In his Belfast Telegraph article of 14th April 2007 entitled ‘The ultimate guidebook to the meaning of life’, the ‘Religion Correspondent’, Alf McCreary reflected on a Channel 4 TV documentary called ‘The Bible Revolution’.
There was a particular passage in the article that impacted forcibly upon me. What ‘impacted’ upon me was not what Mr McCreary actually wrote but rather what he did not write. Let me first quote what the passage as he wrote it said –
‘The Bible was available in England during the Middle Ages, but only in a Latin translation which the vast majority of worshippers did not understand. Indeed, the Church was so worried that people might read the Bible for themselves that anyone who campaigned for an English version was regarded as a dangerous heretic.
John Wycliffe was so reviled by the Church that 50 years after his death his remains were exhumed and burnt at the stake!
William Tyndale, to whom we are indebted for the most beautiful language of the Authorised King James Bible, was forced to flee Antwerp and he was later burned by his clerical enemies.
Thomas Cranmer, who ensured that the English Bible was made available in all parish churches, also incurred the hatred of the conservatives and he too died at the stake’.
So there you have Alf McCreary’s ‘take’ on history and how 3 God-fearing, Bible-believing men were put to death by ‘the Church’, by ‘clerical enemies’ and by ‘the conservatives’.
When taking his leave of the Church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul stated how he had “not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” [Acts 20:27]. In this matter of Bible history and in particular the events surrounding the ‘post-mortem’ treatment in one case and the martyrdom in the other two cases of men who sacrificed themselves so that English speaking people could have the Bible in their native tongue then Alf McCreary has most surely shunned ‘to declare all the course of history’ to his readers.
Let’s now compare what Alf McCreary wrote with what we read elsewhere concerning the treatment of these 3 saints of God, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer.
Concerning John Wycliffe, Alf McCreary wrote – ‘John Wycliffe was so reviled by the Church that 50 years after his death his remains were exhumed and burnt at the stake!’ On page 68 of ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ we read the following –
‘And for the residue, we will declare what cruelty they used not only against the books and articles of John Wycliffe, but also in burning his body and bones, commanding them to be taken up many years after he was buried; as appeareth by the decree of the Synod of Constance, AD1415 “This holy synod declareth, determineth and giveth sentence that John Wycliffe was a notorious heretic and that he died obstinate in his heresy; cursing alike him and condemning his memory. This synod also decreeth and ordaineth that his body and bones, if they might be discerned from the bodies of other faithful people, should be taken out of the ground and thrown far away from the burial of any church, according as the canons and laws enjoin’.
Mr McCreary overlooked to mention that it was by a decree of the Roman Catholic ‘Synod of Constance’ of 1415 that this barbaric treatment to the corpse of John Wycliffe was ordered. This was a council that according to this link. http://www.dailycatholic.org/history/16ecume1.htm
‘…proposed the following three topics:
- To bring unity back to the church and to make an end to the schism which had divided the church since 1378… When the council of Constance opened, Christians owed obedience to three different popes: some owed obedience to Gregory XII of the Roman party others to Benedict XIII of the Avignon party, and others to John XXIII, who had been elected after the death of Alexander V. John XXIII and Benedict XIII were deposed by the council, Gregory XII voluntarily resigned. Then Martin V was elected pope on 11 November 1417 and he was regarded as the legitimate pontiff by the church as a whole.
- To eradicate heresies, especially those spread by John Wyclif in Britain and by John Hus and Jerome of Prague in Bohemia.
- To reform the corrupt morals of the church. This, however, was only partly accomplished in the final sessions of the council’.
For whatever reasons, Alf McCreary failed to mention that the scandalous treatment of the remains of John Wyciffe, some 50 years after his death, was on the express instructions of Papal Rome rather than what he simply designated as the Church.
Moving on to William Tyndale, Alf McCreary wrote of how ‘he was later burned by his clerical enemies’. On this website http://homepage.ntlworld.com/klj.milburn/page30.html we read the following about the death of William Tyndale –
‘For ten years the Roman clergy had striven in vain to persuade the king to ban Tyndale’s translation and have him burnt as a heretic. Actually, Henry VIII had been very impressed by Tyndale’s works but now Tyndale touched the king on a very sore spot. Tyndale argued that though there was obviously a ground for divorce recorded in Scripture, the King’s wish to be divorced from Catherine had no such Scriptural authority… From now on, **More and his henchmen gained the king’s ear and felt themselves authorised to search throughout Antwerp in order to find Tyndale’s hiding place and have him burnt as a heretic… Tyndale was then taken to the state prison at Castle Vilvorde, nearly twenty miles from Antwerp and thrown into a cold, damp, dark cell… Tyndale wasted no time in witnessing to his inquisitors concerning God’s goodness in Christ. Soon, the jailer was converted, then the keeper’s daughter, then members of the prison staff declared, one by one, that they had found Christ as their Saviour. After talking at length to Tyndale over a period of one and a half years, his guards and interviewers confessed that if this man was not a true Christian gentleman then they had no idea who could be. Their verdict was the same as Pilate’s on examining Christ, ‘I find no fault in this man.’ Nevertheless, **More had persuaded the Emperor through an assembly at Augsburg, to pronounce the death sentence over Tyndale and justice had to make way for international diplomacy. On October 6, 1536, Tyndale was tied to a stake in the prison yard at Vilvorden. He cried out ‘Lord open the King of England’s eyes’, before the public hangman pressed his grim fingers around Tyndale’s godly throat and dispatched him to his God and Saviour. His body was then burnt to ashes.
**This is Sir Thomas More who according to ‘Wikipedia’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_More
For whatever reasons, Alf McCreary failed to mention that the brutal execution of William Tyndale was pursued with unrelenting vigour by zealous Roman Catholic clergy and politicians acting in the interests of Papal Rome rather than what he simply designated asclerical enemies.
Moving finally to Thomas Cranmer, Alf McCreary wrote of how he ‘incurred the hatred of the conservatives and he too died at the stake’. On pages374- of ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ we read the following –
‘We now proceed to his final judgment and order of condemnation which was the 12th day of September 1555…At the coming down of the commissioners which was upon Thursday 12th of September, 1555, in the church of St Mary and in the east end of the said church at the high altar was erected a solemn scaffold ten foot high, with cloth of state very richly and sumptuously adorned for Bishop Brooks, the Pope’s legate, apparelled in pontificals. The seat was made that he might sit under the sacrament of the altar…anon one of the proctors for the Poe called “Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, appear here and make answer to what shall be laid to thy charge…and make answer here to the Bishop of Gloucester, representing the Pope’s person”…whereunto Dr Cranmer answered that he had taken a solemn oath never to consent to the admitting of the Bishop of Rome’s authority into this realm of England again…Upon receipt of this sentence definitive of the Pope, another session was appointed for the archbishop to appear the 14th day of February before certain commissioners directed down by the Queen, the chief whereof was the Bishop of Ely…with him was assigned Dr Bonner, Bishop of London…Bonner…now rejoiced to see this day…making his oration to the assembly after this manner.. “This is the man who hath ever despised the Pope’s holiness and now is to be judged by him”…After this pageant of degradation then spake Lord Bonner saying to him “Now you are no Lord any more”…Then was an iron chain tied about Cranmer…they commanded the fire to be set unto him…his eyes were lifted up into heaven…and using the words of Stephen “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” in the greatness of the flame, he gave up the ghost’.
For whatever reasons, Alf McCreary failed to mention that the fiery execution of Thomas Cranmer was brought about by the efforts of pitiless Roman Catholic clergy acting on the instructions of Papal Rome rather than what he simply designated as the conservatives.
The reality is that these 3 men were not put to death simply because they wanted the ‘common people’ to have a Bible in their hands. They were treated in such horrible fashions because they rejected the claims and teachings of The Papacy and for that they had to die.
For Alf McCreary to publicly state these historical truths might of course close the ecumenical doors that currently open up regularly to him and obviously that is a price that he is not prepared to pay. Unlike these 3 faithful men of God, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer, who each died as “servants of Christ”, Alf McCreary prefers to “seek to please men” rather than to be “the servant of Christ”[Galatians 1:10].