What Was the “One Note” He Always Sang?
Stephen Vaughn was an English merchant commissioned by Thomas Cromwell, the king’s adviser, to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to come back to England out of hiding on the continent. In a letter to Cromwell from Vaughan dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494-1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”1 That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale will not come. If so, Tyndale will give himself up to the king and never write another book.
This was the driving passion of his life—to see the Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew into ordinary English available for every person in England to read.
Henry VIII was angry with Tyndale for believing and promoting Martin Luther’s Reformation teachings. In particular he was angry because of Tyndale’s book, Answer to Sir Thomas More. Thomas More (famous for his book Utopia and the movie A Man for All Seasons) was the Lord Chancellor who helped Henry VIII write his repudiation of Luther called Defense of the Seven Sacraments. Thomas More was thoroughly Roman Catholic and radically anti-Reformation, anti-Luther, and anti-Tyndale. So Tyndale had come under the same excoriating criticism by Thomas More.2 In fact More had a “near-rabid hatred”3 for Tyndale and published three long responses to him totaling near three-quarters of a million words.4
But in spite of this high court anger against Tyndale, the king’s message to Tyndale, carried by Vaughan, was mercy: “The kings’ royal majesty is . . . inclined to mercy, pity, and compassion.”5
The thirty-seven-year-old Tyndale was moved to tears by this offer of mercy. He had been an exile from his homeland for seven years. But then he sounds his “one note” again: Will the king authorize a vernacular English Bible from the original languages? Vaughan gives us Tyndale’s words from May, 1531:
I assure you, if it would stand with the King’s most gracious pleasure to grant only a bare text of the Scripture [that is, without explanatory notes] to be put forth among his people, like as is put forth among the subjects of the emperor in these parts, and of other Christian princes, be it of the translation of what person soever shall please his Majesty, I shall immediately make faithful promise never to write more, not abide two days in these parts after the same: but immediately to repair unto his realm, and there most humbly submit myself at the feet of his royal majesty, offering my body to suffer what pain or torture, yea, what death his grace will, so this [translation] be obtained. Until that time, I will abide the asperity of all chances, whatsoever shall come, and endure my life in as many pains as it is able to bear and suffer.6
In other words, Tyndale will give himself up to the king on one condition—that the king authorize an English Bible translated from the Greek and Hebrew in the common language of the people.