John Frith: A True Catholic

A sincere, decided, and yet moderate Christian, preaching the gospel with great purity and love, this man of thirty seemed destined to become one of the most influential reformers of England. Nothing could have prevented his playing the foremost part, if he had had Luther’s enthusiastic energy or Calvin’s indomitable will. There were less strong, but perhaps more amiable features in his character; he taught with gentleness those who were opposed to the truth, and while many, as Foxe says, ‘take the bellows in hand to blow the fire, but few there are that will seek to quench it’, Fryth sought after peace. Controversies between Protestants distressed him. ‘The opinions for which men go to war’, he said, ‘do not deserve those great tragedies of which they make us spectators. Let there be no longer any question among us of Zwinglians or Lutherans, for neither Zwingli nor Luther died for us, and we must be one in Christ Jesus.’ This servant of Christ, meek and lowly of heart like his Master, never disputed even with papists, unless obliged to do so.

A true catholicism which embraced all Christians was Fryth’s distinctive feature as a reformer. He was not one of those who imagine that a national church ought to think only of its own nation; but of those who believe that if a church is the depositary of the truth, she is so for all the earth; and that a religion is not good, if it has no longing to extend itself to all the races of mankind… No one is the sixteenth century represented this truly catholic element better than Fryth. ‘I understand the church of God in a wide sense’, he said. ‘It contains all those whom we regard as members of Christ. It is a net thrown into the sea.’ This principle, sown at that time as a seed in the English reformation, was one day to cover the world in missionaries.

J.H. Merle D’Aubigne, The Reformation in England Vol. II, 131–132.

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