2cornucopias

Edmund Campion 1540-1581

In 13 History on 2016/06/10 at 12:00 AM
Edmund Campion was the son of a Catholic bookseller although raised a Protestant.  It was his brilliance that secured him a Protestant education guaranteed by the City of London.  He was chosen to give the welcome in Latin to Queen Mary Tudor upon her arrival in London as ruler.

Having later been accepted at Oxford, Campion met Queen Elizabeth and her lover, Chancellor Dudley, when they visited Oxford.  They were both so enchanted by Campion’s appearance, poise and wit that the Queen invited him to be part of her court.  Consequently, he took the Oath of Supremacy and deacon’s orders according to the new rite.  Immediately, he began to regret that decision and left Oxford, the Court and went to Ireland to await the re-opening of the ancient papal Dublin University.

Very quickly he became suspect as too Catholic-minded an Anglican, and for a while he hid in friendly houses. Having recognized a vocation to the Catholic priesthood, he made a pilgrimage to Rome on his way to Douai.  He subsequently entered the Jesuit Order and was ordained in 1578.

King Philip II of Spain financed the building of a seminary in Douai, Flanders, for English Catholic exiles.  Placed under the leadership of Dr. Allen, who later became Cardinal Allen, the seminary had 120 seminarians by 1576.

The first martyr from that seminary was St. Cuthbert who was hanged, drawn and quartered.  He was charged with denying Queen Elizabeth’s headship of the church in England.  When asked to swear that she was head of the church, Cuthbert “took the Bible in his hands, made the sign of the cross on it, kissed it and said: ‘The Queen never was, or is, nor ever shall be the head of the Church’.”

In Elizabethan England, priests were first tortured on the rack and then hanged.  (See Category: Book Corner for Benson, COME RACK, COME ROPE, which relates the life of one of the two greatest lights ever to shine at Oxford University: Campion, its subject; and the other, Blessed John Henry Newman).

While Campion was abroad, Queen Elizabeth had ordered that all Englishmen with sons studying overseas recall them.

Penalties on Catholics refusing to attend Church of England services were sharply increased; castles became prisons for those who could not or would not pay the fines.  It is estimated that in one year some twenty thousand Englishmen were converted to the Catholic faith of their forefathers.  Now, any convert was deemed guilt of treason.  Recusants (refusal to attend the Church of England service) brought increased fines to a prohibitive level.

In 1580, two years after ordination, Campion arrived secretly in England with a commitment to win over Protestants with his preaching.  Campion’s saintly and soldierly personality was profoundly impressive.  During a period when he had to flee northward, Campion wrote his famous tract, “TEN REASONS.”  During prayer, he had a vision of Our Lady who foretold his martyrdom.

Shuttling between Norfolk and London, he was eventually captured in 1581. Campion was dragged through the streets of his native city, bound hand and foot, made to ride backwards with a paper stuck in his hat labeling him a “seditious Jesuit.”  Elizabeth herself offered him liberty and power, wealth and honors if he would reject Catholicism, but Campion asked her only for permission for a public disputation.

Denied the opportunity to prepare his debate, having been severely racked and all his fingernails torn off, he stood through four long conferences, without chair, table or notes.  He stood undefeated.  Shortly thereafter, weakened from more torture, he conducted a brilliant public debate with the Calvinist deans of St. Paul and Windsor.  A month later, he debated two scholars from Cambridge, the hotbed of Protestantism.  Two more debates followed.  There were still Englishmen who believed in fairness and justice.  Campion won over Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel.

Racked again, Campion was indicted for treason.  The Privy Council found hirelings as accusers.  During the ridiculous trial , Campion made a magnificent defense, ending at the close of the trial with:

“In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors…all  the ancient priest, bishops and kings….all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.  For what have we taught, how every you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach?  To be condemned with these old lights….not England only, but of the world….by their degenerate descendants, is both gladness and glory to us.  God lives; posterity will live, their judgments is no so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.”

Sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering, he and the other martyrs on the way to execution shouted:  “This is the day the Lord has made” and sang the Te Deum.  They died praying for the Queen.  The people loudly lamented his fate and the martyrs’ witness produced many conversions.  Henry Walpole, a wild young man, was splattered with a drop of Campion’s blood.  He later become not only a Jesuit, but a martyr.

Historians agree that the charges against Campion were bogus.  They praise his superlative intelligence, his charm, his joy, his fiery energy, his impeccable manners and his gentleness.  Campion’s  written words reveal him as a man of genius, one of the great Elizabethans, but holy as none other.

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