How did they handle persecution? The Historical Record

Gustave Dore, Massacre of the Vaudois of Merindol

Gustave Dore, 1832-1886. I find Gustave Dore’s sketches haunting. It’s as if he has a knack of capturing the darkness of the soul. Here he depicts the Massacre of the Vaudois of Merindol, 1 January 1545. The Waldensians were the early forerunners of the Reformation. Click image to link to the post.

The persecutions and trials of the bride of Christ cannot be counted nor measured. As her saviour before she has endured every cruel torment imaginable. I cannot do justice to every saint who has won a crown of glory; so to you I now submit but three:

The blessed martyr, Ignatius, during the third persecution, under the Roman Emperor Trajan, 108 AD, was given to the wild beasts to be devoured. Hear how he handled persecution “I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ. Let fire and the cross, let the companies of wild beasts, let breaking of bones and tearing of limbs, let the grinding of the whole body, and all the malice of the devil, come upon me; be it so, only may I win Christ Jesus!” (Foxe 2004:12).

The Waldenses dwelt in the valleys of Piedmont. Under the Roman Catholic Papacy, in the fourteenth century, they were presented with an ultimatum, failing which they were to face indescribable hardships. Listen to how they handled persecution “1. That no considerations whatever should make them renounce their religion. 2. That they would never consent to commit their best and most respectable friends, to the custody and discretion of their worst and most inveterate enemies. 3. That they valued the approbation of the King of kings, who reigns in heaven, more than any temporal authority. 4. That their souls were more precious than their bodies” (Foxe 2004:123). Neither man, woman nor child was spared.

No man inspires me as does John Huss. Under the Roman Catholic Papacy, in 1414, he was condemned to be burnt at the stake as a heretic. When the faggots where piled high around his neck he was exhorted to abjure. Consider how he handled persecution “I never preached any doctrine of an evil tendency; and what I taught with my lips I now seal with my blood” (Foxe 2004:180).

Oh that we’d be so used.

Take a moment to dwell of Christ’s words “I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18 – 19).

“I will build…” While God’s People are battered and buffeted isn’t it comforting to know that it is our Lord who takes responsibility for the establishment and construction of the church? Come peace or persecution His work continues.

“…my church…” Whist the Bride of Christ is beaten and bruised remember that this body is His possession, His jewel, the apple of His eye.

“…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Our God, who upholds all things by the power of His Word, will preserve that which He cherishes; that which He loves. Every scheme of fallen man, every treachery of the devil will end in defeat because our captain is none other than the Lion of Judah and against Him none will prevail.

“Why were Christians persecuted?” Because God, who works “all things together for good to them that love God” (Rom 8:28), as a sovereign act, by providence and concurrence, is building a church which will be a bride, without spot or blemish.

“How did they handle persecution?” By boldly proclaiming the truth of the Gospel to a world which is dying without it. By fearlessly laying down their lives in this present world that they might take up an eternal crown in the world to come.

Oh may we to be so moved to stand firm in this present age that God my indeed lift us up in the age to come.


3 thoughts on “How did they handle persecution? The Historical Record

  1. Far be it for me to defend the actions of the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation and pre-Reformation periods, and as an Orthodox Christian I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I fear that you are painting a rather simplistic picture of a very complex situation. There were also Catholic martyrs who were killed by Protestant authorities. Consider these testimonies:

    “Blessed Philip Powel announced from the Tyburn Tree – “This is the happiest day and the greatest joy that ever befell me, for I am brought hither for no other cause or reason than that I am a Roman Catholic priest and a monk of the Order of St Benedict.” (1646)

    Saint Edmund Campion, Jesuit priest, prayed on the scaffold for those responsible for his death – “I recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, to the end that we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.” (1581)

    Edward Morgan, priest, was reproved by a minister on the scaffold for being so cheerful. The martyr replied – “Why should anyone be offended at my going to heaven cheerfully? For God loves a cheerful giver.” (1642)”


    I haven’t read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, but it would appear that it was written with a particular agenda, and may not always be reliable. No Catholics that I know are proud of their Church’s actions in persecuting Protestants or others (and don’t get the Orthodox going about the crusades!) and many recognise the need for humility and contrition. I’m no expert on the period, but it would seem that there was a complex combination of political and religious factors that has led to a variety of interpretations of the period. But an acknowledgment of this complexity and of those martyred by your own “side” would also be welcome.

    And, on a totally different note, I’m a little surprised you didn’t quote St Polycarp :-)

    • Thanks for the views/balance. I’d be foolish to defend every action of every person who rallied under the banner of Protestantism. As for Foxe, he was bias; if truth be told, so am I.

      I had only a few lines and needed to choose between Polycarp and Ignatius.

  2. Ah, yes, choosing between Polycarp and Ignatius is a difficult choice indeed. Somehow I would have expected a Protestant to go for Polycarp, but perhaps that’s my prejudice!

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