GRAND RAPIDS, MI – While preparing a new edition of the classic Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Western Michigan University historian Paul L. Maier was struck by the sheer numbers of martyrs who were tortured and burned alive by other Christians. English victims were most often martyred by Roman Catholics during the reign of “Bloody” Queen Mary, and then Catholics were persecuted by Protestants under Queen Elizabeth, though on a smaller scale.
The horrific violence and bloodshed that Foxe carefully recorded so haunted Dr. Maier that he addressed letters of appeal to both Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, asking them to issue apologies for all Christians martyred by both of their institutions. “Obviously you can’t expect apologies from innocents for mistakes of their predecessors,” Maier commented. “But this does happen when great institutions are involved. Pope Francis, for example, apologized to the Protestant Waldensians for persecutions by the Medieval Catholic Church.”
But why such an appeal now? As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of both the Reformation and John Foxe’s birth, Maier’s new edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs presents the entire list of martyrs along with updated language, important commentary, and color illustrations. It is a powerful reminder that persecution is a timeless issue and that even if these innocent victims died long ago, their heroic sacrifices have inspired many thousands of Christians across the world today who are still being martyred for their faith.
Copies of Dr. Maier’s open letters to Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury are available.