There, but for the grace of God, go I

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I’ve often wondered about the origin of that phrase. I finally looked it up. If the online presence of “Britannia: America’s Gateway to the British Isles Since 1996” is to be believed, the phrase was uttered by one John Bradford.

Bradford was ordained as a Protestant ‘roving chaplain’ during the reign of Edward the 6th. According to Britannia, he was “often referred to as ‘holy Bradford’ not in derision, but from respect to his unselfish service to God and those around him.” After Edward’s death, Mary Tudor came to power and zealously campaigned to resurrect Roman Catholicism and to rid the empire of “heretics.” Bradford, of course, was one such heretic who would be made a martyr.

Before he was burned at the stake on January 31, 1555, Bradford had occasion to see other men led toward their execution. It is said that, upon seeing those condemned men walking by, he said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.

While the phrase may well have its origins based firmly in religion, today it is simply an acknowledgement that bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time or coincidence or whatever you choose to call it can wreak havoc on one’s life. It behooves me to understand that I am truly fortunate.

Good fortune is not a guarantee.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to There, but for the grace of God, go I

  1. Your old man was wise, Juan! I think his adage about the slippery slope of moral decay says so much! “If you lie, then you’ll steal,and if you steal, you’ll kill.” I speak embarrassingly little Spanish, Juan, but I do get those two Spanish adages…much wisdom! If people would pay closer attention to these adages that continue rolling across generations, they’d find there’s a reason they persist!

  2. juan says:

    Every time I come to this site, I learn something. I didn’t know that, though it’s an adage I’ve often used, especially when I come across a homeless person who for one reason or another has found him or herself in that doleful situation — and there are many in Tampa.

    My father had many of these; in fact, he was a fountainhead for these adages, and was quick to point them out to us whenever the occasion arose. I spoke recently to my brother over the phone who reminded me of an old bearded man etching my parents kept in their bedroom. Below his bearded and haggard face it said, “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” I believe it was from Emerson.

    We still laugh over a strange one my old man would throw out: “The lie only lasts until the truth comes out.” The oddity of that quote always perplexed us then, but I see its meaning clearly these days, along with another that still keeps me thinking. The Old Man would say, “If you lie, then you’ll steal,and if you steal, you’ll kill.” I think there’s some real truth in that one, John and all.

    Another of his favorites was, “I once complained I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet,” or “if you have time to complain, then you have time to do something about it.” On that note and in regards to that adage from Aesop who wrote “the squeakiest wheel gets oiled first,” he would say, “No! The squeakiest wheel gets replaced!” Or, even from my mother who often said to us, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I always liked that one.

    Of course there were ones in Spanish that often rhymed, like “Amor de lejos es amor de pendejos!” I still laugh at that one. I know you speak Mexican, John, so I won’t bother with translation. A favorite one of mine from my grandmother (a smoker who rolled her own) went, “Despues un buen taco, un buen tobacco!” LOL! Great, that one!

    I love such adages — they keep us in line and they keep us in appreciation of what we have.

    There is one from Einstein (I think it was him) that I particularly like these days, who said, “We should be who we imagine ourselves to be.”

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