Volume 15, Issue 6: Stauron
An English Saul at the Cross
The story of the Reformation of the church in Europe did not follow a paint-by-numbers scheme. In Germany
God began much of His reformational work through the conversion of an Augustinian monkMartin Luther. In the city
of Geneva, a Frenchman who had once studied in Paris for the Catholic priesthood played a central roleJean Cauvin.
But in England, the humor of God employed the lust of the famous fornicating kingHenry VIII.
In other parts of Europe, reformation of the church was eventually effected by a complete separation from
Rome. This sort of break was never to occur in England. Rather than break with the apostate church, a prolonged attempt
was made to convert the Catholic Church in England to the Protestant faith. England still bears those
Of course, as the story goes, when Pope Clement VII would not grant the king's divorce to Catherine so that
he might marry Anne of Boleyn, Henry rejected both the civil and ecclesiastical headship of the pope. Henry
appointed Thomas Cranmer as archbishop of Canterbury, and Cranmer immediately pronounced Henry's marriage with
Katharine invalid and crowned Anne queen. Not to be outdone, the pope retaliated by excommunicating Henry. So Henry
declared himself the head of the Church of England. But despite this schoolyard tussle with the pope, Henry remained devoted
to the heresies of Rome even to the point of persecuting and executing reformers. Yet Henry's resolve to oust papal rule
in his realm over his marriage to Anne Boleyn would ultimately open the way for yet another beachhead in the battles
Hugh Latimer is perhaps known today as the greatest preacher and most prominent martyr of the English
Reformation. He has been called the John Knox of England.
Latimer was born the son of a well-to-do farmer. His father gave him the best education available. Finally, at
age fourteen, he was sent to Cambridge where he eventually studied theology and devoted his life to the church.
Latimer employed his considerable intellectual prowess and eloquence in the service of combating the advocates of the
Reformation. His rabid craving to drive its doctrines from the shores of England was reminiscent of Saul of Tarsus against
the first-century Christians.3 He persecuted the reformers in their meetinghouses. Even Latimer's doctoral dissertation
was used to attack the teachings of Melanchthon. But, as with Saul, God still had a sense of humor in England.
The halls of Cambridge resonated with discussions and study of the teachings of both Wycliffe and Luther.
One group of men met to discuss the promotion of reformational truths. Among them was Thomas Bilney. He had
often observed the passion and rhetorical excellence of Latimer, and had longed to see him converted. Bilney used
Latimer's passion against the reformation as well as his pride. He did this by begging for a hearing with Latimer in order to
"make confession." Latimer, thinking that his discourse against the teachings of Melanchthon had finally converted Bilney
back to the Romish faith, agreed to hear his confession and absolve Bilney of his sin. Kneeling before Latimer, Bilney's
confession was not one of turning from the reformational truths of the gospel but a confession of Christ.
In his confession to Latimer, Bilney described the anguish of soul he had often felt by attempting to live by the
works righteousness taught by Rome, and he recounted how he had striven to remove this anguish to no avail. This
anguish struck a chord in the heart of Latimer. He knew all too well the doubts and grief that Bilney described. His
superstitious ways were hollow, and he now saw this through the testimony of Bilney's faith and the peace that he had found in
the perfect sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God. When Bilney finally stood up, Latimer remained seated, weeping.
Bilney comforted him with the words of Isaiah 1:18, "Brother, `though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as
snow.'" Latimer's zeal remained, but like Paul, his loyalty was now to the cross of Christ, not the Romish Church of England.
After the death of Henry VIII, his only male heir, Edward VI (son of Anne Boleyn), assumed the crown. After
six years, Edward died and Mary Tudor, eldest daughter from Henry's marriage to Catherine, assumed the throne. For
her execution of hundreds of Protestant `heretics,' she was affectionately known as "Bloody Mary."
It was under this reign of Mary I that Latimer was martyred at Oxford on October 16, 1555. By some accounts
he was now past 80 years old. Latimer, and a fellow reformer only half his ageNicholas Ridley, were tried and
sentenced to be burned at the stake. They knelt in prayer, and were then chained to the stake by their waists. As the fires were lit
and the pain commenced, Latimer shouted to his fellow martyr: "Be of good comfort, master Ridley, and play the man.
We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."