During the mid-1550s, after Catholicism had been reestablished in England and while Queen Mary—or “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be known—was in the process of burning nearly 300 Protestants in three years, John Philpot, Archdeacon of Winchester, was accused of heresy and thrown in prison. There he had a chance to discuss the fine points of theology with other unfortunate Protestants, one of whom defended the old heresy known as “Arianism”—a general label for any Christian who repudiated the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Philpot was so disgusted by this encounter with a real heretic that he finished off the conversation by spitting on his adversary.
Before Philpot was burned at the stake in 1555, he was able to vindicate his decision to spit on a fellow Protestant martyr. He wrote a tract with a long and lively title: An Apology of John Philpot; written for spitting upon an Arian: with an invective against Arians, the very natural children of Antichrist: with an admonition to all that be faithful in Christ, to beware of them, and of other late sprung heresies, as of the most enemies of the gospel.
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