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Free speech shines in darkness

Free speech has always been a burning issue. Five hundred years ago it was a king rather than a Home Secretary who was trying to squash free speech for religious pc reasons.

Henry VIII was ghastly, but he did one or two decent things. One of these arose from Henry's infallible sense of his own self-interest combined, I like to think, with William Tyndale's prayer just before he was murdered.

In exile, William Tyndale had translated the New Testament from the original Greek into English, and had managed to smuggle copies of it into England where it was received with joy by men and women who had never been able to read the Gospels in their own language before.

Henry VIII tried to stop their free reading and discussion of the Gospels by ordering his agents to burn every copy of Tyndale's translation. Luckily, quite a few copies eluded him.

Tyndale was working on his translation of the Old Testament when he was shipwrecked, betrayed for a handful of silver and imprisoned in a castle north of Brussels. He was cold, so cold he asked for a piece of cloth to patch his leggings, and “a lamp in the evening, for it is worrisome to sit alone in the dark.”

Somehow he managed to complete his translation of the Old Testament from Joshua through 2 Chronicles before he was found guilty of heresy, tied to a stake, strangled, and burned in 1536. He was in his early forties.

Just before he died, Tyndale cried -

“Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!”

Not long afterwards, Henry ordered that English language Bibles were to be placed in every church. Tyndale's translation was the text that was used, though he was uncredited.

Tyndale's phrases leapt into English consciousness, among them -

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

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