Persecution in France Following the Reformation

  Following the Reformation, the Papacy made frequent and bloody attacks on Reformed churches and Christians throughout Europe.  John Foxe (d. 1587) wrote an account of this (and other) persecution Reformed churches faced.  Here’s one such story of Peter Serre.

“Peter Serre was originally a priest, but reflecting on the errors of popery, he at length embraced the reformed religion, and learned the trade of a shoemaker.  Having a brother at Toulouse, a bigoted Roman Catholic, Serre, out of fraternal love, made a journey to that city, in the hope of dissuading him from his superstitions: the brother’s wife not approving of his design, lodged a complaint against him, on which he was apprehended, and made a full declaration of his faith.”

“The judge asked him concerning his occupation, to which he replied, ‘I have of late practised the trade of a shoemaker.’  ‘Of late!’ said the judge; ‘and what did you practice formerly?’  ‘That I am almost ashamed to tell you,’ exclaimed Serre, ‘because it was the vilest and most wicked occupation imaginable.’  All who were present supposed, from these words, that he had been a murderer or a thief, and that what he spoke was through contrition.  The judge, however, ordered him to explain precisely what he meant, when Serre, with tears in his eyes, exclaimed, ‘Oh, I was formerly a popish priest.’  This reply so much exasperated the judge, that he condemned Serre first to be degraded, then to have his tongue cut, and afterwards to be publicly burnt.”

This brings many thoughts to one’s mind.  It is tempting to chuckle at Serre’s answer; however, judging from other similar accounts, Serre’s tears were from a truly sorry heart.  He was sorry that he had been one who had clouded the gospel and the Word along with the papacy.  Yet he was strong in the Christian faith and his profession to the point of death.

If you haven’t read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, I strongly recommend purchasing a copy soon.  And two more historical facts to pique your interest: 1) Foxe himself came out of the darkness of the papacy to protestantism, and 2) the late 16th century Catholic church hated Foxe’s book so much they did everything they could to destroy it.

shane lems

2 thoughts on “Persecution in France Following the Reformation”

  1. Hi Shane,
    Foxe’s book is a classic and definitely edifying literature (it will often bring one to tears). I would, however, offer a tiny caveat. One must be careful about using it as an historical sourcebook. In some ways, it represents 16th century Protestant “propaganda.” (I hate using that word because of its negative connotations, but it’s the best I can come up with at the moment.) In other words, Foxe wasn’t always terribly worried about getting everything right. He was more interested in vindicating the Protestant cause. I know from my dissertation work that 16th century scholars tend to treat his narratives with a dose of skepticism (as they treat those of the Roman apologists as well).

    This is not to say that Foxe lied, etc. Rather it’s just good to keep in mind that some of his material may be a bit hyperbolic.

    Perhaps it might be better to speak of Foxe offering us an excellent lens into a Protestant perception of 16th century events.


    1. Thanks for the notes, Nevada, I sort of got that gist as I was reading through it.

      It reminds me of many of the martyr accounts in the Ante Nicene Fathers – some of those are obviously exaggeration and even apocryphal. I do agree with your comments. I sort of view it this way: 1) there certainly were tens of thousands killed in the context named above, 2) there are some true historical accounts of the bravery of the martyrs, and 3) it’s not dishonest to assume there were more brave martyrs who underwent persecution with amazing fortitude and faith. So I like your wording…could we also say it was closely based on a true story? Maybe Foxe’s Book of Martyrs “translated” history in a “thought for thought” manner?

      This leads to the good discussion about historiography and “objective reporting of facts.” But that’s a whole other topic!

      Your comment can be an appendix to my post. Thanks!



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