Imágenes de páginas







He was born in the county of York, in the year 1488. Nothing is known of his parents, not even their name; for Coverdale is supposed to have been the name assumed by the reformer on his becoming a monk, it being customary for such persons to renounce the family name, with all other earthly ties. It has been further conjectured, that Coverdale may have been the place of his birth, and hence his choice of this name.


THE name of Miles Coverdale is inseparably associated with the English Bible. It was his high privilege to be the first to present to his countrymen a version of the entire Scriptures in their own tongue. And in return, the reverent gratitude of each succeeding generation has gathered around his memory. In regard to such a man, the feeling is natural and seemly, which leads us to desire to know something of his personal history-to look into his home, to listen to his conversation, to note his tastes and habits, in short, to number him amongst those whom we know,-it may be, amongst those whom, from a community of feeling, we reckon our friends. Unfortunately in the case of Coverdale, the materials for such a study are extremely scanty. Beyond the more prominent features of his character, little is known of his life, except as it is connected with his translation labours.

He was educated in the convent of the Augustines at Cambridge, of which order he afterwards became a brother. Providence had placed his lot in solemn and perilous times. The work of the German reformers was beginning to bear fruit in England, into which their books had been introduced in considerable numbers. Strange and wonderful doctrines were moving to their depths the souls of thoughtful men, who had long fed on ashes, and now grasped at the divine nourishment offered them in the Word of God, with eagerness and joy. No longer would they be content to take the stone which Rome gave to them, for the bread of life which their Lord had provided. Outwardly, indeed, there seemed little change from the unquestioning lethargy of ages, but the calm was only on the surface; below, currents were at work which told of a coming tempest.

In the prior of his own convent, Dr. Barnes, ultimately a martyr for the faith, our young monk found a teacher of the reformed doctrines. Several learned members of the university had embraced the same principles, and ere long the little knot of Cambridge reformers dared to avow their principles in the face of deadly peril. Coverdale was of the number. He abandoned his convent and his monkish habit, assumed the dress of a secular priest, and


travelled over the country, preaching wherever he found opportunity. He was early noted for his zeal. "While others dedicated themselves in part only," says a contemporary, "he gave himself wholly up to propagating the truth of the gospel." It so happened, that by-and-by an Augustinian friar, a convert to the Reformation, was apprehended, and, succumbing before the threat of being burned, abjured his faith, and named Coverdale as one of the teachers who had led him astray.


England was no longer a safe place for the reformer, nor could he hope for further opportunity of exercising his vocation there in the meantime. He accordingly betook himself to the Continent, where for some time he found congenial occupation in translating parts of the Old Testament.

Meanwhile, the struggle went on in England. Tyndal's translation of the New Testament was widely circulated, and likewise many of the works of the German reformers. Great was the wrath of the bishops thereat, and severe the measures they adopted to prevent the reading of these books, and the discussion of their contents, in "alehouses and taverns," and other places of public resort. Eager for the word of God, the people would have it, and edition after edition of the New Testament was published abroad, and sold in England.

And thus, in spite of "a grievous persecution and slaughter of the faithful," the Reformation went on. At first its converts were chiefly, as an opposing bishop says, to be found among "the merchants, and such as have their abiding not far from the sea;" but the "gentry and common people," who, he asserts, were not then "greatly infected," soon became so, and from the castle to the cottage, from the English "Caesar's household" to the home of the artisan and the husbandman, the taint of Lutheranism was found. And the cry of the people virtually expressed, if not directly uttered, became more and more urgent, "Give us the Scrip


It was now felt by the authorities that something besides mere prohibition and persecution must be done, that some show of reason for their proceedings must be rendered. The king, therefore, called together the principal bishops and a number of the learned men from the universities, and placing the reprobated books in their hands, desired their opinion regarding them, and also, as to whether it were desirable that the people should possess the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue. As might be expected, the decision was adverse. Thereupon, a new royal proclamation was issued, strictly prohibiting the works in question. It contained, however, a promise that the king would cause a translation to be made of the New Testament, and give it to the people, when he judged them fit to receive it. In another proclamation, issued shortly after, this promise is modified, and it was evident that much reliance could not be placed upon it, whereas the threats held over the readers of the Scriptures were too sure to be executed to the full.

To the reformers this state of affairs was sufficiently discouraging, but they were far from yielding to despair. They regarded the proclamation as far more the bishops' than the king's, and, moreover, Henry's capricious temper left ground to hope, that what he forbade to-day he might permit to-morrow. And, ere long, the course of events gave more and more cause for hope.

It was in these circumstances that Coverdale undertook his great work of translating the whole Bible. It was finished, and the first entire English Bible published, in 1535. It is in the form of a small folio. It exhibits the name neither of printer nor place of publication, but, from the appearance of the type, it is supposed to have issued from the press of Christopher Froschover, at Zurich. It contains a dedication to the king, more servile in tone than is altogether seemly, according to our present habits of thought and modes of expression, but in which occur pass

ages of much beauty, as, for instance, | the following description of the Bible: It is the cause of all felicity, it bringeth all goodness with it, it bringeth learning, it gendereth understanding, it causeth good works, it maketh children of obedience; briefly, it teacheth all estates their office and duty. Seeing, then, that the Scripture of God teacheth us everything sufficiently, both what we ought to do and what we ought to leave undone, whom we are bound to obey, and whom we should not obey; therefore (I say), it causeth all prosperity, and setteth everything in frame: and where it is taught and known, it lighteneth all darknesses, comforteth all sorry hearts, leaveth no poor man unhelped, suffereth nothing amiss unamended, letteth no prince be disobeyed, permitteth no heresy to be preached, but reformeth all things, amendeth that is amiss, and setteth everything in order."

The volume has also a prologue to the reader, in which are to be found, clothed in quaint words, not a few thoughts worthy to be remembered.

It is doubtful whether Coverdale's Bible received the sanction of the king or not. It seems probable that it received his countenance for a short time, while Anne Boleyn was in favour. A contemporary says, that "through the intercession of Queen Anne, the king at last granted that English Bibles might be printed and placed in every church, where the people might read them." "Which concession of the king," he adds, "did not then take effect, because, shortly after, Queen Anne was beheaded." On the death of the queen, it is likely that the friends of Coverdale feared to bring his Bible under the further notice of the king, lest it should be positively forbidden, knowing the dislike of the imperious monarch to everything associated with the memory of his unfortunate wife.

Rogers, from, it is supposed, the translations of Tyndal and Coverdale. The prologues and notes of this version gave great offence to the clergy, who importuned the king to have another version, prepared free of all such accompaniments. The matter was committed to Lord Cromwell, who put it into the hands of Grafton, and with him we find Coverdale again at work on this new edition. It was published in the form of a large folio, in April, 1539.

The Bible was now ready for the people, and there seemed reason to hope that it would be permitted free course amongst them. Lord Cromwell, as vicar-general, had, in the September of 1538, commanded the clergy to provide that "one book of the whole Bible, of the largest volume in English, should be set up in each church, in some convenient place." "It was wonderful to see," says Strype, "with what joy this book of God was received, not only among the learneder sort, and those that were noted for lovers of the Reformation, but generally all England over, among all the vulgar and common people; and with what greediness God's word was read, and what resort to places where the reading of it was. Everybody that could, bought the book, or busily read it, or got others to read it to them, if they could not themselves, and divers more elderly persons learned to read on purpose."


In 1537, the Bible, known Matthew's, was printed, and received the king's approbation. The work was prepared under the superintendence of

Presently, however, complaints were heard that evil-disposed persons were endeavouring to deprive the people, as far as they could, of the boon bestowed upon them. Many of the priests were accused of reading the word of God "confusedly," and so "humming and hawing," that the people could not understand them. And as to the Bible, which in each church should be within reach of any one who wished to read, it was complained that "many would pluck it either into the quire, or else into some pew, where poor men durst not presume to come." Greater grievances followed. Henry, ere long, withdrew the privilege he had granted, and

again forbade the Bible to the common generally popish and disaffected to a people.

The latter years of Henry's reign were spent by the reformer on the Continent, where he was held in high regard. He received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Tubingen, and the Duke of Deux-Ponts presented him to the living of Bergzabern, the duties of which his thorough knowledge of Dutch enabled him to perform. While abroad he married, but nothing is known of the lady, further than that she was a pious woman, that her name was Elizabeth, and that her sister was the wife of Coverdale's friend, Macchabæus Alpinus, a Scotchman, who held a high station in Denmark. We have reason to believe Coverdale would make an affectionate husband, and a tender as well as a faithful pastor, from what we know of his character, as depicted by a contemporary. "As a young man," says this writer, "he was always of a most friendly and open disposition, and of a most gentle spirit." His zeal in propagating the gospel "clearly appears in his version of the Bible, in which he spent no fruitless labour, to the great profit of the Christian commonweal. The Spirit of God, which was present in all for the ministry of His word, to restrain the wickedness of the times, and which, in some, was like a powerful wind, overturning rocks and mountains, was in him even as a gentle breath of air, infusing vigour into irresolute and wavering minds; for his style is sweet and smooth: it flows gently along; it moves, instructs, and delights." He tells us also, that he gave numerous works to the world, "full of learning and piety."

reforming bishop, so that even yet he could scarcely say that "the lines had fallen unto him in pleasant places." But he had room to work for God, and in this he had ever sought his happiness. Very beautiful was the peaceful and godly home of this good man, and truly noble the manner in which his own hours were employed. "Most worthily," we are told, "did he perform the office committed unto him. He preached continually upon every holy day, and did read most commonly twice in the week, in some one church or other within this city. He was, after the rate of his livings, a great keeper of hospitality, very sober in diet, godlie in life, friendly to the godly, liberal to the poor, and courteous to all men; void of pride, full of humility, abhorring covetousness, and an enemy to all wickedness and wicked men, whose companies he shunned, and whom he would in no wise shield, or have in his house, and company. His wife, a most sober, chaste, and godly matron; his house and household, another church, in which was exercised all godliness and virtue; no one person being in his house, which did not from time to time give an account of his faith and religion, and also did live accordingly."


While this Christian family was pursuing the sweet and even tenor of a way sanctified by true piety, a terrible change came over its prospects. good young king died, and with Mary on the throne, such men as Coverdale might well tremble. For a little, a very little while, bloody persecution was delayed; but a large number of Protestant pastors were, under one pretext or another, cast into prison, and Cover

On the accession of Edward, Cover-dale was deprived of his bishopric, and dale returned to England, where he was received with the distinction due to his piety and learning. Queen Catherine appointed him her almoner, which office he held till her death. Some time after, he was created Bishop of Exeter. This see had been greatly impoverished by his predecessor, and the people were

commanded to wait the pleasure of the council. He was doubtless a marked man, and danger was imminent. But he had friends abroad who could and would help him; and through the repeated and urgent solicitations of the King of Denmark, Mary was constrained, most reluctantly, to permit his departure to

for years without preferment and in poverty. His friends were grieved at this, and Grindal, Bishop of London, managed to get him placed in the living of St. Magnus, near London-bridge, his want of conformity in some things being connived at. So poor was he, that he was obliged to petition the queen to excuse him the payment of the first fruits. But he was not yet at peace. He must continue to suffer for conscience sake. In 1566, the government thought fit to insist on a stricter conformity than had hitherto obtained, and those ministers who would not comply therewith were deprived of their livings. In all probability, Coverdale was of the number, for it is certain that in this year he did resign his benefice. Many of the people sympathised with their pastors. "After the deprivation of the London ministers," Strype writes, "for seven or eight weeks, their hearers either came to the churches, and heard the conformable preachers, or went no whither. Many of them ran after Father Coverdale, who took that occasion to preach the more constantly; but yet with much fear, so that he would not be known where he preached, though many came to his house to ask where he would preach the next Lord's-day. This it is likely he did, because he did not care for tumultuous meetings, lest he might give offence to the government."

A few more years passed on, and Mary slept with her fathers, while Elizabeth filled her throne. There was joy throughout England, and deep joy and thankfulness in many a remote corner in distant lands, where some of England's best sons were lingering out a sad exile. Once more our aged reformer sought his native land-yet it was not with unmixed pleasure he looked on the aspect of affairs there. Much, very much, to be thankful for and rejoice over, he found; but there were some things still retained,

Three years after, the trouble-tossed disciple was called to his eternal rest. He died in February, 1569, aged eightyone years. He was buried in St. Bartholomew's church, behind the Exchange. Well and faithfully had he served his generation, and it was but right and befitting that "his body should be attended to the grave by vast crowds of people who admired and loved him." He was buried in the chancel of the church, and "a fair

was placed on the spot.

which he, with many of his fellow-plated stone," with a Latin epitaph, reformers, regarded as part of the old superstition, and to which they could by no means conscientiously conform. Thus it was that Coverdale, one of the most distinguished of the reformers, remained

that country. And thus, as Fuller says, "he was as a brand plucked out of the burning."

And now again our reformer was an exile; an exile with the infirmities of age gathering around him. True, he had friends eager to assist and comfort him. And doubtless his gentle and devout spirit thanked God that it was so. Yet one great sorrow weighed him down -the desolation of the holy places of his own loved country. There was comfort, however. The Lord reigned, and would in due time arise and maintain his own cause; and the imperishable seed of the word, which he had done so much to sow in England, her tyrant queen could never destroy.

The King of Denmark, anxious to retain a man whom he esteemed so highly, offered him a benefice in his kingdom; but this he refused, on account of his ignorance of the Danish language. He preferred small and uncertain means with opportunities of usefulness, to comfort and ease without such opportunities. He therefore repaired to Wezel, to minister to the English refugees there. While thus engaged, he was offered his former charge at Bergzabern, and accepted it. Thence he removed to Geneva to assist in the preparation of the new edition of the Bible, which was being brought out there.

In 1838, the parishioners of St. Magnus erected in their church a monument to the memory of this eminent rector of the olden time.

« AnteriorContinuar »