Yesterday I received an e-newsletter from Bible Gateway called “Faithful Through the Ages.” This particular newsletter involved John Foxe, the author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Did any other book besides the Bible have such an impact on our Protestant ancestors? For, they reasoned, if other faiths guarded the tales of their martyrs so carefully, if people catalogued the names and stories so those unfortunate souls might be remembered, why then should this newfound faith not do the same? More painful than martyrdom itself was being forgotten.
There was no shortage of sad tales, for the early Protestants --- especially the French Huguenots --- were a church of martyrs. There has been talk since Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was first published that Foxe may have embellished stories or even outright created some of them for sensational purposes. Some assume that because this may have been the case, none of the book is true. Yet even if Foxe was indeed guilty of embellishment or so forth, that does not in any way say that the entire book is untrue. One needs only to research particular stories and back up facts. Much can be proven. And few would venture to say that the 1500s and 1600s were not a breeding ground for religious violence. Burnings, hangings, and other horrible punishments simply for the “crime” of holding the Protestant faith were widespread and widely-known.
|Copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs published in 1563.|
Today’s readers of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs will likely run a gamut of emotions from anger to sadness to pride; anger that such atrocities occurred, sadness that individuals with lives to lead were ripped from the world without mercy, and pride that our ancestors had the strength, courage, and steadfastness to choose faith and God above the countless foibles of the earth. I doubt it will be an easy read, and it is certainly not a “fun” read, but as a Protestant from the “Reformation” faith of Lutheranism, I count it my duty to learn, to internalize, to understand why my ancestors suffered and why the faith was so precious to them. Because they died and because their descendants refused to recant, we are here practicing the “Reformation faiths” today.
Today I am going to start Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It will be slow going (considering that it was written hundreds of years ago, and also that it is a *long* book) but even reading a page will, I am sure, already fill me with the pride and resolve of my spiritual forebears. It should be noted that while the first edition was printed in 1563, there have been many subsequent printings that include events that occurred throughout time periods as new as the 19th century.
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