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Fall 1998 Newsletter: In Remembrance of Martyrs
Publish date: Feb 24, 2009
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History tells of many battles for religious liberty in the Reformation and the Puritan movement. These battles brought about the religious freedoms we enjoy today. But the particulars of those battles, and the incredible sacrifice of thousands—perhaps millions—of men, women, and children, seem to have been forgotten. Too little do we study the lives of the heroes of faith. Their names are unknown to us, and their courage and constancy have little impact on our faith. Have we forgotten that we are debtors to their sacrifice? Can we safely ignore their faithful witness and still expect to stand firm in times of persecution?
In reading about persecution of the Church, we see that persecution has strengthened and enlarged the Church rather than harming it. For every one believer that was killed for his or her faith, more than double the number was added to the Church. In a very real sense, blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church.
Wycliffe Statue in Washington National Cathedral CC Sharealike Tim Evanson on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/23165290@N00/8167981784...
We must ever bear in mind that persecution did not produce the
martyrs. It only made them public. There were many noble witnesses
besides these, whom the flames did not reveal, who were true martyrs in
the fullest meaning of the word.i
As this age draws to its close there is no doubt that persecution in a very severe form will take place. Those who side with Christ and refuse to give way to the Spirit of Antichrist will have to suffer. But they will be encouraged and strengthened to endure as they call to mind these saints of past ages, who “loved not their lives unto the death," who would rather burn than turn, and sooner die than deny Christ.ii
The Albigenses were Protestants who lived in the country of Albi. They were condemned in the Council of Lateran by order of Pope Alexander III, but their numbers grew so rapidly that many cities were inhabited exclusively by them, and they converted several important noblemen.
The Pope wanted to rid the empire of these people he considered heretics, and so encircled the city of Beziers. No amount of compromise or discussion could pacify the troops surrounding the city. The inhabitants were told that unless the Albigenses would give up their religion and conform to the Church of Rome, there could be no mercy. The Roman Catholics living within the walls of Beziers urged the Albigenses to comply; but the Albigenses nobly answered that they would not forsake their religion. They said that God was able if He pleased to defend them; but if He would be glorified by their holding onto their faith unto death, it would be an honor for them to die for His sake. The Catholics, finding it impossible to persuade the Albigenses to surrender to the will of Rome, sent their bishop to beg the army legate to not include them in the punishment of the Albigenses.
When he heard this, the legate flew into a passionate rage and declared that, “if all the city did not acknowledge their fault, they would all taste of one curse, without distinction of religion, sex, or age.” The inhabitants refused to yield to such terms, and consequently were fiercely attacked. Every cruelty was practiced; the groans of men dying in pools of blood were heard amid the cries of mothers, who after being brutalized by the soldiers, had their children taken from them and killed before their eyes.
On July 22, 1209, the beautiful city of Beziers was destroyed by fire, the cathedral of Saint Nazaire burned with its terrified inhabitants who had taken refuge inside. All that remained was a heap of ruins. In all, 60,000 men, women, and children were murdered. Many other towns where the Albigenses lived were destroyed in a similar fashion.
In 1620, persecution against the Albigenses was renewed. At a town called Tell, while the minister was preaching to a congregation of the reformed, the papists attacked and murdered a number of the people. One lady of eminence was exhorted to change her religion, especially for the sake of her child. She replied, “I did not quit Italy, my native country, nor forsake the estate I had there, for the sake of Jesus Christ, to renounce Him here. With regard to my infant, why should I not deliver him up to death, since God gave His Son to die for me?” The persecutors then killed the woman, but not before taking her child and giving him to a Catholic nurse to bring up.
An Albigense young lady of a noble family was seized and carried through the streets. After mocking and beating her, the brutal multitude told her to call upon the saints, to which she replied, “my trust and salvation is in Christ only; for even the virgin Mary, without the merits of her Son, could not be saved.” Upon hearing this, the multitude killed her.
These barbarous acts continued until the brave and faithful Albigenses were completely eradicated.
In the 14th century, Pope Pius IV determined to exterminate the Waldenses from France. The Waldenses had built and formed themselves into two corporate towns, and had pleased the local nobles with their honesty and quiet industry. After some time, they sent to Geneva for two ministers, one for each town. Hearing of this, Pope Pius IV saw an opportunity to fulfill his plan. He sent a cardinal and two monks first to the town of St. Xist, and told the people that nothing would happen to them if they would accept the preachers appointed by the Pope. If they refused, they would be deprived of their property and lives. They were to attend mass that very afternoon to show their willingness to comply.
Instead of obeying, the inhabitants of St. Xist fled into the woods. Disappointed, the cardinal and the monks then proceeded to the other town, La Garde. There, having learned from the dilemma at St. Xist, they ordered the gates to be locked and all avenues guarded. The same proposal was made to the people of La Garde, with the added lie that the inhabitants of St. Xist had immediately agreed to the same proposal. The people agreed to follow the example of their brethren at St. Xist.
Having won La Garde, the cardinal immediately sent troops to massacre the people of St. Xist, hunting them down in the woods and sparing none. Many were killed before the Waldenses began to fight back. Finally, the troops were compelled to retreat, whereupon the viceroy of the region declared all outlaws and deserters pardoned if they could catch and kill the inhabitants of St. Xist. Several outlaws appeared and finished exterminating the people of St. Xist.
Then, the cardinal began making more demands of the people of La Garde. Fullest protection was offered them if they would embrace the Roman Catholic religion. The Waldenses, however, unanimously refused to renounce their religion or embrace the errors of the Pope. Thirty of them were immediately tortured publicly to terrify the rest. Those who survived and watched the torture still remained constant in their faith, declaring that nothing could make them renounce God, or bow down to idols. They were hunted down and killed, until there was not a single Waldense left in France.
As a result of this persecution, many Waldenses fled to the valley of Piedmont in Italy, where they enjoyed a brief period of peace. However, the peace was short-lived and they again experienced persecution. Many were killed for truth. The Waldenses decided that their clergy would begin preaching in public (until then they had only preached privately) so that everyone might know the purity of their doctrines. Until then they had possessed only the New Testament and a few books of the Old in their own language, and so they employed a Swiss printer to furnish them with a complete edition of the Bible.
News of this move enraged the duke, and he sent troops against the Waldenses to kill them. But the troops returned, saying that the Waldenses were too numerous for the small army. Also, the Waldenses were well acquainted with the country, had secured all the passes, were well armed, and were determined to defend themselves. The troops were recalled and the duke decided to place a bounty on each Waldense head. Several were tortured to death.
A delegation was sent to the Waldenses asking that they would return to the Church of Rome. If they did so, they could continue to enjoy their houses and lands, and live without being harassed. To prove their obedience, they would have to send 12 leaders to be dealt with at discretion. Rejection of this proposal would result in persecution and death.
The Waldenses replied that nothing would make them renounce their religion and that they would never consent to entrust their most valued friends to their worst enemies. This so exasperated the parliament of Turin, that they begged for troops to be sent by France to help them exterminate the Waldenses. Just as these troops were ready to depart, however, the Protestant princes of Germany sent word that if France took action, Germany would assist the Waldenses and war would break out. To avoid a war, the plan was halted, and peace reigned for a time.
After a few years, a representative of the Pope traveled to Turin and mentioned that he was astonished that the Waldenses had not yet been uprooted from the valley of Piedmont or compelled to return to the Catholic Church. He implied that duke’s neglect of this matter aroused suspicion that the duke himself was a traitor of Rome.
Wishing to prove his zeal, the duke ordered the Waldenses to attend mass regularly on pain of death. Upon the refusal of the Waldenses, the duke sent out troops to begin extermination. Hundreds were killed. Those who fled had their houses plundered and burned. Ministers and schoolmasters were cruelly tortured. If any wavered in their faith, they sent them to the galleys to be converted by hardships. Not being as successful as he wanted, the duke increased the numbers of troops and added outlaws to assist in the extermination.
The Waldenses took as many belongings as they could, left the valley, and hid in the Alps. The troops plundered and burned the villages, but they could not force the passes to the Alps, gallantly defended by the Waldenses. Eventually, the duke stopped the bloodshed. But by then, almost all had been destroyed.
In March of 1545, Anne Askew, an educated lady of good descent, was arrested and brought to trial in England. She answered all her interrogator’s questions so astutely that he was astonished and silenced. After further interrogation from others, including her cousin, her faith remained unshaken. When asked about her faith and belief in regards to the sacrament, she replied, “I believe as the Scripture teaches me.”
The interrogator asked again, “what if the Scripture says that it is the body of Christ?”
She merely replied, “I believe as the Scriptures teach.”
So he asked again, “what if the Scripture says that it is not the body of Christ?”
She still replied, “I believe all that the Scripture informs me.”
No matter what, she could not be swayed. She ended by saying, “I believe therein, and in all other things, as Christ and His apostles did leave them.”
More priests came to interrogate her with little success, until finally the bishop asked her to interpret her understanding of the verse by Paul which mentions women in church not making themselves wise in the interpretation of Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:34-40). He hoped to catch her in this regard, and followed by saying, “I am informed that one has asked you if you would receive the sacrament at Easter, and you made a mockery of it.”
To this she calmly and meekly replied, “I desire that my accuser might come forward.”
This the bishop did not allow. Next, the bishop accused her saying, “I sent someone to you to give you good counsel, and you called him a papist as soon as he began.”
Anne replied, “I don’t deny it, for I perceived he was no less than that, but I didn’t say anything else to him.”
The bishop continued his haranguing, until he said, “there are many that read and know the Scripture, and yet follow it not, nor live thereafter.”
She answered “my lord, I would wish that all men knew my conversation and living in all points; for I am sure myself this hour that here are none able to prove any dishonesty against me.”
Despite her answer, Anne Askew was branded a heretic. A few days later, she went through further interrogation to persuade her from God, but she ignored the glossy pretences. Several came to her privately urging her to recant as others had done, but she only answered, “it had been good for you never to have been born.”
She was then sent to the Tower of London where she was visited by one of the council demanding she disclose any man or woman she knew that belonged to her sect. She refused to implicate anyone. To get her to talk, they tortured her. but because she laid still and did not cry, they tortured her until she was nearly dead. When she was loosened, she fainted. After recovering, she was brought to a house and laid on a bed to mend. She was then informed that if she renounced her faith, she could have anything she wanted, and if she would not, she would be burned. She replied that she would rather die than break her faith, praying that God would open their eyes.
To give proof of their power over the rich and renowned, Anne’s enemies would not let her die in secret. On the day of her execution, she was brought to the stake in a chair—not being able to walk because of the cruel effects of the torture. Just before the fires were lighted, a priest gave a sermon, and Anne Askew openly answered his every statement. If he spoke truth, she approved, and if he spoke error, she firmly announced, “he speaketh without the Book.”
As the fires were being prepared, the lord chancellor sent a message to Anne Askew, offering her the king’s pardon if she would recant. She refused, saying, “I came not hither to deny my Lord and Master.” The letter was then offered to three others, who were also at the stake, but they all refused in like manner, continuing to cheer and exhort each other. Thus were this noble lady and her companions encompassed with flames, as holy sacrifices to God and His truth.
The Oguier Family
On the evening of March 6, 1556, French officials began a search of Protestants meeting illegally in houses. They came to the house of Robert Oguier, which was a little home church where both rich and poor were taught the Scriptures. After entering, they seized several books and arrested the husband, his wife, and their two sons, leaving their two daughters in the house.
A few days later, the prisoners were brought before the magistrates to be interrogated: “It is told us that you never come to mass, yea, and also dissuade others. We are further informed that you maintain worship services in your house, causing erroneous doctrines to be preached there, contrary to the ordinances of our holy mother the church.”
Robert Oguier confessed to the first charge and justified his conduct by proving from the Scriptures that the saying of mass was contrary to the ordinances of Jesus Christ; and he defended the religious meetings in his house by showing that they were commanded by our blessed Saviour Himself.
One of the magistrates asked what was done when the people met at the home church. Baudicon, one of Robert’s sons who was particularly active in evangelism, answered, “when we meet together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we first of all prostrate upon our knees before God, and in the humility of our spirits do make a confession of our sins before His Divine Majesty. Then we pray that the word of God may be rightly divided, and purely preached; we also pray for our sovereign lord the emperor, and for his honourable counsellors, that the commonwealth may be peaceably governed to the glory of God; yea, we forget not you whom we acknowledge as our superiors, entreating our God for you and for this city, that you may maintain it in all tranquility.”
Each family member made an open confession of faith, and then was returned to prison. They were put to torture to make them confess who frequented their house; but they would disclose no one, except for those were known to the judges or were away at that time. A few days later, the Oguiers were brought before the magistrates again and asked whether they would submit to the will of the magistrates. Robert and his son Baudicon agreed. But the younger brother—Martin—and Robert’s wife answered that they would not, so they were sent back to the prison. Father and son were promptly sentenced to be burnt alive to ashes and were told, “today you shall go to dwell with all the devils in hell-fire.”
As they were about to separate Baudicon from his father, he pleaded with them, “leave my father alone, and trouble him not. He is an old man, and has an infirm body; hinder him not, I pray you, from receiving the crown of martyrdom.”
They were then taken into separate rooms to be prepared for the burning. One of those preparing Baudicon told him, “if you were my brother, I would sell all I am worth to buy fagots to burn you.”
Baudicon answered, “well, sir, the Lord show you more mercy.” In the meantime, some of the priests urged Robert to take a crucifix into his hands, so that the people would not be upset so much when they saw him. And so they fastened the crucifix between his hands.
But as soon as Baudicon was brought out with his father, he saw the crucifix, pulled it from his father’s hands, and threw it away saying, “Alas! Father, what do you now? Will you play idolater at our last hour? What reason do the people have to offend at us for not receiving a Christ of wood? We bear upon our hearts the cross of Christ, the son of the ever-living God.”
As they were being dragged to the stake, Baudicon began to sing the 16th Psalm. A friar cried out, “do you not hear what wicked errors these heretics sing, to beguile the people with?”
Baudicon heard him and replied, “callest thou the Psalms of David errors? But no wonder, for you usually blaspheme against the Spirit of God.” Then turning his eyes to his father, who was about to be chained to the stake, he said “be of good courage, father; the worst will soon be past.” And he prayed, “O God, Father everlasting, accept the sacrifice of our bodies, for Thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ’s sake.”
One of the friars cried out, “heretic, thou liest; he is not thy father; the devil is thy father.” Fires were then put to the straw and wood. Baudicon often repeated to his father, “faint not, father, nor be afraid; yet a very little while, and we shall enter the heavenly mansions.” “Jesus Christ, thou Son of God, into thy hand do we commend our spirits.” And then they died.
All stories adapted from Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
i. Jesse Sayer, preface to The Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe (London: Pickering & Inglis): 7.
ii. Ibid: 8.
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