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19 February 1555: Writ for John Bradford’s execution withdrawn

February 19, 2019

Bradford 'portrait' from FoxeOn this day in 1555 the prominent Protestant preacher, John Bradford, who had been condemned to death for heresy on 30 January, had the writ for his execution temporarily withdrawn. He had expected to be executed in short order, but the authorities were delaying the carrying out of his sentence while they sought to find ways to diminish his influence – preferably by securing his recantation, even at this late stage. If Bradford could be persuaded to recant, it would have a very demoralising effect indeed on the Protestants.

After the writ for his execution had been withdrawn, Bradford was subjected to numerous attempts to get him to change his mind, a number of eminent churchmen and theologians, including Nicholas Heath (who would become Archbishop of York later that year), George Day (the Bishop of Chichester) and two Spanish divines, being enlisted in the exercise. With the Spaniards, one of whom was Alfonso de Castro, the Franciscan theologian who was highly respected by King Philip and who had recently preached a sermon urging caution over the burning of heretics, Bradford discussed the question of how Christ could be present both in heaven and in the bread on the altar, deliberately poking fun at the Catholic position.

‘How does this hang together?’ he demanded. ‘It is as if you should say because you are here, you must therefore be in Rome. And so you reason that because Christ’s body is in heaven, it must therefore be in the sacrament in the form of bread. No wise man will agree with that.’

Alfonso got to the heart of the matter when he asked: ‘So will you believe nothing that is not expressly said in the Scriptures?’

‘I will believe anything you like,’ responded Bradford, ‘provided you can demonstrate it through the Scriptures.’

Details of the life and death of John Bradford can be found in my book, The Burning Time.

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