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How influential was Lollard thought in the Theology of William Tyndale?


The relationship between Lollardy and the theology of William Tyndale crosses a vast array of interpretative and historical purviews.  Firstly, the idea of Lollardy in itself is a difficult and problematic one to ascertain: these issues stem from the fact that Lollardy was a term used by the Catholic Church and monarchy to describe heresy in general.  It is borrowed from the continental term; in addition, Lollards themselves were characterised by their poor education and their inability (or unwillingness) to interpret scripture in its original language.  Finally, Lollards have been defined as followers of the theology of John Wycliffe.  The problems surrounding this inception point is cemented further by the incrimination of Lollards, which sent the movement underground.  Given this myriad of opposing views on what actually constituted Lollardy, therefore, it becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain precisely what impact, if any, this movement had on the development of continental Protestantism, as well as on Tyndale's own derivative of Protestant ideas.

The difference in opinion between Luther and Tyndale can be seen as a reflection of the complex series of differences between continental and English debate on the subject of the church, in which national issues of church and state became inextricably entwined with a series of broader educational and political developments.  In addition, Tyndale's era was characterised by a broadening of the horizons of the universities, which were increasingly prone to adopting more humanist views and values, thus, allowing more unorthodox views to arise.  These characteristics also had a historical basis, and the development of theological debate proved heavily dependent upon issues that first arose when heresy came to be associated with Wycliffe and the Lollards.  Whether constructed and externalised by the Orthodox Church, or comprising a coherent theological attitude, Lollardy nonetheless acted to develop a distinctively English theological dichotomy, in which certain terms came to be heavily debated.  Perhaps indirectly, Tyndale cannot help but play a part in this historical tradition by advocating broader Protestant ideals.

Overall, determining the extent to which Lollard thought was influential in the theological outlook of William Tyndale is highly problematic, but we can ascertain that, to at least a marginal extent, the development of Lollard theology, which was characterised more by a vague corpus of ideas rather than a coherent, rigid set of principles, Tyndale was influenced by this movement.  Directly, there is little evidence to suggest that Tyndale was especially moved by Lollard ideas - they are not mentioned in any of his journals, and speculative evidence used to assert some direct influence have been broadly circumstantial and remain vague possibilities rather than concrete facts.  Indirectly, however, Lollard ideas and dialogue had some impact on the development of a dialectic between accepted and heretic thought in Britain during this period.  Whether this form of Lollardy represented a mere extenuation of orthodox anxieties, much as the term "Al-Qaeda" today can be taken to represent a series of dangerous, oppositional ideas to the status quo rather than a coherent and organised movement, or whether a coherent Wycliffe-based underground religious movement existed in the 14th century remains to be seen - what is more likely is that the "Lollard" was invented to describe heresy of a particular type, and this led to both a struggle between the self-identified Lollards and those who saw it as heresy, and to increasingly vague and disparate portrayals of what Lollards actually represented.  The continuation of this dichotomy would serve to frame much of William Tyndale's ideology, especially in matters where the break between himself and Lutheran theology was most apparent.

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