Fox's Book of Martyrs: A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Deaths of the Early Christian and Protestant Martyrs by John Foxe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
John Foxe found himself exiled from his homeland of England along with many others, when Roman Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553. He undertook to write an account of her persecutions, and did it using the weapon of history instead of theology.
Foxe didn’t get much into the theological issues that Protestants had against Rome. Instead he lined up a series of accounts of Roman brutality against Protestants, and put them at the end of a 2000 year long line of the persecution of Christians, showing that Rome is just the latest version of the enemies and oppressors of Christ’s true church. (This diametrically opposed Rome’s argument that history was on THEIR side.) He likens the persecutors to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who put Jesus to death. So instead of a theological treatise, Foxe tells the story of martyrs who assert Protestant doctrine simply and briefly at the stake, refusing to recant. This shows us (literally!) what was at stake in Reformation doctrine.
Foxe does not just tell the stories of those who died for the true faith of Christ, but also those who endured troubles for speaking the truth. This is the actual definition of martyr: a witness to the truth in Christ. So Luther gets a chapter, too, and Constantine, and Wycliffe, none of whom were put to death for their faith.
The most distinctive feature of the book is its detailed description of violence. This is not for the faint of heart! They use every device to inflict pain imaginable, and some you couldn’t imagine before reading this. I wouldn’t have a child younger than 13 or 14 read this. If it were put on a movie screen it would be a strong R rating.
So why write it all out? Should we avoid this? I don’t think so.
Again, Foxe’s intent is to show what is at stake in the battleground of history. This is spiritual warfare, and we must be loyal to the truth and to our Lord, even when it means less pay, loss of friends, getting sued, fired, imprisoned, beaten or executed. The church today, especially in America, is oblivious to these real sacrifices required. We express shock and disbelief when the culture rejects us! We need to steel ourselves for the full court press coming against our beliefs from our culture. Foxe helps us in this fight.
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