Anne Askew (1521–1546) Holds Her Own Against the Men Who Torture Her

[ABOVE—Anne Askew and others at the stake, from Thomas Armitage’s A History of the Baptists (New York: Bryan, Taylor and Co., 1893), colorized.]

Her saga began with a forced marriage, her father having compelled her to take the place of an older sister as bride to Thomas Kyme (the older sister had died). Anne and Kyme never hit it off. In part their difficulties were because he was Catholic, she Protestant.

She left home and was public enough about her religious views— which disagreed with those of king and church— that she was arrested and returned to her husband, who was charged to keep her in check.

Six half-hour programs vividly bring to life the Reformation Overview, and covers seven colorful reform leaders.

reformation overview dvd

One suspects that Anne’s tart tongue made her tough to live with. Although Kyme called her the most devout woman he had ever known, he threw her out of the house. Soon afterward, she was again arrested and this time examined under torture about her associates, whom she did not betray. Published accounts of her hearings appeared in the writings of John Bale and in Foxe’s Actes and Monuments (Book of Martyrs).

Eventually her views took her to the stake. Given one last chance to recant and escape the fire, she replied, “I came not here to deny my Lord and Savior.”

The following excerpt has been revised a little to make it more readable to modern audiences.

The effect of my examination and handling, since my departure from Newgate.

On Tuesday I was sent from Newgate to the Sign of the Crown, where Master Rich and the Bishop of London with all their power and flattering words, went about to persuade me from God. But I did not esteem their glossing pretences.

Then Nicolas Shaxton came to me, and counseled me to recant as he had done. Then I said to him, that it had been good for him, never to have been born with many other like words.

Then master Rich sent me to the tower, where I remained til 3 o’clock. Then came Rich and one of the council, charging me upon my obedience, to show unto them, if I knew man or woman of my sect. My answer was, that I knew none. Then they asked me of my Lady of Suffolk, my Lady Sussex, my Lady of Hertford, my Lady Denny and my Lady Fizwilliams. I said, if I should pronounce any thing against them, that I was not able to prove it.

Then said they unto me, that the king was informed, that I could name, if I would, a great number of my sect. Then I answered, that the king was as well deceived in that behalf, as dissembled within other matters. Then they commanded me to show how I was maintained in the counter, and who willed me to stick by my opinion. I said that there was no creature that did strengthen me therein. And as for the help that I had in the counter, it was by the means of my maid. For as she went abroad in the streets, she made moan to the apprentices, and they by her did send me money. But who they were I never knew.

Then they said, that there were various gentlewomen who gave me money. But I knew not their names. Then they said that there were various ladies, who had sent me money.

I answered, that there was a man in a blue coat, who delivered me ten shillings, and [who] said that my Lady of Hertford sent it me. And another in a violet coat did geve me eight shillings, and said that my Lady Denny sent it me. Whether it were true or no, I cannot tell. For I am not sure who sent it me, but as the maid did say.

Then they said, there were [members] of the council that did maintain me. And I said, no.

Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and they kept me on it a long time. And because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and Master Rich, took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was almost dead. Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack. Incontinently I swooned, and then they revived me again.

After that I sat two long hours upon the bare floor, reasoning with my Lord Chancellor, whereas he with many flattering words, urged me to leave my opinion. But my Lord God (I thank his everlasting goodness) gave me grace to persevere and will do (I hope) to the very end. Then was I brought to a house, and laid in a bed with as weary and painful bones, as ever had patient Job. I thank my Lord God for it. Then my Lord Chancellor sent me word if I would leave my opinion, I should want nothing. If I would not, I should [be sent] forth to Newgate, and so be burned.

I sent him again word, that I would rather die, than to break my faith. [Through this may] the Lord open the eyes of their blind hearts, that the truth may take place.

Farewell dear friend, and pray pray, pray.

John Knox (1510–1572) Pulls an Oar as a Galley Slave

[ABOVE—A 19th century engraving of a Venetian galley fighting a Genoese fleet at the battle of Curzola in 1298 by Quinto Cenni (1845–1917). The Granger Collection. Source, Henry Yule, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian: Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East. public domain, Wikimedia File:Venetian galley at Curzola-engraving.jpg Knox rowed as a prisoner in a similar vessel. ]

John Knox was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was in St. Andrews castle when it fell to the French. He had gone inside the walls to continue the work he was paid for—tutoring. His employers were among those involved in the assassination of Cardinal Beaton, the brutal archbishop of Scotland who had burned Knox’s mentor, George Wishart, alive.

John Knox founded the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. His successors became martyrs for their faith. These two DVDs document their story. Celtic Cry: The Heart of a Martyr and The Scottish Covenanters. The Scots fought long and hard for the prerogatives of Christ as head of their Church.

covenanter dvds

While in the castle, the nobles involved in the assassination put great pressure on Knox to become their chaplain. He wrestled with the idea but concluded it was a call from God. Consequently, although he had no part in the murder of Beaton, he was made a galley slave.

Thomas M’Crie’s 1811 account of John Knox in the Galleys.

In the end of June, 1547, a French fleet, with a considerable body of land forces, under the command of Leo Strozzi, appeared before St. Andrews to assist the governor in the reduction of the castle. It was invested both by sea and land; and, being disappointed of the expected aid from England, the besieged, after a brave and vigorous resistance, were under the necessity of capitulating to the French commander on the last day of July. The terms which they obtained were honorable; the lives of all in the castle were to be spared; they were to be transported to France, and if they did not choose to enter into the service of the French king, were to be conveyed to any country which they might prefer, except Scotland.

John Rough had left them previous to the commencement of the siege, and retired to England. Knox, although he did not expect that the garrison would be able to hold out, could not prevail upon himself to desert his charge [the chaplaincy], and resolved to share with his brethren in the hazard of the siege. He was conveyed along with them on board the fleet, which, in a few days, set sail for France, arrived at Fecamp, and, going up the Seine, anchored before Rouen. The capitulation was violated, and they were all detained prisoners of war at the solicitation of the pope and Scottish clergy. The principal gentlemen were incarcerated in Rouen, Cherburg, Brest, and Mont St. Michel. Knox, with a few others, was confined on board the galleys; and in addition to the rigours of ordinary captivity, was loaded with chains, and exposed to all the indignities with which Papists were accustomed to treat those whom they regarded as heretics.

From Rouen they sailed to Nantes, and lay upon the Loire during the following winter. Solicitations, threatenings, and violence were all employed to induce the prisoners to change their religion, or at least to countenance the popish worship. But so great was their abhorrence of that system, that not a single individual of the whole company, on land or water, could be induced to symbolize in the smallest degree with idolaters. While the prison ships lay on the Loire, mass was frequently said, and salve regina sung on board, or on the shore within their hearing. On these occasions, they were brought out and threatened with the torture, if they did not give the usual signs of reverence; but instead of complying, they covered their heads as soon as the service began.

Knox has preserved in his history a humorous incident which took place on one of these occasions; and although he has not said so, it is highly probable that he himself was the person concerned in the affair. One day a fine painted image of the Virgin was brought into one of the galleys, and a Scotch prisoner was desired to give it the kiss of adoration. He refused, saying, that such idols were accursed, and he would not touch it. “But you shall,” replied one of the officers roughly, at the same time forcing it towards his mouth. Upon this the prisoner seized the image, and throwing it into the river, said, “Let our Lady now save herself; she is light enough, let her learn to swim.” The officers with difficulty saved their goddess from the waves: and the prisoners were relieved for the future from such troublesome importunities!

In summer 1548, as nearly as I can collect, the galleys in which they were confined returned to Scotland, and continued for a considerable time on the east coast, watching for English vessels. Knox’s health was now greatly impaired by the severity of his confinement, and he was seized with a fever, during which his life was despaired of by all in the ship. But even in this state his fortitude of mind remained unsubdued, and he comforted his fellow-prisoners with hopes of release.

To their anxious desponding inquiries (natural to men in their situation), “if he thought they would ever obtain their liberty,” his uniform answer was, “God will deliver us to his glory, even in this life.” While they lay on the coast between Dundee and St. Andrews, Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Balfour, who was confined in the same ship with him, pointed to the spires of St. Andrews, and asked him if he knew the place.

“Yes,” replied the sickly and emaciated captive, “I know it well; for I see the steeple of that place where God first opened my mouth in public to his glory; and I am fully persuaded, how weak soever I now appear, that I shall not depart this life, till that my tongue shall glorify his godly name in the same place.” This striking reply Sir James repeated in the presence of a number of witnesses many years before Knox returned to Scotland, and when there was very little prospect of his words being verified. We must not, however, think that he possessed this tranquillity and elevation of mind during the whole period of his imprisonment. When first thrown into fetters, insulted by his enemies, and deprived of all prospect of release, he was not a stranger to the anguish of despondency, so pathetically described by the royal psalmist of Israel. He felt that conflict in his spirit, with which all good men are acquainted, and which becomes peculiarly sharp when aggravated by corporal affliction; but having had recourse to prayer, the never-failing refuge of the oppressed, he was relieved from all his fears, and reposing upon the promise and the providence of the God whom he served, he attained to “the confidence and rejoicing of hope.” Those who wish for a more particular account of the state of his mind at this time, will find it in the notes, extracted from a rare work which he composed on prayer, and the chief materials of which were suggested by his own experience.

When free from fever, he relieved the tedious hours of captivity, by committing to writing a confession of his faith, containing the substance of what he had taught at St. Andrews, with a particular account of the disputation which he had maintained in St. Leonard’s Yards. This he found means to convey to his religious acquaintances in Scotland, accompanied with an earnest exhortation to persevere in the faith which they had professed, whatever persecutions they might suffer for its sake. To this confession I find him referring in the defence which he afterwards made before the Bishop of Durham. “Let no man think, that because I am in the realm of England, therefore so boldly I speak. No : God hath taken that suspicion from me. For the body lying in most painful bands, in the midst of cruel tyrants, his mercy and goodness provided that the hand should write and bear witness to the confession of the heart, more abundantly than ever yet the tongue spake.”

Notwithstanding the rigor of their confinement, the prisoners who were separated found opportunities of occasionally corresponding with one another. Henry Balnaves of Halhill had composed, in his prison, a treatise on Justification, and the Works and Conversation of a Justified Man. This having been conveyed to Knox, probably after his return from the coast of Scotland, he was so much pleased with the work, that he divided it into chapters, and added some marginal notes, and a concise epitome of its contents; to the whole he prefixed a recommendatory dedication, intending that it should be published for the use of his brethren in Scotland, as soon as an opportunity offered. The reader will not, I am persuaded, be displeased to have some extracts from this dedication, which represent, more forcibly than any description of mine can do, the pious and heroic spirit which animated the Reformer, when “his feet lay in irons;” and I shall quote more freely, as the book is rare.

It is thus inscribed: “John Knox, the bound servant of Jesus Christ, unto his best beloved brethren of the congregation of the castle of St. Andrews, and to all professors of Christ’s true evangel, desireth grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, with perpetual consolation of the Holy Spirit.” After mentioning a number of instances in which the name of God had been magnified, and the interests of religion advanced, by the exile of those who were driven from their native countries by tyranny, as in the examples of Joseph, Moses, Daniel, and the primitive Christians, he goes on thus: “Which thing shall openly declare this godly work subsequent. The counsel of Satan in the persecution of us, first, was to stop the wholesome wind of Christ’s evangel to blow upon the parts where we converse and dwell; and, secondly, so to oppress ourselves by corporal affliction and worldly calamities, that no place should we find to godly study. But by the great mercy and infinite goodness of God our Father, shall these his counsels be frustrate and vain. For, in despite of him and all his wicked members, shall yet that same word (O Lord, this I speak, confiding in thy holy promise) openly be proclaimed in that same country. And how that our merciful Father, amongst these tempestuous storms, byt all men’s expectation, hath provided some rest for us, this present work shall testify, which was sent to me in Roane, lying in irons, and sore troubled by corporal infirmity, in a galley named Nostre Dame, by an honorable brother, Mr. Henry Balnaves of Halhill, for the present held as prisoner (though unjustly) in the old palace of Roane, which work after I had once and again read, to the great comfort and consolation of my spirit, by counsel and advice of the foresaid noble and faithful man, author of the said work, I thought expedient it should be digested in chapters, &c. Which thing I have done as imbecility of ingine and incommodity of place would permit; not so much to illustrate the work (which in the self is godly and perfect) as, together with the foresaid noble man and faithful brother, to give my confession of the article of justification therein contained.

And I beseech you, beloved brethren, earnestly to consider, if we deny any thing presently (or yet conceal and hide) which any time before we professed in that article. And now we have not the castle of St. Andrews to be our defence, as some of our enemies falsely accused us, saying, If we wanted our walls, we would not speak so boldly. But blessed be that Lord whose infinite goodness and wisdom hath taken from us the occasion of that slander, and hath shown unto us, that the serpent hath power only to sting the heel, that is, to molest and trouble the flesh, but not to move the spirit from constant adftering to Christ Jesus, nor public professing of his true word. O blessed be Thou, Eternal Father! which, by thy only mercy, hast preserved ut to this day, and provided that the confession of our faith (which ever we desired all men to have known) should, by this treatise, come plainly to light. Continue, 0 Lord! and grant unto us, that, as now with pen and ink, so shortly we may confess with voice and tongue the same before thy congregation; upon whom, look, O Lord God! with the eyes of thy mercy, and suffer no more darkness to prevail. I pray you, pardon me, beloved brethren, that on this manner I digress: vehemency of spirit (the Lord knoweth I lie not) compelleth me thereto.”

The prisoners in Mont St. Michel consulted Knox as to the lawfulness of attempting to escape by breaking their prison, which was opposed by some of them, lest their escape should subject their brethren who remained in confinement to more severe treatment. He returned for answer, that such fears were not a sufficient reason for relinquishing the design, and that they might, with a safe conscience, effect their escape, provided it could be done “without the blood of any shed or spilt; but to shed any man’s blood for their freedom, he would never consent.” The attempt was accordingly made by them, and successfully executed, “without harm done to the person of any, and without touching any thing that appertained to the king, the captain, or the house.”

At length, after enduring a tedious and severe imprisonment of nineteen months, Knox obtained his liberty. This happened in the month of February 1549, according to the modern computation. By what means his liberation was procured I cannot certainly determine. One account says, that the galley in which he was confined was taken in the Channel by the English. According to another account, he was liberated by order of the King of France, because it appeared, on examination, that he was not concerned in the murder of Cardinal Beaton, nor accessory to other crimes committed by those who held the castle of St. Andrews. In the opinion of others, his liberty was purchased by his acquaintances, who fondly cherished the hope that he was destined to accomplish some great achievements, and were anxious, by their interposition in his behalf, to be instrumental in promoting the designs of Providence. It is more probable, however, that he owed his deliverance to the comparative indifference with which he and his brethren were now regarded by the French court, who, having procured the consent of the Parliament of Scotland to the marriage of Queen Mary to the dauphin, and obtained possession of her person, felt no longer any inclination to revenge the quarrels of the Scottish clergy.

Philip of Moscow (1507–1569) Assassinated in Prison for Rebuking Ivan the Terrible

[ABOVE—Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow and Malyuta Skuratov by Nikolaj Wassiljewitsch Newrew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons File:Nikolaj Wassiljewitsch Newrew – Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow and Malyuta Skuratov.jpg]

Philip of Moscow did not appear to be prison material.

Early in the reign of Ivan the Fourth of Russia, a nobleman named Fedor Kolicheff landed from a boat at the Convent of Solovetsk. He came to pray; but after resting in the island for a little while, he took vows and became a monk. A man of great abilities, he became prior of the monastery. He engaged his monks in all sorts of worthwhile projects, such as erecting buildings, cutting channels between lakes, and extracting salt from local sources. Much of what is best in the convent dates from his reign as prior.

History Of Orthodox Christianity is a detailed television presentation of the Orthodox Church, its traditions, and sacramental life. The programs aim to make Orthodoxy better understood among those who are unfamiliar with this ancient Christian Church.

orthodox dvd

He had been a friend of young Ivan, soon to be known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan sometimes called him to the Kremlin to give him advice. On these occasions, Philip was aghast at the change in the Tsar; who, from being a paladin of the cross, had settled down in his middle age into a mixture of the gloomy monk and the savage Khan, engaging in orgies and sodomy, and delighting in torture. The change came on him with the death of his wife and the conquest of Kazan; after which events in his life he married two women, dressed himself in Tartar clothes, and adopted Asiatic ways. Like a chief of the Golden Horde, he went about the streets of Moscow, ordering this man to be beaten, that man to be killed. The square in front of the Holy Gate was red with blood; and every house in the city was dewed with tears.

Then Ivan summoned Philip from his cell near the frozen sea to occupy a loftier and more perilous throne: Metropolitan of Moscow. He had driven out two aged prelates who rebuked his crimes, and thought Philip would shed a luster on his reign without disturbing him by personal reproof. Philip tried to escape this unwelcome assignment; but the Tsar insisted on his obedience; and with heavy heart he sailed from his asylum in the islands, conscious of going to meet his martyr’s crown.

Ivan had misjudged Philip, who was not one to speak smooth words to princes. For instance, in traveling from Solovetsk to Moscow, he passed through Novgorod; a city disliked by Ivan on account of its wealth, freedom, and laws. A crowd of burghers poured from the gates, falling on their knees before him, and imploring him, as a pastor of the poor, to plead their cause before the Tsar, who threatened to ravage their district and destroy their town. On reaching Moscow, Philip spoke to Ivan as to a son; beseeching him to dismiss his guards, to put off his disgusting habits, to live a holy life, and to rule his people in the spirit of their ancient dukes.

Ivan was furious; he wanted a priest to bless him, and not to warn. The tyrant grew more violent in his moods; but the new Metropolite held out in patient and unyielding meekness for the ancient ways. This led to many confrontations between them, and with such a tyrant, the end was predictable.

The Assassination of Philip, adapted from Free Russia by William Hepworth Dixon

As every man in trouble went to the Metropolite for counsel, the boyars accused him of inciting the people against their prince. When Ivan married his fourth wife, a thing unlawful, the Metropolite refused to admit the marriage, and bade the Tsar absent himself from mass. Rushing from his palace into the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Ivan took his seat and scowled. Instead of pausing to bless him, Philip went on with the service, until one of the favorites strode up to the altar, looked him boldly in the face, and said, in a saucy voice, “The Tsar demands your blessing, priest!”

Paying no heed to the courtier, Philip turned round to Ivan on his throne. “Pious Tsar!” he sighed; “why are you here? In this place we offer a bloodless sacrifice to God.” Ivan threatened him, by gesture and by word.

“I am a stranger and a pilgrim on earth,” said Philip; “I am ready to suffer for the truth.”

He was made to suffer—and soon. Dragged from his altar, stripped of his robe, arrayed in rags, he was beaten with brooms, tossed into a sledge, driven through the streets, mocked and hooted by armed men, and thrown into a dungeon in one of the obscurest convents of the town. Poor people knelt as the sledge drove past them, every eye being wet with tears, and every throat being choked with sobs. Philip blessed them as he went, saying, “Do not grieve; it is the will of God; pray, pray!” The more patiently he bore his cross, the more these people sobbed and cried.

Locked in his jail and laden with chains, not only round his ankles but round his neck, he was left for seven days and nights without food and drink, in the hope that he would die. A courtier who came to see him was surprised to find him engaged in prayer. His friends and kinsmen were arrested, judged, and put to death for no offence except that of sharing his name and blood.

“Sorcerer! Do you know this head?” was one laconic message sent to Philip from the Tsar.

“Yes!” murmured the prisoner, sadly; “it is that of my nephew Ivan.” Day and night a crowd of people gathered round his convent-door, until the Tsar, who feared a rising in his favor, caused him to be secretly moved to a stronger prison in the town of Tver.

One year after the removal of Philip from Moscow, Ivan, setting out for Novgorod, called to mind the speech once made by Philip in favor of that city and sent a ruffian to kill him. “Give me your blessing!” said the murderer, coming into his cell.

Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554) Finds her final hope in Christ

[ABOVE—The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons File:Paul Delaroche – The Execution of Lady Jane Grey.jpg]

Lady Jane Grey was young and beautiful when beheaded.

Lady Jane Grey went to prison and death less for her Reformation beliefs than for the treasonous activities of her family, who had tried to usurp the throne on the strength of her blood ties to England’s royal family. Before Mary Tudor came to the crown, they actually placed her on the throne against her own objections. When Mary came to power a few days later, she did not seek Jane’s life, but when her father sided with Wyatt’s rebellion, Jane’s doom was sealed.

Six half-hour programs vividly bring to life the Reformation Overview, and covers seven colorful reform leaders.

reformation overview dvd

In prison, the sixteen-year-old girl wrote various letters and notes, including this to her father, the Duke of Suffolk:

Jane’s Letter to her father

The Lord comfort your grace, and that in his word, wherein all his creatures only are to be comforted. And though it hath pleased God to take away two of your children [her husband and herself], yet think not, I most humbly beseech your grace, that you have lost them; but trust that we, by leaving this mortal life, have won an immortal life. And I for my part, as I have honoured your grace in this life, will pray for you in another life. Your grace’s most humble daughter, Jane Duddeley.

At the block, shortly before she was beheaded, she reminded the onlookers that she had not sought to be queen, and then gave a final testimony of her belief in Christ alone for atonement, saying,

I pray you all, good christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true christian woman, and that I do look to be saved by no other means, but only by the mercy of God in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ; and I do confess, that when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, and loved myself and the world; and therefore this plague and punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God of his goodness, that he has thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) Translates the Bible While in Protective Custody

[ABOVE—Luther translating the Bible at Wartburg, by P.H. Labouche in D’Aubigne’s Historic Scenes in the Life of Martin Luther (London: Day and Son, Limited, 1806).]

Have you ever wished you could just get away from it all, hide out for a while? Luther did during the greater part of a year. This was not by his own choice. He was waylaid by men he did not know and hustled within the confines of a castle. All Germany wondered where he was. Fortunately, he was in friendly hands.

Here I Stand: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther. Luther is indisputably a “hinge of history.” In this two-hour special, we come to understand what motivated him, the turning points in his life, the issues he confronted, his opponents, and the profound changes he wrought.

luther dvd

From May 1521-March 1522, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, held Martin Luther in protective custody at Wartburg Castle to keep him out of the grasp of his enemies. There Luther grew a beard and passed under the name Junker Jörg. During these eleven months, he was far from idle. Like Pamphilius so many centuries before, he worked on a Bible translation, turning the New Testament from the Greek (and Latin) into German. This translation and its introduction became a powerful tool in furthering the Reformation among German-speaking peoples.

Luther also wrote various letters and several doctrinal pamphlets during this time, including one on confession, a warning against rebellion, and a repudiation of private masses.

Here is an excerpt from his Preface to the New Testament, 1522 version. This translation is from George Duckett’s The Prefaces to the Early Editions of Martin Luther’s Bible. Oxford University, 1863.

Preface to the New Testament

Gospel or Evangelism is a Greek word signifying “a good message—a good tale—a good cry [ie: shout]—good tidings under which we sing and rejoice, and which re-echoes to our bosom. When David overcame the great Goliath, a good cry and tidings of comfort spread among the Jewish people: their formidable enemy was slain, they themselves were preserved, they were placed in a state of joy and peace; they sang and leaped for joy. The gospel of God, or the New Testament, is therefore, a tale of good tidings going forth throughout the whole world through the medium of the Apostles, and proceeding from a true David who has fought and overcome sin, death and the devil, in order that they who have been under the captivity of sin, under the plague of death, and under the inflluence of the devil, might be redeemed without any claim or merit of their own—might be justified, regenerated, and saved—might be accepted in peace, and might be reconciled to God. For this they sing, and give eternal thanks and praise God, providing their faith only is firm, steady, and persevering.

This goodly cry, or evangelical consolation, is called a New Testament from the analogy of a dying man regulating his affairs by will, and apportioning his property, when he shall have died, to his recorded heirs. Thus Christ, before he died, appointed and ordained that after his death his Gospel shoul be preached throughout the world, that all who believe might be heirs to the solid blessings which it imparts, namely: life, with which he has swallowed up death; righteousness, by which he has effaced sin; and salvation, by which he has overcome eternal condemnation. Poor human nature! Entangled in sin, and with the apprehensions of feath, what can be more consolatory than this gracious and loving message from his Savior; and he must rejoice with exceeding joy, and from the very bottom of his heart, if he believes that it is true…

Thomas More (1478–1535) Meditates on Choice While Awaiting Execution

[ABOVE—Sir Thomas More and Daughter, by Yeames [Public domain] File:Nb pinacoteca yeames the meeting of sir thomas more with his daughter after his sentence of death.jpg]

Sir Thomas More coined the term “Utopia,” the title of a book he wrote about an imaginary island nation governed by reason. Thomas More’s homeland was not so ideal. He was an Englishman, a Roman Catholic humanist and statesman during the reign of tyrannical Henry VIII, who went to prison and lost his life when he balked Henry.

A Man for All Seasons. King Henry VIII who wants to divorce his wife in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Only Sir Thomas More has the courage and conviction to oppose the King’s will, but his valiant refusal to abandon his principles leads to his imprisonment and death.

philosophy dvd

Thomas More is sympathetically portrayal in the drama A Man for All Seasons, but as Lord Chancellor for Henry VIII his actions were far from ideal. He persecuted Protestants viciously and his secret agents hounded Bible translator William Tyndale across Europe. More himself lobbed polemics at the exiled priest, whose crime was a desire to get God’s word to Englishmen in a form they could understand and afford.

When the king placed the Church of England under his own headship, rather than that of the pope, More became involved in serious difficulties, for his conscience would not allow him to sign the Act of Succession, whose preface asserted Parliament’s authority to legislate in matters of religion and denied the authority of the Pope. Consequently Henry imprisoned him as a traitor.

While in prison, More wrote Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation. Although it lacks the power of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, which was penned in similar circumstances, chapter XIX is of interest because it considers the subject of imprisonment at length. The interested reader may wish to look at it; here we offer a short excerpt from chapter VI, spoken by the wise Uncle Anthony (More’s alter ego) as a sufficient introduction to More’s philosophic attitude toward imprisonment and the other ups and downs of life.

More’s Meditation on Choices

For the salvation of our soul may we boldly pray. For grace may we boldly pray, for faith, for hope, and for charity, and for every such virtue as shall serve us toward heaven. But as for all the other things…we may never well make prayers so precisely but that we must express or imply a condition therein—that is, that if God see the contrary better for us, we refer it wholly to his will. And if that be so, we pray that God, instead of taking away our grief, may send us of his goodness either spiritual comfort to take it gladly or at least strength to bear it patiently.

For if we determine with ourselves that we will take no comfort in anything but [God’s] taking of our tribulation from us, then either we prescribe to God that he shall do us no better turn, even though he would, than we will ourselves appoint him; or else we declare that we ourselves can tell better than he what is better for us. And therefore, I say, let us in tribulation desire his help and comfort, and let us remit the manner of that comfort unto his own high pleasure. When we do this, let us nothing doubt but that, as his high wisdom better seeth what is best for us than we can see it ourselves, so shall his sovereign high goodness give us that thing that shall indeed be best.

For otherwise, if we presume to stand to our own choice—unless God offer us the choice himself, as he did to David in the choice of his own punishment, after his high pride conceived in the numbering of the people—we may foolishly choose the worst. And by prescribing unto God ourselves so precisely what we will that he shall do for us, unless of his gracious favor he reject our folly, he shall for indignation grant us our own request, and afterward shall we well find that it shall turn us to harm.

How many men attain health of body for whom it would be better, for their soul’s health, that their bodies were sick still? How many get out of prison who happen outside on such harm as the prison would have kept them from? How many who have been loth [reluctant] to lose their worldly goods have, in keeping of their goods, soon afterward lost their life? So blind is our mortality and so unaware what will befall—so unsure also what manner of mind we ourselves will have tomorrow—that God could not lightly do a man more vengeance than to grant him in this world his own foolish wishes.

John Fisher (1469–1535) Points Others to Heaven from His Prison Cell

[ABOVE—St Thomas More and St John Fisher, by English School (Historical Portraits.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons File:Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.jpg]

In the 1530s in England, it was dangerous to be a public figure or outspoken religious leader. Henry VIII, King of England, imprisoned John Fisher for refusing to endorse him as head of the English church. Fisher believed only the Pope could fill that capacity. In due course, Henry had John executed. Because the nation compared Fisher and John the Baptist, the king had him beheaded sometime before the annual feast of John the Baptist, but the method of execution only made the comparison more apt.

History of Christianity is a six part survey designed to stimulate your curiosity by providing glimpses of pivotal events and persons in the spread of the church.

history of christianity dvd

Fisher was an eminent scholar and a cardinal, well-known and loved across Europe, so his death could not go unnoticed. As he came to his execution, he prayed, “Now, O Lord, direct me to some passage which may support me through this awful scene.” Opening his Bible he read, “This is eternal life to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” He immediately closed the book and said, “Praised be the Lord! This is sufficient both for now and for eternity.”

While a prisoner in the tower of London, Fisher wrote his short book, The Ways to Perfect Religion. It stresses the importance of love for Christ if religious activity is not to be laborious and goes on at some length in its comparison of the zeal of hunters with the zeal Christians should have. Here are two excerpts from this, his last book, adapted into modern English.

The Ways to Perfect Religion

Sister Elizabeth, I would gladly write you something that might be to the health of your soul and the furtherance of it in holy religion. But well I know that without some fervor in the love of Christ, religion cannot be to you savory, nor any work of goodness delectable, but every virtuous deed shall seem laborious and painful. For love makes every work appear easy and pleasant, though it is thoroughly unpleasant in itself. And on the contrary, the easiest labor appears grievous and painful, when the soul of the person that does the deed has no desire nor love in doing it. This principle may be illustrated by the life of hunters, which, beyond doubt is more laborious and painful than the life of religious persons, and yet nothing sustains them in their labor and pains but the earnest love and hearty desire to find their game.…

Here, perhaps, you will say unto me, how may I love that [which] I cannot see? If I might see him [Christ] with all the conditions you speak of, I could with all my heart love him. Ah, good Sister, that time is not yet come; you must, as I said, in the present age prepare yourself in cleanness of body and soul against that day, so that when it comes, you may be able and worthy to see him, or else you shall be excluded from him with the unwise virgins of whom the Gospel tells that they were shut out from his presence with great shame and confusion, because they had not sufficiently prepared themselves. Therefore, good Sister, for the present don’t be negligent to prepare yourself with all good works, that you may then be admitted into his presence, from which to be excluded, would be more wretched pain than any pain of hell. For as Chrysostom says, Si decem mille gehennas quis dixerit nihil tale eft quale ab illa beata visione excidere, that is to say, if one would rehearse unto me ten thousand hells, yet all that should not be so great pains as if to be excluded from the blessed sight of the face of Christ.

William Tyndale’s (1494–1536) Poignant Prison Letter

[ABOVE—Tyndale arrested, from William Dallman’s William Tyndale the translator of the English Bible (Concordia, 1905).]

William Tyndale translated the Bible into English, an activity which had been illegal in England since the days of John Wycliffe. For this he was hounded across Europe, and finally captured through treachery. He languished in prison for several months before being strangled and burned.

The following account of his imprisonment, from Demaus’ 1886 biography, includes a poignant letter from Tyndale himself. It demonstrates an aspect of imprisonment that we often forget: the prisoner’s inability to provide for his or her own needs.

Demaus’ Account of Tyndale’s Imprisonment

Of Tyndale’s life during this long imprisonment, Foxe, our sole authority hitherto, has simply recorded that “such was the power of his doctrine and the sincerity of his life, that during the time of his imprisonment, which endured a year and a half [very nearly], it is said, he converted his keeper, the keeper’s daughter, and others of his household. Also the rest that were with Tyndale conversant in the castle, reported of him that if he were not a good Christian man, they could not tell whom to trust.” To many writers the amount of liberty thus implied seems so incredible, that they have rejected the story as intrinsically improbable: curiously enough, however, we have the means of establishing the probability of Foxe’s statement by evidence which no one will presume to dispute.

William Tyndale, God’s Outlaw, was pursued by the agents of King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, and Cardinal Wolsey. All the while he worked to provide the Bible in English for his fellow countrymen.

tyndale dvd

Ensinas, who was imprisoned for heresy a few years later, makes the very singular complaint that he was somewhat interrupted in his labor of compiling prayers from the Book of Psalms, by the number of visitors who were permitted to see and talk with him. From the town of Brussels alone he had upwards of 80 visitors, who discussed with him matters of religion, and who, as he quaintly remarks, were at more liberty to consider those matters in that place, because it was a prison, and therefore free from interruption. And the testimony of Ensinas as to the liberty enjoyed in prison is confirmed by the evidence of official papers preserved among the Archives of Belgium. All prisons were probably not so laxly superintended as the Vrunte, in Brussels, where Ensinas was confined; but there is, it is thus evident, nothing impossible in Foxe’s story, and we are at liberty to believe that the tedium of Tyndale’s imprisonment was relieved by kindly Christian intercourse with those around him, on the matters most deeply interesting to his heart.

To this meagre statement of the Martyrologist, however, we are now able to add, for the first time in this country, information of the highest interest from the pen of Tyndale himself. The admirers of the great translator have long regretted that not a single letter or document of any kind has been ascertained to be in existence, that was unquestionably written with Tyndale’s own hand. The industry of a foreign investigator has at length been successful in discovering an original letter which was written by Tyndale himself, and which at once invests the whole narrative of his imprisonment with that “touch of nature” that appeals irresistibly to human sympathies….The letter, it may be premised, has neither date nor superscription, but there is not the slightest doubt that it was written at Vilvorde in the winter of 1535, and that it was addressed to the Governor of the castle, who was no other than that very Marquis of Bergen-op-Zoom with whom Cromwell had already interceded in Tyndale’s favor.

I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me [by the Council of Brabant]; therefore I entreat your lordship and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here [in Vilvorde] during the winter, you will request the Procureur to be kind enough to send me from my goods which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh, which is considerably increased in this cell. A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin: also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat is worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woollen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a lamp in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark. But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procureur that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But if, before the end of the winter, a different decision be reached concerning me, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen. — W. Tyndale. [The original is in Latin, the international language]

The picture presented in this letter, of the illustrious martyr, sitting cold and dark and solitary in the damp cells of Vilvorde during the long cheerless nights of winter, and earnestly soliciting the favor of light, and warm clothing, and above all, of books to solace him, must surely have reminded the reader of the great Apostle of the Gentiles sending for his “cloak and his books, but especially the parchments,” to defend him against the damp and the tedium of his gloomy Mamertine dungeon; and it appeals irresistibly to the sympathies of every man who is not utterly destitute of human feelings.