Posted by ESC on September 01, 2003
: : I am trying to find the meaning and origin of
: : "There But for the Grace of God go I"
: : The phrase appears on a list of proverbs at:
: : http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/proverbs.html
: : but that page doesn't explain what each proverb
: : means.
: : Dave
: Under different circumstances, you could be in the same sad shape as someone else. If you had bad parents like the person in question, for example, you could be in prison, messed up mentally, etc.
: THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I - "On seeing several criminals being led to the scaffold in the 16th century, English Protestant martyr John Bradford remarked, 'There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.' His words, without his name, are still very common ones today for expressing one's blessings compared to the fate of another. Bradford was later burned at the stake as a heretic." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File, New York, 1997.
Grace of God, The. The free and unmerited love and favour of God. 'There but for the grace of God go I' is a phrase used by the self-righteous or smug when others are faced with disaster, disgrace or the like as a result of their actions. It implies that they could well have been in the same position but have been fortunate enough to escape. The phrase is usually traced back to the Protestant martyr John Bradford (c. 1510-55), who on seeing a group of criminals being led to their execution, remarked, 'But for the grace of God there goes John Bradford.'
From _Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 16th Ed_ by Adrian Room
There, but for the grace of God goes God. (Attributed to Winston Churchill)
So many television plays are like this, self-absorbed and tiny, so that no onlooker could dream of thinking that there, but for the grace of God, went he. (_The Listener_)
I know her mother drinks and has lovers and things. But her husband's dead and so you really can't blame her, can't you? There-but-for-the-Grace-of-God Department. (Peter Shaffer, _Five Finger Exercise_, 1958)
I've got to disagree with Brewer's. At least the way I've understood it, the phrase isn't smug and self-righteous. It means "I am no better than the unfortunate person, I've just had advantages/the grace of God/good luck," etc.