(Bishop of Worcester)
Died: 16 Oct 1555
Father: Hugh LATIMER of Thurkesson
Details of Hugh Latimerís early life are sketchy, at best. Sources date his birth somewhere between 1475 and 1495, usually setting on 1485. He was born to a prosperous and generous farmer in Thurcaston, Leicester, England. Recognizing his gifts, his hard-working father sent him to Cambridge around 1506. He received his bachelorís degree around 1510 and his masterís degree in 1514 before beginning to study divinity. While at Cambridge, Latimer was an ardent defender of the Roman church and thought so ill of the reformers as to say, "Impiety was gaining ground apace, and what lengths might not men be expected to run, when they began to question even the infallibity of the Pope?" In his free time, he followed the defenders of the reformation into their meetinghouses, disputed with them, and implored them to abandon their convictions. Moreover, he orally defended his divinity degree in 1524 by attacking the theology of the reformer Phillip Melanchthon. "At last," said his hearers, "England, nay Cambridge, will furnish a champion for the church that will confront the Wittenberg doctors, and save the vassal of our Lord".
|Merle DíAubigne puts it this way, "He was a second Saul, and was soon to resemble the apostle of the Gentiles in another respect". Through the workings of Thomas Bilney, one of those whom Latimer had persecuted in the meetinghouses, Latimer would undergo an immense paradigm shift. Bilney went to the college where Latimer resided, begging to make confession. Latimer thought, "My discourse against Melanchthon has no doubt converted him". There, kneeling before Latimer, Bilney shared with Latimer "the anguish he had once felt in his soul", "the efforts he had made to remove it", and "lastly, the peace he had felt when he believed that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world". Latimer no doubt knew this anguish, for each time Latimer mixed water with wine, as the missal directed, his conscience was troubled that he did not mix adequate water. Trying to live by vain superstitions had left Latimer feeling insufficient. And so, Latimer listened, trying to chase away his thoughts. But Bilney continued. When Bilney finally arose from his knees, Latimer remained seated, weeping. The gracious Bilney consoled him, "Brother, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow".|
And Latimer arose a new man. His zeal did not leave him; it simply switched its allegiance. Latimer became the most popular preacher of his day. His sermons spoke little of doctrine, but rather, his practical sermons spurred his hearers on to godliness through upright living and devout prayer. Furthermore, Latimer maintained that the Bible should be read in every household. The priests of the Roman church gathered their forces. If Latimer was to express the blessing of the Scripture, they would show its dangers. The prior of Buckingham picked a few passages out of Scripture and preached:
The ploughman, reading in the gospel that no man having put his plough should look back, would soon lay aside his labourÖThe baker, reading that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, will in future make us nothing but very insipid bread; and the simple man commanded to pluck out the right eye and cast it from thee, England, after a few years, will be a frightful spectacle; it will be little better than a nation of blind and one-eyed men, sadly begging their bread from door to door.
The next Sunday, with Buckingham sitting right in front of him, Latimer summarized the priorís sermon, showing the absurdity of each point. Looking at the prior, he then added,
Do not we know that in all languages and in all speeches, it is not on the image that we must fix our eyes, but on the thing which the image represents? For instance, if we see a fox painted preaching in a friarís hood, nobody imagines that a fox is meant, but that craft and hypocrisy are described, which are so often found disguised in that garb.
At these words, all eyes of the congregation turned to the prior, who quickly ran away like Brave Sir Robin.
The priests gathered to petition Dr. West, Bishop of Ely, at Cambridge to forbid Latimer to speak. West attended Latimerís next sermon. Upon the entrance of West, Latimer calmly waited until he was seated. He then decided to change his sermon topic in honor of his new guest. Latimer began preaching of Christ, the model for all bishops. Although Latimer did not directly attack West, the people exclaimed that the Bishop that Latimer described was unlike any of their bishops. West forbade Latimer to preach in the university and the diocese. Thus Latimer took up preaching at the Augustinian monastery of Robert Barnes, which was not under episcopal jurisdiction.
On Christmas Eve, 1525, Barnes exchanged pulpits with Latimer. There Barnes preached with hostility against Cardinal Wolsey, who was present for Barnesí sermon. Barnes was brought before Wolsey, recanted, served three years in prison, and finally escaped to Germany. Latimer, also brought before Wolsey, was able to return to his Cambridge pulpit. In 1531, he came under the favor of Henry VIII for supporting him in his quest to annul his marriage to Catalina de Aragon. In that year, he received the benefice of West Kingston, Wiltshire, where he was able to teach Reformed doctrine. He also befriended Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer here. However, the next year he was excommunicated from the church for refusing to subscribe to certain beliefs such as purgatory and the importance of venerating saints. In a sermon before Henry VIII, he began exclaiming, "Latimer, Latimer, thou art going to speak before the high and mighty King, Henry VIII, who is able, if he think fit, to take thy life away. Be careful what thou sayest. But Latimer, Latimer, remember thou art also about to speak before the King of kings and Lord of lords. Take heed thou dost not displease Him".
Thanks to the influence of Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, Latimer would later become Bishop of Worcester in 1535. But he was left with no choice but to resign in 1539 when he was forced to comply with the Six Articles, a return to Romish doctrines he opposed. As he threw off the robes of his bishopric, he leaped into the air, and declared that he found himself lighter than he had ever felt before. He was later put into prison for a short period of time but released in 1547, with the accession of Edward VI. He spent the next six years of his life as a humble preacher, residing with his dear friend, Thomas Cranmer.
However, when Mary took the throne in 1553, she put an end to his preaching the gospel. One of her first acts was the imprisonment of the leading Reformers, among whom was Latimer. He was thrown in the Tower of London with Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and John Bradford. There he spent most of his time praying so long that he could not get up without help.
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