Monday, December 26, 2011

A small tribute to the Reformation Anti-Catholic work known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Foxe's Book of Martyrs is a classic account of the persecutions and murders of Christian individuals and groups down the centuries starting with the first apostles of Christ. Here is an online copy of the book. The early chapters concern persecutions under the pagans, the chapter titled Papal Persecutions starts the accounts of persecutions by the Roman Church of Christians who had fled that institution.

There are those who have no knowledge whatever of the pre-Reformation Christians outside the Roman Church, such as the Waldensians and the Albigensians and many others, and continue to promote the false belief fostered by the Roman Church itself that Romanism represented Christianity and that those they persecuted were all heretics. Foxe's Book of Martyrs is one of the main sources of information to the contrary and of course the Papal Antichrist would seek to discredit it.

And yes it is quite partisan, it is thoroughly anti-Romanism and anti-papist, which reflects the perspective of the Reformation. It's perhaps more of a tract than a work of history but most of its information is nevertheless based on known sources and considered to be generally trustworthy. Some try to discredit the book on the basis of its style and partisanship, but even the Wikipedia article which acknowledges its scholarly imperfections nevertheless affirms that the material is "generally accurate" and documents its valid sources.

The following is from the Wikipedia article:
Foxe as historian
Foxe often treated his material casually, and any reader "must be prepared to meet plenty of small errors and inconsistencies."[29] The material contained in the work is generally accurate, although selectively presented. Sometimes he copied documents verbatim; sometimes he adapted them to his own use. While both he and his contemporary readers were more credulous than most moderns, Foxe presented "lifelike and vivid pictures of the manners and feelings of the day, full of details that could never have been invented by a forger."[30]

His sources
Foxe based his accounts of martyrs before the early modern period on previous writers, including Eusebius, Bede, Matthew Paris, and many others. He compiled an English martyrology from the period of the Lollards through the persecution of Mary I. Here Foxe had primary sources to draw on: episcopal registers, reports of trials, and the testimony of eyewitnesses.[5] In the work of collection Foxe had Henry Bull as collaborator.[31] The account of the Marian years is based on Robert Crowley's 1559 extension of a 1549 chronicle history by Thomas Cooper, itself an extension of a work begun by Thomas Lanquet. Cooper (who became a Church of England Bishop) strongly objected to Crowley's version of his history and soon issued two new "correct" editions.[32]

Handling of sources
The book's credibility was challenged in the early 19th century by a number of authors, most importantly Samuel Roffey Maitland.[5][25] Subsequently Foxe was considered a poor historian, in mainstream reference works. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica accused Foxe of "wilful falsification of evidence"; two years later in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Francis Fortescue Urquhart wrote of the value of the documentary content and eyewitness reports, but claimed that Foxe "sometimes dishonestly mutilates his documents and is quite untrustworthy in his treatment of evidence".[33]

In contrast, J. F. Mozley maintained that Foxe preserves a high standard of honesty, arguing that Foxe's method of using his sources "proclaims the honest man, the sincere seeker after truth."[34] The 2009 Encyclopædia Britannica notes that Foxe's work is "factually detailed and preserves much firsthand material on the English Reformation unobtainable elsewhere."[35]

Objectivity and advocacy
Foxe's book is in no sense an impartial account of the period. He did not hold to later notions of neutrality or objectivity, but made unambiguous side glosses on his text, such as "Mark the apish pageants of these popelings" and "This answer smelleth of forging and crafty packing."[36] David Loades has suggested that Foxe's history of the political situation, at least, is 'remarkably objective'. He makes no attempt to make martyrs out of Wyatt and his followers, or anyone else who was executed for treason, except George Eagles, who he describes as falsely accused."[37]

Sidney Lee writing in the Dictionary of National Biography called him "a passionate advocate, ready to accept any primâ facie evidence". Lee also listed some specific errors and pieces of plagiarism.[22] In developing the same metaphor, Thomas S. Freeman argues that Foxe "may be most profitably seen in the same light as a barrister pleading a case for a client he knows to be innocent and whom he is determined to save. Like the hypothetical barrister, Foxe had to deal with the evidence of what actually happened, evidence that he was rarely in a position to forge. But he would not present facts damaging to his client, and he had the skills that enabled him to arrange the evidence so as to make it conform to what he wanted it to say. Like the barrister, Foxe presents crucial evidence and tells one side of a story which must be heard. But he should never be read uncritically, and his partisan objectives should always be kept in mind."[5]

Religious perspectives
For the English Church, Foxe's book remains a fundamental witness to the sufferings of faithful Christians at the hands of the anti-Protestant Roman Catholic authorities and to the miracle of their endurance unto death, sustained and comforted by the faith to which they bore living witness as martyrs. Foxe emphasizes the right of English people to hear or read the Holy Scripture in their own language and receive its message directly rather than as mediated through a priesthood. The valour of the martyrs in the face of persecution became a component of English identity.[citation needed]

Roman Catholics consider Foxe a significant source of English anti-Catholicism, charging among other objections to the work, that the treatment of martyrdoms under Mary ignores contemporary mingling of political and religious motives — for instance, ignoring the possibility that some victims may have intrigued to remove Mary from the throne.[38]
The article above suggests that "evidence damaging to his client" exists that Foxe ignores, but does not give it. Surely we can ASSUME that there is such "evidence" and that a great deal of it is simply the viewpoint of the papacy.