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By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 08, 2006

An anonymous Anglican clergyman (who reads uncannily like a cross between Edward Gibbon and P.G. Wodehouse's Reverend Heppenstall), penned the following Preface to an 1838 reprinting of the Authorised Version of the Bible. [Not, repeat not, a parody.] It begs to be read aloud, from a carved pulpit, by a scholarly divine in lawn sleeves. Oh for the optimism of those sublimely confident days!

Accustomed in the present day to the highest degree of civil and religious liberty that man perhaps can ever expect to enjoy, free to express our opinions without the terrors of the stake or the tortures of the rack to awe us into silence, or force us into dissimulation, it is with a mixture of curiosity and indignant surprise that we cast back our glance over a space of centuries, and see our ancestors struggling in all the mazes of ignorance and the labyrinths of superstition, alike passive under the mental tyranny of their monkish rulers and the bodily servitude of their despotic Lords. But every thing in this world changes, and excessive tyranny only more effectually prepares the way for perfect freedom. The minds of men in some degree induced to reason by the measures of Henry the Eighth were no longer to be blinded by false pretenses or intimidated by impotent threats, and the commencement of the Reformation dawned steadily and beautifully through the mists of papistic craft that the mental sloth of ages had permitted to accumulate. It is difficult for us to imagine the despotic control at that time exercised over the whole faculties, whether physical or mental, of our ancestors, and it requires some effort to picture to ourselves the revivifying effect that must have attended the spreading of the reformed doctrines. Men, who had seldom exerted their reasoning powers, were at once invited to discuss theological difficulties, and to solve the deepest mysteries of religion: and as by the reformed tenets every matter was open for discussion, there were few bounds set to inquiry; but various tenets and various opinions were as quickly spread, as eagerly adopted.

At this critical moment a translation of that Book, by all allowed to be the only proper guide of conduct, the only safe chart by whose aid man could hope to steer through the stormy seas and dangerous shoals with which his course is surrounded, was published and set forth: and its effect in hushing controversy and silencing factious clamour, may not unaptly be compared to that of the sun, when he breaks through the fast flitting clouds, and shining forth, dispels them by his brightness; and day, beautiful day, reigns in all its splendour.

The light that thus broke through the mental darkness of the reign of Henry the Eighth, fed as it was by the Holy Word of God, burnt purely and steadily; and although adverse winds and hostile gusts shook its flame for a time during the reign of Mary, they could not extinguish it, but left it to throw its calm and heavenly rays on our own and future ages.

The translation of the Bible is now for the first time reprinted, and words of ours are not necessary either to point out its worth or to extol its merit, or cite it for its interest or celebrate it for its rarety -- but it goes forth once again into the world as the labour of a man eminent for his piety and his learning, as a faithful version of the original Scriptures, and as one of the means to which we may gratefully ascribe the establishment of our present national religion.

Well, that certainly puts your Uncle Di in his place. What called to mind that superb gasconade was the following snip from the current Church Times (UK):

AN ANGLICAN CLERIC who converted to Hinduism has had his permission to officiate as a priest in the Ely diocese renewed for three years.

The inclusive approach. Were time-travel made available to our nameless Prefator, so that he could pop up today at Lambeth Palace to view his national religion in its 2006 condition, would he, I wonder, be tempted to modify his judgments of 1838? Or would he fit into our present age as comfortably and uncritically as he fit into his own?

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