John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs – April 18 in Christian History
John Foxe entered Oxford still a boy. He was eventually elected a fellow of Magdalen College, and from 1539 to 1545 he studied church history. He converted to Protestantism and was forced to resign his academic position as a result. In 1550 he was ordained by Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, and he became friends with Hugh Latimer, William Tyndale, and Thomas Cranmer. But when Queen Mary ascended the throne, tilting England back into Catholicism, Foxe fled. In Switzerland he heard horrible news filtering from England. Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, and countless others were being captured and burned.
An idea formed in Foxe’s mind, soon obsessing him. He would compile a record of the persecution of God’s people. Living on the edge of poverty, Foxe spent every spare moment on his project. He labored by day in a printing shop to support his family, but by night he pored over his manuscript. He wrote vividly, giving details, painting word pictures. In 1559 Foxe published his book on the continent—732 pages in Latin. Returning to England under Protestant Elizabeth, he resumed pastoral work and translated his book into English. John Day published it in London in 1563 under the title Acts and Monuments of These Latter and Perilous Days Touching Matters of the Church (title page of the first English edition in 1563 at right).
But Foxe wasn’t finished. He spent four years interviewing witnesses, tracking down documents, finding letters. After long days of church ministry, he sat by flickering candlelight, continuing his writing. In 1570 a second edition appeared—two large volumes totaling 2,315 pages—then a third and fourth. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was one of the most important publications in Elizabeth’s reign, having an extraordinary impact. It was in every cathedral alongside the Bible. Francis Drake read it aloud on the Western seas. It inspired the Puritans. It took the world by storm.
But it also took a toll on Foxe’s personal health, and he never recovered. He died from weariness on April 18, 1587. But he had given us his life’s crowning achievement.
“At that time the church in Jerusalem suffered terribly. All of the Lord’s followers, except the apostles, were scattered everywhere in Judea and Samaria…The Lord’s followers who had been scattered went from place to place, telling the good news.” – Acts 8:1-4
Author of Article: Robert J. Morgan is the pastor of Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of the best-selling Then Sings My Soul, From This Verse, On This Day, and Red Sea Rules. He conducts Bible conferences, parenting and marriage retreats, and leadership seminars across the country.
*Other Significant Events on April 18th in Church History:
246: Cyprian of Carthage was baptized. Cyprian was a notable North African bishop who wrote about the unity of the Church. He died a martyr.
1161: Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, died. He had been chosen as archbishop in 1138 for his meekness, and he remained a moderate churchman for most his life. However, he disobeyed an order by King Stephen not to attend a council in Reims. He also refused to crown Stephen’s son, Eustace, and crowned Henry the II instead. His successor was Thomas a Becket.
1587: Isabella Thobum opened her school, one of the first for the women of India. Seven frightened girls were coaxed into attending. Their priests had warned them that the gods would destroy them if they gained education.
1874: David Livingstone’s remains were interred at Westminster Abbey in London. The explorer missionary died in Africa.
*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.