THE FIRST BOOK
THE ACTS AND MONUMENTS, CONTAINING THE THREE HUNDRED YEARS NEXT AFTER CHRIST, WITH THE TEN PERSECUTIONS OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH.
Illustration -- The Crucifixion of Christ
BY THE GRACE AND SPEED OF CHRIST OUR LORD, WE WOULD DISCOURSE, IN PARTICULAR SORT, THE ACTS AND DOINGS OF EVERY AGE BY ITSELF, IN THE FOLLOWING ORDER:O DECLARE, first, the suffering time of the church,which containeth about the space of three hundred years after Christ.
Secondly, The flourishing and growing time of the same, containing other three hundred years.
Thirdly, The declining time of the church, and of true religion, other three hundred years.
Fourthly, Of the time of antichrist, reigning and raging in the church since the loosing of Satan.
Lastly, of the reforming time of Christ's church, in these latter three hundred years.
In the tractation of all which things our chief purpose and endeavour shall be, (so near as the Lord will give us grace,) not so much to intermeddle withoutward affairs of princes, or matters civil, (except sometimes for example of life,) as specially minding (by the help of the Lord) to prosecute such things only which to the ecclesiastical state of the church are appertaining: as, first, to intreat of the stablishing of Christian faith; then of the persecutions of tyrants; the constancy and patience of God's saints; the first conversion of Christian realms to the faith of Christ, namely, of this realm of England and Scotland; first beginning with king Lucius and so forward, following the order of our English kings here in this land; to declare the maintenance of true doctrine; the false practice of prelates; the creeping in of superstition and hypocrisy; the manifold assaults, wars, and tumults of the princes of this world against the people of God. Wherein may appear the wonderful operation of Christ's mighty hand, ever working in his church, and never ceasing to defend the same against his enemies, according to the verity of his own word, promising to be with his church while the world shall stand; so as by the process of this story may well be proved, and will be testified in the sequel thereof.
[Footnote: This purpose of Fox, not to intermeddle with civil and political questions, many would do well to observe in the present day. The question between the Church of Rome and the Church of Christ relates emphatically to souls, to Christ, and to eternity.]
In the tractation of all which things two special points I chiefly commend to the reader, as most requisite and necessary for every Christian man to observe and to note for his own experience and profit: as, first, the disposition and nature of this world; secondly, the nature and condition of the kingdom of Christ: the vanity of the one, and establishment of the other: the unprosperous and unquiet state of the one, ruled by man's violence and wisdom; and the happy success of the other, ever ruled by God's blessing and providence: the wrath and revenging hand of God in the one, and his mercy upon the other. The world I call all such as be without or against Christ; either by ignorance, not knowing him; or by heathenish life, not following him; or by violence, resisting him. On the other side, the kingdom of Christ in this world I take to be all them which belong to the faith of Christ, and here take his part in this world against the world; the number of whom, although it be much smaller than the other, and always lightly is hated and molested of the world, yet it is the number which the Lord peculiarly doth bless and prosper, and ever will. And this number of Christ's subjects is it which we call the visible church here in earth. Which visible church, having in itself a difference of two sorts of people, so is it to be divided in two parts, of which the one standeth of such as be of outward profession only, the other which by election inwardly are joined to Christ: the first in words and lips seem to honour Christ, and are in the visible church only, but not in the church invisible, and partake the outward sacraments of Christ, but not the inward blessing of Christ; the other are both in the visible and also in the invisible church of Christ, which not in words only and outward profession, but also in heart do truly serve and honour Christ, partaking not only the sacraments, but also the heavenly blessings and grace of Christ.
And many times it happeneth, that as between the world and the kingdom of Christ there is a continual repugnance; so between these two parts of this visible church aforesaid ofttimes groweth great variance and mortal persecution, insomuch that sometimes the true church of Christ hath no greater enemies than of their own profession and company, as happened not only in the time of Christ and his apostles, but also from time to time almost continually; but especially in the later days of the church under the persecution of antichrist and his retinue, as by the reading of this volume more manifestly hereafter may appear.
At the first preaching of Christ and coming of the gospel, who should rather have known and received him than the Pharisees and scribes of that people, which had his law? And yet who persecuted and rejected him more than they themselves? What followed? They, in refusing Christ to be their King, and choosing rather to be subject unto Cæsar, were by the said their own Cæsar at length destroyed; whenas Christ's subjects the same time escaped the danger. Whereby it is to be learned what a dangerous thing it is to refuse the gospel of God, when it is so gently offered.
The like example of God's wrathful punishment is to be noted no less in the Romans also themselves. For when Tiberius Cæsar, having received by letters from Pontius Pilate of the doings of Christ, of his miracles, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, and how he was received as God of many, was himself also moved with belief of the same, and did confer thereof with the whole senate of Rome to have Christ adored as God; they, not agreeing thereunto, refused him, because that, contrary to the law of the Romans, he was consecrated (said they) for God before the senate of Rome had so decreed and approved him, &c. Thus the vain senate, following rather the law of man than of God, and which were contented with the emperor to reign over them, and were not contented with the meek King of glory, the Son of God, to be their King, were after much like sort to the Jews scourged and entrapped for their unjust refusing, by the same way which they themselves did prefer. For as they preferred the emperor and rejected Christ, so the just permission of God did stir up their own emperors against them in such sort, that both the senators themselves were almost all devoured, and the whole city most horribly afflicted for the spaco almost of three hundred years together. For, first, the same Tiberius, which for a great part of his reign was a moderate and a tolerable prince, afterward was to them a sharp and heavy tyrant, who neither favoured his own mother, nor spared his own nephews, nor the princes of the city, such as were his own counsellors, of whom, to the number of twenty, he left not past two or three alive. Suetonius reporteth him to be so stern of nature and tyrannical, that in time of his reign very many were accused and condemned with their wives and chilthen; maids also first defloured, then put to death, In one day he recordeth twenty persons to be drawn to the place of execution. By whom also, through the just punishment of God, Pilate, under whom Christ was crucified, was apprehended and accused at Rome, deposed, then banished to the town of Lyons, and at length did slay himself. Neither did Herod and Caiaphas long escape, of whom more followeth hereafter. Agrippa also by him was east into prison; albeit afterward he was restored. In the reign of Tiberius, the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, in the three and thirtieth year of his age, which was the seventeenth of this emperor, by the malice of the Jews suffered his blessed passion for the conquering of sin, death, and Satan, the prince of this world, and rose again the third day. After whose blessed passion and resurrection this foresaid Tiberius Nero lived six years, during which time no persecution was yet stirring in Rome against the Christians, through the commandment of the emperor.
In the reign also of this emperor, and the year which was the next after the passion of our Saviour, or somewhat more, anno 35, St. Paul was converted to the faith. After the death of Tiberius, when he had reigned three and twenty years, succeeded C. Cæsar Caligula, Claudius Nero, and Domitius Nero, anno 39; which three were likewise such scourges to the senate and people of Rome, that the first not only took other men's wives violently from them, but also defioured three of his own sisters, and afterward banished them. So wicked he was, that he commanded himself to be worshipped as God, and temples to be erected in his name, and used to sit in the temple among the gods, requiring his images to be set up in all temples, and also in the temple of Jerusalem, which caused great disturbance among the Jews, and then began the abomination of desolation to be set up in the holy place, spoken of in the gospel. His cruel conduct, or else displeasure, was such towards the Romans, that he wished that all the people of Rome had but one neck, that he at his pleasure might destroy such a multitude. By this said Caligula, Herod, the murderer of John Baptist and condemner of Christ, was condemned to perpetual banishment, where he died miserably. Caiaphas also, which wickedly sat upon Christ, was the same time removed from the high priest's room, and Jonathan set in his place. The raging fierceness of this Caligula incensed against the Romans had not thus ceased, had not he been cut off by the hands of a tribune and other gentlemen, which slew him in the fourth year of his reign. After whose death were found in his closet two little labels, one called a sword, the other the dagger; in the which labels were contained the names of those senators and noblemen of Rome whom he had purposed to put to death. Besides this sword and dagger, there was found also a coffer, wherein divers kinds of poison were kept in glasses and vessels for the purpose to destroy a wonderful number of people; which poisons afterward, being thrown into the sea, destroyed a great number of fish.
But that which this Caligula had only conceived, the same did the other two which came after bring to pass; Claudius Nero, who reigned thirteen years with no little cruelty; but especially the third of these Neros, called Domitius Nero, which, sueceeding after Claudius, reigned fourteen years with such fury and tyranny, that he slew the most part of the senators, and destroyed the whole order of knighthood in Rome. So prodigious a monster of nature was he, more like a beast, yea, rather a devil, than a man, that he seemed to be born to the destruction of men. Such was his monstrous uncleanness, that he abstained not from his own mother, his natural sister, nor from any degree of kindred. Such was his wretched cruelty, that he caused to be put to death his mother, his brother-in-law, his sister, his wife great with child, all his instructors, Seneca and Lucan, with divers more of his own kindred and consanguinity. Moreover, he commanded Rome to be set on fire in twelve places, and so continued it five days and seven nights in burning, while that he, to see the example how Troy burned, sung the verses of Homer. And to avoid the infamy thereof, he laid the fault upon the Christian men, and caused them to be persecuted. And so continued this miserable emperor in his reign fourteen years, till at last the senate proclaiming him a public enemy unto mankind, condemned him to be drawn through the city, and to be whipped to death. For the fear whereof, he, flying the hands of his enemies, in the night fled to a manor of his servant's in the country, where he was forced to slay himself, complaining that he had then neither friend nor enemy left that would do so much for him. In the latter end of this Domitius Nero Peter and Paul were put to death for the testimony and faith of Christ.
[Footnote: Some chronologists place the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul two years later, and some even four.]
Thus ye see, which is worthy to be marked, how the just scourge and heavy indignation of God from time to time ever followeth there, and how all things there go to ruin, neither doth any thing well prosper, where Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is contemned and not received, as by these examples may appear, both of Romans, which not only were thus consumed and plagued by their own emperors, but also by civil wars, whereof three happened in two years at Rome, after the death of Nero, anno 69, and other casualties, (as in Sueton. is testified,) so that in the days of Tiberius aforesaid five thousand Romans were hurt and slain at one time by the fall of a theatre. And also most especially by the destruction of the Jews, which about this same time, in the year threescore and ten, and nearly forty years after the passion of Christ, and the third year after the suffering of St. Peter and Paul, were destroyed by Titus and Vespasian his father (who succeeded after Nero in the empire) to the number of eleven hundred thousand, besides them which Vespasian slew in subduing the country of Galilee, over and beside them also which were sold and sent into Egypt and other provinces to vile slavery, to the number of seventeen thousand. Two thousand were brought with Titus in his triumph; of which, part he gave to be devoured of the wild beasts, part otherwise most cruelly were slain. By whose case all nations and realms may take example, what it is to reject the visitation of God's verity being sent, and much more to persecute them which be sent of God for their salvation.
And as this wrathful vengeance of God thus hath been showed upon this rebellious people, both of the Jews and of the Romans, for their contempt of Christ, whom God so punished by their own emperors; so neither the emperors themselves, for persecuting Christ in his members, escaped without their just reward. For among so many emperors which put so many Christian martyrs to death, during the space of these first three hundred years, few or none of them scaped either not slain themselves, or by some miserable end or other worthily revenged. First, of the poisoning of Tiberius, and of the slaughter of the other three Neros after him, sufficiently is declared before. After Nero, Domitius Galba within seven months was slain by Otho. And so did Otho afterward slay himself, being overcome by Vitellus. And was not Vitellus shortly after drawn through the city of Rome, and after he was tormented was thrown into Tiber? Titus, a good emperor, is thought to be poisoned of Domitian, his brother. The said Domitian, after he had been a persecutor of the Christians, was slain in his chamber, not without the consent of his wife. Likewise Commodus was murdered of Narcissus. The like end was of Pertinax and Julianus. Moreover, after that Severus was slain here in England, (and lieth at York,) did not his son Bassianus slay his brother Geta, and he after slain of Martialis? Macrinus with his son Diadumenus were both slain of their own soldiers. After whom Heliogabalus, that monstrous belly-paunch, was of his own people slain, and drawn through the city and cast into Tiber. Alexander Severus, that worthy and learned emperor, which said he would not feed his servants doing nothing with the bowels of the commonwealth, although in life and virtues he was much unlike other emperors, yet proved the like end, being slain at Mentz, with his godly mother Mammea, by Maximinus, whom the emperor before of a muleteer had advanced to great dignities. The which Maximinus also after three years was slain himself of his soldiers. What should I speak of Maximus and Balbinus in like sort both slain in Rome? of Gordian slain by Philip? ofPhilip, the first christened emperor, slain, or rather martyred, for the same cause? of wicked Decius drowned, and his son slain the same time in battle? of Gallus and Volusianus his son, emperors after Decius, both slain by conspiracy of Æmilianus, who rose against them both in war, and within three months after was slain himself? Next to Æmilianus succeeded Valerianus, and Galienus his son; of whom Valerianus (who was a persecutor of the Christians) was taken prisoner of the Persians, and there made a riding fool of Sapores their king, who used him for a stool to leap upon his horse; while his son Galienus, sleeping at Rome, either would not or could not once proffer to revenge his father's ignominy. For after the taking of Valerian, so many emperors rose up as were provinces in the Roman monarchy. At length Galienus also was killed by Aureolus which warred against him. It were too long here to speak of Aurelianus, another persecutor, slain of his secretary; of Tacitus and Florinus his brother, of whom the first reigned five months, and was slain at Pontus; the other reigned two months, and was murdered at Tarsis: of Probus, who, although a good civil emperor, yet was he destroyed by his soldiers. After whom Carus, the next emperor, was slain by lightning. Next to Carus followed the impious and wicked persecutor Dioclesian, with his fellows Maximian, Valerius, Maximinus, Maxentius, and Licinius, under whom, all at one time, (during the time of Dioclesian,) the greatest and most grievous persecution was moved against the Christians ten years together. After which, Dioclesian and Maximian deposed themselves from the empire. Galerius, the chiefest minister of the persecution, after his terrible persecutions, fell into a wonderful sickness, having such a sore risen in the nether part of his body, which consumed his members, and so did swarm with worms, that being curable neither by surgery nor physic, he confessed that it happened for his cruelty towards the Christians, and so called in his proclamations against them. Notwithstanding, he not able to sustain (as some say) his sore, slew himself. Maximinus in his war, being tormented with pain in his guts, there died, Maxentius was vanquished by Constantine, and drowned in Tiber. Licinius likewise, being overcome by the said Constantine the Great, was deposed from his empire, and afterward slain of his soldiers. But, on the other side, after the time of Constantine, whenas the faith of Christ was received into the imperial seat, we read of no emperor after the like sort destroyed or molested, except it were Julianus, or Basilius, (which expelled one Zeno, and was afterward expelled himself,) or Valens. Beside these we read of no emperor to come to ruin and decay, as the others before mentioned.
And thus have we in brief sum collected out of the chronicles the unquiet and miserable state of the emperors of Rome, until the time of Christian Constantine, with the examples, no less terrible than manifest, of God's severe justice upon them for their contemptuous refusing and persecuting the faith and name of Christ their Lord.
Moreover, in much like sort and condition, if leisure of time or haste of matter would suffer me a little to digress unto more lower times, and to come more near home, the like examples I could also infer of this our country of England, concerning the terrible plagues of God against the churlish and unthankful refusing or abusing the benefit of his truth. First, we read how that God stirred up Gildas to preach to the old Britons, and to exhort them unto repentance and amendment of life, and afore to warn them of plagues to come if they repented not. What availed it? Gildas was laughed to scorn, and taken for a false prophet and a malicious preacher. The Britons, with lusty courages, shameless faces, and unrepentant hearts, went forth to sin and to offend the Lord their God. What followed? God sent in their enemies on every side and destroyed them, and gave the land to other nations, Not many years past, God seeing idolatry, superstition, hypocrisy, and wicked living used in this realm, raised up that godly learned man John Wickliffe to preach unto our fathers repentance, and to exhort them to amend their lives, to forsake their papistry and idolatry, their hypocrisy and superstition, and to walk in the fear of God. His exhortations were not regarded, he with his sermons was despised, his books and he himself after his death were burnt. What followed? They slew their right king, and set up three wrong kings on a row; under whom all the noble blood was slain up, and half the commons thereto, what in France, and with their own sword in fighting among themselves for the crown; and the cities and towns were decayed, and the land brought half to a wilderness, in respect of that it was before. Oh extreme plagues of God's vengeance! Since that time, even of late years, God, once again having pity of this realm of England, raised up his prophets, namely, William Tindall, Thomas Bilney, John Frith, Doctor Barnes, Jerome Garret, Anthony Person, with divers others, which both with their writings and sermons earnestly laboured to call us unto repentance, that by this means the fierce wrath of God might be turned away from us. But how were they entreated? how, were their painful labours regarded? They themselves were condemned and burnt as heretics, and their books condemned and burnt as heretical. The time shall come, saith Christ, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doth God high good service, John xvi. 2. Whether any thing since that time hath chanced to this realm worthy the name of a plague, let the godly wise judge. If God hath deferred his punishment, or forgiven us these our wicked deeds, as I trust he hath, let us not therefore be proud and high-minded, but most humbly thank him for his tender mercies, and beware of the like ungodly enterprises hereafter. Neither is it here any need to speak of these our lower and later times, which have been in king Henry's and king Edward's days, seeing the memory thereof is yet fresh and cannot be forgotten. But let this pass; of this I am sure, that God yet once again is come on visitation to this church of England, yea, and that more lovingly and beneficially than ever he did before. For in this visitation he hath redressed many abuses, and cleansed his church of much ungodliness and superstition, and made it a glorious church, if it be compared to the old form and state. And now how grateful receivers we be, with what heart, study, and reverence we embrace that which he hath given, that I refer either to them that see our fruits, or to the sequel, which peradventure will declare it.