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Saint Edmund Campion - Jesuit Saint

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

While this is the last conference of the Jesuit saints, I should add there are more to go, but time runs out. I thought we might take on St. Edmund Campion. He was born in 1540 in London, a very talented person, especially skilled in oratory. It seems that in his early days he was a Protestant, at least the family and he, himself took the oath of allegiance to the Queen, who was the good Queen Beth, otherwise known as Queen Elizabeth the 1st of England. When she visited Oxford in 1566, he was told to give the oration in her honor. The prime minister of England at the time spoke of him as one of the great diamonds of England, gifted and one of the great hopes of the crown. What we can give faith in Protestantism was his reading the fathers of the Church. Incidently, not a bad idea: Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose. He was ordained an Anglican minister, but immediately after his ordination he was bothered, because by this time he had become quite doubtful about the truth of Protestantism. He noticed how quickly things happened. Luther broke with the Church in 1517; it was just in the middle of the 16th century and the whole nation, England, is already lost to the faith--my one chance to say it, mainly due because one priest and religious, Luther, an Augustinian monk was unfaithful to his vocation. He began teaching at Oxford University, the most prestigious university in England. All the while he was troubled about his Protestantism as I found among my Protestant students for the ministry when I taught them at the Lutheran school of theology. My problem was to keep these men from either them losing their faith entirely or becoming Catholics. And I was to be teaching them to become Lutheran ministers. The administrators of the Lutheran Seminary should have been warned; they ought to have known better. The history of the Jesuits is one of deep animosity, not a feeling but of mind, against those who had deprived millions of the true faith. Why, at Oxford University, Campion who knew the history of England, still use and … for reflecting the mixed feelings of a Protestant who is not comfortable with Protestantism.

When Pope St. Pius the 5th excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, it was the beginning of the end of Protestantism for Campion. He went to Douay, the haven of people from England who were having trouble with being Catholics and when he returned to England in 1571, he had to come back in disguise. He came mainly to attend the trial of a martyr now known as a blessed John Story and when the martyr was condemned he went to back to Douay. Shortly after he was ordained, the sub-deacon by this time, he had entered the Catholic Church, ordained a sub-deacon at Douay. The next time you see Douay on the Bible remember for generations that was a training for most of England's martyrs. Why did they write the translation of the Bible, a new translation at Douay? Well, there's you know, because by this time the Protestants had their own vernacular translations which were in large measure mistranslations in their Protestant footnotes and no Protestant Bible since 1521 has had all the books of the Bible intact; seven books from the Old Testament are always omitted. See if I could remember--Judith, Tobit, the two books of Maccabees, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus and the book of Wisdom.

Interestingly, on his way back to Douay to attend the trial of John Story, no doubt to know how he would behave when he came back to England. How do you outwit the civil government? At any rate he didn’t have a passport so he bribed the one who examined his passport by giving him all his luggage and all his money. Finally, in 1573 he went to Rome to enter the Jesuits. You can see the kind of candidates we got for the Society of Jesus. Since there was no English province of the Jesuits, he entered the Society, as we call ourselves in Bohemia, made his novitiate at a town called Burno and then finished the theology at Prague. All the while he was in correspondence with one of the Anglican bishops, a man by the name of Cheney, bishop of Glouster, his correspondence from overseas, that's over the English Channel, converted the bishop back to Catholicism. Unfortunately, for his own consolation, Campion by this time was already martyred before the ex-Anglican bishop of Glouster was converted. This reminds me of the Episcopalian bishop who came to visit me at North Peoria, as you know, outside of Chicago when I was teaching theology to our Jesuits at the Seminary there. He came like Nicodemus at night and to make sure nobody would recognize him, he left before sunrise. We talked far into the night and I hoped that our conversation had at least a little bit to do with, as you know, the present Holy Father's permitting Anglican bishops and ministers to become priests and remain married men. And my very good friend, John Parker, was the first American Episcopalian minister to be ordained a Catholic priest. I noticed his picture was in the Register with his wife, a few weeks ago. One of my less well-known apostolates has been working on Anglican bishops and ministers to bring them back into the Catholic Church, needless to say I get my inspiration from my confreres in Heaven.

In 1579 Pope Gregory XIII realizing how serious the condition was for the Church in England decided to take a chance and send two Jesuits, Parsons and Campion, to England to see if something couldn't be done to bring back the English to the Catholic Church. Just for the record, both died a martyr’s death. The night before Campion left Prague for England, he was staying in Prague and one of the fathers, as a parting gesture, wrote on his door with chalk in Latin, Pater Admumdus Campionus, that's the Latin for Father Edmund Campion, martyr; he hadn't left yet. This again reminds me of my good friend, John Chrysostom Chang, a Chinese Jesuit. I may have told some of you this, perhaps. We did our studies together in Rome … he finished his doctoral dissertation before I finished mine. He finished before Easter Sunday, so our father general told him Easter Sunday, he was to leave Rome and go to Red China in forty-eight hours. Easter Sunday afternoon, John Chrysostom, as we called him, came to my room just bursting with joy, 'I just heard I'm going back to China … just think of it, oh, we're all going to be a martyr.' I said, "John, I wish I were going with you." He knelt down for my blessing, looked kind of silly blessing him, but then I knelt down and said, "You bless me."

Two years later, back in Chicago, one of our Jesuits who had explored Red China in disguise; we're always in disguise … I was visiting our provincial in Chicago and I asked him, "Did you in your travels in China, by any chance come across my good friend, John Chrysostom Chang." 'Oh, yes, one of the last persons I saw in prison awaiting execution.' Great! That's what we're supposed to be prepared for.

Back to Campion. On route to pray, slightly out of the way, but, from Prague to England, he stopped in Geneva. Well, Geneva was no place to stop. It was infested with Calvinism. You know that's the strong hold of John Calvin, but Campion was never known for being shy. He wanted to meet the top Calvinist in the world. Calvin was already dead, but the next best was Beza, remember the name, an ex-Dominican priest who was a great genius that wrote the thirty-nine articles of the Anglican Church. Needless to say, Beza did not know whom he was meeting, but he was going in disguise. He was dressed up as he pretended to be, Mr. Patrick, who was a – what was this disguise – a jewel merchant and a Jesuit brother as his servant. They were suspicious that this jewel merchant was so smart. Now many of the Calvinists in Geneva were ex-Catholics and some ex-priests and Latin, as you know, was the language of the learned world in those days. So, this is one of his recorded episodes, 'Mr. Patrick quo? ,' where are you from? He pretended not to know. He had been giving orations in Latin for fifteen years. They tried again, ' … ' can you talk Latin? He shrugged his shoulders, made a silly grin and walked away. He got away with it. He reached England in disguise. Sadly, many Catholics were unhappy over these two Jesuits descending on England. They were afraid they were going to cause trouble. 'They're going to try to convert the Protestants.' Well, frankly, they were right. So before they could be allowed to do any preaching – this was Parsons and Campion – they were asked to sign on oath that they would do nothing else, but preach the Gospel and engage in no controversy and stay away from politics. Well, staying away from politics was easy. Stirring up controversy, no bad intention, but what do you expect if you try to convert Protestants. I know I've had my share. The moment Campion landed in England the government knew it, even too famous before he left, disguise or no disguise. So he was always on the run. My record is sleeping in five beds in five successive nights in five different states. So what's new? Campion preached almost daily and with great success. It is recorded that fifty years later his sermons were still remembered. All this time he was writing a treatise – this is Campion. The treatise appropriately was written in Latin. The Latin title is 'decies raciones', which being translated means, 'ten reasons.' Ten reasons for what? Ten reasons why the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church, ten reasons why the Protestants don't have the truth. You can expect the hard time they had … the hard time they had getting these ten reasons printed. No printer would touch the treatise. He wanted to stay alive in printing. Finally, by printing one page at a time in different cities on secret printing presses, they finally got this very simple defense of the Catholic faith into print. You know what this is telling me, as I'm speaking to you … about four-thirty of a Sunday afternoon (hope I'm not boring anybody) – that's what we need, and I pray the day when we're going to have persecution in America. When that happens, I will thank God. Here we've got a lot of easy going Catholics … a lot of people, 'so I'm Catholic, so what?' These ten reasons have been reprinted hundreds of times, in English, and scores of times in many languages. As soon as the first printing was done and the date is remembered by historians, June the 27th, 1581. One copy of these ten reasons defending the Catholic Church and denying the validity of Protestantism were found in every one of the four hundred benches in the Anglican Church at Oxford University. So when the learned don sat down--of course they had to pick up the book to keep from sitting on it … it took exactly three weeks from printing that book for the government to send out, you might almost say, the whole police force of England, "get that Jesuit!" And they got him. He was offering Mass, to their credit. It was women who for generations harbored priests secretly. Was it yesterday we talked about the wall? And they'd managed, as thoughtful women, to provide enough food. He was offering Mass at the home of a Mrs. Yate (her name has come down), but the forty people attending this Mass … happened to be a Sunday Mass, July the 16, but among them was one traitor, and so Campion was betrayed. Once they captured him they tried everything in their power to break down his resistance, mainly to get him to apostatize. When torture failed, when all kinds of bribes failed, no less a person than Queen Elizabeth herself, visited him in person – isn't that a compliment? And to his credit, she did not succeed at it. When he was finally condemned, his statement has come down in history; not many people would speak as clearly and forthrightly as he, he was in order for years. As you know there were some fifty martyred with him. Here's what he said … this is part of his speech: In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors. He was arguing for the Catholic faith to the very end, to be condemned with those 'old-life' is the expression he used, not only of England but of the whole world, to be condemned by their degenerate defendants is both gladness and glory to us. The next time you read what Christ told the Pharisees – Campion was well trained – he said: God lives posterity beloved. Their judgment is not so liable to corruption as that of those who now sentence us to death. In other words, posterity will vindicate us, though you are now condemning us. Follow the logic? In condemning us, you condemn all your ancestors, right? And in condemning us, you are passing the kind of a judgment that posterity will not agree with. In the meantime we have to die to prove you are wrong. The authorities were desperate because Campion, his martyrdom, we don't know what the date is, but thousands went back to the Catholic Church. He was too well known, so the last desperate effort where the Queen failed, they got Campion's young sister to come to prison and plead with her brother promising him one of the fattest benefices – you know what that is, that is property and everything which has been going on to this day. All the Anglican clergy are supported by the crown. Listen to this – when I recently ran a seminar on this subject one of my students, a Jesuit student, wrote to England to find out how the Anglican Church is doing, you know, how good Christians are they … with all the money, with all the help of the government you'd think they'd be doing pretty well. The highest figure from the Anglicans, seven percent of Anglicans ever, even one Sunday a year, go to church, seven percent. Anglican parsons with a wife and we hope a family, or more than one, preach to an empty church. They are required by their contract to preach, so they preach.

Talk about Campion being a prophet. There are more, far more Catholics, church-going Catholics in England today than there are church-going Protestants. All the while as he was being prepared for death, he declared allegiance to the Queen, politically, no problem, provided she doesn't claim what she was claiming – to be head of the church. You know who Queen Elizabeth was, don't you? She was the daughter of Henry the 8th and the woman that Henry married, as he put away his lawful wife, Catherine of Aragon. She was the daughter of Henry and Henry's mistress, Ann Bolin. It is recorded that as he was being cut to pieces and the blood of course splattered in all directions, some of the blood splattered on a young man by the name of Henry Lopoe. He was instantly converted, joined the Jesuits and not long after died a martyr’s death. That's a long biography but it's worth it.

Now a few words about St. Edmund Campion's spirituality. By now we've had a number of examples that he is outstanding. We need all kinds of people in the Catholic Church. We need some learned people to defend the faith against learned opponents--Campion qualified. How many when I was teaching my over 500 Jesuit priests, they'd come to me, having already spent ten years in studying in the Jesuits--in my case, after finishing college. You're just sick and tired of books. They would come to me, complaining discouraged, 'what's all this studying about, why more books, finish through classes … like a kid, then I would tell them stories like I'm telling you. The only reason I have notes is so that I keep tract of my memory. Little did we know how much the church would need strong and learned priests to cope with the learned errors of our day.

Secondly, Edmund Campion tells us something about the importance of being able to speak effectively in proclaiming the faith and defending it. I'm giving all of you and myself motives for prayer. Sadly, the Catholic Church has all too few.?. able speakers. It must be fifteen years ago … I was in New York for a Catholic hour program and after finishing the program some of the people at NBC told me: Father, how we wish the Catholic Priests had something like a speaking ability of so many Protestant ministers, do you agree? We watch some of them on television, take a Billy Graham. Pray, Campion shows how much good you can do for God – how I like to say this – and how much harm you can do to the devil if you can speak effectively and especially in our day where you can have millions as your audience. Then courage. There's all kinds of courage. Basically, all courage is the moral strength to undertake and the moral strength to undergo what is hard for Christ. Most people specialize in one or the other, either in undertaking the pioneers who start, who initiate a Mother Cabrini or nowaday, a Mother Teresa. For most of us, our courage is mainly in undergoing, in other words, not so much the strength it takes to give as the strength it takes to take. Both are needed. Some especially, the leaders in the Church, my last chance again, at least in, shall I call it series.

Pray that especially bishops might have that courage of speaking up, of doing what they know needs to be done and not be afraid of the consequences. Without identifying the bishop, I was in his office, he showed me a copy of common … magazine in which there was a very nasty article by one of his priests attacking the Church, specifically confession. I said, "Bishop what are you going to do?" Poor bishops, 'what can I do' he says, ‘if I say anything, I'll have my name in a nasty article on the front page of the National Catholic Reporter.' "So what's wrong with having a picture and article in the front page of the National Catholic Reporter?" Courage to face, to undertake but for most of us the courage to suffer, to take and keep taking according to God's will.

Campion had both kinds of courage. By now and I have not gone out of my way to, you might say, stress is just part of the lives of these saints we have been examining. Loyalty to the Pope. Long before woman in the Catholic Church wanted to become priests, I'm being recorded, let me say it, you know why I'm in New York? I left Chicago, the Jesuit school of theology because we had more women in our Jesuit Seminary than we had Jesuit scholastics. A year ago, they finally closed the Seminary. Some one told me that a few days after closing the Jesuit Seminary at the University of Chicago, the .?. was on the faculty, Cardinal Cody told my informer: It was a very happy day in his life. Well, before women wanted to become priests, Queen Elizabeth wanted to be Pope. That's why Campion shed his blood. Because a woman claimed to be Pope in England, it's that simple. How we need today, this loyalty to the Holy See, this … loyalty to the Bishop of Rome.

We've been closing with an invocation, let's make this one a prayer. St. Edmund Campion, martyr for the Roman Primacy, obtain for us, but especially for the Church's bishops and priests, such obedient loyalty to the Vicar of Christ that like you, they will not be afraid to proclaim the truth and like you, they will be willing to shed their blood for Jesus Christ.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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