Last week the Institute of Historical Research announced the programme for their 81st Anglo-American Conference of Historians.  This year the topic is on Ancients and Moderns.  What do they mean by this?  Well the primary question for the conference is how does the classical world resonate in our own times?  In line with that question is how successive ‘epochs’ since the Renaissance have pictured themselves in relation to ancient civilizations?

There are many ways to answer and look at those questions one of which is to turn to the revision of history produced in the sixteenth century.  This is exactly what I plan to do in my paper for the Anglo-American conference.  The paper entitled Ancient and Early Modern Martyrs: A Reformation reappraisal of Britain’s Roman heritage as told by John Foxe will look primarily at the history of the Roman period in the Acts and Monuments and what this tells us about Foxe’s view of his own times.

The entire first book of the Acts and Monuments was dedicated to early Christian and Roman history with Eusebius’ account of early martyrs utilized by Foxe as a parallel to Protestants martyred under Queen Mary.  Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339) wrote the first ever ecclesiastical history in the fourth century and Foxe located his work in the same tradition.  In this, Foxe was the first in England to follow Eusebius’ lead since the Venerable Bede but he was not the only one to do so in Christendom in the late sixteenth-century.  A German reformer named Matthias Flacius was also heavily involved in a collaborative project based in the city state of Magdeburg.  This project, basing itself upon Eusebius’ church history, resulted in fourteen volumes charting Christian history from the birth of Christ right through to the thirteenth century.  It was to prove a valuable inspiration and source for Foxe’s English-centric project. 

 

Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 263-339)

 

The return to Eusebius by protestant reformers both in terms of content and in form had specific resonances for a revised history of Christianity, especially one based upon the idea of the true faithful as a persecuted people as Foxe’s was.  Thus far there have only been a handful of studies on the Eusebius question and the Roman period in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments and only two published:

  • Minton, Gretchen E., ‘”The Same Cause and Like Quarell” : Eusebius, John Foxe, and the Evolution of Ecclesiastical History’, Church History, 71:4 (2002), 715-42 .
  • Freeman, Thomas S., Great Searching out of Bookes and Autors: John Foxe as an Ecclesiastical Historian, unpublished Ph.D (New Brunswick, The State University of New Jersey, 1995).
  • Pucci, Michael S., ‘Reforming Roman Emperors: John Foxe’s characterisation of Constantine in the Acts and Monuments’, in David Loades (ed.), John Foxe: An Historical Perspective (Aldershot, 1999), pp. 29-51.  

The John Foxe project offers some additional research in its commentaries although these are preliminary in nature and, I should confess, were partly written by myself, and therefore represent my own limited investigations into this area thus far.  Included amongst these commentaries is the fact that Foxe, like all humanist scholars of his age, followed Cicero’s leges historiae – i.e. that the first priority was truth.  Foxe uses Cicero’s ‘laws’ not only to justify his own text but to derogatorily claim medieval chroniclers as having failed to attain the aspiration of Cicero (see commentary for 1583, bk. 1, p. 24).  Another commentary remarks upon Foxe’s overriding prophetic framework based loosely upon that of John Bale’s Image of Bothe Churches(1545).  Foxe structured his account of early martyrs via Eusebius but also through the lens of ‘two kingdom’ theory (the idea that there were a distinction between the affairs of this world and the kingdom of Christ) and the second of the visible and invisible church (see commentary for 1583, bk. 1, p. 53).  For the account of the ten persecutions we know that Foxe relied heavily upon the German ecclesiastical history, the commonly named Magdeburg Centuries that I mentioned earlier, and a handful of other sources including, presumably, a copy of Eusebius’ ecclesiastical history.  However, as discussed in the commentary for 1583, bk. 1, p. 57 investigations into this portion of Foxe’s book remains at a preliminary stage.  It is therefore these ten persecutions that I will be most interested in looking at for my paper. 

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