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Thursday, 19 May 1994, 12:00AM
St Lawrence Jewry

The Life and Legacy of William Tyndale

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Lord Coggan

It was within William Tyndale's The Obedience of a Christian Man  that King Henry VIII found the rationale to break the Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church. But it was only four years prior to that in 1530 Tyndale had written a treatise opposing Henry VIII's divorce because of its conflict with the word of the Scriptures.

It will surprise few to find out that in 1536 he was convicted of heresy and executed. His dying request was that the King of England's eyes would be opened, and so it was that just two years later Henry VIII authorised of The Great Bible for the Church of England, a work which was largely Tyndale's own.

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon The Lord Coggan offers a short overview of William Tyndale's amazing and eventful life.

This is the 1994 Gresham Special Lecture.

speaker_lordcoggan.jpg.crop_display.jpg

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Lord Coggan was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1974 to 1980.

His Obiturary in the Guardian on the 19th of May 2000 read as follows:

Lord Coggan, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who has died at the age of 90 after a long illness, was (until George Carey) the first 20th-century Cantuar who enjoyed, or suffered, the label of being an evangelical. He was also one of the most sagacious, uncompromising and punctilious archbishops of All England, a quiet-mannered family man who wore the purple amethyst on his ring finger humbly.
His primacy, from 1974 to 1980, although comparatively short in years, revived the morale of the church of England without arresting its statistical decline. He gave new impetus within the worldwide Anglican communion; initiated vigorous attempts to unify, or at least bring closer together, churches of different confessions; and made a series of bold, if naive, attempts to evangelise the nation.

Coggan's disciplined and distinctive primatial style was heightened from its outset by the contrast it set when compared with that of his immediate predecessor, the Rt Rev Michael (later Lord) Ramsey. A visibly spiritual figure, whose white hair was in the clouds while his feet seemed more at home in carpet slippers, Ramsey spent 13 years trying to avoid administration. Coggan, whose dedication was equally transparent, was the scholarly theologian with a tape recorder handy for prompt dictation, and a meticulousness equal to that of any company director.

His first meeting with the media, on a spring day in 1974 as the 101st primate-elect, was typical. Shortly before going into Church House, Westminster, he knew he would be questioned closely about being only a "caretaker primate." After all, he was already 65, and, at most, could serve little more than five years, according to the church of England's new laws.

Coggan saw the significance, excused himself and took a purposeful stroll beneath the trees. He returned with a well-phrased reply for the waiting journalists. Yes, he said, taking "caretaker" at its broadest meaning, he would regard it as an honour to take care of his beloved church for five or whatever number of years.

So it was that his primacy was distinguished by good, if not altogether fulfilled, intentions. Throughout, he re-emphasised and reaffirmed the importance of the parochial ministry as the bedrock of the church of England's ties with the English people. He sought, as a priority, to strengthen and encourage the Anglican family, 65m souls around the globe, uncertain at that time of the way it was travelling and with whom.

Coggan's primacy was, in fact, a turning point for the Anglican communion. A Lambeth conference, the gathering of the communion's bishops every 10 years, was due. An indefatigable host, he broke with precedent and led the spiritual elders into secret conclave on a Canterbury hilltop - up till then they had met in London and in public. Real and deep anxieties were aired.

If his time on the throne of St Augustine had a flaw, it was simply that Coggan often seemed to be an archbishop in a hurry. Certainly, his translation from the archbishopric of York had left him with little time. He was also obviously - and early - influenced by what he saw of the world. Even then, it seemed to many to be rushing to the point of exhaustion, weighed down by over-population and depleting natural resources, and failing to bridge the gap between the rich and poor.

Coggan's Call To The Nation (1975), which grew out of his earlier Call To The North, written while he was still at York, was brave, but sociologically ill-prepared and verbally uninspired. It never fulfilled its potential. Nevertheless, it stirred 28,000 ordinary people to write to Lambeth palace about the way of life they most desired. They included those who addressed the primate as "Dear Lord," and some others as "Your Grace, Chief Godman." The nationwide initiative in evangelism, another of his personally inspired outreach projects, showed similar faults.

But Coggan had an ecclesiastical courage which owed nothing to naivety. In 1977, for example, on the Pope's own patch in Rome, he jettisoned all diplomacy and called for inter-communion between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. His plea was uncharacteristically spectacular.

He took another such stance a year later when he preached in Westminster cathedral. This time, out of courtesy to his close friend across the Thames, Cardinal Basil Hume, Coggan made his text known to him in advance.

But each time, he knowingly stirred the brethren, some to react in an unbrotherly way, in pursuit of his deep desire for the reunion of Christendom. He attended the enthronement in 1978 of Pope John Paul II, the first archbishop of Canterbury to be present at such a ceremony since the reformation.

He was a strong - and early - supporter of the ordination of women; indeed, he proposed the reform at the Lambeth conference in 1970. Reaching out to other faiths, he will also be remembered for his support for the Council of Christians and Jews.

Donald Coggan was born in Highgate, north London, educated at Merchant Taylors' school, Northwood, Middlesex, and St John's College, Cambridge, and was in his mid-teens when the call to be ordained came to him.

The orderliness, which was to characterise his ministry, immediately began to show itself. Instead of reading theology straight away, he chose to equip himself with an adequate background for studying the Bible by reading oriental languages. He found Hebrew and Syriac to his liking, and excelled in both. It followed naturally that his first position, from 1931 to 1934, was as a lecturer in semitic languages and literature at Manchester University.

Ordained into the priesthood in 1935 - the same year that he married - his first curacy, at St Mary's, Islington, had a moving effect on him. Coggan always maintained that he learned much, both of life itself and of the meaning of ministry, during his three years amid the poverty, unemployment and inadequate housing of that part of inner north London in those prewar days. He would have made a superb parish priest, but he found the call of college work irresistible.

Coggan went to Canada in 1937 as professor of New Testament at Wycliffe College, Toronto. He returned to England in 1944 as principal of the London College of Divinity, and stayed for 12 strenuous years to re-establish the status, as well as the buildings, of the famous evangelical college. In 1956, he was appointed bishop of Bradford. He was enthroned as archbishop of York in 1961, and completed 18 creative years in the north before his translation to Canterbury. He retired in 1980, when he was made a life peer, surrounded by honour and affection.

In the years between 1944 and 1997, he had also found time to write more than 20 books, ranging from studies in theology to evangelical tracts and biographies of the saints. His last book, Meet Paul: An Encounter With The Apostle, was published in 1997.

Coggan had preached more sermons and travelled more miles than any other of his predecessors. Yet his term demonstrated once more that no man, however gifted, can be expected to excel in four jobs at the same time: bishop of the diocese of Canterbury; metropolitan of the province of Canterbury; titular head of the Anglican communion; and chief chaplain to the mixed pickles of church and state.

Throughout his primacy, his wholesome humanity ran like a golden thread from start to finish of his ministry. "The joy of being a priest," Coggan once said, "is that your work never ends until they carry you out. Then another begins - that's elsewhere."

[The original piece can be online here]

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