by: KGH, 2010*

A long time ago, a girl of twelve lived with her family in a large estate called Little Sodbury Manor. That girl was me, Catherine Huntley. Of course, I was Catherine Walsh then, the daughter of the brave night, Sir John Walsh. I can remember one day when I was sitting on the banks of the Severn River……….

The wind lifted my hair behind me. I closed my eyes. The tall grass beside me swayed. Everything was perfect. I opened my eyes and saw my beautiful home standing on a hill. It was tall, big, and sturdy. I was about to close my eyes again when I saw my father riding up the long driveway on his horse. He had gone to the village to see another man. I never asked him about his business. It wasn’t proper for young ladies to worry about such things. Another man rode beside him. I sat up trying to get a better view. The man was no ordinary man. He wasn’t wearing fancy clothes like all the other guests that stayed at Little Sodbury. He was plain, rather tall, and skinny.

When they reached the front of the house, Joseph, the stable boy, took the horses, and Father and the other man went inside. I immediately sprang up. I wanted to know who this man was. I raced through the tall grass and into my yard. When I reached the house, I walked in carefully. If my stepmother, Lady Anne Walsh, found me running, it would not be good. I walked through the long halls until I reached the parlor. Being careful not to be seen, I sneaked over to the huge plant at the entrance of the room. It was a great place to hide. Father seated the man on the comfortable chair in the middle of the room. Mother came into the room and curtsied politely to the man. This made me even more curious.

“Master William, ‘tis lovely that you have accepted my husband’s offer to become our children’s tutor,” she said smiling. I gasped. Our tutor! I didn’t like the way he looked, talked or anything about him! We didn’t need a tutor! I was so taken by surprise, I almost jumped up from behind the plant. When Father said that he would like to introduce Master William to the children, I didn’t know what to do. They left the room and I hurried down the hall after them.

“Oh, Catherine dear, there you are. I would like you to meet your new tutor, Master William Tyndale.” Mother said, gesturing to the teacher.

“How do you do?” I said halfheartedly.

“Quite well, thank you,” he said, a huge grin spreading across his face. After Father and Mother had introduced him to the other children, Mother suggested that I have my first lesson. I heartily agreed, but it was very hard not to show my disappointment. You see, it was such a beautiful day, and I wanted to spend it all outdoors, not in a boring library. Master William walked into the library and went to one of the many bookshelves. He scanned the shelves and finally said, “Here it is!” He took a book off the shelf and sat down at the desk. He looked at me and saw my glum face.

“You know, I bet you like nature. I can see it all over your face,” he said. I looked up.

“How did you know?” I asked, somewhat impressed.

“Because I can clearly see that you’d rather be outside enjoying this glorious day than sitting here learning your lessons,” he chuckled. He already seemed to know me.

“Well, Master William, you are correct,” I said smiling. He got up from his seat and went to the door.

“Master William?” I asked. “Aren’t we going to have my lessons?”

“Yes, of course. But how about outside?” he asked. I couldn’t believe my ears. My tutor, suggesting that we go outside for lessons?

“Miss Catherine?” he asked, seeing my surprised face.

“Oh, yes! I would love to go outside!” I jumped up from my seat and followed him through the door. Mother was just coming down the hall when we were leaving the library.

“Master William,” she said catching up to us. “Where are you going? Are you done with lessons all ready?” she asked.

“Certainly not, Lady Walsh,” he smiled. “For this is just the beginning.” I couldn’t help but laugh, seeing my Mother’s puzzled expression. Right then, I decided that maybe Master William wasn’t so bad after all.

Sitting under the apple tree near the Severn River was our regular spot for lessons. We’d munch on apples and learn about science. We’d munch on apples and learn about arithmetic. But most of all, we’d munch on apples, and he would tell me stories from the Bible. He was very good at that. He would tell me stories that I had heard in church before, but when he told them, it was different. They sounded so wonderful with his dynamic voice. It would rise and fall so beautifully.

One evening, I was in the dining room, talking to Alice, one of the maids. But suddenly, I heard voices in the hall. I knew it was Father’s guests. I couldn’t run out of the dining room and let them see me, so I hid. I dashed behind one of the lounge chairs in the corner. When everyone came in, I peered from behind the seat to see who was here. There were some men I had seen from around the neighborhood, several abbots, deans, monks, and doctors. Then I saw Master William who was sitting at the most humble place at the table with his New Testament in reach. The conversation went on, and I was quite bored until, I heard one of the priests remark about Master William’s Bible.

“Your Scriptures only serve to make heretics,” he cried.

“On the contrary,” Master William said. “The source of all heresies is pride; now the Word of God strips man of everything, and leaves him as bare as Job.”

“The Word of God? Why even we cannot understand it; how then can the common people understand it?”

“You do not understand it,” Master William cried, “because you look into it only for foolish questions as you would into our Lady’s Matins or Merlin’s Prophesies. Now the Scriptures are a clue which we must follow, without turning aside, until we arrive at Christ, for Christ is the end.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Was my tutor standing up to the priests and mocking them?

“And I tell you,” shouted another priest,“that the Scriptures are a Daedalian labyrinth, rather than Ariadne’s clue-a conjuring book wherein everybody finds what he wants.”

“Alas,” exclaimed Master William, “you read them without Christ; that is why they are an obscure book to you, a thicket of thorns where you only escape from the briers to be caught by the brambles.”

“No!” shouted another clerk, heedless of contradicting his colleague, “nothing is obscure to us; it is we who give the scriptures, and we who explain them to you.”

“You would lose both your time and your trouble,” replied Master William. “Do you know who taught the eagles to spy out their prey? Well, that same God teaches his hungry children to spy out their Father in his word. Christ’s elect spy out their land and trace out the paths of His feet, and follow; yea, though He go upon the plain and liquid water which will receive no step, yet there they find out His foot. His elect know Him, but the world knows Him not. And as for you, far from having given us the Scriptures, it is you who have hidden them from us; it is you who burn those who teach them, and, if you could, you would burn the Scriptures themselves.”

A priest was about to remark at Master William’s words when Mother stopped him.

“Please, gentlemen, let us eat in peace.” And with that there was no more discussion on the topic, although you couldn’t miss the looks of hatred in the priests’ eyes.

Every Sunday my family went to St. Adeline’s Chapel. It was a beautiful church. Two large yew trees overlooked the building. Stained glass windows glittered everywhere. Master William would preach, and my whole family would take up the manorial pew. I remember one sermon he preached on how the priests were wrong by saying that you have to be good first and move God to be good to us for our goodness. Master William said that God’s goodness is the root of all goodness, and our goodness, if we have any, springs out of His goodness………

I can remember that the priests were irritated at such observations. They tried to ruin Master William by insulting him and his New Testament at dinners with Mother and Father when Master William wasn’t present. Mother and Father were upset that Master William had made so many enemies. I heard them tell Master William everything the priests had said, but Master William could answer each objection from his New Testament.

“What!” exclaimed Mother. “think you, Master William, that we should believe you before the priests?” Master William did not reply. Over time, however, Mother and Father became convinced that Master William spoke truthfully.

In addition to preaching at St. Adeline Chapel, Master William sometimes preached in the village and sometimes in another town. The people of Bristol would gather to hear him preach in a large meadow, called St. Austin’s Green. But no matter where he preached, the priests followed behind him with lies and accusations.

“What is to be done?" cried Master William. “While I am sowing in one place the enemy ravages the field I have just left. I cannot be everywhere! Oh, if Christians possessed the Holy Scriptures in their own tongue, they could of themselves withstand these sophists. Without the Bible it is impossible to establish the laity in the truth.”

One day, I was walking into the library to get a book. Seeing Master William sitting at the desk, I decided to leave.

“Catherine, it’s alright,” he said not looking up from the desk. “Please come in.” I walked in, picked out the book I wanted and started to leave. Just then, Master William cried out, “I’ve got it! It was in the language if Israel that the Psalms were sung in the temple of Jehovah, and shall not the gospel speak the language of England among us? Ought the church to have less light at noonday than at dawn?”

“Excuse me, sir?” I asked, quite puzzled.

“Christians must read the New Testament in their mother tongue!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, yes, Master William,” I said. “An excellent idea!”

Father and Mother thought it was a great idea for they were quite disgusted with the priests. No longer were they so often invited to Little Sodbury, nor did they meet with the same welcome.

One day, I was sitting in the parlor, doing some needle work. Father came in and whispered in low tones. I didn’t miss a word of it though, thanks to my sharp hearing.

“Master William has been accused as a heretic and has been summoned to appear before Dr. Thomas Parker, the Chancellor.” he said. Mother and I gasped.

“Oh, goodness, this is terrible! John, what should we do?”

“Let us pray for our dear tutor.” And with that he was on his knees.

Master William came home after the trial and to our joy and relief, he announced that they had dropped the accusation. He told us that no one had dared come up and speak against him.

“Take away my goods,” he had said to the priests. “Take away my good name! Yet so long as Christ dwelleth in my heart, so long shall I love you not a whit the less.”

Unfortunately, the priests did not give up easily. They sent for a famous theologian to debate with Master William.

“Well then! It were better to be without God’s laws than the Pope’s!” declared the theologian.

Master William replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws!” And then, as if unable to keep his secret, he added, “If God spares my life, ere many years I will take care that a ploughboy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do.”

At the point of being arrested, condemned, and interrupted in his great work, Master William came to my Father.

“Sir, I ask your permission to leave. I am afraid that if I stay, I will put your family in great danger. I cannot tutor your children anymore.”

“But Master William,” I cried. “You can’t-”

“I’m so sorry Catherine,” he interrupted. He looked at me sincerely. “Truly, I am.”

The next morning, Master William’s things were loaded onto his horse. He said goodbye to Mother and Father. He told Maurice and Ann to be good and gave them his famous big grin. He gave Mabell a little hug. When he came to me, he told me to follow him. He led me to the apple tree we used to sit under. Beside the tree was a small pile of dirt. He told me that he had planted one of the apple seeds from the apples that he had eaten while he taught me. He told me to water it and watch it grow. He said that he planted it so I would remember him.

“Oh, Master William, I could never forget you! You’ve been so kind to me. You’ve taught me so much, especially about God. Thank you, Master William. Thank you,” I cried.

We went back to the front of the manor and Master William gave me one last farewell. He hopped onto his horse and down the long driveway he went, waving behind him. A hot tear slipped down my cheeks as I remembered how I didn’t like him when he had first come. But now it felt like one of the family members was leaving and was never coming back. But I knew, in my heart, that Master William would continue to praise God and preach, no matter what other people said, even if it cost him his life.

*Selected dialogue between William Tyndale and the guests at Little Sodbury Manor and some quotes from William Tyndale were taken from J. H. Merle D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation.

Thomas Bilney - Part 1

By: LMH, 2010

Thomas Bilney was one of the first Protestant reformers and an English martyr. The exact location and date of his birth are not known, but to the best of our knowledge, he was born in 1495 in Norwich. Not much is known of his life until he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

Thomas Bilney was a man of small stature; he could even be described as sickly. He was somewhat bashful and not a strong speaker. He longed to serve God and be at peace in his heart. However, he never seemed able to reach this goal. He continually went before the priest to confess his sins, but instead of finding fulfillment and peace, he went away with fasting orders, indulgences, and a heavy heart. Over time, he became poor and very weak.

During this time, a certain book, Erasmus' Testament, was causing quite a stir. It was highly praised for its elegant Latinity. Erasmus' Testament was forbidden to be read because it was in Greek. Anything written in Greek or Hebrew was considered heresy. In spite of this, Bilney was drawn to the book. So he secretly bought the Testament, and when he opened it, a verse fairly popped off the page at him. It read:

"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners: of whom I am chief."
 Suddenly, he realized he was a sinner and that Christ saved sinners! From that point on, he was a changed man. He began to read the Scriptures often, and he stopped listening to the false teachings of the schoolmen. He gathered his friends together and shared the wonderful news of Jesus with them. He also witnessed to Hugh Latimer, who eventually got saved. Because of Bilney's faithful witness, many were led to Christ.

Thomas Bilney did much for the cause of Christ during his short life. And while he died a martyr's death at age 36, his impact on Christianity is so strongly felt that he is often called the "Father of the English Reformation."

Thomas Bilney - Part 2

by: SJH, 2010

Thomas Bilney was born in or after 1493. He was educated at Trinity Hall. After he graduated and took Holy orders, he became interested in the Greek edition of the New Testament translated by Erasmus in 1516. He was saved and eventually became the Father of the English Reformation.

Because Bilney denounced saint and relic veneration and refused to accept the mediation of the saints, he was summoned before Cardinal Wolsey. He took an oath that he would not disseminate the doctrines of Luther. Bilney was allowed to leave, but within the next year, problems arose.

Objections were made to a series of sermons he preached in and around London. He was dragged from the pulpit and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was brought before Cardinal Wolsey, William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and several bishops in the chapter-house at Westminster, and convicted of heresy. His sentence was postponed in hopes that he would recant.

Bilney was kept in the Tower for more than a year. Bishop Tunstall pressured him to recant. His friends tried to get him to have pity on himself, telling him that he would be of far better use to the Lord if he preserved his life. Bilney was pressured by his friends and eventually gave in. One Saturday morning, Bilney was led before the bishops, there he recanted before all his friends.

Later Bilney returned to Cambridge, where he was tortured with anguish, remorse, and fear. He could barely eat or drink, and he trembled constantly. Eventually, Bilney confessed his sin, found peace, and started to preach again. The Holy Spirit had spoken to him and given him hope to live on for Christ.

Thomas Bilney - Part 3

by: ASH, 2010

Thomas Bilney is known as the Father of the English Reformation. He is called this because he is believed to be the first man converted by reading Erasmus' translation of the New Testament. After he was saved, Bilney encouraged others to read the New Testament. Bilney was arrested because he preached. He was put into prison, but he was not executed because he recanted. After he recanted, though, Bilney was miserable.

Two years later, Bilney began to preach again. He first preached in open fields. At Ipswich, he preached the Gospel and attacked the errors of Rome. In Greenwich, he bought New Testaments. In Norwich, he gave a New Testament to a woman who shared it with her friends. After that, Bilney was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was not sad, though. He felt that a load was taken off him.

On the night before his death, some of Bilney's friends came to visit him. They found him eating his last meal. He stuck his finger in the flame of a candle. As his finger burned, Bilney said, "I feel that fire by God's ordinance is naturally hot, but yet I am persuaded by God's Holy Word and the experience of the martyrs that when the flames consume me, I shall not feel them."

On August 19, 1531, Bilney was taken to Norwich to be executed. When he arrived, he fell upon his knees and prayed. He recited the Apostles' Creed and Psalm 143, and the spectators were moved by Bilney's words of faith. After Bilney's death, even his enemies praised him.

The Awakening

by Mom, 2010

Henry VIII often gets far more credit for the Reformation in England than he deserves. While it is true that his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn provided the catalyst for England's political and ecclesiastical separation from Rome, England's spiritual awakening was already well underway. Unlike the Reformation in Germany, England's awakening did not begin with public debate over Church doctrine. It began quietly in the hearts of men as the Spirit of God through the Word of God gave new life to dead souls.

For centuries, the light of God's Word had been obscured by the veil of medieval Catholicism. The doctrines of men were taught in place of the doctrines of God. Even the Scriptures themselves had been corrupted. But in 1516, Desiderius Erasmus, a Catholic scholar, published a fresh translation of the New Testament. Erasmus had gathered as many fragments of Greek manuscripts as he could find. He studied and compared the many manuscripts and compiled a new Greek New Testament. This he then translated into Latin because very few scholars in Europe at that time could read Greek. Erasmus' work was a labor of love. "If I told what sweat it cost me," he said, "no one would believe me." Erasmus was driven by his firm belief that the future of the Church depended upon the Word of God. He wrote, "A spiritual temple must be raised in desolated Christendom. The mighty of this world will contribute towards it their marble, their ivory, and their gold; I who am poor and humble offer the foundation stone."

Soon copies of Erasmus' New Testament were circulating among the professors and students at England's universities. The historian D'Aubigne writes, "It was in every hand; men struggled to procure it, read it eagerly, and would even kiss it. The words it contained enlightened every heart." The astonished Oxford professor Thomas Linacre declared, "Either this is not the gospel, or we are not Christians." At Cambridge, Thomas Bilney exclaimed, "Jesus Christ! Yes, Jesus Christ saves! I see it all -  my vigils, my fasts, my pilgrimages, my purchase of masses and indulgences were destroying instead of saving me."

D'Aubigne writes that "nothing terrifies the defenders of human traditions so much as the Word of God." Immediately, the Church began a campaign to discredit Erasmus and destroy the New Testament. Though the universities banned the New Testament from their campuses, they could not put out the conflagration. Everywhere men were being converted by this little book. In Cambridge, students met secretly at the White Horse Inn to study it. Thomas Bilney led the group and was instrumental in the conversions of many of its members, men who later became the leaders and martyrs of the English Reformation. For his role, Bilney is rightfully called the Father of the English Reformation.

The power of God's Word is illustrated in the lives of the men who emerged from the White Horse Inn study group. Thomas Cramner became Archbishop of Canterbury and was later martyred. John Frith, a brilliant mathematician, became the author of many Protestant books. He was also martyred. Hugh Latimer became Bishop of Worcester and chaplain to Edward VI. He was martryed under the reign of Mary I and is famously remembered for encouraging fellow martyr and White Horse Inn alumnus Dr. Nicholas Ridley to "play the man." "We shall this day," he exclaimed, "light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Initially, the awakening in England was confined to the educated classes who could read in Greek or Latin. But another White Horse Inn graduate, William Tyndale, sought to change that. Tyndale devoted his short life to giving the Scriptures in English to "the boy that driveth the plough." Tyndale translated the New Testament first while hiding in various places on the continent. His translation of the Old Testament was incomplete when he was arrested and imprisoned in Belgium. On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was burned. His final prayer was "Lord, open the King of England's eyes." Two years later, in an abrupt change of policy, Henry VIII ordered that a Bible be placed in every church in England. Known as the "Great Bible" because of its size, this translation was partly the work of William Tyndale and partly the work of Miles Coverdale, another White Horse Inn student.

Brick by brick, martyr by martyr, a great edifice was built upon the foundation stone laid by Erasmus. And for the past four hundred years, it has been the special privilege of English-speaking people to carry the Gospel around the world.

One cannot read accounts of the English Reformation without being struck by two facts. Number one, the Gospel changes lives. It is the "power of God unto salvation." It frees men from the dominion of sin and empowers them to live holy lives. Number two, the modern "Gospel" does not change lives. It produces men who have "a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof." The Word of God has not changed, however. It is still, as Tyndale wrote, "quycke, and myghty in operacion, and sharper then eny two-edged swearde."

So where is the problem? In an age of unprecedented access to the Scriptures, few read them. Even fewer study them. Most professing "believers" are content with a second-hand spirituality. They would rather have pastors and authors pre-digest the Word for them so that they don't have to feed themselves. Casting aside victories won at Smithfield and Lollard's Pit, they are once again making the church the mediator between God and man. And the Gospel of the modern evangelical church, that one need only pray a little prayer and God will be his buddy and give him a ticket to Heaven, is as damning as the works-based Gospel of medieval Catholicism. Where there is no true repentance, no turning from sin, there can be no saving faith.

There is a great need in Christendom today for a second Reformation. "If the ship of the church is to be saved from being swallowed up by the tempest," wrote Erasmus, "there is only one anchor that can save it - it is the heavenly Word, which, issuing from the bosom of the Father, lives, speaks, and works still in the Gospel."