William Tyndale stands as one of the great men of this country of ours. In fact, since it seems likely he was ordained at Hereford Cathedral, we might say he is the most famous clergyman of this very diocese.
His burning desire was to put the scriptures into the hands of the people, famously saying: “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that drives the plough to know more of the Scripture, than he does.”. This was a dangerous occupation in those days, and he spent a life on the run from the king and the pope, ending up betrayed and imprisoned some six miles north of Brussels.
His great legacy to the English speaking church is the Tyndale Bible, the translation from the original languages into English. If you have a King James Version, then research carried out in 1998 has shown that over three-quarters its words come from Tyndale’s work. This work came a high cost though, and he was burned at the stake in 1536 with his final words being: “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes”.
Whilst imprisoned he wrote a letter, the only one of his which survives, which gives us a fascinating glimpse into the life and cares of this remarkable man. Hero of the faith he may be, but he is also as human as any other.
I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me. Therefore, I entreat your lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you will request the Commissary to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in the cell.
A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin: also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings; my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth, for putting on above; he has also warmer night caps. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.
But above all I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Commissary that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided it is always consistent with the salvation of your soul.
But if, before the close of the winter, a different decision be reached concerning me, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.