I've realized that many of my readers don't understand Catholic persecution, Protestant persecution, or when or how those things happened. You know Christians were martyred, and you know ancient Rome put them to death, but you're not sure of the exact reasons—or times—that Protestant and Catholics put each other and dissident Christians to death.
This story is meant to help you understand Catholic persecution. We'll do Protestant persecution on another page, where we will have to distinguish between the branches of Protestantism: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Zwinglian.
For now, though, this is the story of Walter Mill, martyred by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland in 1558. Scotland would soon become a Protestant nation—its reformation occurring in 1560—but in 1558 it was still Catholic.
Walter Mill was a Scottish monk who heard the Gospel while traveling in Germany.
Two of the more major issues, especially in Germany, was the rejection of monasteries and the rejection of celibacy among priests. Thus, when Walter Mill married immediately upon his return to Scotland, the situation was ripe for Catholic persecution.
Local bishops ordered him to be watched, found the heresies that they knew they would find, and had him imprisoned in the castle in St. Andrews. There they threatened him, and when threats didn't work, promised him a comfortable retirement as a monk in the Abbey of Dunfermline.
He despised the threats and rejected the promises.
The bishops then brought him to the metropolitan church of St. Andrews for examination. For some reason that I have never yet understood—for this sort of leniency is common in martyr stories—they let Walter Mill preach first from the pulpit, thus inspiring every Christian present. I can only guess that the bishops had not paid enough attention to Walter's heresy, and they thought he would embarrass himself by preaching non-Catholic doctrines.
However, since his doctrines came from the Bible, and since he was rejecting doctrines that God himself wanted to overthrow, his preaching was not embarrassing but powerful. Finally, one of the priests, a bit wiser than the bishops, arose to stop him, ordering him to move on and answer the accusations against him.
One interesting moment occurred when the priest addressed Walter as Sir Walter Mill. Walter rejected this and asked the priest to address him as just Walter, saying, "I have been one of the Pope's knights too long."
Okay, here is what I want you to hear. This is the interview, where they give the "heresies" that prompted Catholic persecution. This is the teaching moment:
When the interview was over, the accuser pronounced sentence on Walter. He was to be burned.
However, Walter had done great damage to the cause of Catholic persecution. Patrick Lermond, the provost of the town, refused to provide secular judgment for the bishop. The bishop's chamberlain likewise refused.
John Foxe, from whom I got this story of Catholic persecution, says that the bishop couldn't get anyone to help him. Foxe writes:
Obviously, though, they found a secular judge, else this wouldn't be a martyr story. A man named Alexander Somervaile took the job and brought Walter to the fire.
The closer they got to the place of execution, the more, ahem …, fired up Walter became [sorry]. He had not been in good health, but now he seemed full of life, and a fire burned in his cheeks that was more impressive than any fire his Catholic persecutors could whip up.
Walter asked to speak again before he was burned, and this time his accusers were smart enough to deny him. It was too late, though, the people shouted them down. They were forced to let Walter speak. This was going to be a bad day for the continuation of Catholic persecution and the maintenance of the Catholic cause.
His speech is probably worth recording here, don't you think? It's quite short:
Apparently I'm not the only one to use puns. John Foxe goes on to mention that the hearts of the crowd were set aflame.
Walter Mill died continuing to exhort the people even from the fire. His words did not fall on deaf ears. Within a couple years, the people would burn the images kept in the great Church of the abbey, which were worth more than the church and abbey combined. Christians cannot perpetrate vengeance by violence on other humans, but it is fitting that the images of the harlot church of the middle ages should be burned in the same place that God's martyr was burned in the midst of Catholic persecution.
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