Friday, August 7, 2009

Foxe's Book of Martyrs

I found in a used bookstore last week, a copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Written and published in the mid 16th century as Protestant history/propaganda, Foxe's Book of Martyrs was intended to both celebrate the faith and courage of said martyrs as well as to document the perfidy and heinous crimes of Queen Mary. I had read of this book from an historical perspective, i.e. the influence that it had at that time on the course of Reformation and the development of the Anglican Church, but had not ever seen a copy of it. Curious, I purchased it.

It is a fascinating read: partly for the baroque language (written in a period immediately before Shakespeare and when English language, phrases, and spellings were still a pretty riotous, weedy garden), partly for the passion, partly for the history, partly for the individual stories. It is in some ways fairly heavy going, with many passages requiring some mulling to comprehend what his intended message might be given archaic phrases and language structure.

But the stories are fascinating and even more so the language. There are strong opinions expressed strongly with no hedging about or concern for delicate ears. Here is Foxe on agents of the Roman Catholic Church whom he castigates for their:
exceeding pride, ambition, simony, avarice, hypocrisy, sacrilege, tyranny, idolatrous worshippings, and other filthy fruits, of those stiff-necked pharisees.

Foxe is full of such marvelously comprehensive indictments and I love that phrase - a stiff-necked pharisee. That puts them in their place.

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