How did Foxe receive the classical traditions and texts? How did he incorporate them into a revised conception of the past? Was he unique in his vision of ancient civilization or did he agree with other scholars of his generation? These are questions that need answering, and will have to become a focus for my study over the coming months. Last weekend I made a start to these proceedings by reading through the first part of the first book of the Acts and Monuments. In this section Foxe compared (in list format) the Roman Catholic Church of the sixteenth century with that described by Eusebius and others for early Christianity. Foxe’s central purpose was to demonstrate that although the ancient church fathers had declared the Roman Church a true church, it was not right to claim that this was still true in the sixteenth century. As Foxe himself notes:
“What say they [that is the Roman Catholics], where was this Church of yours, before these fifty years? To whom briefly to answer, first we demand what they mean by this, which they call our Church? If they mean the ordinance and institution of doctrine and Sacraments, now received of us, and differing from the Church of Rome, we affirm and say, that our church was, when this church of theirs was not yet hatched out of the shell, nor did yet ever see any light: that is, in the time of the Apostles, in the primitive age, in the time of Gregory I and the old Roman Church”
– A&M, 1583, bk. 1, pp. 25-26
As beginnings go this is a strong start for Foxe as it attacks head-on a central and popular Catholic argument: where was your church before Luther? Foxe’s answer is a simple one: where was your church?