Latimer, Hugh

Latimer, Hugh one of the most distinguished prelates of the Church of England, undoubtedly one of the ablest, if not the ablest ecclesiastic among the English reformers of the 16th century, called by Froude (Hist. of England, 1:264 comp. 2:101) the John Knox of England, the bearer of a name that "now shines over two hemispheres, and will blaze more and more till the last day," was born at Thurcaston, in Leicestershire, about 1490. His father, a farmer of good practical judgment, early discovering in Hugh talents that would fit him for a literary position of note, afforded him all the advantages of his time at school, and at fourteen Hugh was transferred to Cambridge, where he was soon known as a sober, hard-working student. At nineteen he was elected fellow of Clare Hall, took his degree at twenty, and at once entered on the study of theology, having decided to devote himself to the services of the Church. A sincere and devout believer in the doctrines and rites of the Church of Rome, we need not wonder at finding him, at this period of his life, loud and frequent in his denunciation of the would-be reformers, seldom losing an opportunity of inveighing against them. "He even held them," says Middleton (Memoirs of the Reformers, 3:103), "in such horror that he thought they were the supporters of that Antichrist whose appearance was to precede the coming of the Son of Man, and conjectured that the day of judgment was at hand." Nor were the events of his day likely to cool his mistaken zeal. Luther, who was making havoc in the ranks of the papacy, had just been assailed by "the defender of the faith" (king Henry VIII); and as a most fit subject for his dissertation for the divinity degree, Latimer could find no better work than "fleshing his maiden sword" in an attack upon Melancthon — surely no small task for a man not much beyond his teens. But even at this early age Hugh Latimer proved himself quite a formidable polemic, and, what is even more noteworthy, a man not afraid to speak his mind — a trait which distinguishes our subject in all the acts of his life. Immediately after his attack on Melancthon he came under the eye and tongue of Bilney, the famous advocate of the Reformed doctrines in the English Church, and he was led to examine more critically the doctrines and discipline of his Church. The result was, naturally enough, conversion to the cause which Bilney so ably advocated. Latimer was at this time about thirty years of age, and as he was not a man accustomed to do things by halves, he became a zealous advocate for reform, and preached manfully and boldly against the false doctrines and various abuses of Romanism which had crept into and polluted the Church of England. Naturally gifted with great oratorical powers, and inspired by the fitness of the subject with which he was dealing, he soon made himself famous as a preacher at Cambridge. "None, except the stiff-necked and uncircumcised, ever went away from his preaching, it was said, without being affected with high detestation of sin, and moved to all godliness and virtue" (Jewel of Joy [Parker Society edition], page 224 sq.). Such preaching, however, greatly as it was needed by the times in which Latimer lived, could not meet the approval of the servile ecclesiastics. It was too much tinged by theological statements that " had originally sprouted in England, and, after being translated to Germany, had been brought back with improved fiber;" and Latimer soon found himself surrounded by a formidable opposition, daily growing in strength. His "heretical preaching," as it was then called, caused a remonstrance made to the diocesan bishop of Ely by a gray friar named Venetus, but really due to most of the divines of Cambridge, requesting episcopal interference. Dr. West, then the incumbent of the bishopric of Ely, naturally a mild and moderate man, inclined to favor Latimer at first, and only mildly rebuked him. Here the matter might have ended, and it is more than likely that "he would not have been the Latimer of the Reformation, and the Church of England would not, perhaps, have been here today" (Froude, 2:101), had not this bishop, while on a visit to Cambridge (1525), unexpectedly attended one of Latimer's preaching services, and had not his prelatical dignity been sorely touched on the occasion. Latimer was right in the midst of his sermon when the bishop entered; immediately he abandoned his subject, and, as soon as the bishop had been seated, according to Strype, addressed the audience as follows: "It is of congruence meet that a new auditory being more honorable, requireth a new theme, being a new argument to entreat of. Therefore it behoveth me now to deviate from mine intended purpose, and somewhat to entreat of the honorable estate of a bishop. Therefore let this be the theme, 'Christus existens pontifex futurorum bonorum, etc.'" This text, says a contemporary, he so fruitfully handled, expounding every word, and setting forth the office of Christ so sincerely as the true and perfect pattern unto all other bishops that should succeed him in his Church, that the bishop then present might well think of himself that neither he nor any of his fellows were of that race, but rather of the fellowship of Caiaphas and Annas. It cannot appear strange to any one that "the wise and politic man," as the bishop of Ely was generally called, thereafter also went over to the enemy, and forbade Latimer's preaching within the diocese over which he presided. Latimer, however, overcame this obstacle by gaining the use of a pulpit in a monastery of Austin friars, exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and the prior of which, Dr. Barnes, decidedly favored the reformed doctrines. This daring attitude of the young preacher so provoked Dr. West and the Cambridge clique that the bishop made complaint to cardinal Wolsey. "No eye saw more quickly than the cardinal's the difference between a true man and an impostor," and when he had heard from the lips of Latimer himself the substance of the sermons that had given cause to the complaint, the cardinal, instead of punishing Latimer, replied to the accusations by granting the offender a license to preach in any church in England. "If the bishop of Ely cannot abide such doctrine as you have here repeated," he said, "you shall preach it to his beard, let him say what he will" (Latimer, Remains, page 27 sq., as quoted by Froude, 2:102). From this time forward the career of Latimer seems clearly marked out. Hitherto he had been quite orthodox in points of theoretic belief. "His mind," says Froude, " was practical rather than speculative, and he was slow in arriving at conclusions which had no immediate bearing upon action." Now he broke loose altogether from the position of the Cambridge authorities, and probably became defiant of them. But Wolsey (t 1530) fell from grace, and there was reason to fear that Latimer would now, at last, also fall a prey to the malice of his formidable adversaries, greatly increased in numbers by his success in gaining followers, who were drawn towards him by his eloquence, his moral conduct, and his kindness of disposition, as well as by the merits of his cause. Unexpectedly, however, and quite to the chagrin of the Cambridge men, he found a fresh protector in the king himself. He had preached before Henry in the Lent of 1530, having been introduced to his royal master by the king's physician, Dr. Butts; and he won the favor of Henry by his honest, straightforward logic and his enthusiasm. In this new position he performed his duty as faithfully as he had in preaching at Cambridge, and he dared to speak the truth in a place where the truth is generally forgotten. A special opportunity to speak in defense of the Protestant cause was afforded him by the persecutions to which the truest men in Henry's dominions were subjected at this time on account of their religious faith; and, though he did not succeed in staying the hand of persecution by this address of almost unexampled grandeur, it yet remains "to speak forever for the courage of Latimer, and to speak something, too, for a prince that could respect the nobleness of the poor yeoman's son, who dared in such a cause to write to him as a man to a man. To have written at all in such a strain was as brave a step as was ever deliberately ventured. Like most brave acts, it did not go unrewarded; for Henry remained ever after, however widely divided from him in opinion, yet his unshaken friend" (Froude, 2:104). Perhaps it may not be out of place here to say that Henry VIII himself; however nobly he may have acted towards Latimer and the Reformers after 1530, was perhaps, in the main, incited to his friendly deeds towards Latimer by the position the latter had taken in 1527. Froude and most of the English historians forget, in their great endeavor to cleanse Henry VIII from all sin, that, however greatly the Church of England has been benefited by his work, his object was not reform in the Church, but the establishment of a second papacy and his own enthronement as pope, and that he was only led to take this step when he found so many pliant tools to carry out his project of separation from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon. Of the commission appointed by the University of Cambridge to investigate the king's rights in this matter, Latimer had been a member, and had taken decided ground in favor of the king. This of itself was sufficient to secure the good offices of his royal master. Latimer's record of course, both before and after this event, clearly proves that he was not a pliant tool in the hands of the king, but actually believed Henry VIII justified in his separation from Catharine.

Most prominent and influential at this time among the king's favorites, or the Anne Boleyn party, as they are sometimes termed, as the advocates of her cause and the justness of king Henry's marriage with her, was lord Thomas Cromwell (q.v.; comp. also Froude, History of England, 2:109 sq.). By Cromwell's exertions, Latimer, in 1531, was presented with the benefice of West Kingston, in Wiltshire. where he preached the reformed doctrines with such plainness and emphasis as to bring upon him a public accusation and citation before the bishop of London, who had only been watching for an opportunity to punish him as a heretic. The citation was issued and served January 10, 1532. Articles were drawn up, mainly extracts from his sermons, in which he was charged with speaking lightly of the worship of the saints, and with affirming that there was no material fire of a purgatorial description, and that, for his own part, he would rather be in purgatory than in the Lollard's tower! He set out for London in the depth of winter, and under a severe fit of the stone, determined to defend the justness of his course. He was submitted by the different bishops to the closest cross-questionings, in the hope that he would commit himself. "They felt," says Froude (2:107), "that he was the most dangerous person to them in the kingdom, and they labored with unusual patience to insure his conviction." Latimer, however, baffled his episcopal inquisitors with their own weapons, and when they dared to excommunicate and to imprison him, he dared to appeal to the king in the face of their formidable opposition, and was permitted to escape with a simple submission to the archbishop, instead of an obligation to subscribe to a certain list of articles. These latter were as follows: "That there is a purgatory to purge the souls of the dead after this life; that the souls in purgatory are holpen with the masses, prayers, and alms of the living: that the saints do pray as mediators now for us in heaven; that they are to be honored; that it is profitable for Christians to call upon the saints that they may pray for us unto God; that pilgrimages and oblations done to the sepulchers and relics of saints are meritorious; that they which have vowed perpetual chastity may not marry, nor break their vow, without the dispensation of the pope; that the keys of binding and loosing delivered to Peter do still remain with the bishops of Rome, his successors, although they live wickedly, and are by no means, nor at any time, committed to laymen; that men may merit at God's hand by fasting, prayer, and other works of piety; that they which are forbidden of the bishop to preach, as suspected persons, ought to cease until they have purged themselves; that the fast which is used in Lent, and other fasts prescribed by the canons, are to be observed; that God, in every one of the seven sacraments, giveth grace to a man rightly receiving the same, that consecrations, sanctifyings, and blessings, by custom received into the Church, are profitable; that it is laudable and profitable that the venerable images of the crucifix and other saints should be had in the Church as a remembrance, and to the honor and worship of Jesus Christ and his saints; that it is laudable and profitable to deck and clothe those images, and to set up burning lights before them to the honor of said saints." Historians disagree as to the attitude of Latimer towards the bishops, who demanded that he should sign at least two of the articles, viz. the one respecting the observance of Lent, and that concerning the crucifix and the lawfulness of images in churches. Fox doubts that Latimer signed any; Gilpin, in his memoir of Latimer, denies it outright; Hook (Eccles. Biogr. 6:562) says that the fact of his signing " is put beyond all question by the minutes of the Convocation, where it is recorded that in the month of March 1532, Latimer appeared, and, kneeling down, craved forgiveness, acknowledging that he had erred in preaching against the aforesaid two articles." Froude, however, holds that Latimer signed "all except two — one apparently on the power of the pope; the other I am unable to conjecture." (Comp. Burnet, Hist. of the Ref. 3:116; Latimer's Remains, page 466.)

Rescued from these perils by lord Cromwell, he was by the latter now introduced to Anne Boleyn, and by her appointed chaplain; and in 1535 he was honored with the bishopric of Worcester. In this new appointment, which marks an important epoch in the ecclesiastical history of the (lay, Latimer was remarkably zealous in the discharge of his office; he was active, determined, and vigilant. "In writing, frequent; in ordaining, strict; in preaching, indefatigable; in reproving, severe; in exhorting, persuasive." In 1536, finally, he was brought from the somewhat secluded position he had hitherto occupied to a more public exhibition by a summons to Parliament and Convocation, at the opening of which he preached two very powerful sermons, boldly urging the necessity of reform. Ever since 1534 estrangement between the pope and the king had been quite decided. Cranmer's decree of 1533, approving the marriage with Anne Boleyn, had been declared first null and void by the pope, and Henry had been threatened with excommunication; but, as he had ignored the papal threat, a bull to this effect was published in 1534-5. These proceedings on the part of Rome left no other course open to Henry than either to repent, or to establish himself as the supreme head of the English Church. The Convocation of Canterbury, in 1531, had pronounced officially in favor of constitutional reforms, and an act of Parliament in 1533 repudiated papal supremacy by withdrawing first the payment of the bishops' annates or first-fruits, and next by an "act for the restraint of appeals," which forbade appeals to Rome on any pretext, and asserted the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in England competent to decide without any consultation of the papal power, followed by another act conferring on the English monarch the right of episcopal appointment, as well as another forbidding applications to the Roman see for faculties, dispensations, etc. It was therefore no great task to prevail upon the convocations of Canterbury and York, in 1534, to declare formally against the claim of the Roman see to exercise any jurisdiction in England; and, when once the step had been taken by the convocations, both the universities, as well as the whole of the bishops, and an overwhelming majority of the clergy, cheerfully followed in the same wake, "all apparently feeling that there was no sound theological reason for the maintenance of so burdensome and unconstitutional a tyranny" (Blunt [John Henry], Key to Ch. History [modern], page 23). With all these initiatory measures secured, Henry had no reason any longer to hesitate on the decided step of seizing the supreme power over the English Church, which, in 1531, the convocations of Canterbury and York had consented to recognize only with the definite limitation "as far as the law of Christ will allow," and he began the work by an order, in 1534, to omit the pope's name from the service-books, quickly followed by two successive acts, passed by a servile Parliament, confirming the supremacy, and giving to the king unlimited power to repress all heresies, and to punish as high treason the denial of his right to the title of supreme head of the Church. In order further to secure him in the position which he had assumed, the Convocation of 1536, in which Latimer, as we have seen above, figured quite prominently, was urged to settle the questions of doctrine and devotion, which were agitating the English Church, and, as the result of their deliberations, sent forth the following ten articles, the original predecessors of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. SEE ARTICLES.

I. Enjoined belief in the Holy Bible, the three creeds, and the teaching of the first four general councils.

II. Set forth the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

III. Defined penance as consisting of repentance, confession, absolution, and amendment of life.

IV. Declared fully the doctrine of the real presence, without asserting that of transubstantiation.

V. Explained justification as attainable by repentance faith, and charity, through the merits and mission of our blessed Lord.

VI. Declared that images might be profitably used as aids to devotion, but not worshipped nor unduly honored.

VII. Set forth the honor due to saints as God's faithful peop'e who pray for us.

VIII. Showed that, with certain limitations, the prayers of the saints might be asked for.

IX. Spoke of minor rites and ceremonies of the Church such as the use of holy water, ashes on Ash-Wednesday palms (on Palm-Sunday, etc., and declared that they might be fitly used to excite devotional feelings, but not as if they could obtain remission of sins.

X. Distinguished prayers for the dead from the Romish doctrine of purgatory, repudiating the latter.

In the following year these doctrinal articles were succeeded by the Institution of a Christian Man (q.v.), a plain and authoritative exposition of Church doctrine, composed by a commission of forty-six divines, appointed by the king, and including all the bishops as well as some other dignitaries of the Church. In this commission all shades of opinion had been represented, Cranmer and Latimer, as well as Gardiner and Bonner, being of the number; but it was evident throughout that the Reformers were in the majority; and when, to all outward appearances, the reform movement seemed destined to prove a success in England, it suddenly received, from a quarter where it was last looked for, a blow that stunned it almost completely. The separation between the king of Elngland and the pope of Rome having become complete, the Lutherans grew anxious to effect a union with the English Reformers, and to this end three German divines, with Burckhardt at their head, had come to England in 1538, to discuss and amicably settle all minor religious differences of opinion. Unfortunately, however, they not only failed to bring about an agreement on sacramental doctrine, but the discussion even induced the king to cling more tenaciously than ever to the belief of the Romish Church, especially on transubstantiation; and in 1539 the king actually caused the passage of "a the 10 Articles, or the Six Articles," or "whip with six strings," as the Protestants termed it, by which the denial of transubstantiation was made punishable with death, and other mediaeval dogmas were enforced by fine and imprisonment (comp. Froude, Hist. of England, 3, ch. 16). From these six articles (q.v.) the reformers, of course, totally dissented; many of them preferred to hold their peace, and kept their places. Latimer, however, was not one of these; accustomed to speak his mind, he at once manifested his dissent to this enactment by his resignation of the bishopric. Some historians will have it that he was induced to resign by lord Cromwell; the latter, "either himself deceived or desiring to smooth the storm, told Latimer that the king advised his resignation" (Froude, 3:370, foot note). The state papers (1:849), however, state "that his majesty afterwards denied this, and pitied Latimer's condition;" and when we consider that Latimer had found a tried friend in Cromwell, we can hardly conclude that either he or the king had anything to do with the resignation, which was an act only to be expected of Latimer, ever independent and bold to speak the truth. Froude (on the authority of Hall) will have it even that Latimer, together with Shaxton (q.v.), were imprisoned immediately after their resignation, but if this be true he can have been confined only a brief period, as by a summary declaration of pardon the bishop's dungeon doors were thrown open and the prisoners were dismissed a very short time after their imprisonment.

Latimer thereafter sought retirement in the country, where he would have continued to reside had not an accident befallen him, the effects of which he thought the skill of London surgeons would alleviate. He arrived in London when the power of Cromwell was nearly at an end, and the mastery in the hands of Gardiner, who no sooner discovered him in his privacy than he procured accusations to be made against him for his objections to the Six Articles, and he was committed to the Tower. Different causes being alleged against him, he remained a prisoner for the remaining six years of king Henry VIII's reign, his enemies evidently designing mainly to prevent his influence for the cause of the Reformers in the capital of the nation. Upon the accession of Edward VI Parliament offered to restore him to his see, but Latimer was firm in his refusal to receive it: his great age, he said, made him desirous of freedom from any and all responsibility. He preached, however, frequently, and gave himself up to all manner of benevolent works. He was a decided opponent of "the bloody Bonner;" occasionally his advice was sought for by the king, and he was continually active as the strenuous reprover of the vices of the age; but the reign was short, and with it expired Latimer's prosperity. In July 1553, king Edward died; in September, Mary had begun to take vengeance on the Reformers, and, among others, Latimer was committed to the Tower. Though he was at least eighty years old, no consideration was shown for his great age, and he was sent to Oxford, March 8, 1554, together with Cranmer and Ridley, to dispute on the corporal presence. He had never been accounted very learned: he had not used Latin much, he told them, these twenty years, and was not able to dispute; but he would declare his faith, and then they might do as they pleased. He declared that he thought the presence of Christ in the sacrament to be only spiritual; "he enlarged much against the sacrifice of the mass, and lamented that they had changed the communion into a private mass; that they had taken the cup away from the people; and, instead of service in a known tongue, were bringing the nation to a worship that they did not understand" (Burnet, Reformation, volume 2). He was laughed at, and told to answer their arguments; he reminded them that he was old, and that his memory had failed; the laughter, however, continued, and there was great disorder, perpetual shoutings, tauntings, and reproaches. When he was asked whether he would abjure his principles, he only answered, "I thank God most heartily that he hath prolonged my life to this end, that I may in this case glorify God with this kind of death." He was found guilty of heresy and sentenced to death, but the Romanists, to make sure that no claims for the irregularity of the trial should be charged upon them, set aside the sentence which had been passed at the first trial, and, by direction of cardinal Pole, another commission, consisting of Brookes, bishop of Gloucester; Holyman, bishop of Bristol; and White, bishop of Lincoln, was convened on the 7th of September, under the altar of St. Mary's Church at Oxford, and the three "arch heretics" given a second hearing and condemned. Latimer was the last introduced. He was now eighty years old, "dressed in an old threadbare gown of Bristol frieze, a handkerchief on his head with a night-cap over it, and over that again another cap, with two broad flaps buttoned under the chin. A leather belt was round his waist, to which a Testament was attached; his spectacles, without a case, hung from his neck. So stood the greatest man, perhaps, then living in the world, a prisoner on his trial, waiting to be condemned to death by men professing to be ministers of God . . . Latimer's trial was the counterpart of Ridley's (see Froude, 6:356 sq.); the charge was the same (on the sacrament), and the result was the same, except that the stronger intellect vexed itself less with nice distinctions. Bread was bread, said Latimer, and wine was wine; there was a change in the sacrament, it was true, but the change was not in the nature, but the dignity" (Froude, 6:359 sq.). Every effort was made to induce a recantation, but Latimer, like Ridley, remained firm, and sentence was pronounced upon them as heretics obstinate and incurable, and on the 16th of October 1555, both Latimer and Ridley were led to the stake and burnt, outside the north wall of the town, a short stone's throw from the southward corner of Baliol College, and about the same distance from Brocardo prison, where Cranmer still lingered. The last words of Latimer were addressed to his companion, and are characteristic of our subject: "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." Gunpowder had been fastened about his body to hasten his death; it took fire with the first flame, and he died immediately.

Latimer's character, which has been treated most beautifully by the late Reverend E. Thomson, D.D., LL.D., in his Sketches, Biographical and Incidentals (Cinc. 1856), page 42 sq., seems to us to present a combination of many noble and disinterested qualities. " He was brave, honest, devoted, and energetic, homely and popular, yet free from all violence; a martyr and hero, yet a plain, simple-hearted, and unpretending man; an earnest, hopeful, and happy man, fearless, open-hearted, hating nothing but baseness, and fearing none but God — not throwing away his life, yet not counting it dear when the great crisis came — calmly yielding it up as the crown of his long sacrifice and struggle. There may be other reformers that more engage our admiration, there is no one that more excites our love" (Tulloch, Leaders of the Ref. pages 322-324). Latimer's sermons, characterized by humor and cheerfulness, manly sense and direct evangelical fervor, were first printed collectively in 1549, 8vo, and in 1570, 4to; one of the best editions, with notes and a memoir, was prepared by John Watkins, LL.D. (Lond. 1824, 2 volumes, 8vo). A complete edition of his Works (the only complete one) was edited for the Parker Society by the Reverend G.E. Corrie (Cambr. 1844-5, 4 volumes, 8vo). See Gilpin, Life of Latimer (1755, 8vo); Fox, Book of Martyrs; Middleton, Mem. of the Reformers, 3:101 sq.; Tulloch, Leaders of the Reformation, page 245 sq.; Hook, Eccles. Biog. 6:551 sq.; Burnet, Hist. of the Reformation (see Index); Collier, Eccles. Hist. (see Index); Froude, Hist. of Engl. volume 1-

6 (see Index in volume 12); Engl. Cyclop. s.v.; Blackwood's Mac. 69:131 sq.; Lond. Retr. Rev. 1822, 6:272 sq. (J.H.W.)

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.