Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Of Worshipping of Sacraments, Ceremonies, Images, Relics, and So Forth
By William Tyndale (c. 14901536)
NOW let us come to the worshipping or honouring of sacraments, ceremonies, images, and relics. First, images be not God, and therefore no confidence is to be put in them. They be not made after the image of God, nor are the price of Christs blood; but the workmanship of the craftsman, and the price of money, and therefore inferiors to man.
Wherefore of all right man is lord over them, and the honour of them is to do man service; and mans dishonour it is to do them honourable service, as unto his better. Images then, and relics, yea, and as Christ saith, the holy day too, are servants unto man. And therefore it followeth that we cannot, but unto our damnation, put on a coat worth an hundred coats upon a posts back, and let the image of God and the price of Christs blood go up and down thereby naked. For if we care more to clothe the dead image made by man, and the price of silver, than the lively image of God, and the price of Christs blood; then we dishonour the image of God, and him that made him, and the price of Christs blood and him that bought him.
Wherefore the right use, office, and honour of all creatures, inferiors unto man, is to do man service; whether they be images, relics, ornaments, signs, or sacraments, holy days, ceremonies or sacrifices. And that may be on this manner, and no doubt it so once was. If (for an example) I take a piece of the cross of Christ, and make a little cross thereof and bear it about me, to look thereon with a repenting heart at times when I am moved thereto, to put me in remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and His blood shed thereon for my sins; and believe stedfastly that the merciful truth of God shall forgive the sins of all that repent, for His deaths sake, and never think on them more; then it serveth me and I not it; and doth me the same service as if I read the testament in a book, or as if the preacher preached it unto me. And in like manner, if I make a cross in my forehead, in a remembrance that God hath promised assistance unto all that believe in him, for His sake that died on the cross, then doth the cross serve me, and I not it. And in like manner, if I bear on me or look upon a cross, of whatsoever matter it be, or make a cross upon me, in remembrance that whosoever will be Christs disciple must suffer a cross of adversity, tribulations, and persecution, so doth the cross serve me and I not it. And this was the use of the cross once, and for this cause it was at the beginning set up in the churches.
And so, if I make an image of Christ, or of any thing that Christ hath done for me, in a memory,1 it is good and not evil until it be abused. And even so, if I take the true life of a saint, and cause it to be painted or carved, to put me in remembrance of the saints life, to follow the saint as the saint did Christ; and to put me in remembrance of the great faith of the saint to God, and how true God was to help him out of all tribulation, and to see the saints love towards his neighbour, in that he so patiently suffered so painful a death, and so cruel a martyrdom to testify the truth, for to save other, and all to strength my soul withal and my faith to God and love to my neighbour, then doth the image serve me and I not it. And this was the use of images at the beginning, and of relics also. And to kneel before the cross unto the Word of God which the cross preacheth is not evil. Neither to kneel down before an image, in a mans meditations, to call the living of the saint to mind, for to desire God of like grace to follow the ensample, is not evil. But the abuse of the thing is evil, and to have a false faith, as to bear a piece of the cross about a man, thinking that so long as that is about him, spirits shall not come at him, his enemies shall do him no bodily harm, all causes shall go on his side even for bearing it about him; and to think that if it were not about him it would not be so, and to think if any misfortune chance that it came for leaving it off, or because this or that ceremony was left undone, and not rather because we have broken Gods commandments, or that God tempteth us, to prove our patience, this is plain idolatry; and here a man is captive, bond and servant unto a false faith and a false imagination, that is neither God nor His Word. Now am I Gods only, and ought to serve nothing but God and His Word. My body must serve the rulers of this world and my neighbour, as God hath appointed it and so must all my goods; but my soul must serve God only, to love his law and to trust in his promises of mercy in all my deeds. And in like manner it is that thousands, while the priest pattereth St. Johns Gospel in Latin over their heads, cross themselves with, I trow, a legion of crosses behind and before; and (as Jack-of-Napes, when he claweth himself) pluck up their legs and cross so much as their heels and the very soles of their feet, and believe that if it be done in the time that he readeth the gospel (and else not) that there shall no mischance happen them that day, because only of those crosses. And where he should cross himself, to be armed and to make himself strong to bear the cross with Christ, he crosseth himself to drive the cross from him; and blesseth himself with a cross from the cross. And if he leave it undone, he thinketh it no small sin, and that God is highly displeased with him, and if any misfortune chance thinketh it is therefore, which is also idolatry and not Gods Word. And such is the confidence in the place or image, or whatsoever bodily observance it be; such is St. Agathas letter2 written in the gospel time. And such are the crosses on Palm-Sunday, made in the passion time. And such is the bearing of holy wax about a man. And such is that some hang a piece of St. Johns gospel about their necks. And such is to bear the names of God with crosses between each name, about them. Such is the saying of gospels unto women in child-bed. Such is the limiters3 saying of In principio erat verbum, from house to house. Such is the saying of gospels to the corn in the field, in the procession-week, that it should the better grow. And such is holy bread, holy water, and serving of all ceremonies and sacraments in general, without signification. And I pray you, how is it possible that the people can worship images, relics, ceremonies, and sacraments, save superstitiously; so long as they know not the true meaning, neither will the prelates suffer any man to tell them, yea, and the very meaning of some, and right use no man can tell?
Note 1. in a memory. The Latin memoria was used by the Fathers for a shrine or chapel. [back]
Note 2. St. Agathas letter. When the Emperor Frederick II. was reducing Catana, St. Agathas native place, he saw a warning against doing so, in golden letters before his eye. Hence St. Agathas letter was a charm against the burning of houses. [back]
Note 3. limiter = a friar licensed to preach within certain limits. [back]