THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION IN THE ENGLISH PROVINCE (3)
There Coverdale accepted Lutheranism and left the Augustinian Order. Under Thomas Cromwell's protection, he returned to England in 1539, and became a spy on Papists (Roman Catholics) for Cromwell. When his fellow ex-Augustinian, Robert Barnes, was burnt at the stake on 30th July 1540, Coverdale went back to Europe, taking his Scots wife with him.
He led a studious life in Flanders and Germany. He dedicated his time to translating the Bible into English; in 1535 his was the first complete English Bible. Printed in Zurich, it was reprinted in 1537 and 1538. Coverdale's translation of the Psalms is still used in the Book of Common Prayer.
Coverdale's translation of the Bible into English was in some ways a more audacious step that of Martin Luther a year earlier in translating it into High German, because Coverdale was the one who was breaking newer ground in his own native tongue. Contrary to popular belief, there were numerous German-language bibles before Luther's translation.
Indeed, there is ample evidence for the general use of the entire vernacular German Bible in the fifteenth century. For example, in 1466, before Martin Luther was even born, the Mentel Bible, a High German vernacular Bible was printed at Strassburg. This edition was based on a no-longer-existing fourteenth-century manuscript translation of the Vulgate from the area of Nuremberg. Before 1518 and the Protestant Reformation, it had been reprinted at least thirteen times.
Under the patronage of Thomas Cromwell Coverdale helped to prepare the Great Bible that was to be set up in every church of the realm. It appeared in 1538 and was reprinted in 1550, 1553 and 1560. In 1540 Coverdale earned his Doctor of Divinity at Tubingen.
In 1548 he returned to England, invited by Catherine Par, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII, and became chaplain to the king. He was appointed Bishop of Exeter in 1551. This ex-Augustinian was one of the best-known Reformers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
When the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor deposed him, she temporarily imprisoned him. Coverdale however succeeded in escaping to Germany, accompanied by the spouse of his second marriage.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, he came back to England, but was not re-instated as a bishop. Coverdale died in retirement at London on 20th January 1569 at about the age of eighty-one years.
By his translation of the Bible into English, he can perhaps claim to have exercised a greater influence on the religious thought of more than any other person who had become an Augustinian.
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Picture 1: The former Augustinian library building at Erfurt, Germany. It was used by the Augustinians until 1561, over forty years after the start of the Reformation.
Picture 2: The former Augustinerkloster and library at Erfurt.
Picture 3: A variety that is called an Augustinian rose, growing in the former monastery garden at Erfurt.