One fanciful story dealing with Catholic Church history is the death of William Tyndale. Many non-Catholics will tell you that members of the Roman Catholic Church murdered Tyndale on account of translating the Bible to English. This accusation is often made in support of the argument that the Catholic Church does not encourage the reading of the Scriptures. When confronted with this accusation, I had to take a deeper look into the life, and death, of William Tyndale.
An important piece of the puzzle is that, at the time of Tyndale, it was not legal to translate any unauthorized edition of the Bible into English. This law, passed by the Synod of Oxford in 1408, prohibited any unauthorized version of the Bible to be translated to English, and also the reading of such. The law was put into effect after another translator, John Wycliffe, produced a translation of the Bible that was corrupt and full of heresy; an improper rendition of Scripture. Both the Church and the secular authorities condemned it and did their best to prevent it from being used to teach false doctrine and morals. Because of the scandal that was caused by the Wycliffe translation, the Synod of Oxford then passed the law.
A fact usually ignored by Protestant historians is that many English versions of the Scriptures existed before Wycliffe, and these were authorized and perfectly legal. Also legal would be any future authorized translations. And certainly reading these translations was not only legal but also encouraged. All this law did was to prevent any private individual from publishing his own translation of Scripture without the approval of the Church. And that is exactly what Tyndale did.
Catholic Answers, in their article Tyndale’s Heresy by Matthew A. C. Newsome ( https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/tyndales-heresy ), says:
“Tyndale was an English priest of no great fame who desperately desired to make his own English translation of the Bible. The Church denied him for several reasons.
“First, it saw no real need for a new English translation of the Scriptures at this time. In fact, booksellers were having a hard time selling the print editions of the Bible that they already had. Sumptuary laws had to be enacted to force people into buying them.
“Second, we must remember that this was a time of great strife and confusion for the Church in Europe. The Reformation had turned the continent into a very volatile place. So far, England had managed to remain relatively unscathed, and the Church wanted to keep it that way. It was thought that adding a new English translation at this time would only add confusion and distraction where focus was needed.
“Lastly, if the Church had decided to provide a new English translation of Scripture, Tyndale would not have been the man chosen to do it. He was known as only a mediocre scholar and had gained a reputation as a priest of unorthodox opinions and a violent temper. He was infamous for insulting the clergy, from the pope down to the friars and monks, and had a genuine contempt for Church authority. In fact, he was first tried for heresy in 1522, three years before his translation of the New Testament was printed. His own bishop in London would not support him in this cause.”
Well, Tyndale struck out on his own, and illegally made a translation of the Bible into English. The secular authorities (not the Catholic Church) arrested Tyndale, and he was sentenced to die in 1536.
In reality, Tyndale was a criminal, a breaker of the law. He knew very well that it was illegal to make an unauthorized translation. A look at the facts behind Tyndale’s death should scatter the notion that Catholics murdered him for simply translating the Bible, just another fanciful “history” of the Catholic Church.
— Patrick E. Devens