Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor

By Miola, Robert | First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor


Miola, Robert, First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


FIRES OF FAITH: CATHOLIC ENGLAND UNDER MARY TUDOR by Eamon Duffy Yale, 280 pages, $28.50

Before the flames consumed him in 1555, Bishop Latimer is said to have turned to his companion at the stake: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as I trust shall never be put out." John Foxe reported that prophetic valediction in the 1570 edition of his Acts and Monuments, the book that canonized as Protestant martyrs those whom CathoUc Queen Mary Tudor (1553-1558) had condemned as obstinate heretics.

Foxe's book estabUshed EngUsh regious and national identity as Protestant and set up criteria of historical judgment for succeeding centuries. Foxe's report of Latimer's last words, alas, has proven apocryphal, a late addition apparendy lifted from the story of an early Christian martyr, Saint Polycarp. But CathoUc Queen Mary certainly did campaign against heresy by force, presiding over the burning of some 284 Protestants in four years. Repulsed by such barbarity, historians since Foxe have roundly condemned the reign of "Bloody Mary" and declared as abject failures her efforts to suppress heresy and reestabhsh Catholicism in England.

Carefully examining the available evidence, the distinguished historian Eamon Duffy argues against this prevailing consensus in Fires of Faith. He demonstrates that Mary's Church effectively sought to reverse the reUgious revolution begun by Henry VIII and consoUdated by the young Josiah, Edward VI. The Church reconstructed the physical settings for Catholic worship, suppUed missals and liturgical manuals, organized a core group of trained clergy, and initiated a campaign of preaching and education. Cardinal Reginald Pole, long underestimated, presided over the Marian restoration, providing intellectual leadership, particularly in his De Unitate, as weU as pragmatic governance. Pole explained, planned, appointed, preached, and organized. He implemented reforms associated with the Counter-Reformation, particularly the education of the clergy. He coordinated a massive instructional movement that included Bishop Edmund Bonner's A Profitable and Necessary Doctrine, with its attached homiUes, and the works of John Christopherson, John Procter, and the Harpsfield brothers, Nicholas and John.

And the burnings? "Any civilized twenty-first-century person," Duffy writes, "will of course agree that burning men and women aUve for their fideUty to deeply held beUefs must be both obviously and profoundly 'the wrong weapon' in a struggle for religious reconstruction." But civiUzed early moderns, both Protestant and Catholic, Duffy shows, would not have so agreed. Thomas Cranmer, one of Mary's most famous victims, had himself urged the burning of the Kentish Anabaptist Joan Butcher. John Foxe tried to persuade John Rogers to intercede on Joan Butcher's behalf, if only to extend the dubious mercy of hanging, instead of burning, her. …

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