Church History Forum: Churxh history

Churxh history QUESTION from William Pickering on February 5, 2002 What can you tell us about the book,Fox's book on Martyr.Protestants love to put this in your face.How much is true and what is false.I know it was a very bad time for the Church.Most of the book is about the inquisitions.
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on February 8, 2002 Dear William,
Foxe's Book of Martyrs covers persecutions during many periods in the Churches history, but his coverage canoot be taken too seriously. For example, the Catholic Encyclopedia reports on his efforts to portray the likes of such heretical sects as the Albigenses as martyrs as follows:

Even in the fantastically partisan church history of the earlier portion of the book, with its grotesque stories of popes and monks and its motley succession of witnesses to the truth (including the Albigenses, Grosseteste, Dante, and Savonarola) was accepted among simple folk and must have contributed much to anti-Catholic prejudices in England. The same article does accept that Foxe's testimony of the events of his own time (16th century) are somewhat more reliable, but even here there are considerable problems with his reliability. The Catholic Encyclopedia continues :

When Foxe treats of his own times his work is of greater value as it contains many documents and is but largely based on the reports of eyewitnesses; but he sometimes dishonesty mutilates his documents and is quite untrustworthy in his treatment of evidence. He was criticized in his own day by Catholics such as Harpsfield and Father Parsons and by practically all serious ecclesiastical historians.
For example, while he discusses the persecutions of Henry VIII in Scotland, he does not mention the slaughter of tens of thousands of Catholics by the same King Henry during that king's reign. This type of selective reporting leaves a lot of questions to be asked as to his reliability.
To give another example, in the treatment of Queen Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary as she was undeservedly known), he reports a list of over 200 people who were executed, but lists only their names and occupations, with no other evidence, and only on the report of eyewitnesses. We cannot tell who these people were, whether they were revolutionaries or simple peasants. In fact, he devotes most of this chapter to only 17 of 273 martyrs.
Further, I would say, the Church did not condone the actions of Queen Mary, and it should be borne in mind that she was living in revolutionary times, without an heir, and was motivated by fear (queen Mary had been separated from her mother, Catherine of Aragon, as a child, so she knew first-hand the suffering that would come if Queen Elizabeth came to the throne and began a new wave of persecution of Catholics).
So overall, I would say, Foxe's treatment of events before his time cannot be trusted, and his treatment of contemporary events (i.e. 16th century) are highly biased and often no more that a list of names given by eye-witnesses, with no information as to their crime if any. But I repeat, the Church did not condone these actions of Queen Mary.
For information on the Inquisition, I suggest the Catholic Encyclopedia article: Inquisition.
One final point, Foxe does not of course mention the terrible persecutions wrought by Henry VIII and Elizabeth against the Catholics of England. ( In fact, later Ireland would be the scene of one of the worst persecutions of Catholics in the history of the Church, the Cromwellian wars of 1649-53, whose details are recounted at Persecutions suffered by the Catholics of Ireland under Cromwell and the Puritans )
So overall, Foxe's book is both strongly biased, and is unreliable, even for events in his own time. Thanks William,
God bless,
Back to Index Page

You have successfully subscribed!