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Hugh Latimer

1485-1555. English Reformer and martyr. Born in Leicestershire and educated at Cambridge, he was at first a staunch defender of the unreformed faith, but was convinced by Bilney* of his error and thereafter was foremost as a reformer. Appointed bishop of Worcester in 1535, he was twice imprisoned for his beliefs during the reaction of Henry VIII's later years; and ultimately with Cranmer* and Ridley* he was to become one of the most celebrated victims of the Marian persecution, being burnt at Oxford in October 1555. The earliest controversies of the English Reformation were concerned with a strange mixture of papal pretension, clerical corruption, and doctrinal error. Much, for instance, was made of pilgrimages, purgatory, and the view of the Virgin Mary. It is to Latimer's credit that as early as 1533, in a letter to Morice about the accusations leveled against him by Powell, he recognized the central and necessary doctrine of justification, quoting Romans 5:1, adding, “If I see the blood of Christ with the eye of my soul, that is true faith that his blood was shed for me.” After that he could say, with Luther, right to the end of his life: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

This being the case, it was essential that men should read and understand for themselves. Hence therefore the emphasis he placed on the need for acquaintance with the English Bible. Hence also his part in the composition of the First Book of Homilies, the twelfth of which—“A Faithful Exhortation to the Reading of Holy Scripture”-is possibly from his pen.

It is, however, as a preacher that Latimer still lives-and that says much for the force and vividness of his style. During the encouraging years of Edward VI's reign Latimer preached his series at St. Paul's Cross “On the Plough” (1547) and before the court in Lent 1548-50. In the first three sermons of the first series he concentrated on the doctrine to be taught; in the last, which has come down to us in detail, he sought to define “what men should be the teachers and preachers of it.” Latimer was unsparing of clerical and especially episcopal shortcomings (“Since lording and loitering hath come up, preaching hath come down . . . For they that be lords will ill go to plough . . . They hawk, they hunt, they card, they dice; they pastime in their prelacies with gallant gentlemen, with their dancing minions and with their fresh companions”). And he could go further than this with his racy references to “pampering of their paunches . . . munching in their mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions.”

Latimer saw the preacher's office as to teach truth and “to reprehend, to convince, to confute gainsayers, and spurners against the truth,” but he always asserted that the way a man lives will be the clue to what he believes. He therefore emphasized conduct, and never more vigorously than in the seven discourses in Lent 1549 with his exposures of public misdemeanors-bribery, exploitation, and the suborning of justice among them. Latimer was not only forthright; he was also gifted with a fine colloquial turn of phrase, a fund of arresting anecdotes and a capacity for vivid narrative. He was a popular preacher in the best sense of the phrase.

See Sermons (ed. H.C. Beeching, 1906); and H.S. Darby, Hugh Latimer (1953).