Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/677

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the Council of Oxford in 1408, prohibited the making or keeping of unauthorised English versions, and that he condemned "any book, booklet, or tract of this kind made in the time of the said John Wyclif or since." It is equally certain that manuscript copies of an English Bible were in possession of such orthodox Catholics as Thomas of Woodstock, Henry VI, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, and the Brigittine nuns of Syon. English Bibles were bequeathed by will, and given to churches or religious houses. From all this it has been argued, on the one hand, that authority tolerated the use of a version which was due to Wycliffite sources; on the other, that a Catholic version must have existed, and that the copies mentioned above contain it. Sir Thomas More, disputing against Tyndale, affirms that no translations executed prior to the Lollards were forbidden. "I myself have seen and can show you," he says in his Dynlogue, "Bibles fair and old, written in English, which have been known and seen by the bishop of the diocese, and left in the hands of lay men and women whom he knew to be good and Catholic people." More himself was decidedly in favour of vernacular versions; but "the New Testament newly-forged by Tyndale, altered and changed in matters of great weight," he judged worthy of the fire. The extant copies of an earlier Bible, to whomsoever due, exhibit no traces of heretical doctrine. Cranmer and Foxe the martyrologist both allude to translations of the whole body of Scripture, "as well before John Wyclif was born as since," says the latter. In the destruction of libraries these have perished and nothing of them is now known.

To Latin readers the Bible would be familiar. Coberger of Nürnberg had set up in London a warehouse for the sale of the Vulgate as early as 1480. To English readers Caxton offered the Golden Legend in 1483; it contained nearly the whole of the Pentateuch and a large portion of the Gospels. The Liber Festival(tm) included Scripture paraphrases. But it was in Germany that the printer had become the evangelist. No censorship interfered with the ordinary course of instruction; and this contemplated the whole duty of a Christian man; it was a comment on Holy Writ which all were at liberty to keep in their hands. Fifty-nine editions of the Imitation of Christ were brought out in less than fifty years. Prayer-books in heartfelt and instructive speech, the Gate of Heaven, the Path to Paradise, and a hundred more, were sold in all book-markets. Numerous as are the specimens that survive, those who have examined them agree that on points afterwards violently disputed,—as the doctrine of indulgences and prayers to the Saints,—they lend no countenance to superstition or excess. Were we to form our view of German religion from these prayers, hymns, and popular manuals, it would be eminently favourable. In language as in sentiment they have never been surpassed. The Deutsche Theologie, named and published in part by Luther (1516-18) is an admirable instance, perfectly orthodox and profoundly spiritual, by an unknown author, perhaps of