Posts Tagged martyrs

John Foxe (1517-1587) and His Book of Martyrs – An Introduction

Aug 20th, 2012 Posted in Excerpts | Comments Off on John Foxe (1517-1587) and His Book of Martyrs – An Introduction

By Lighthouse Trails Editors

The book commonly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and originally bearing the title Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church has been an invaluable addition to the libraries of faithful Christians for almost five centuries. Chronicling the suffering and brutal deaths of those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, John Foxe has captured the Spirit-inspired courage of these noble souls. Though sometimes difficult to read because of the inhuman cruelty depicted in its pages, the images which truly endure are those of the victorious faithfulness of these heroes.

John Foxe was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1517, and educated at Oxford University. During his residence at this place, he was distinguished for the excellence and acuteness of his intellect. It appears that the first display of his genius was in poetry; and that he composed some Latin comedies. But he soon directed his thoughts to a more serious subject—the study of the sacred Scriptures. To divinity, indeed, he applied himself with fervency. He discovered his partiality to the tenants of the Reformation, which had then commenced; a circumstance which proved to him the source of both his troubles and his fame.

His first care was to look into both the ancient and modern history of the church; to ascertain its beginning and progress; to consider the causes of the controversies which had sprung up and to diligently weigh the shortcomings of those doctrines and practices.

Before he had attained his thirtieth year, he had studied the Greek and Latin fathers and other learned authors, the transactions of the councils and decrees of the ecclesiastical courts, and had acquired a very competent skill in the Hebrew language. In these occupations he frequently spent a considerable part or even the whole of the night; and in order to unbend his mind after such incessant study, he would resort to a grove near the college, a place much frequented by the students in the evening on account of its sequestered gloominess. In these solitary walks he was often heard to render heavy sobs and sighs, and with tears to pour forth his prayers to God. These nightly retirements gave rise to the first suspicion of his alienation from the Church of Rome. Being pressed for an explanation of this alteration in his conduct, he scorned to call in fiction to his excuse. He stated his opinions and was, by the sentence of the college, convicted, condemned as a heretic, and expelled.

By and by, life in England became more and more unpleasant for the adherents to the Protestant Reformation. Foxe, seeing the dreadful persecutions then commencing and warned of his impending doom and imprisonment, fled his home and landed in Germany. There he found a number of English refugees, who had quitted their country to avoid the cruelty of the persecutors. With these he associated, and began to write his History of the Acts and Monuments of the Church, which was first published in Latin in 1554, and in English in 1563.

In the meantime, after the death of Queen Mary, the reformed religion began again to flourish in England and the popish faction much to decline. This induced the greater number of the Protestant exiles to return to their native country.

Foxe resettled in England and employed himself in revising and enlarging his admirable Martyrology. With prodigious pains and constant study he completed that celebrated work in eleven years. For the sake of greater correctness, he wrote every line of this vast book with his own hand and transcribed all the records and papers himself. But, in consequence of such excessive toil, his health was so reduced and his appearance so emaciated and altered that his friends and relations, who only conversed with him occasionally, could scarcely recognize him. Yet, though he grew daily more exhausted, he proceeded in his studies as briskly as ever, and he could not be persuaded to diminish his accustomed labors. The papists, foreseeing how detrimental his history of their errors and cruelties would prove to their cause, had recourse to every artifice to lessen the reputation of his work. But their malice was of little use, both to Mr. Foxe himself and to the church of God at large, as it eventually made his book more intrinsically valuable by inducing him to weigh, with the most scrupulous attention, the certainty of the facts which he recorded and the validity of the authorities from which he drew his information.

Although the recent recollection of the persecutions under Bloody Mary gave bitterness to his pen, it is singular to note that he was personally the most conciliatory of men, and that while he heartily disowned the Roman Church in which he was born, he was one of the first to attempt the concord of the Protestant brethren. In fact, he was a veritable apostle of toleration.

When the plague or pestilence broke out in England, in 1563 and many forsook their duties, Foxe remained at his post, assisting the friendless and acting as the almsgiver of the rich. It was said of him that he could never refuse help to anyone who asked it in the name of Christ. Tolerant and large-hearted, he exerted his influence with Queen Elizabeth to confirm her intention to no longer keep up the cruel practice of putting to death those of opposing religious convictions. The queen held him in respect and referred to him as “Our Father Foxe.”

Mr. Foxe had joy in the fruits of his work while he was yet alive. It passed through four large editions before his decease, and it was ordered by the bishops to be placed in every cathedral church in England, where it was often found chained, as the Bible was in those days, to a lectern for the access of the people.

At length, having long served both the church and the world by his ministry, by his pen, and by the unsullied luster of a benevolent, useful, and holy life, he meekly resigned his soul to Christ, on the eighteenth of April, 1587, being then in the seventieth year of his age.

Foxe’s legacy, his Book of Martyrs, consisted of well over 2,000 pages in the final edition published in 1583. It contained intricate woodcuts such as scenes depicting triumphant saints singing as they perished in flames.* Foxe had these included so that even the unlearned and illiterate could know the truth of the history of the church and the difficult path many had to tread.

Most of the editions of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs that are published today (including this one) are quite obviously greatly abridged. For this we owe thanks to the labors of William Byron Forbush (1868-1927) of Philadelphia. Forbush’s contributions were threefold: he greatly reduced the size of the manuscript; he modernized the language; and he provided additional material including a biography of Foxe and accounts of incidents that occurred after Foxe’s demise.

Lighthouse Trails Publishing, in seeking to add Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to our book collection, has sought to maintain the eloquent word pictures painted by John Foxe, while at the same time making the stories understandable to our readers. We have omitted some accounts and shortened others. Some archaic words were substituted with their modern-day equivalents. Great care was taken to not alter the original meaning or intent of the author in the editing process. It was a difficult task to decide who among these glorious martyrs we would leave out. We have tried to include accounts that exemplified true martyrs of Christ in each period of history and in each nation, as well as stories of both the well known and the unknown.

The stories told here are painful and may seem most unbearable. But let us remember the words in Scripture, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). May the memory of these martyred Christians live on in the minds and hearts of believers today. (From the Introduction of the Lighthouse Trails Edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs)

Untitled Document