Was Fox a Christian?
(He Certainly Wasn't a Catholic)
by miriam berg
(based on scenes from The Journal of George Fox)

(The dialogue stars George Fox, the founder of the denomination known to the world as the Quakers, but to themselves simply as the Society of Friends. Edward Burrough and Nicholas Bond were two of Fox's earliest followers, who became Friends in about 1650. Nicholas Bond was arrested on one of the charges typically used against the Friends, and sadly died in prison.)

SCENE I. (Journal, p.342, Nickalls edition)

(George Fox, Edward Burrough, and Nicholas Bond come in. Several bystanders are present.)

G.FOX: Is this the Earl of Newport's house?

BYSTANDER: Yes, sir.

FOX: Thou need not address me as sir, any more than that person or that one. (To his followers.) Let us go in and have a meeting, and declare the truth to this Jesuit who has come from Spain to dispute with us, so that we may show him his mountain of pride and hill of deceit.

E.BURROUGH: Indeed, for he told us he would meet with twelve of us, and then he said he would meet with but six, and now he says he will meet with but three.

FOX: Come, Friend Burrough and Friend Bond, let us go in quickly and talk with him, for soon he will meet with none of us at all.

N.BOND: And that would be the end of all his great boast.
(More laughter.)

(They go inside.)

SCENE II. (pp.342-346, Journal, Nickalls edition)

(The Jesuit priest is sitting in his robe and sandals and gestures to them to begin.)

FOX: So, Friend Jesuit, dost thou not think that the Church of Rome, which calls itself the Catholic Church, has degenerated from the life and doctrine of the primitive church, and that it is no longer in the same life and power that they were?

PRIEST: Indeed not, my good sir. Let me assure you that we are in the original virginity and purity of it. There can be no doubt.

FOX: Take heed of hypocrisy, thou Jesuit, when thou callest me sir, nor am I thine to possess, and Christ says, only one is good, even God.

BURROUGH (to the priest): But dost thou say that thou hast the same pouring out of the Holy Ghost that the apostles had?

PRIEST: No, no, of course not, I utterly deny that. For we are as dust beneath their feet.

N.BOND: Then if thou hast not the same Holy Ghost and the same power and spirit as the apostles had, then (emphatically) there has been a degeneration. (Laughter from the onlookers.)

FOX (looking around): And there needs little more to be said to that.

BURROUGH: Then pray tell us what Scripture thou hast for setting up cloisters for nuns and monasteries and abbeys for men, and for all of your several orders, the Benedictines and Dominicans and the rest.

BOND: And what Scripture dost thou have for praying by beads, and to statues of Jesus and his mother, and to other images, and for making crosses and putting them on steeples? What Scripture canst thou find for thy great cathedrals and steeplehouses filled with images and painted windows?

FOX: And what is thy warrant for forbidding meat on the sixth day of the week, and marriages to thy priests, and for putting people to death who disagree with thy religion? Let us see the Scripture for that, or where the primitive church ever practised such things.

PRIEST (shrugging his shoulders): There is a written word, and there is an unwritten word.

FOX: And where is this thing, thy unwritten word?

PRIEST: The Bible is the written word, and the unwritten word is every thing the apostles passed on by word of mouth, which gives us all these traditions which we practise. That is the unwritten word.

FOX: Now must I bid thee prove that, for otherwise it is but windy doctrine.

PRIEST: Certainly, you stubborn Quaker, I shall prove it by Scripture, for all things are proved by Scripture. Look here, in the second book of the Thessalonians, chapter 2 verse 5: Paul says, "When I was with you, I told you these things." This means, I told you of nunneries and monasteries and beads and images, and putting to death for religion, and all the rest of the practices of the Holy Church. Here is where we received the unwritten word. You see? And so we have continued it on by tradition.

FOX: But I must bid thee read thy Scriptures again, for thou hast perverted the words of the apostle, thou hast yanked that verse out of context. For in that chapter Paul is reminding them of the coming of the false prophets and Messiahs who lead men astray, of whom he had told them before, and therefore they should not be deceived; and he goes on to tell them not to abide disorderly persons, or those who will not work, reminding them that he had told them before that if any would not work, he should not eat. I see no word of beads, or any of thy other invented traditions. So that is no proof at all.

BURROUGH: Is that not another degeneration, that you live by invented traditions, which the apostles and saints never heard of?

PRIEST: But you have forgotten that Christ says, "This is my body", and that the apostle tells the Corinthians that he said, "Do this in remembrance of me." That is the tradition from the apostles which has been handed down to us: the priest blesses the bread and the wine, and then it becomes immortal and the body of Christ, and whoever takes it from the hand of the priest has received Christ altogether.

FOX: But thou hast perverted these words also! Read the other verses in Corinthians: there he is admonishing them not to overeat and get drunk just before the communion supper, and if they do so is like crucifying Christ over again, and then they are unworthy.

BOND: And thou must read thy gospel again, for I find no priest at the last supper, and it says that Jesus performed no magic, but gave thanks.

BURROUGH: And let these words too sink into thine ears: if the bread and wine were the actual body of Jesus, then how was Jesus whole in heaven or wherever he was? Didn't Jesus say, "Do this in memory of me", and doesn't Paul say the same? so if they are doing it in memory of Jesus it cannot be Jesus.

FOX: Now Jesus said also, I am the vine, and the door and rock of ages. So I ask you, is Christ an outward rock, door, or vine?

PRIEST: Oh, no, you have to interpret that symbolically.

FOX: Then can we not interpret also his words "This is my body" symbolically, for did he not say, as Friend Burrough points out, "Do this in memory of me", not "Do this to eat me?"
(More giggles)

PRIEST: But we know that the bread and wine are the real Christ, and whoever receives it receives the whole Christ...

FOX: Well, we can find out. Let the Pope and some of his cardinals and Jesuits give us a meeting, and we can fetch a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread; and we will divide the wine into two basins and cut the loaf in two pieces. And then you may bless whichever part you will, and we will lock both parts up in a cellar, with seven guards on either side, and seven locks on the door. And then a week later, or two weeks later, we can take a look; and if the bread you blessed didn't get mouldy, and the wine didn't get sour, but stayed divine and immortal, then we will certainly follow you. But if they do spoil, if the bread becomes mouldy and the wine turns sour and dead, then surely you must admit your error and come over to us.
(To the crowd.)
Here indeed is an experiment which ought to be tried, for it would discover truth and bring glory to God, and too much blood has been shed over these questions, as in Queen Mary's days. For Catholics have killed Protestants, and Protestants have killed Catholics, so that it becomes a disgrace for a man to call himself a Christian.

PRIEST (shrugging his shoulders again): Take a piece of new cloth, and cut it into two pieces and make two garments of it, and put one on King David's back and another upon a beggar; and the one garment will wear away as well as the other.

FOX (incredulous): Is this thy answer?


FOX: Then I am satisfied, for first you tell people that the bless'd loaf is immortal and divine, and then you tell them, It will wear away as well as the other. So there is no constancy in your beliefs.

BURROUGH (grandly): But Christ remains, and is the same today as yesterday, and is the spiritual food through all generations, without decaying, but gives us the life.

FOX: Now, Friend Jesuit, answer me this: why do you put people to death and persecute them for religion?

PRIEST: But it is not the Church that does it, it is the magistrates.

FOX: What, man, are not those magistrates counted as believers and Christians?

PRIEST: Yes, they are.

FOX: Well, sirrah, aren't they members of your Church?

PRIEST: They are.

FOX: Then how can you say the Church does not persecute?
(Laughter from the crowd.)

PRIEST (rising): That is enough. I thank you, good sirs, for your time, but there is someplace else I must be soon. Farewell, and Christ deliver you from your sin and ignorance.

FOX: Why, farewell then, man, but we must declare the truth, and we exhort thee to think on it also.

PRIEST: Farewell.

BOND: Farewell.

BURROUGH: Farewell, and take heed to thy soul.
(The priest leaves.)

FOX: Well, Friends, we must leave it to the people to judge.

BURROUGH: Really, I hope we weren't too hard on him.

BOND: His subtlety has been conquered by simplicity and truth.

FOX: The Lord's power is over all; to him be the glory.
(They leave.)

(Footnote: Fox's challenge is echoed in the Journal on p. 538, Nickalls edition.)

SCENE III. (pp.496-497,498-501, Journal, Nickalls edition)

(George Fox is being led to prison for refusing to swear the oath to the king. And a doctor named Robert Wittie and others came to argue with him about religion.)

DR. WITTIE: What are you being taken to prison for?

FOX: Because I will not disobey the command of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which is to swear not at all.

DR. WITTIE: But you ought to swear allegiance to the king.

FOX: Dost thou call thyself a great Presbyterian, and have you not sworn against the king in Oliver Protector's time, and taken the Scotch Covenant, and now hast thou not sworn for the king, and is not that against thy former oath, and what is thy swearing good for, if thou swearest first one way and then another? But my allegiance does not consist of swearing, but in truth and faithfulness.

DR. WITTIE: So, Mr. Fox, you supported Cromwell while he was in power, and you support King Charles now that he is in power.

FOX: Nay, I did not so support him; I did but refuse to bear arms for Oliver against the king, or for the king against the Protector. And now I will obey the command of Jesus, and therefore I will not bear arms for the king against any, or for any earthly cause whatsoever.

DR. WITTIE: Well, to the purpose. I tell you that Christ has not enlightened every man who has come into the world; nor has the grace of God appeared to all men; and Christ has not died for all men. You cannot deny that.

FOX: But tell me what sort of men are those that Christ hath not enlightened, and that his grace hath not appeared to, and that he hath not died for.

DR. WITTIE: I say that he did not die for adulterers and idolaters and wicked men.

FOX: But are not adulterers and idolaters and wicked men sinners?

DR. WITTIE: Indeed they are.

FOX: And did not Christ die for sinners? and did he not say that he came to call sinners to repentance?

DR. WITTIE: Yes, he did.

FOX: So. Thou hast stopped thy own mouth. For the grace of God is given unto all men, though some have turned it into wantonness and walked despitefully against it, and Christ has enlightened all men, though some hate it.

CROWD (murmuring): It is true. Is that not so? It says so in the gospel of John. Dr. Wittie must be wrong. Yes, the Quaker is right, and the great doctor is wrong.

A PARLIAMENT MAN: But sirrah, do you not own ministers and bishops, who speak in the name of the Church and of Christ?

FOX: Yes, such as go forth in the spirit of Jesus who said, Freely ye have received, freely give; and such as are qualified and are in the same power and spirit that they were in the apostles' days. But your teachers and bishops, who will go no farther than they have a great benefice providing them with an income and rich living, these I do not own, for they are not like the apostles. For Jesus said unto his ministers, Go ye into all nations and preach the gospel.
       And you great Parliament men, that keep your priests and bishops in such great fat benefices, you have spoiled them all. For do ye think they will go into all nations to preach the gospel, or will go any farther than the border of their great fat benefice? Judge yourselves.

ANOTHER PRIEST (changing the subject): But why do you Quakers say Thee and Thou to people? You are great fools and idiots for speaking so.

FOX: Then were they that translated the Scriptures and made the grammar and accidence fools and idiots, because they translated it so to us? For they used Thee and Thou when speaking to a singular and You to a plural. And if they were also fools and idiots for translating it so, why do you not, if you all be such wise men, alter the grammar accidence, and Bible, to make it plural instead of singular? But if they were wise men that had so translated it, then are they not fools and idiots that do not practise it? And is it not wrong of you to be offended at us for practising it, and to call us fools and idiots?

(Dr. Cradock comes in, with three priests.)

DR. CRADOCK: Why did you say you were going to prison?

FOX: For obeying the command of Jesus and Paul in not swearing. But if you, being a doctor and a justice of the peace, can convince me that after they had forbidden swearing they had commanded people to swear, I might then swear. And here is a Bible. Show me.

DR. CRADOCK: It is written, You shall swear in truth and righteousness.

FOX: I commend you that you have brought Scripture, and I do believe that I can bring as many instances from the Old Testament as you, maybe even more, but who is this You: was it you Jews or you Gentiles that this command was to? And where did God ever give a command to the Gentiles to swear, but to the Jews? And so is this "you" to you Jews or you Gentiles or you Christians after Jesus came in gospel times?

DR. CRADOCK: (shakes his head and looks sullen)

A PRIEST: Indeed it was to the Jews that this command was, to swear in truth and righteousness.

DR. CRADOCK (looking grim): Yes, it is so. For in the gospel times every thing was to be established out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, and there was to be no swearing then.

FOX: Oho! Then why dost thou force oaths upon Christians contrary to thy own knowledge of the gospel times? And why dost thou excommunicate my friends?

DR. CRADOCK: For not coming to the church.

FOX: But it was twenty years ago that you abandoned us, when we were but young lads and lasses, to the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists, who made spoil of our goods and persecuted us because we would not follow them. You should have sent some of your epistles and gospels and homilies and evening songs to us, if you had wanted to keep your principles alive, and not have left us to the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists. For we might have turned Turks or Jews for any collects or homilies or epistles we had from you all this while. Even when Paul was in prison, he wrote epistles to his churches.
And so it seems that you have excommunicated us, both old and young, that is, you have put us out of your church before you have got us into your church, and brought us to know your principles. Is not this madness, to put us out before we be brought in? But now I ask you, what is it that thou dost call a church?

PRIEST: That building wherein we worship God, which you derisively call a steeplehouse.

FOX: And did Jesus really shed his blood for the steeplehouse? Doth not the apostle say that the church was Christ's wife and he was head of the church? Dost thou think that that steeplehouse is Christ's bride and wife, and that he is the head of that old building, or of the people?

PRIEST: Nay, Christ is the head of the people and they are the church, even as it is written in Scripture, and not the steeplehouse.

FOX: Very well. But you give that title church to an old house which belongs to the people, and you have taught them to believe so. But why do you persecute Friends for not paying tithes? Where did God ever give a command to the Gentiles to pay tithes? Did not Christ when he sent forth his disciples command them to preach freely, as he had given to them freely? Are not all the ministers of Christ bound to observe this command of Christ's?

PRIEST: I will not dispute that. But how is it that you Quakers marry each other, when you have not been blessed by the priest? I do not see how.

FOX: It may be so, but why dost thou not come and see?

PRIEST: I have, you saucy Quaker, and I am going to take action against you because these are not real marriages.

FOX: Wait a bit; tell me, where did ever any priest from Genesis to Revelation marry anybody? If you can show me any instance, why, we will come to you to be married. And why hast thou excommunicated one of my friends, two years after he was dead, for being married in a meeting? Why dost not excommunicate Isaac, and Jacob, and Boaz, and Ruth, and Christ and his disciples for even going to a marriage? Why don't you take action against them; for we do not read that they were ever married by the priests; but they took one another in the assemblies of the righteous, in the presence of God and the people; and so do we.

PRIEST (walking away): They were all married by priests, even if the Bible does not say so. You cannot have a Christian community unless that is so.
(All the Presbyterians, priests, and Papists follow him.)

FOX (to his friends): These disputes grow tedious; but let us hold them all in the light, and pray for their souls and eternal good.

ANOTHER FRIEND: They are like old wine in old bottles; and we are the new wine in new bottles.

SCENE IV. (Journal, pp.528-532, Nickalls edition)

(A crowd is gathered outside the home of Esquire Marsh, listening to George Fox.)

FOX: I have walked from one end of England to another; and there are so many meetings where the Lord has opened many mouths, and many have blessed the Lord that ever he did send me to set them up. Yea, with tears they have praised the Lord. For now every one comes to have a share of God's glory and honor, and to see that his name not be taken in vain which they do profess and to see that all do walk in the truth and righteousness, and walk in holiness which becomes the house of God, and that all come to order their conversations aright, so that their speech is Yea, yea, and Nay, nay, even as Christ hath commanded, so that all may come to see the salvation of God rising above the ocean of darkness, and moreover that all who do profess profess no more than they possess; and they too not only hear the word but do it. And every man and woman that be heirs to this good news, they are heirs of the authority of Christ, even that which he would not disclose to the high priests who demanded to know his authority but would not answer when he asked whether John the Baptizer was from God or moved by men, which authority is the power of God which was before sin and shame were, it is not of man nor by man. And these shall see the government of Christ which has been given all power in heaven and earth, and to the increase of that glorious righteous, holy, just government there is no end. But his government and his order will remain, despite all that men will do against it.

SERVANT: Mr. Fox, the master is at dinner, and inquires whether you will come up. There are several great persons at dinner with him.

FOX: Well, I will come up, but I am not free to eat with him. (Exeunt.)


ESQUIRE MARSH: Here, Mr. Fox, here is a great Papist visiting, and you here is a Quaker which you have not seen before.

PAPIST: Well, Mr. Fox, may I ask you whether you own the christening of children?

FOX: There is no Scripture for any such practice.

PAPIST: What! not for christening children?

FOX: Nay, but if thou mean'st the baptism with the spirit of God, that did arouse and strengthen Isaiah, and of which Christ told his village the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, that we do own; but to throw a little water into a child's face and say it was baptised, or to say it was christened, that is "Christ"-ened, there is no Scripture for that.

PAPIST: But then, do you not own the Catholic faith?

FOX: Yes I do; but neither the Pope nor the Papists are in that catholic faith for the true catholic faith works by love and purifies the heart; and if they were in that faith, they would not tell people of a purgatory after they were dead. For the true, precious, and divine faith brought by Christ takes away the evil behaviors which separates man and woman from God; and that happens today, it happens in our meetings, and purgatory is just a false teaching which teaches the people that they do not have to be freed from sin while they are on earth.

PAPIST: Sirrah, how dare you say that Catholics are not in the Catholic faith?

FOX: Because if these so-called Roman Catholics were in the true faith they would never make racks, and prisons, gaols, and fires to persecute and force others that were not of their faith, for this was not the practice of the true faith in Christ that was witnessed and enjoyed by the apostles and the primitive church; neither have they any such command from Christ or from the apostles. For to put someone upon the rack, or to burn them alive after torturing them with pincers and hot irons, was never done or taught by the apostles or by Christ, who said, I came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them.

PAPIST: But if the people will not follow the teachings of the priests and the Pope, they must be made to do so, and therefore we have the ropes and hot irons.

FOX: Seeing that thou says that there is no salvation but in your church I have two questions to ask thee. The first is, What is it that doth bring salvation in your Church?

PAPIST: A good life.

FOX: And nothing else?

PAPIST: Yes; good works.

FOX: So that if a man or woman have a good life, and bring forth good works but are not in the Church, do they have salvation?

PAPIST: No, no; they must receive the sacraments.

FOX: And what do the sacraments have to do with a good life or good works?

PAPIST: They are not part of the one, holy, and apostolic Church if they do not receive the sacraments.

FOX: No doubt; but what does the Church or the sacraments have to do with a good life?

PAPIST: They cannot learn how to live a good life unless they are in the Church.

FOX: And is this the teaching of all Papists? and of the Pope?


FOX: Neither the Papist, the Pope, nor thou knows what it is that brings salvation.

PAPIST: Then tell me, you unbeliever, what brings salvation in your Church.

FOX: The same that brought salvation to the Church in the apostles' days the same is what brings salvation to us, which is the grace of God which teaches us inwardly, which hath appeared unto all men; which taught the saints and which teaches us then and now. It is this grace which teaches us how to live godlily, righteously, and soberly, and to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. And none can learn how to live a good life but by this grace.

PAPIST: What! doth this grace that brings salvation appear unto all men?

FOX: Yes.

PAPIST: But I deny that; the grace does not come to sinners and the heathen.

FOX: Yes, I know ye Papists will deny that; but therefore ye are
sect-makers and are not in the universal faith, grace, and truth, as the apostles were. For ye say that Rome is the only true church, and if we are not part of the Roman church, then we have not grace and truth; and the Episcopalians say the same, if we are not part of the Anglican sect; and the Presbyterians and Independents say the same, that we are forsaking the one true Church. But Christ preached the good news to all who came, and the apostle did the same, and the primitive church carried the gospel to all nations; and the only Mother church was in Jerusalem, where Christ died and the apostles suffered and gathered the first Christians. But the apostle also said, Jerusalem that is above is the mother of us all; and this we own, so that neither outward Jerusalem, nor Rome, nor any sect of people can we own for the Mother church. And this is given to all men and women, because it is free, and it feeds all who come to it, and they grow in the life, and become as one with Christ. But people who use violence to force their beliefs on others are not in the kingdom of God.

ESQUIRE MARSH (to the Papist): Oh, you do not know this man, he will argue for a month of Sundays, if he would only come to church now and then he would be the bravest man there ever was.

(General chatter at the table.)

ESQUIRE MARSH (to Fox, taking him to one side): Mr. Fox, you know that the other justices of the peace do put more matters upon me, because I am a courtier; but, I tell you, I am in a strait. For you cannot swear, and your people cannot swear, but so say also the Independents and Baptists and Monarchy people, that they too cannot swear; how shall I know then how to distinguish betwixt you and them seeing they and you all say it is for conscience sake you cannot swear?

FOX: I will show thee how to distinguish. These thou speaks of can and do swear in some cases; but we cannot in any case.

MARSH: What do you mean?

FOX: If a man should take their cows or horses, if thou shouldst ask them whether they would swear they were theirs, they would readily do it. But if thou try our Friends, they cannot swear even for their own goods, so when thou puttest the oath of allegiance to them, ask whether they can swear in any case, or for their cow or their horse; which they cannot do (though they can bear witness to the truth).

MARSH: (rubbing his chin thoughtfully) I see, I see.

FOX: For there was a thief stole two beasts from a Friend in Berkshire, which thief was taken and cast into prison. And the Friend appeared against him at the Assizes; and some people told the judge that the Friend was a Quaker and would not swear. And before the judge heard the Friend, he said, "Is he a Quaker? and won't he swear indeed; then put the Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to him." So they cast the Friend into prison because he would not swear and let the thief go at liberty that had stolen his goods.

MARSH: That judge was a wicked man.

FOX: So thou must see that if we could swear sometimes, we would take the Oath of Allegiance to the king who is to preserve the laws, which laws preserve every man in his estate. But these others thou namest can swear for their own ends, to preserve their estates and their goods, or that such a man stole from them; yet they will not take an oath to the King who is to preserve them in their whole estates and bodies also. So thou mayest easily distinguish, and put a difference betwixt us and other people.

MARSH: Verily, I have seen many such, and I have set some Quakers at liberty and imprisoned some, but I can do so no longer, and tomorrow I must go to the King and tell him that I cannot do so more against my conscience.

(They shake hands, and Marsh returns to the table, while Fox departs.)

VOICE(offstage): And indeed Esquire Marsh went to the King and told him so and gave over being a justice, and told the king that he should grant liberty of conscience which was in his own best interest; and Marsh was very helpful to Truth and Friends in his day.