From Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.: March 1, 1999
The Root of the Conflict Between “Holy Mother Church” and the Martyrs with An Overview of Her Charges Against the “Heretics” & Their Response, coupled with The Characterization of the Roman Catholic Church According to the Book Commonly Called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
In Stirling Scotland, about two hundred yards outside the main gate of Stirling Castle, is a strange looking pyramid structure that stands in Holyrood Church Cemetery.The pyramid is a monument dedicated to all those who gave their lives in pursuit of religious freedom. As I stood there silently, my thoughts turned to thankfulness for those who were martyred for their faith, paving the way for the religious freedom that I enjoy in my country, the United States of America. The roots and trunk of that struggle are recorded in the pages of The Ecclesiastical History: Containing The Acts and Monuments of Martyrs: With A general Discourse of these latter Persecutions, horrible Troubles and Tumults, stirred up by Romish Prelates in the Church by John Foxe. In 1563, England was stirred by the appearance of this book which was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.
From the halls of royalty to the humblest village, there was no level of English society that escaped the commotion aroused by the work. While the book was spurned by the enemies of the English Reformation, it was met with the admiration and approval of many, including the Queen herself. So impressed was she with the work, that she ordered copies to be placed in
the hands of every church and college official in the nation, and that a copy be placed in every parish church for the use of all the people.
What I find is ironic, no, in fact pathetic, is how little attention this work receives in Christian churches, colleges and seminaries today (of the Protestant perspective). I have talked with numerous students and professors from a variety of Christian educational institutions and find that, for the most part, the work commonly called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
receives, at the most, just a passing reference in this generation. No other book, apart from the Bible, fueled the fires in the hearts of Englishmen to reject Papism and promote the biblical Gospel. In fact, within 33 years of Foxe’s death, Pilgrims, Puritans and other nonconformists were setting out across the Atlantic with their Geneva English Bibles and copies of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs with the goal of establishing biblical focused settlements and evangelizing the heathen.
“Sadly, the power of the message that Foxe was attempting to convey in his work is lost in the current versions which have been greatly abridged.” Today’s versions highlight the dramatic accounts of the martyrs and their suffering. Yet, what is just as important is an explanation of the biblical truths that they refused to compromise and were willing to suffer and die for. I have found the unabridged work of John Foxe to be valuable in amplifying my zeal to stand for Bible truthas well as helping me to understand the development of the struggle for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience that I enjoy today.
The purpose of this paper is three fold —
- Define the root of the conflict between “Holy Mother Church” and the martyrs.
- Present an overview of the charges of heresy brought against the martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church, contrasted with the defense or reply of the martyrs.
- Show how the Roman Catholic Church, her popes, prelates, priests and other officers are characterized in Foxe’s work.
1. The Root of the Conflict Between “Holy Mother Church” and the Martyrs The Roman Catholic Church had been in the seat of power and had claimed universal dominion and authority in Christendom for centuries. But, as the centuries rolled on, the Church of Rome moved further and further away from the doctrine given to them by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, and the New Testament model of the Church and Christianity. They, like the Pharisees of old (see Matthew 15:1-9), tampered with the biblical model, adding mountains of human traditions and man made inventions until genuine worship of God was well-nigh impossible. Further, in an effort to cover up their own trespasses, they endeavored to keep the people from the Bible and the Bible from the people. To add insult to injury, when anyone, be it nobleman, priest or plebeian, returned to the New Testament model of Christianity, they were condemned as heretics and dealt with in a most brutal manner.
John Foxe gives us a rather graphic characterization of “Holy Mother Church,” as the Papists refer to their church, contrasted to the New
Testament Church as defined in the Bible.
Although it cannot be sufficiently expressed with tongue or pen of man, into what miserable ruin and desolation the Church of Christ was brought in those latter days; yet partly by the reading of these stories afore past, some intelligence may be given to those who have judgment to mark, or eyes to see, in what blindness and darkness the world was drowned, during the space of these four hundred years heretofore and more. By the viewing and considering of which times and histories, thou mayest understand (gentle reader) how the religion of Christ, which only consisteth in spirit and verity, was wholly turned into, outward observations, ceremonies, and idolatry. So many saints we had, so many gods; so many monasteries, so many pilgrimages. As many churches, as many relics forged and reigned we had. Again, so many relics, so many lying miracles we believed. Instead of the only living Lord, we worshipped dead stocks and stones. In place of Christ immortal, we adored mortal bread. Instead of his blood, we worshipped the blood of ducks; how the people were led, so that the priests were fed, no care was taken. Instead of God’s Word, man’s word was set up. Instead of Christ’s Testament, the pope’s testament, that is, the canon law. Instead of Paul, the Master of Sentences took place, and almost full possession. The law of God was
little read, the use and end thereof was less known; and as the end of the law was unknown, so the difference between the gospel and the law was not understood, the benefit of Christ not considered, the effect of faith not expended: through the ignorance whereof it cannot be told what infinite errors, sects, and religions crept into the church, overwhelming the world as with a flood of ignorance and seduction. And no marvel; for where the foundation is not well laid, what building can stand and prosper? The foundation of all our Christianity is only this; The promise of God in the blood of Christ his Son, giving and promising life to all that believe in him [Romans 3:22]: Giving (saith the Scripture) unto us, and not bargaining or indenting with us. And that freely (saith the Scripture) for Christ’s sake, and not conditionally for our merit’s sake. [Romans 4:5]
Furthermore, freely (saith the Scripture) by Grace, [Romans 4:6] that the promise might be firm and sure, and not by the works that we do, which are always doubtful. By Grace (saith the Scripture) through promise to all and upon all that believe [Romans 3:22], and not by the law, upon them that do deserve. For if it come by deserving, then it is not of Grace: If it be not of Grace, then it is not of Promise [Romans 11:6], and contrariwise, if it be of grace and promise, then is it not of works, saith St. Paul. Upon this foundation of God’s free promise and grace first builded the patriarchs, kings, and prophets: upon this same foundation also Christ the Lord builded his church: upon which foundation the apostles likewise builded the Church Apostolical or Catholical.
This Apostolical and Catholic foundation so long as the church did retain, so long it continued sincere and sound: which endured a long
season after the Apostles’ time. But after, in process of years, through wealth and negligence crept into the church, so soon as this foundation began to be lost, came in new builders, who would build upon a new foundation a new church more glorious, which we call now the church of Rome; who, not being contented with the old foundation, and the Head-cornerstone, which the Lord by his word had laid, in place thereof hid the groundwork upon the condition and strength of the law and works.
Although it is not to be denied, but that the doctrine of God’s holy law, and of good works according to the same, is a thing most necessary to be learned, and followed of all men; yet it is not that foundation whereupon our salvation consisteth; neither is that foundation able to bear up the weight of the kingdom of heaven, but is rather the thing which is builded upon the foundation; which foundation is Jesus Christ, according as we are taught of St. Paul, saying; “No man can lay any other foundation beside that which is laid, Christ Jesus,” etc. [1 Corinthians 3:11]
But this ancient foundation, with the old ancient church of Christ, as I said, hath been now of long time forsaken, and instead thereof, a new church with a new foundation hath been erected and framed, not upon God’s promise, and his free grace in Christ Jesus, nor upon free justification by faith, but upon merits and deserts of men’s working. And hereof have they planted all these their new devices, so infinite, that they cannot well be numbered; as masses-trecenaries, dirges, obsequies, mattens (matins), and hours-singing-service, vigils, midnight- rising, bare-foot-going, fish-tasting, Lent-fast, ember-fast, stations, rogations, jubilees, advocation of saints, praying to images,
pilgrimage-walking, works of supererogation, application of merits, orders, rules, sects of religion, vows of chastity, willful poverty,
pardons, relations, indulgencies, penance, satisfaction, auricular confession, founding of abbeys, building of chapels, giving to churches:
and who is able to recite all their laborious buildings, falsely framed upon a wrong ground; and all for ignorance of the true foundation, which is the free justification by faith in Christ Jesus the Son of God.
Moreover note, that as this new-found church of Rome was thus deformed in doctrine, so no less was it corrupted in order of life and deep
hypocrisy, doing all things only under pretenses and dissembled titles. So, under the pretense of Peter’s chair, they exercised a majesty above emperors and kings. Under the visor of their vowed chastity, reigned adultery; under the cloke of professed poverty, they possessed the goods of the temporality; under the title of being dead to the world, they not only reigned in the world, but also ruled the world; under the color of the keys of heaven to hang under their girdle, they brought all the states of the world under their girdle, and crept not only into the purses of men, but also into their consciences: they heard their confessions; they knew their secrets; they dispensed as they were disposed, and loosed what them listed: And finally, when they had brought the whole world under their subjections, yet neither did their pride cease to ascend, nor could their avarice be ever satisfied. And if the example of cardinal Wolsey and other cardinals and popes cannot satisfy thee, I beseech thee (gentle reader) turn over the aforesaid book of “˜the Ploughman’s Tale’ in Chaucer, above-mentioned, where thou shalt understand much more of their demeanour than I have here described.
In these so blind and miserable corrupt days of darkness and ignorance, thou seest, good reader (I doubt not) how necessary it was, and high time, that reformation of the church should come, which now most happily and graciously began to work, through the merciful and no less needful providence of Almighty God; who, although he suffered his church to wander and start aside, through the seduction of pride and prosperity a long time, yet at length it pleased his goodness to respect his people, and to reduce his church into the pristine foundation and frame again, from whence it was piteously before decayed. Hereof I have now consequently to entreat; intending by the grace of Christ to declare how, and by what means this reformation of the church first began, and how it proceeded, increasing by little and little unto this perfection which now we see, and more I trust shall see.
Obviously, no words are minced by Foxe in contrasting the true “Church of Christ”¦which the Lord by his Word” founded with the “falsely
framed”¦new-found church of Rome” which had “been erected and framed, not upon God’s”¦free grace in Christ Jesus, nor upon free justification by faith, but upon merits and deserts of men’s working” and “thus deformed in doctrine.” In fact, it is clear to me, that the root of conflict between the church of Rome and those she labeled heretics can be boiled down to this basic issue — how “the church” is defined and who or what is the final authority?
The Church of Rome and Her View of Final Authority
There are sentences and phrases scattered throughout Foxe’s work that could be lifted out to give Rome’s definition of “Holy Mother Church” and her assertion of authority. One example is found in an exchange between Archdeacon Dr. Harpsfield and Master John Bradford. Hapsfield asserts “that by baptism then we are brought, and, as a man would say, begotten of Christ: for Christ is our Father, and the church his spouse is our mother”¦so all spiritual men have Christ for their father, and the church for their mother.”
By contrast, Lady Jane Grey believed that the way into the family of God, the church, was by faith in Christ and his shed blood as recorded in the New Testament Scriptures. In an exchange between her and Mr. Fecknam, he asks what is necessary for a man (or woman) to become a Christian. She responds, “That he should believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three persons and one God.” Fecknam asks if there is anything else necessary and claims that works are necessary for salvation. Jane clearly responds — “I deny that, and I affirm that faith only saveth: but it is meet (right) for a Christian, in token that he followeth his master Christ, to do good works; yet may we not say that they profit to our salvation. For when we have done all, yet we be unprofitable servants, and faith only in Christ’s blood saveth us.”
Jane was a student of the Bible. She knew it well. It is obvious that her biblical view of how a person becomes a part of “the church,” and the Roman Catholic view differ. But the differences are wider and deeper than indicated in these two brief passages I have related. For a better understanding I turn your attention to a section at the end of volume one in the ninth edition (1684 edition) that is composed of extracts from the pope’s canon law that defines the Roman Catholic view of the “church” as well as what their view of final authority is.
Forasmuch as it standeth upon necessity of salvation, for every, human creature to be subject unto me the pope of Rome, it shall be therefore requisite and necessary for all men that will be saved, to learn and know the dignity of my See and excellency of my domination, as is here set forth according to the truth and very words of mine own laws, in style as followeth: First, my institution began in the Old Testament, and was consummated and finished in the New, in that my priesthood was prefigured by Aaron; and other bishops under me were prefigured by the sons of Aaron, that were under him; neither is it to be thought that my church of Rome hath been preferred by any general council, but obtained the primacy only by the voice of the Gospel, and the mouth of the Savior, and hath in it neither spot nor wrinkle, nor any such like thing. Wherefore, as other seats be all inferior to me, and as they cannot absolve me, so have they
no power to bind me or to stand against me, no more than the ax hath power to stand or presume above him that heweth with it, or the saw to presume above him that ruleth it. This is the holy and apostolic mother-church of all other churches of Christ; from whose rules it is not meet that any person or persons should decline; but like as the Son of God came to do the will of his Father, so must you do the will of your mother the church, the head whereof is the church of Rome; and if any other person or persons shall err from the said church, either let them be admonished, or else their names taken, to be known who they be, that swerve from the customs of Rome. Thus then, forasmuch as the holy church of Rome, where of I am governor, is set up to the whole world for a glass or example, reason would what thing so-ever the said church determineth, or ordaineth, that to be received of all men for a general and a perpetual rule for ever. Whereupon we see it now verified in this church, that was fore-prophesied by Jeremy, saying, “Behold, I have set thee up over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to build and to plant,” etc. Whoso understandeth not the prerogative of this my priesthood, let him look up to the firmament, where he may see two great lights, the sun and the moon, one ruling over the day, the other over the night: so in the firmament of the universal church, and hath set two great dignities, the authority of the pope, and of the emperor; of which two, this our dignity is so much more weighty, as we have the greater charge to give account to God for kings of the earth, and the laws of
men. Wherefore be it known to you emperors, who know it also right well, that you depend upon the judgment of us: we must not be brought and reduced to your will. For, as I said, look what difference there is betwixt the sun and the moon, so great is the power of the pope ruling over the day, that is, over the spirituality, above emperors and kings, ruling over the night; that is, over the laity. Now, seeing then the earth is seven times bigger than the moon, and the sun eight times greater than the earth it followeth that the pope’s dignity fifty-six times doth surmount the estate of the emperors.
Clearly, from the Roman Catholic perspective, “the church” was the church of Rome headed by “the pope of Rome”¦and other Bishops” under him. By papal decree, it was “necessary for all men that will be saved” to be subject to the Pope of Rome, “to learn and know the dignity” of the Pope’s authority, and “whose rules it is not meet (right) that any person or persons should decline (disobey).”
Is there any doubt about their view of final authority when you read statements like — “What thing soever the said church determineth, or
ordaineth, that (is) to be received of all men for a general and a perpetual rule forever.” Or that the power of the pope is alleged to be
“fifty-six times” more powerful than any emperor’s power. Rome demand was, “so must you do the will of your mother church, the head whereof is the church of Rome.” In short, the Church of Rome fabricated her own definition of “the church” and then established herself as the sovereign final authority over it and all Christendom.
The Martyr’s View of Final Authority and “The Church”
The martyr’s view of final authority is clearly seen to be the Bible. For example, I point you to a portion of the letter that Laurence Saunders sent to the Bishop of Winchester. I will begin with the section of the letter where Saunders quotes Acts 24:16 —
And herein study I to have always a clear conscience towards God and towards men: so that (God I call to witness) I have a conscience. And this my conscience is not grounded upon vain fantasy, but upon the infallible verity of God’s word, with the witnessing of his chosen church agreeable unto the same”¦Wherefore I, in conscience weighing the Romish religion, and, by indifferent discussing thereof, finding the foundation unsteadfast, and the building thereupon but vain: and, on the other side, having my conscience framed after a right and uncorrupt religion, ratified and fully established by the word of God, and the consent of his true church, I neither may, nor do intend, by God’s gracious assistance, to be pulled one jot from the same; no, though an angel out of heaven should preach another gospel [Galatians 1:8] than that which I have received of the Lord.
The position of Laurence Saunders was this: the Bible alone is the final authority, not the Church of Rome and her vain, corrupted teachings. The true church conforms to the Word of God. The false church, Roman Catholic Church, refused to conform to the Bible. Therefore he could not conform to a church that was built on an “unsteedfast” foundation and preached a false gospel. Saunders position is not unique among the martyrs, but in fact is shared by most of them.
There is one particular story of the transformation of a Romanist to the position of biblical authority that I find helpful. It is the story of
John Rogers, who would ultimately be the first martyr in the reign of so called “Bloody Mary.” Cambridge educated Rogers had been an ardent Romanist. For many years he was a Roman Catholic chaplain to the English merchants in Antwerp. But all that changed when he began to keep “company with that worthy servant and martyr of God William Tyndale, and with Miles Coverdale.” Both Tyndale and Coverdale, bore a hatred for “popish superstition and idolatry”, and love to true religion. In conferring with them the Scriptures, he came to great knowledge in the gospel of God, insomuch that he cast off the heavy yoke of popery, perceiving it to be impure and filthy idolatry, and joined himself with them two in that painful and most profitable labor of translating the Bible into the English tongue, which is entitled, The Translation of Thomas Matthew.”
John Rogers’ life changed dramatically when he began to read, study, believe and talk about the truths of the Bible with Tyndale (English
Bible translator 1526 & 1536) and Miles Coverdale (English Bible Translator 1537). He took Christ as Savior and the Bible became his final
authority. The specific basis of his conviction concerning the necessity of believing the New Testament Gospel of Jesus Christ, believing the Bible to be the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, and the necessity of propagating its teachings is seen in material he wrote while he was in prison for his so called heresy. He points to Peter, the alleged first Pope of Rome, who with the other Apostles said that when laws of God and man conflict, God is to be obeyed. Here is what he wrote:
I say, it is not only lawful for any private man, which bringeth God’s word for him, and the authority of the primitive and best church, to
speak and write against such unlawful laws; but it is his duty, and he is bound in very conscience to do it. Which thing I have proved by divers examples before, and now will add but one other, which is written in Acts 5, where it appeareth that the high priests, the elders, scribes, and pharisees, decreed in their council, and gave the same commandment to the apostles, that they should not preach in the name of Christ, as ye have also forbidden us. Notwithstanding, when they were charged therewithal, they answered “˜Obedire oportet Deo magis quam hominibus:’ that is, “˜We ought more to obey God than man: [Acts 5:29] even so we may, and do answer you; God is more to be obeyed than man; and your wicked laws cannot so tongue-tie us, but we will speak the truth.
The apostles were beaten for their boldness, and they rejoiced that they suffered for Christ’s cause. Ye have also provided rods for us, and
bloody whips: yet when ye have done that which God’s hand and council hath determined that ye shall do, be it life or death, I trust that God will so assist us by his holy Spirit and grace, that we shall patiently suffer it, and praise God for it. And whatsoever become of me and others, which now suffer for speaking and professing of the truth, yet be ye sure that God’s Word will prevail, and have the over hand, when your bloody laws and wicked decrees, for want of sure foundation, shall fall in the dust. And that which I have spoken of your acts of parliament, the same may be said of the general councils of these latter days, which have been within these five hundred years, where the Antichrist of Rome, by reason of his usurped authority, ruled the roast, and decreed such things as made for his gain, not regarding God’s glory: and therefore are they to be spoken, written, and cried out against, of all such as fear God and love his Truth.”
Is it not ironic that John Rogers’ belief in the final authority of the Bible was rooted in the words spoken by the Apostle Peter in Acts 5:29,
while the Roman Catholic church, which claims to be founded on Peter, wholly ignored Peter’s words and proclaimed that her own decrees, which often contradicted the Bible, outranked the Bible? Indeed!
Throughout the pages of Foxes’ work we see the conflict between the final authority of Rome and the final authority of the Bible. There was a willingness on the part of the “heretics” to be corrected, but only if that correction comes from the Scriptures. But the papists refused to bow to the authority of the Scriptures. One example is the case of John Bradford. A Spanish priest was seeking to persuade Bradford to accept the papist authority. Bradford denied that the Romanist’s teachings were biblical. Alphonsus the priest said, ” Why? Will you believe nothing but that which is expressly spoken of in the Scriptures?” John responded, “I will believe whatsoever you shall by demonstration out of the Scriptures declare unto me.”
Allow a second illustration before we conclude this point. I return to John Rogers for a moment. He ardently denied that he was an heretic. Stephen Gardiner, the Lord Chancellor, alleged that Rogers was an heretic because he would “not receive the bishop of Rome to be the supreme head of the catholic church.” Rogers said, “I know no other head but Christ of his catholic church, neither will I acknowledge the bishop of Rome to have any more authority than any other bishop hath by the Word of God, and by the doctrine of the old and pure catholic church four hundred years after Christ.” He went on to say that, if it could be proved from the Bible that he was in error, he would change his mind. At this point, Chancellor Gardiner becomes angry and spits out, what I believe to be the Roman Catholic position of the Bible. He says, “thou canst prove nothing by the Scripture. The Scripture is dead: it must have a lively (living) expositor.” Rogers quickly responds, “NO, the Scripture is alive,” no doubt having Hebrews 4:12 in mind.
Hence, the root of the conflict can clearly be seen. The Bible defined the church and was the final authority in matters of belief and practice for the martyrs. For the Romanists, she defined “the church” however she saw fit and canon law was the final authority. Since the Romanists had the “might,” she insisted that she was “right” and anyone who disagreed with her was charged with heresy. So, as Foxe pointed out earlier, “Instead of God’s Word, man’s word was set up. Instead of Christ’s Testament, the pope’s testament, that is, the canon law. Instead of the only living Lord, we worshipped dead stocks and stoned. In place of Christ immortal, we adored mortal bread.”
Now that the root of the conflict has been identified we can move on to the next point.
2. An overview of the charges of heresy brought against the martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church, contrasted with the defense or reply of the martyrs
The Heresy of Reading, Possessing, Teaching, or Preaching The Bible In EnglishIt should come as no surprise to the reader that the Romanists took steps to suppress the Bible in the vulgar or common tongue of the people as well as any other books that were written that would advocate the biblical view. During the reign of Henry V (1413-1422), an act was confirmed by which the “English sheriffs were forced to take an oath to persecute the Lollards, and the justices must deliver a relapsed heretic to be burned within ten days of his accusation”¦No mercy was shown under any circumstances.” In that day, the Lollards were the “heretics” who were distributing the manuscript English Bible of Wycliffe, and other material of his, and preaching biblical truths. In 1414 the English Parliament under Henry V joined in asking for harder measures against the Lollards. The 1563 version of Foxe’s work records”¦
For, in the said parliament, the king made this most blasphemous and cruel act, to be as a law for ever: That whatsoever they were that should read the Scriptures in the mother tongue (which was then called Wickliff’s learning), they should forfeit land, cattle, body, life, and
goods, from their heirs for ever, and so be condemned for heretics to God, enemies to the crown, and most arrant traitors to the land.
In 1416 Archbishop Chichele at Oxford required “the clergy (to do) a thorough search in every parish twice a year, for all persons that ‘hold any either heresies or errors, or have any suspected books in the English tongue,’ or harbor any heretics.”
To be sure, there is record of this law being brutally enforced. The first example I put forth is that of Sir John Oldcastle Lord Cobham. He
was responsible for numerous copies of Wycliffe’s English Bible being copied and distributed among the people. According to Foxe, The Chronicle of St. Alban’s notes that Thomas Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury, called together all the Romanist clergy of the realm for the primary purpose of repressing “the growing and spreading of the Gospel, and especially to withstand the noble and worthy Lord Cobham, who was then noted to be a principal favorer, receiver, and maintainer of those whom the bishop misnamed to be Lollards” He was arrested and charged with heresy, escaped and arrested again. Shortly before he was barbarously martyred for his faith in the Word of God, a papist representative, a lawyer, tried to get him to return to the beliefs of Romanism. He utterly rejected that by saying,
My belief is, as I said before, that all the Scriptures of the sacred Bible are true. All that is grounded upon them I believe thoroughly, for
I know it is God’s pleasure that I should so do; but in your lordly laws and idle determinations have I no belief. For ye be no part of Christ’s
holy church, as your open deeds do show; but ye are very Antichrists, obstinately set against his Holy Law and will. The laws that ye have made are nothing to his glory, but only for your vain glory and abominable
Further, when this faithful old knight was brought to the place of where he would be roasted like a pig in the fire, he warned the people, “to
obey God’s commands written down in the Bible, and always shun such teachings as they saw to be contrary to the life and example of Christ.” Thus we see the end of one who financed the distribution and preaching of the Word of God in English.
To be sure, in the eyes of Rome, Lord Cobham was a major threat. But what about those common people who were without wealth and influence. How were they treated for lesser infractions relating to reading, teaching and possessing portions of the Bible in English? In fact, they fared no better. Their story can be seen, beginning on page 181 of the ninth edition (1684) of Foxe’s work. Here we find the account of seven who were martyred as heretics at Coventry in the year 1519. And what was their heresy? “The principal cause of the apprehension of these persons was for teaching their children and family the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in English.” At first, one of the seven was released. Let me pick up the story as Foxe records it,
Upon Palm Sunday the fathers of these children were brought back again to Coventry, and there, the week next before Easter (because most of them had borne faggots in the same city before), were condemned for relapse to be burned. Only Mistress Smith was dismissed for that present, and sent away. And because it was in the evening, being somewhat dark, as she should go home, the aforesaid Simon Mourton, the Sumner, offered himself to go home with her. Now, as he was leading her by the arm, and heard the rattling of a scroll within her sleeve; “˜Yea,’ saith he, “˜what have ye here?’ And so took it from her, and espied that it was the Lord’s Prayer, the Articles of the Faith, and the Ten Commandments in English. When the wretched Sumner understood this; “˜Ah sirrah!’ said he, “˜Come, as good now as another time;’ and so brought her back again to the bishop, where she was immediately condemned, and so burned with the six men before named, the 4th of April, in a place thereby, called The Little Park, A.D. 1519.
It was heresy to possess, read, and teach the Bible in English. The Roman Catholic Church had the “might,” concocted her own “right,” and then brutally persecuted and martyred those who would not yield to her.
The Heresy of Denying Transubstantiation and The Propitiatory Sacrifice of The Mass
In my reading of Foxe’s work, the most often used basis for declaring anindividual an heretic was over the issue of transubstantiation and the mass. This is noted in the preface of the ninth edition (1684) at the beginning of “The Third Volume and Tenth Book, Beginning with the Reign of Queen Mary.” It says,
FORASMUCH as we are come now to the time of queen Mary, when so many were put to death for the cause especially of the Mass, and The Sacrament of the Altar (as they call it), I thought it convenient, upon the occasion given, in the ingress of this foresaid story, first, to prefix before, by the way of preface, some declaration collected out of divers writers and authors, whereby to set forth to the reader the great absurdity, wicked abuse, and perilous idolatry, of the popish mass; declaring how, and by whom, it came in, and how it is clouted and patched up of divers additions: to the intent that the reader, seeing the vain institution thereof, and weighing the true causes why it is to be exploded out of all churches, may the better thereby judge of their death, who gave their lives for the testimony and the Word of Truth.
I should point out that the usual course followed in convicting people of heresy was to charge them with multiple heresies. Consistently in
multiple charges of heresy one of the key charges related to denial of transubstantiation. This was the case with Dr. Rowland Taylor, pastor of the Hadley church. He was charged with the heresy of preaching (and practicing) that priests could be married and denying transubstantiation and the propitiatory nature of the sacrifice of the mass. Before we look at the charge relating to the latter, we need to consider the three basic views of the Lord’s Supper held within Christendom — transubstantiation, consubstantiation and commemoration. Those who believe in transubstantiation teach that at the moment of the prayer of consecration, magically the bread and wine change substance and become literally the body and blood of Christ. Those who believe in consubstantiation teach that at consecration something mysteriously happens bringing the presence of Christ to the elements. Those who believe in commemoration believe in neither magic nor mystery, but in memorial. They look back and remember the suffering and death of Christ for us. The latter position was that for which Dr. Rowland Taylor was convicted of heresy. Dr Taylor writes,
My second cause why I was condemned an heretic is, that I denied Transub-stantiation and Concomitation [meaning-that the bread/wine
body/blood of Christ literally coexist together with one another at the same time], two juggling words of the papists, by the which they do
believe, and will compel all other to believe, that Christ’s natural body is made of bread, and the Godhead by and by to be joined thereunto; so that immediately after the words called “˜the words of consecration,’ there is no more bread and wine in the sacrament, but the substance only of the body and blood of Christ together with his Godhead: so that the same being now Christ, both God and man, ought to be worshipped with godly honor, and to be offered to God, both for the quick and the dead, as a sacrifice propitiatory and satisfactory for the same. This matter was not long debated in words: but because I denied the aforesaid papistical doctrine (yea rather, plain, most wicked, idolatry, blasphemy and heresy), I was judged a heretic. I did also affirm the pope to be antichrist, and popery antichristianity. And I confessed the doctrine of the Bible to be sufficient doctrine, touching all and singular matters of Christian religion, and of salvation.
Taylor was burned at the stake as an heretic. But, how did these martyrs defend their position against Rome’s teaching? We see a concise statement of their defense recorded in the 9th edition of Foxe. He is referring to George Bucker, also called Adam Damlip, who was drawn, hanged and quartered for his preaching against transubstantiation and the propitiatory sacrifice of the mass. Foxe writes —
This godly man, by the space of twenty days or more, once every day, at seven of the clock, preached very godly, learnedly, and plainly, the truth of the blessed sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, mightily inveighing against all papistry, and confuting the same; but especially those two most pernicious errors or heresies, touching transubstantiation, and the pestilent propitiatory sacrifice of the Romish mass, by true conference of the Scriptures, and applying of the ancient doctors; earnestly therewith oftentimes exhorting the people to return from their popery; declaring how popish he himself had been, and how, by the detestable wickedness that he did see universally in Rome, he was returned so far homeward, and now became an enemy, through God’s grace, to all papistry:
John Damlip used the Scriptures and the teaching of the early church father to support his position. Indeed, this was the pattern of the
martyrs. They would hold up the biblical model and then support that model with the teachings of the early church. A good example is the
defense put forth by Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He wrote, “this monstrous paradox of transubstantiation was never induced or received publicly in the church, before the time of the Lateran council, under pope Innocent III., A. D. 1216; or at most before the time of Lanfranc, the Italian, archbishop of Canterbury, A. D. 1070.” He goes on to assert that Tertullian and Augustine both taught that the sacrament was a “figure, a sign, a memorial, and a representation of the Lord’s body, and knew no such transubstantiation” and yet were neither considered traitors nor heretics. He continues that Ambrose and Theodoret knew nothing of transub-stantiation. In 780 A.D. the words of Bede make it clear “that no transubstantiation as yet in his time was received in the church of England.” I would like to note the words of the Lateran Council in 1216 A.D. that codified the “monstrous paradox of transubstantiation.”
There is one universal church of the faithful, without which none can be saved; in which church the selfsame Jesus Christ is both priest and also the sacrifice; whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar, under the forms of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body, and the wine into the blood, by the power and working of God: so that to the accomplishing of this mystery of unity, we might take of his, the same which he hath taken of ours. And this sacrament none can make or consecrate, but he that is a priest lawfully ordained, according to the keys of the church, which Jesus Christ hath left to his apostles, and to their successors, etc.
Certain papists did try to prove that transubstantiation was of an early origin by misquoting early church fathers and out and out lying. But credible men like Erasmus exposed that lie by writing, “In the sacrament of the communion, the church concluded transubstantiation but of late days. Long before that, it was sufficient to believe the true body of Christ to be present either under the bread, or else by some other matter.”
So, the pattern is clear. The Roman Catholic Church had the “might,” concocted her own “right,” and then brutally persecuted and martyred those who would not yield to her.
The Heresy of Rejecting the Supreme Power and Authority of the Pope and His Prelates, Priests, & His Church etc. Rome claims that by authority of the Council of Constance “it standeth upon necessity of our salvation, to believe, the bishop of Rome to be
supreme head of the church.” But, John Wycliffe did not agree. He asserted that, “It is not necessary to salvation to believe the Church of
Rome to be supreme head over other churches.” Martyr John Rogers, as mentioned earlier, refused to acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as supreme. He said, “I know none other head but Christ of his catholic church, neither will I acknowledge the bishop of Rome to have any more authority than any other bishop hath by the Word of God, and by the doctrine of the old and pure catholic church four hundred years after Christ.” He said, if he could not find it in the Scriptures, he would not accept it. Likewise, George Marsh denied that the Bishop of Rome was the supreme head of the Church. Dr. Coats pressed him to admit the Pope was head of the church and the church was founded on the pope’s laws. Marsh responded, “Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone; and not upon the Romish laws and decrees, the bishop of Rome being the supreme head.”
Over and over again in Foxe’s work we see Rome and the martyrs clashing on this point. Martyr John Bradford sums it up well. “I render and give my life, being condemned as well for not acknowledging the antichrist of Rome to be Christ’s vicar-general and supreme head of his catholic and universal church here or elsewhere upon earth.” So we see again, the Roman Catholic Church had the “might,” concocted her own “right,” and then brutally persecuted and martyred those who would not yield to her.
The Heresy of Believing You Should Only Confess To Christ & Praying To Him, Not the Departed Saints
Space will not allow me but to mention just briefly these last “heresies” people were condemned for and give a quick quote or two.
Alice Potkins “was condemned to be burned, for she was not, neither would be confessed to the Priest, for that she received not the Sacrament of the Altar, because she would not pray to the Saints.” What Alice believed was also believed by many others. Miles Coverdale believed this as did Robert Ferrar, Rowland Taylor, John Philpot, John Bradford, John Wigorn, John Hooper, Edward Crome, John Rogers, Laurence Saunders, Edmund Laurence, and others. On the 8th day of May, A.D. 1554 all of these preachers drafted and signed a declaration of their beliefs. Article six stated, “We confess and believe that God only by Christ Jesus is to be prayed unto and called upon; and therefore we disallow invocation or prayer to saints departed this life.” Coverdale is the only one who escaped martyrdom.
The Heresy of Denying the Existence of Purgatory & Denying That Masses Deliver Souls From Purgatory
These same preachers mentioned above denied the existence of Purgatory.
We confess and believe, that as a man departeth this life, so shall he be judged in the last day generally, and in the mean season is entered
either into the state of the blessed for ever, or damned for ever; and therefore is either past all help, or else needs no help of any in this
life. By reason whereof we affirm purgatory, masses of “Scala coeli,” trentals, and such suffrages as the popish church doth obtrude as
necessary, to be the doctrine of Antichrist.
Few people know that the origin of the false belief that masses release a soul from purgatory is a dream. Foxe records —
The opinion to think the mass to help souls in purgatory, was confirmed by Pope John 17 by reason of a dream, wherein he dreamed that he saw (and heard the voices of) devils lamenting and bewailing, that souls were delivered from them by the saying of masses and diriges. And therefore he did approve and ratify the feast of All Souls, brought in by Odilo. Moreover he adjoined also to the same the feast of Allhallows, about the year of our Lord 1003.
The denial of purgatory and the power of the mass to release a soul from purgatory was heresy.
The Heresy of Believing Only Baptism and the Lord’s Table to be Sacraments
At different times during history, the Roman Catholic Church taught that there were from seven to eleven Sacraments. People who recognized only the two Bible ordinances were condemned as heretics. The same group of preachers, as I have mentioned before, wrote that they believed the “Sacraments of Christ” were “Baptism and the Lords Supper.”
Likewise, when Fecknam asked Jane Grey, “How many sacraments are there?” She responded, “Two. The one the Sacrament of Baptism, and the other the Sacrament of the Lords Supper.” To which Fecknam asserted, “No, there are seven.” At this point Jane challenges the Master Fecknam, “By what Scripture find you that?” The man never does support his position from the Holy Scriptures but tells Jane that she should base her teachings not on the Bible but upon “the Church to whom you ought to give credit.”
Thus, we are back to the same root problem, are we not? The Church of Rome rejected the Bible’s authority and set herself up as the authority. The Romanists had “might,” concocted their own “right,” and then brutally persecuted and martyred those who would not yield to her debauched and twisted authority.
The Heresy of Rejecting the Practice of Granting Indulgences & Priests Forgiving Sins
There were preachers who clearly taught their congregations the New Testament truth of 1 Timothy 2:5 that Christ alone is our mediator and confession should only be made to Him (1 John 1:9; Romans 3:25), for God alone can forgive sins, through Christ alone. One such preacher was Thomas Beele. Under examination Elizabeth Stamford said that, “Thomas Beele did many times and oft teach her this aforesaid lesson, that she should confess her sins to God, and that the pope’s pardons and indulgences were naught worth, and profited not, and that worshipping of images and pilgrimages is not to be done.”
Teaching against indulgences infuriated Rome. She needed money to complete St. Peters in Rome. In 1581 Pope Leo sent a new edict in which he declared indulgences to be accepted. He wrote,
“”¦the catholic doctrine of the holy mother-church of Rome, prince of all other churches, that the bishops of Rome , who are the successors of Peter and vicars of Christ have this power and authority given to release and dispense, also to grant indulgences, available both for the living and for the dead lying in the pains of purgatory: and this doctrine he charged to be received of all faithful Christian men, under pain of the great curse, and utter separation from all holy church.”
Rome sold untold millions of dollars worth of indulgences claiming you could buy forgiveness of sins past, present and future and for the living and the dead. This practice was particularly prevalent and noxious in Germany that Foxe writes, “true piety is almost extinct in all Germany, while every evil-disposed person promiseth to himself, for a little money, license and impunity to do what him listeth: whereupon follow fornication, incest, adultery, perjury, homicide, robbing and spoiling, rapine, usury, with a whole flood of all mischief’s, etc.”
It was heresy to buck the system and indulgences were the order of the day. But there were those, like Luther, who did go against the system.
The above heresies are not an exhaustive list. There were many other charges of heresy leveled against people. It was heresy to believe that priests may marry. It was heresy to preach in English or any other language of the people. Only Latin was to be used. It was heresy to deny that worshipping images had no spiritual merit. It was heresy to believe that pilgrimages had no spiritual merit. It was heresy to believe that abstaining from meat on Friday and fasting had no spiritual merit. It was heresy to believe that “the Keys” were not given to Peter alone. It was heresy to preach against the wicked living of priests and prelates. It was heresy to believe the Pope’s excommunication was worthless. It was heresy to speak against the Pope for any reason. People were convicted as heretics because they did not attend mass. The list goes on.
I conclude this section by stating once again, the Roman Catholic Church had the “might,” concocted her own “right,” and then brutally persecuted and martyred those who would not yield to her. But the tide would turn, thanks in part to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press with movable type. By printing the truth of the Word of God, the Bible, and the truth of Roman Catholic atrocities, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, truth revealed would turn the tide.
3. The Characterization of the Roman Catholic Church, Her Popes, etc. Neither time nor space will allow me to cover this last point adequately. It has become clear to me that the scope of my paper needed to be narrowed. The entire paper could have been focused on this point. So, I will address this point using two examples. First, Foxe’s words about relating to Wycliffe’s time.
After that the true servant of Jesus Christ, John Wickliff, a man of very excellent life and learning, had, for the space of more than twenty-six years, most valiantly battled with the great Antichrist of Europe, ‚ pope of Rome, and his diversely disguised host of anointed hypocrites, to restore the church again to the pure estate that Christ left her in at his ascension, he departed hence most christianly in the hands of God, the year of our Lord 1384, as is aforesaid, and was buried in his own parish church at Lutterworth, in Leicestershire. No small number of godly disciples left that good man behind him, to defend the lowliness of the gospel against the exceeding pride, ambition, simony, avarice, hypocrisy, whoredom, sacrilege, tyranny, idolatrous worshippings, and other filthy fruits, of those stiff-necked pharisees;
Lord Cobham gives us another glimpse of how the Pope and the Roman Catholic church is characterized. He said,
Touching the pope and his spirituality, I owe them neither suit nor service, forasmuch as I know him, by the Scriptures, to be the great
Antichrist, the son of perdition, the open adversary of God, and the abomination standing in the holy place”¦And let all men consider well
this, that Christ was meek and merciful; the pope is proud and a tyrant: Christ was poor and forgave; the pope is rich and a malicious manslayer, as his daily acts do prove him: Rome is the very nest of Antichrist; and out of that nest come all the disciples of him; of whom prelates, priests, and monks, are the body, these pilled (shaved) friars are the tail behind “¦Then said Cobham unto them all: “˜Christ saith in his gospel, Matthew 23. Wo unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for ye close up the kingdom of heaven before men, neither enter ye in yourselves, nor yet suffer any others that would enter into it, but ye stop up the ways thereunto with your own traditions, and therefore, are ye the household of Antichrist: ye will not permit God’s verity to have passage, nor yet to be taught by his true ministers, fearing to have your wickedness reproved. But by such flatterers as uphold you in your mischiefs, ye suffer the common people most miserably to be seduced.’
I am thankful for John Foxe, who chronicled the lives of men and women who would not go against their conscience. I never appreciated that struggle or understood the root of that struggle until I dug into the complete version of Foxe.