Foxe's Book of Martyrs


#1

My dad is a Protestant elder, and in his church is teaching a class on martyrs soon. One of the resources he’s leaning (very enthusastically) on is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It only took me a cursory glance to realize how anti-Catholic the book is. I’ve since heard Jimmy Akin describe the book as “ahistorical” and, I believe, “hateful.”

That said, does anyone know of any hard resources countering Foxe’s errors? Something that I could hand my dad and say, “Look. This is why you shouldn’t read this book”?

Thanks and God bless.

-Joel


#2

[quote=Sgt Sweaters]My dad is a Protestant elder, and in his church is teaching a class on martyrs soon. One of the resources he’s leaning (very enthusastically) on is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It only took me a cursory glance to realize how anti-Catholic the book is. I’ve since heard Jimmy Akin describe the book as “ahistorical” and, I believe, “hateful.”

That said, does anyone know of any hard resources countering Foxe’s errors? Something that I could hand my dad and say, “Look. This is why you shouldn’t read this book”?

Thanks and God bless.

-Joel
[/quote]

It makes no sense to tell him not to read the book. It’s a major work of Protestant hagiography. Historians disagree on just how reliable it is, but iwhen it discusses events close to Foxe’s own time it’s more reliable than many legendary martyrdom stories. In fact, the least reliable part of Foxe is his account of early Christian martyrdom.

The book is certainly highly biased and propagandistic. But you can’t expect Protestants not to read martyrdom accounts from their own tradition. What you do need to tell him is:

  1. For the early Church there are much better sources (Eusebius, for instance, which was one of Foxe’s sources).

  2. English Protestants themselves killed both Catholics and more radical Protestants. If he wants to understand the Reformation era, he should supplement Foxe with Anabaptist accounts like the Martyrs’ Mirror and Catholic accounts like Roper’s life of St. Thomas More, John Gerard’s Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, or William Allen’s Briefe Historie of the Glorious Martyrdom of Twelve Reverend Priests.

  3. He should bear in mind that Foxe is not neutral but is writing with a real agenda. That doesn’t make him less trustworthy than Catholic propagandists, but he is a propagandist.

An excellent and very well-balanced book on sixteenth-century martyrdom is Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake. Gregory is a Catholic, but in my judgment he’s very fair to all sides. You might want to get your dad a copy.

Edwin


#3

From an article in This Rock magazine:

I also found that the famous Book of Martyrs, written by John Foxe, a sixteenth-century apostate Catholic, was historically inaccurate. Many of the “martyrs” in the reign of Mary Tudor were unorthodox and would have been burned in the reign of Protestant Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, Foxe supported a regime that tortured and killed Catholics who simply wanted to live in the faith of their ancestors. He also supported a regime that burned Evangelical Christians such as Baptists! It was Protestant Christians who had persecuted the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers of seventeenth-century England, and that group in turn, on settling in America, had persecuted fellow Bible believers!

To see the entire article:
catholic.com/thisrock/1998/9803conv.asp


#4

I actually just picked up an abridged version of the famous collection of Martyrs. I would be cautious first in telling him not to read it.

Foxe, first of all, was prosecuted by the Catholic Queen in england while working on his book, so his position is obviously bias. But as far as naming martyrs is concerned, you have to look at a textbook definition of the term…

Martyr: Latin, from Greek martyr-, martys, literally, witness
1 : a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion
2 : a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle

I believe there is little argument against a single person in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs if you apply this definition. Whether the Catholic Church agrees with the teachings of a martyr or not, if during their life they voluntarily suffered death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion or sacrificed something of great value (especially life) then they are a martyr to someone.

AND YET…

While it is an important protestant work, the wording of various passages are quite anti-Catholic in feel and tone. Like this one about “The Death of Queen Mary”…

*"No other king or queen of England spilled as much blood in a time of peace as Queen Mary did in four years through her hanging, beheading, burning, and imprisonment of good Christian Englishmen. When she first sought the crown and promised to retain the faith and religion of Edward, God went with her and brought her the throne through the efforts of the Protestants. But after she broke her promises to God and man, sided with Stephen Gardiner, and gave up her supremacy to the pope, God left her. nothing she did after that thrive.

Instead, she married King Philip…With Philip came the pope, and his mass, the monks, and the nuns, but still, God prevented her from having her way.

No woman was ever more disappointed than Mary when she could not have children, even with the help of the Catholic Church’s prayers. She seemed unable to win the favor of God, the hearts of her subjects, or the love of her husband.

At last, when nothing could sway her to stop the tyranny of her priests and spare her subjects who were being drawn daily as sheep to the slaughter, it pleased God to cut off her rule by death…*"

Wow! Foxe refers to the Catholic Church and the Mass as “the slaughter”. While I wouldn’t tell you to tell him not to read it, I would tell you to warn him against the bias it possesses. Get him the abridged copy and let him read that section I just showed you. It amazes me that Foxe apparently never read St. Matthew…

"Under the laws of Moses the rule was, ‘If you murder, you must die.’ But I have added to that rule and tell you that if you are only angry, even in your own home, you are in danger of judgment! If you call your friend an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the [divine] court. And if you curse him, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (TLB, Matthew 5:21-22)

…Because if he had, he would know that to judge in such ways was itself un-Christian.


#5

But Jesus also denounced the Pharisees as vipers . . . .

Foxe was writing in the aftermath of a persecution that had left several hundred Protestants dead. I can’t blame him for being angry–from his point of view the forces of Antichrist had been getting drunk on the blood of the saints. There was plenty of such rhetoric flying around on all sides. I’m not willing to judge sixteenth-century people for their language. I’m even willing to try to understand why they often thought it necessary to kill people–language just isn’t something I bother about in terms of moral judgment, though it does make a lot of 16th-century writing tiresome to read.

Edwin


#6

[quote=St.Curious]At last, when nothing could sway her to stop the tyranny of her priests and spare her subjects who were being drawn daily as sheep to the slaughter, it pleased God to cut off her rule by death…
[/quote]

"

Wow! Foxe refers to the Catholic Church and the Mass as “the slaughter”.

I feel I must point out that Foxe here is being misread. He did not call “the Catholic Church and the Mass” a “slaughter.” Foxe was making a reference to Paul’s statement that we, as sheep, are daily led to the slaughter… i.e., being killed for their testimony. Foxe is certainly not in sympathy with the Roman Caholic church as he believed it responsible or the deaths of many true Christians. This did slant his interpretation of history (though not necessarily toward that which is false). Nevertheless, his accounts, especially closer to his own day, are invaluable and he is not as hopelessly biased as he is sometimes painted.


#7

[quote=Eden of Mind]Nevertheless, his accounts, especially closer to his own day, are invaluable and he is not as hopelessly biased as he is sometimes painted.
[/quote]

He is hopelessly biased. But that’s unsurprising and quite normal for a martyrology. He is indeed invaluable.

Edwin


#8

[quote=Contarini]He is hopelessly biased. But that’s unsurprising and quite normal for a martyrology. He is indeed invaluable.

Edwin
[/quote]

I, too, am hopelessly biased… in my love of Christ. That, of course, hardly makes me prone to err. It is the further I get from this blessed bias that makes me untrustworthy.


#9

[quote=Contarini]In fact, the least reliable part of Foxe is his account of early Christian martyrdom.

The book is certainly highly biased and propagandistic. But you can’t expect Protestants not to read martyrdom accounts from their own tradition.

An excellent and very well-balanced book on sixteenth-century martyrdom is Brad Gregory, Salvation at Stake. Gregory is a Catholic, but in my judgment he’s very fair to all sides. You might want to get your dad a copy.

[/quote]

Suppose for a minute that I was a disinterested party. Why should I believe one author over the other based on the opinions written in my quote?

Foxe obviously writes from a Protestant persepective, so therefore he is going to be slanted towards the protestant side.

Gregory is writing from a Catholic perspective, so therefore he is going to be slanted towards the Catholic side.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to suggest that both books be read with an open mind and let the reader make up his/her own mind?


#10

One of the things that people forget about the time of Foxe and others during the reformation is that governments worked very differently then. There were no democracies, no republics. There were kings and queens and an emperor and all of them were vying for power in Europe. The split in the Church was just an excuse for most of them to get rid of dissenters of every stripe. The balance of power careened back and forth between Protestant and Catholic regimes.

Times were very unstable as the various monarchs were trying to gain and keep power. The whole business was a horrible scandal within Christianity, and is a wound from which we have never recovered. Instead of Protestants and Catholics slinging arrows at one another for the horrors of the past, we ought to forgive one another as Christ commanded us to do. That’s what I’d tell your father he should be teaching about martyrs on both sides.


#11

[quote=squeekster]Suppose for a minute that I was a disinterested party. Why should I believe one author over the other based on the opinions written in my quote?

Foxe obviously writes from a Protestant persepective, so therefore he is going to be slanted towards the protestant side.

Gregory is writing from a Catholic perspective, so therefore he is going to be slanted towards the Catholic side.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to suggest that both books be read with an open mind and let the reader make up his/her own mind?
[/quote]

That’s not true. The equivalents of Foxe are contemporary Catholic martyrdom accounts like Roper’s life of More. Gregory is a modern scholar writing within an academic guild that will nail him quicker than thinking if he slants his facts. As a matter of fact, his book did come under a lot of fire at Sixteenth Century Studies conference several years ago, but it wasn’t for Catholic bias per se. Rather, it was for the fact that he treats all the martyrdom accounts with respect and very aggressively attacks those who try to explain martyrdom by modern theories instead of taking people’s experience at face value. In other words, his work was examined closely by people hostile to it, and it was not found to have Catholic bias but rather a general bias in favor of actually taking sixteenth-century religion (of whatever sort) seriously. Some scholars, such as my advisor, think that this is a very good thing though Gregory was too polemical in some of his attacks on modern theories; the more secular scholars despise Gregory. But no one doubts that he’s a serious, credentialed scholar, and no one has accused him of anti-Protestant bias that I know of.

So I can with a good conscience recommend Gregory to all Christians, Catholic and Protestant, as a fair, balanced account of martyrdom and persecution in the sixteenth century. When I first got into this field, I dreamed of writing such a book, but he’s beat me to it. I can disagree with some of his methods, but there is simply nothing like this book out there and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

Edwin


#12

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.