Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Hugh Latimer on the "Goodly Art" of Shooting Practice

One of the important English Reformers during the time of Henry VIII and Edward VI was Hugh Latimer. He would be burned at the stake for heresy during the reign of Queen Mary in 1555 as one of the "Oxford Martyrs." He was a remarkable preacher, and a number of his sermons can be read online at this link. I wanted to share one interesting point I came across while I was skimming through his sermons this Reformation Day. This sermon was the sixth that he preached before King Edward VI. After rebuking the sexual immorality and wasteful gaming of his day, he turned to exhort the people to a "wholesome kind of exercise," that of shooting practice. 

"For the love of God let remedy be had, let us wrestle and strive against sin. Men of England, in times past, when they would exercise themselves, (for we must needs have some recreation, our bodies cannot endure without some exercise,) they were wont to go abroad in the fields a shooting; but now it is turned into glossing, gulling, and whoring within the house. The art of shooting hath been in times past much esteemed in this realm: it is a gift of God that he hath given us to excel all other nations withal: it hath been God's instrument, whereby he hath given us many victories against our enemies: but now we have taken up whoring in towns, instead of shooting in the fields. A wondrous thing, that so excellent a gift of God should be so little esteemed! I desire you, my lords, even as ye love the honour and glory of God, and intend to remove his indignation, let there be sent forth some proclamation, some sharp proclamation to the justices of peace, for they do not their duty: justices now be no justices. There be many good acts made for this matter already. Charge them upon their allegiance, that this singular benefit of God may be practised, and that it be not turned into bowling, glossing, and whoring within the towns; for they be negligent in executing these laws of shooting. In my time my poor father was as diligent to, teach me to shoot, as to learn me any other thing; and so I think other men did their children, he taught me how to draw, how to lay my body in my bow, and not to draw with strength of arms, as other nations do, but with strength of the body: I had my bows bought me, according to my age and strength; as I increased in them, so my bows were made bigger and bigger, for men shall never shoot well, except they be brought up in it: it is a goodly art, a wholesome kind of exercise, and much commended in physic.

"Marcilius Phicinus, in his book De triplici vita, (it is a great while since I read him now,) but I remember he commendeth this kind of exercise, and saith, that it wrestleth against many kinds of diseases. In the reverence of God let it be continued; let a proclamation go forth; charging the justices of peace, that they see such acts and statutes kept as were made for this purpose." 

The Reformers, and after them the Puritans, were not against recreation and play, but only against recreation which was immoral, immoderate, or unwise. In fact, they wrote in the Westminster Larger Catechism that one of the duties of the sixth commandment is "a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations" (WLC, Q. 135). While they warned of the dangers of sin, they also affirmed the goodness of creation and taught that the alternative to sin was not to be found in monastic asceticism but in a grateful enjoyment of lawful and refreshing pleasures given us by God (1 Tim. 4:1-8). A good historical study of how this teaching was worked out in practice can be found in Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England by Bruce C. Daniels. These principles are very useful in our day, with its unprecedented opportunity for entertainment. We face the dangers of immoral entertainment, wasteful and unwise entertainment, and excessive consumption and addiction. One part of the Christian response is a wise and grateful use of lawful recreations which are refreshing and wholesome. 

While Latimer referred to archery, the Puritans continued to affirm shooting practice as a wholesome recreation once guns became more prevalent. In fact, it is one of the recreations we know was practiced at the first Thanksgiving. As Edward Winslow recorded in Mourt's Relation, "at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms..." While we no longer have laws requiring shooting practice, it remains a useful and wholesome exercise to be commended today.