Foxe's Book of Martyrs

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Foxe's Book of Martyrs is the popular title of John Foxe's The Actes and Monuments. (Foxe stoutly rejected the popular title.) It is a polemical work of Protestant history and martyrology, first published in English in 1563 by John Day, the same year that the Council of Trent was concluded. It presents an overview of the history of Christian persecutions, beginning with the early Christians, through the Middle Ages, with praise for the Albigensians and the Waldensians, and includes a polemical account of the sufferings of Protestants under the Catholic Church, with particular emphasis on England and Scotland. The book was highly influential in those countries and helped shape lasting popular notions of Catholicism there, especially the claim that the Catholic Church was founded by the Devil, resists the truth of God, opposes the Bible, and teaches pagan doctrines of devils from the pit of hell. The book went through four editions in Foxe's lifetime and a number of later editions and abridgements, including some that specifically reduced the text almost immediately to an abbreviated Book of Martyrs.

Critical response

The criticism which the work provoked in all quarters led to the publication of a "corrected" edition in 1570, two more during his life (1576 and 1583) and five more revisions within another one hundred years (1596, 1610, 1632, 1641, 1684). The edition of 1684 consists of three folio volumes of 895, 682, and 863 pages respectively. Each page has two columns and over eighty lines. Besides introductory material the first volume contains the story of early Christian persecutions, a sketch of medieval church history and an account of the Wyclifite movement in England and on the continent; the second volume treats the reigns Henry VIII and Edward VI; and the third volume that of Catholic Mary ("Bloody Mary", Queen of England).[1] A large number of official documents have been included, injunctions, articles of accusation, letters. The book is illustrated throughout by woodcuts, some symbolizing the triumph of the Reformation, most depicting the sufferings of the martyrs. Two modern editions, both unsatisfactory, in eight volumes, were published in 1837-41 and 1877.

The passionate intensity of the style, the vivid and picturesque dialogues, made it very popular among Puritan and Low Church families up into the nineteenth century, who loved hearing a good story. The polemical version of church history in the earlier portion of the book, with its grotesque and fantastically partisan stories of popes and monks and its assorted succession of witnesses to the truth (including the Albigenses, Grosseteste, Dante, and Savonarola) was accepted among simple folk having little or no education or learning, and must have substantially contributed to anti-Catholic prejudices in England. When Foxe treats of his own times his work has greater value, having much documentation, but is largely based on the reports of eyewitnesses; however, he sometimes dishonestly mutilates his documents (the expression today is "carefully edited and doctored") and is quite untrustworthy in his treatment of evidence, as attested by historians with access to the original documents he cites. He was criticized in his own day by Harpsfield and Parsons and by practically all serious ecclesiastical historians. Students of Christian history of every persuasion have often been appalled at the number of inaccuracies and the plainly evident libelous intention they have discovered in the motive of the author John Foxe, after consulting other historically documented sources in seeking for independent verification and substantiation of his work. As already mentioned, a number of works have been published critiquing this work since the sixteenth century, and some are devoted in particular to refuting his bias and distortions of fact.

The most readable popular and recent editions of this work are widely esteemed by Conservative Evangelical Christians and Fundamentalists who oppose Catholic and Orthodox doctrinal teachings and dogmas.

The Roman Martyrology 1583

Main article: Roman Martyrology

It is interesting to note that the Martyrologium Romanum, the Roman Martyrology, was updated, then authorized and published by the Catholic Church twenty years after the 1563 first publication of John Foxe's Actes and Monuments.

The Roman Martyrology was first published in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII, who the year before had decreed the revision of the calendar called, after him, the Gregorian Calendar. A second edition was published the same year. The third edition was made obligatory wherever the Roman Rite was in use. Many Catholics martyred for their faith during the English and Protestant Reformations were included, such as Thomas More who was beheaded under Henry VIII.

In 1630 Pope Urban VIII ordered a new edition. In 1748 a revised edition by Pope Benedict XIV appeared, who personally worked on the corrections: he suppressed some names, such as those of Clement of Alexandria and Sulpicius Severus, but kept others that some had objected to, such as Pope Siricius. Since then, the Roman Martyrology has remained essentially unchanged, except for the addition of new saints canonized during the subsequent years.

The reading of both Foxe's Book of Martyrs and the Roman Martyrology together is strongly recommended to the student of Christian history. See Ecumenical Movement.

See also




John Huss

John Wyclif

William Tyndale

Thomas More

Council of Trent 1545-1563


Burning at the stake, Biblical pretext for

''The Two Babylons''

Great Apostasy

Christian apologetics

Confirmation bias

Intellectual dishonesty



External links

See Also