William Tyndale – Independent Thinker in the Lollard Tradition
"To the sources" - Eurasumas of Rotterdam
Tyndale identified with the aims and goals of the Humanists of the 16th century. This was the belief that “embraces an individual’s capacity for self-improvement and the fundamental role of eduction” to develop a capacity to behave as a Christian. This meant self-discipline, self-awareness and a thinking that merges Christian thought with the classical traditions of logic and reasoning. The Dutch philosopher Desiderius Eurasmus of Rotterdam (1467? - 1536) was the most prominent proponent of Christian Humanism.1 He sought “learned piety”, not a baseless piety devoid of understanding. Eurasums’ friend John Colet (1467-1519) shared these goals and as proponent of Christian Humanism replaced Scholasticism as currently taught in Oxford University with a reforming program. Like Eurasmus, Colet wanted theologians to have a sound understanding of original Greek and Latin, and to have a grounding in the culture and history of ancient life and thought. Amongst many other Christian Humanists, for England Thomas More stands out. He, like Colet and Eurasmus, was a Christian Humanists.
To the Sources
The key element linking Christian Humanists was a study of original languages and sources. They sought to break through the years of varnish that had suffocated the original meanings of ancient texts, whether Greek, Latin or Hebrew. To The Sources was their aim. And by this, a Christianity can emerge free of Scholasticism, poor understanding of Christianity and a reliance on uneducated “theologians” to interpret Christianity to the laity.
Authority of the Bible
Tyndale had significant dealings with three humanists: Colet, Erasmus, and More. Colet upheld the Bible as the ultimate standard and authority.2 Like Tyndale, He rejected the Quadriga and he also rejected pagan authorities such as Aristotle and Plato.3 Colet placed great significance on the relevance of the Bible in the everyday life of the Englishman.4 Thus Tyndale and Colet shared many significant ideas. Colet taught at Oxford while Tyndale studied there so it is possible that Colet influenced or at least confirmed Tyndale’s position that the Bible was the primary moral reformer for England.
Interpretation of the Bible
Erasmus undoubtedly influenced Tyndale, as it was one of the Dutch reformers books that Tyndale translated to demonstrate his translation skills. However, Tyndale differed from Erasmus on how one interpreted the Bible. Whereas Erasmus was willing to use pagan authorities to interpret scripture, Tyndale would not do so. Also, whereas Erasmus was willing to accept an allegorical interpretation of scripture, Tyndale would only accept this type of interpretation only on the basis of an understanding of clear passages.
Reformation of England
Thomas More’s relationship with Tyndale is well known. Although the two engaged in one of the Reformation’s most famous pamphlet wars, they shared a desire for the reform of England but differed on the means to it. On many issues Tyndale differed from More. This included the entire sacramental system, the role of the Church, the role of the priesthood, and especially the use of church traditions as an authority.
Tyndale rejected Church traditions and established the Bible as the sole authority. As Smeeton points out, “Tyndale’s theology does not fit conveniently into the pattern of Christian Humanism as modeled by Erasmus, More, and Colet.”5