Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 17, 2004
God's Bestseller tells it all
God's Bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible, A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal, by Brian Moynahan. St. Martins Press, 2003. 416 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
Within a couple of months in 2003, two books that investigated the early beginnings of the English Bible were published. The first released by Adam Nicolson, God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, describes the history and background of the King James Bible.
The second book, God's Bestseller, did not receive as much press, but contributes to the details and background of the translation of the Bible into English by describing the pioneering work of William Tyndale and the struggles he overcame.
Written by journalist and historian Brian Moynahan, God's Bestseller is an attempt to describe the complex relationship between William Tyndale, Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII and the translation of the Bible into English during the early stages of the Reformation.
England had been a staunchly Catholic country led by Catholic King Henry VIII. Early in the Reformation (1521) Henry had publish a tract (probably written by More) defending the seven sacraments of the Church and arguing against the reforms of Luther. For this, Henry was awarded the title Defender of the Faith by the pope. He accepted the real presence in Eucharist and priestly celibacy, two articles attacked by many of the reformers.
Henry was also interested in divorcing Catherine of Aragon, his current wife, who had not borne him a son and was aging. A young ambitious aristocrat named Anne Boleyn had caught the king's eye and Henry was attempting to convince the pope to grant a divorce from Catherine so he could remarry.
In this setting, a young scholar, William Tyndale, was convinced of the merits of the reformers' goals through the reading of the Scriptures and was determined to get the Bible into the hands of the people so that they too might come to know the word of God personally. The Bible at this time was only available in Latin, although there were some parts of the Bible that had been translated by John Wycliffe over a hundred years earlier that were freely copied and passed around.
Martin Luther had just recently completed a German language Bible that was a huge seller in Germany and Tyndale travelled to Wittenberg to meet with Luther. It was then Tyndale decided to translate and publish the Bible in English. Already in exile on the continent for his evangelical views, he began his work, constantly moving to avoid detection and arrest by spies of the English king and his strongly Catholic chancellor, Thomas More.
This is the context in which Moynahan sets the battle between Tyndale and More. It is doubtful that the two ever met in person but for close to a decade they waged a type literary war over the Bible, Church and salvation. Through their letters and publications literally millions of words were hurled at each other. The battle over time became intensely personal.
Ultimately, both Tyndale and More were executed for their views. More by Henry VIII and Tyndale by the imperial forces in Holland. However, Moynahan paints a striking contrast between the two men. Tyndale is held up as the model of enlightened religion and faith versus the medieval and autocratic Church More defends.
The title was somewhat misleading; the writing of the English Bible is described, and we learn a little about Tyndale, it appears as though there is little information available regarding his life. We do learn much about the life and times of Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More.
It is not until the end of the book that the reader learns Moynahan's thesis is that More is responsible for the death of Tyndale although it has never been proven that there was a link between More and Henry Phillips, the man who turned on Tyndale and handed him over to the authorities in Holland.
The book God's Bestseller is a historical drama that keeps the readers interest throughout. The tension between More and Tyndale is enthralling and the personal stories of the two men closely tied. The setting, the drama, and the characters all provide a gripping tale of spirit, loyalty and ultimately death. A worthy read.
(Dean Sarnecki dreams of writing a bestseller on the spiritual habits of teenagers, but in the meantime reads books about the Bible in Sherwood Park.)
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.