Friday, October 06, 2006

October 6

On this date in 1536, the self-exiled English priest and Biblical translator William Tyndale was executed at Vilvorde Castle, just outside Brussels. A progenitor of Puritan theology, Tyndale had managed to fall afoul of both the Catholic Church and King Henry VIII of England, and in this unusual instance the papacy and the crown set aside their recent differences and toasted to the undoing of a common foe. In Practyse of the Prelates, his 1530 page-turner, Tyndale had excoriated the Roman Catholic Church, whose officials no doubt objected to being described as a “generation of serpents,” as “blind leaders of the blind,” and as murders and liars all. Tyndale warned further that unless these modern-day scribes and Pharisees ceased their distortion of God’s word, He would
awake as a fierce lion, against those cruel wolves which devour his lambs, and will play with the hypocrites, and compass them in their own wiles; and send them a dancing in the head, and a swimming in their brains, and destroy them with their own counsel.
Tyndale’s text was, to put it mildly, unsparing in its rejection of Catholic venality.

For his part, Henry VIII was incensed that Tyndale’s treatise likewise condemned his scheme to divorce the hapless Catharine of Aragon, whom he sought to discard for his lover Anne Boleyn. Boleyn, who would eventually lose her head less than five months before Tyndale’s own execution, had actually urged Henry to pursue a divorce based on an apparent misreading of Tyndale’s earlier anti-Catholic writings. Eager to clarify his views on the subject, Tyndale explained in Practyse of the Prelates that God would punish any marital disunion by invalidating the Tudor king’s rule and loosing England’s enemies upon the land. Although Henry initially failed to persuade Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire to arrest Tyndale, the sharp-tongued priest was eventually betrayed in 1535 by his dissolute friend Henry Phillips, who actually borrowed 40 shillings from Tyndale before leading the imperial authorities to his home in Antwerp.

After sixteen months in prison, Tyndale was garroted for heresy and his body roasted at the stake. Gruesome death notwithstanding, Tyndale is best remembered for his clear and compelling (and heretical) translation of the Bible into the English vernacular -- the first such translation made from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Among other notable attributes, Tyndale’s translation of the Pentateuch introduced several new words into the English language, including “Jehovah,” “atonement,” and “scapegoat.”


archive_3_lg Exactly 409 years after Tyndale’s execution, Vasili Sianis, a Greek immigrant and owner of Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, purchased two seats at the fourth game of the 1945 World Series between his hometown Cubs and Hank Greenberg’s Detroit Tigers. Sianis’ intended companion that day was his beloved, beer-guzzling friend Murphy, the goat who had inspired the tavern’s name when fell off a truck and wandered through the front door. Although Sianis and his goat were initially permitted into Wrigley Field that afternoon, Murphy was eventually asked to leave -- allegedly (and quite plausibly) due to his accumulating mound of fecal matter and the horrendous odor that lingered around it. Legend tells us that Sianis responded to his goat’s ejection by placing a curse on the Cubs, whom he declared would never play another World Series at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, who had been leading the series two games to one, lost on October 6 and were eventually dispatched in seven games. Since 1945 the Cubs have posted a mere fifteen winning seasons, and the World Series has yet to return to Wrigley Field.