The Writings of J. F. Mozley

By Dr. Herbert Samworth

 

J. F. Mozley was the author of three books that are foundational to the history and translation of the English Bible. The first was entitled William Tyndale and was written and published in 1937. This was followed in 1940 by his vindication of John Foxe and his book Acts and Monuments. The third and final book dealt with the work of Miles Coverdale, called Coverdale and His Bibles, and was originally published in 1953. As a result Mozley’s writings basically cover the period from the birth of Tyndale until well into the reign of Elizabeth with the death of John Foxe in April 1587. Students of the English Reformation will notice that the publication of his books were not in chronological order as Foxe published his great book in its first edition in 1563 well after the translation work of Miles Coverdale was completed although Coverdale himself did not die until 1569 at the advanced age of eighty-one.

It is the purpose of this article to comment on these books. However there are several things that we can note about each of them. The first deals with the author himself: James F. Mozley. Despite the efforts of the writer of this article, he has been unable to find any additional information regarding Mozley, except what is contained in the books themselves. An internet search has proven to be fruitless in adding to knowledge of his life. The first two books add the degree of Master of Arts to his name on the title pages and his volume on Coverdale adds that he had received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This would lead to the assumption that he was a clergyman and probably from the Church of England. If any person who reads this article would have additional information about Mozley and his life, the writer would be appreciative if that information would be forwarded to him.

Although the outward details of Mozley’s life and career are hidden from us, there is more than one hint regarding his personality. Although Mozley was an historian, and a very accurate one at that, from time to time he revealed something about himself. For example in the introduction to his work on Tyndale, he remarked that he started his study of his life around two years ago, i.e. 1935. In his book on Foxe he confessed that six years before he had not read one page in Foxe but was led to study his life through his studies on William Tyndale. Finally in Coverdale and His Bible, the final paragraph of the chapter entitled Conclusion he wrote the following words:

I have written this book not only to advance, if I can, the knowledge of history, but as a tribute to men whom, starting from a different standpoint from theirs, I have learnt to revere and admire.

Now it is important to keep in mind that Mozley was an historian as we noted above, but he declared that he was willing to learn from history. He confessed that his starting point was very different from that of Tyndale, Coverdale, and Foxe. But his mind had been altered by his researches on their lives and writings. This brings us to a point of great importance regarding the value of history and especially of ecclesiastical history. History is not just a rehearsing of past events, although true reporting of previous facts is critical. It has the purpose of changing our thinking. We gain a great respect for those who have lived before and the sacrifices they made for our benefit. We should be exceedingly grateful for what they have bequeathed to us. Living today as we do in an age that many have termed ahistorical reading from the works of such authors as Mozley will enable us to gain a true appreciation for what we have received.

Mozley certainly departed from the modern method of writing history. The modern historian writes from the perspective of being above the events recorded. He is required to remain impassive and neutral even when relating issues of life and death. In his defense of John Foxe, Mozley rebuffed such an objective attitude. He asked how it is possible to remain neutral and indifferent when relating the accounts of martyrs who were willing to go to the stake and suffer the most painful of deaths rather than renounce their beliefs. Thus in today’s definition of historian, Mozley would be disqualified because of his partiality and sympathy with Tyndale, Coverdale, and Foxe. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to read the lives of these individuals and their comrades and remain indifferent. In his book on Foxe, Mozley heaped scorn on those “historians” who can remain above the situation and write in their detached and impartial manner.

While it is true that history should produce in us certain responses such as sympathy and gratitude, it can only do that if what is reported is true. The historian must be truthful even when his heroes act in ways that are not truthful. In other words, the historian must present the facts and the persons “warts and all.” This Mozley does thus he cannot be accused of hiding the facts that would be injurious to his case.

This leads us to state that this demonstrates the main reason to read Mozley’s books. He tells a story that we need to hear. He tells his story from research that goes to the very foundation of the facts. When that story is told, and told truthfully, it does produce a great impact on those who read it. It is a story of courage and self denial of those who labored to give the English speaking people the Word of God in their own language. This is the theme of the books on Tyndale and Coverdale. But the story of Foxe is a reminder that while it is a great privilege to have the Word of God, it also will require eternal vigilance. Also Foxe’s book tells of those who were not necessarily the major players on the stage of history but they each contributed their mite in having the truth of God’s Word preserved to coming generations even at the cost of their physical lives.

These three books are well worth reading and reading. It is our desire to review each of these books in turn but in so doing we will follow a chronological order. Thus we will review the life of Tyndale, then Coverdale and finally John Foxe.

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