Today some parts of the Anglican communion commemorate the Oxford Martyrs, the day on which two bishops, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, were killed at the hands of Catholic monarch Mary I, infamously known as Bloody Mary, in 1555. One more, Thomas Cranmer, is commemorated too today, though his official death is March 21, 1556.
This period of the English Reformation was marred by violent acts on each side. Foxe's Book of Martyrs lays out the some of the histories and lists of the Protestant martyrs throughout this period. Though, the Protestant hierarchy also participated in the burning and killing of Catholic laity and clergy. This time makes us reflect on the harsh reality of Christian history: that while we can recall easily Christianity's persecution (let's say under Roman emperors) or Christian prosecution against "heathens" or "pagans", such the regrettable Inquisition, it is the fighting and violence within the Christian family that can make one huff at our shared history and even question our faith.
I am not deterred though, nor should we be. We must remember one thing; human nature is a fickle friend. I would say Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer are not the best role models but are, however, a prime example of the complexity human nature and the need for grace in our own lives. After October 16 and before March 21, Cranmer would "un-recant" and ultimately, at his last sermon, recant all Roman Catholic belief and doctrine. All three unfortunately were at the very least complicit in the prosecution of English Roman Catholics. If anything, their commemoration serves as a reminder that ecumenical work has come a long way and that ecumenism (and interfaith work, for that matter), should be done out of peace, understanding, and love for our neighbors. Our work is not to be done in hostility but entrenched in the love and hope that we all have as Christians.
Unfortunately, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, as well as Mary I were tied to the geopolitical mess of 16th century Europe. We can forgive them, and we must moved to do our work in a right spirit. Moreover, it is very much in our nature to doubt, be wish-washy, and feel the need to lash out when things may not be going our way (to God not excluded). In Christ however, we are to find all that which gives us hope. In him, we can doubt and feel loved, be uncertain yet find solace, and sit and think and pray, dwelling in our emotions, and find peace and calm which upends and converts our hearts to love.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington