The More-Tyndale Conference that took place at Liverpool Hope University, from 3rd to 6th July 2008, was organized by Rev. Matthew Baynham from Hope and Dr John Flood from Balliol College, Oxford, under the title "Tyndale, More and their Circles: Persecution and Martyrdom under the Tudors". As Hope University was born from an ecumenical federation of two Roman Catholic Colleges and an Anglican one, it appeared as the ideal place to hold a Conference that considered together these two historical enemies : Thomas More and William Tyndale.
Report on the Tyndale-More Liverpool Conference of July 3-6, 2008.
There were about 30 participants, among whom only a few were mere attendants, not giving papers. Most of the papers concerned either More or Tyndale; a certain number examined their theological differences, and concentrated on their points of disagreement, such as Church vs Scripture, faith, or the translation of the Bible. Martyrdom and persecution were the subjects of a couple of essays, and a small number of papers proposed the discovery or re-discovery of other authors, something which was also highly appreciated.
Here are some of the lectures which I attended. Quite often, two papers were given at the same time, so you must excuse my lack of ubiquity! In the opening lecture, Tibor Fabiny, from Hungary, opened the conference by addressing the problem of Church before Scripture. David Weil Baker then debated about "historical faith". The meeting thus started by resuming the well-known theological debate, before launching into more specific points. Rev. Dr. Ralph Werrell, speaking on the last day, concluded on the subject, with his essay on "Tyndale vs More: the theological debate".
Eamon Duffy, in a much applauded lecture, addressed the issue of More the heretic hunter, in a paper called: "More, Martyrdom and Heresy in Tudor England" and demonstrated how, in The Confutation and The Apology, More was eager to feature himself deliberately as a hammer of heretics.
Sister Anne O'Donnell did a research on the greek notion of agape and its different meanings for More and Tyndale. Her comparison led her to stress More's exceptional desire of paradise and his longing to go to God, something Germain Marc'hadour had pointed out in Thomas More and the Bible, following Erasmus himself.
Brian Cummings was most brilliant, in "'The Letter Killeth': More, Tyndale and the Unwritten Verities". He took up the debate of scripture vs Church and sola scriptura, and did a fine analysis of the power of the word, saying for example, that the More-Tyndale debate was "a brilliant example of the paranoia of the text in the times of heresy", and demonstrating it through convincing examples - in a pleasant Power Point display. He related the 16th century issue to Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)'s study of the meaning of "tradition", which states that "the book is open to ambiguity". There was a rich debate following Cummings' talk ("books are words and can be eaten"/ "the word is not the last thing, the last thing is Christ, Christ on the cross"/ "The idea of imagery and metaphor is central to the debate"). One of the conclusion to the questions was that "how to interpret images" is probably the main debate between Thomas More and William Tyndale.
Cecilia Hatt delivered an interesting paper on "The Two-Edged Sword metaphor as Image of Civil Power for Fisher and More".
A young PhD student from Hungary, András Mikesy, made an illuminating research on Tyndale's dependence on and difference from Luther, by studying his treatise on the Pater Noster, which Tyndale translated from Luther, at the same time transforming it. He has already published the result of his research.
More's Dialogues were the subjects of three specific studies: Mary Jane Barnett proposed Defending Consensus in the 'Dialogue Concerning Heresies': More's Methodological Dilemma and Elizabeth Human, taking up the same dialogue echoed her with 'Guess who's coming to Dinner?': Domesticating Dissent in More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies'. Gabriela Schmidt spoke about The Dialogue of Comfort in which "More asserts his own title to Martyrdom".
There were a number of interesting forays into little known authors. Gerard Kilroy got an interested audience responding to his presentation of Sir John Harrington's 'ydle Epigrams', designed to echo John Heywood and Sir Thomas More's Epigrammata. Letizia Panizza presented Curione, an Italian dissident, who wrote satirical dialogues in which the Pope is the Antichrist. She was much applauded.
Clodah Tait represented the Irish voice and spoke about catholic martyrs, basing her paper on the study of Barnaby Rich's A Catholick Conference (1612). Let me recall one of the final sentences heard during the debate : "if you wanted to be a martyr, in Ireland, it might be rather hard to be chosen. You had to be right there at the right time and the right place." Indeed, most of the time, the English sovereign just could not be bothered to tackle the hopeless question of Irish Catholics.
Antony Hasler, from Saint Louis University, was very efficient in delivering his lecture on "Death and the King's Horsemen: The Resonyng' of William Lamb". So was Donald Millus, who spoke with the gift of an entertainer, on "Tyndale's Circle of Criticism in his Exposition of the First Epistle of Saint John".
The social life around the Conference was quite lively. The Conference Dinner featured a black-clad Tyndale reading his own prose, and after-dinner meetings were enlivened by Irish (and latin!) songs. The organizers had arranged for the participants to attend a Mystery Play, performed outdoors, in front of Chester's Anglican Cathedral, and they took us there themselves. The weather was deliciously British, that is cool and wet, something that was diversely appreciated: Saint Louis people were thankful for its coolness, a change from their scorching summer back home, whereas Mediterranean people had not packed enough warm clothes. Once more, the topic of the weather got everyone talking and we felt thankful for England's typical gifts, of pubs, of greenery, of Beatle-mania even, especially then, when Liverpool was the 2008 Capital of European Culture.