I just finished reading last night Evelyn Waugh’s most excellent book, Edmund Campion: A Life. Fantastic from start to finish; Waugh is a tremendous writer whose popular history of St. Edmund Campion, the English martyr, is told as a narrative. He does not bog down the text with copious footnotes, as a scholarly history would, but instead makes the life of this great saint accessible and wonderful to read. In the author’s own words, “It shall be read as a simple, perfectly true story of heroism and holiness.”
St. Edmund was an English Jesuit priest, trained on the continent due to persecution at home– a former beneficiary of royal patronage and Anglican deacon, whose oratorical brilliance promised him an easy life in the new heretical church. Yet he responded in honesty to the call of Christ and His Church. He returned to England to preach, administer the sacraments to a suffering people, and to await his inevitable martyrdom. His punishment for the crimes of being a priest and administering Catholic sacraments, in the words of the judge: To “be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your head to be cut off and your body divided into four parts, to be disposed of at her Majesty’s pleasure.”
There were so many things that struck me when I read it, that I am afraid that if I wrote a full review it would be as long as the book itself, so why not read that instead? But there are a few things that seem especially pertinent today that struck me especially. First, there was a passage describing how Cecil was becoming impatient at the tenacity of Catholics in refusing to conform to the new religion, and the result that the laws requiring conformity would be more strictly enforced:
They were proving more stubborn in their faith than at first seemed likely. Books of controversy, printed by the English exiles abroad, were finding their way into the country in disturbing quantities; up till now the Catholics had spent little time in detailed argument; when in power, they had judged their opponents on the grounds of authority and obedience; now the old faith was being restated in new and persuasive terms, applicable to a generation who had grown up without the heritage of instinctive respect for tradition, terms of reason and research. It would have been easy to show lenience to a moribund superstition, the sentimental regrets of an old generation that was rapidly dying out; here was something unexpectedly vigorous and up to date, which must either suffer decisive and immediate defeat, or conquer.
The first parallel that I drew from this relates to the situation of Catholics in the late 1960s when the Mass was taken away from them. Before the liturgical and theological revolution that unfairly, yet inevitably, claimed to be directed by the Second Vatican Council, Catholics did not have to formulate arguments about the goodness and desirability of the Traditional Mass. They did not have to research liturgical history and marshal arguments from Church documents, history and logic as to why it was superior to the novus ordo missae. Every cloud has a silver lining, as they say.
But upon the promulgation of the new missal, things changed, and Catholics found themselves treated by many in the hierarchy in a similar fashion to the English Catholics of Elizabeth’s day (no, not tortured and killed–this is an analogy). For “it would have been easy to show lenience to a moribund superstition, the sentimental regrets of an old generation that was rapidly dying out”, as was the case from the beginning, that older priests were allowed to continue to say the Traditional Mass privately. Yet the old Mass would not die, could not die, and those who championed its rights offered “something unexpectedly vigorous and up to date, which must either suffer decisive and immediate defeat, or conquer”. Well, thankfully, it has conquered, or at least is ascendant.
The other part of the above passage that sticks out is the observation that when in power Catholics “had judged their opponents on the grounds of authority and obedience”. There is a clear parallel here with some of the schismatic activity in St. Louis. The Archbishop upholds Catholic teaching, and because Catholics are presumed to want to be Catholic the first appeal is to authority and obedience. But as St. Stan’s proves, the schismatics, like their philosophical brethren, the heretics of Elizabethan England, don’t believe in his authority and certainly see no requirement to obey. So, ordinary Catholics rise up to provide theological and rhetorical arguments, in addition to those provided by the chancery.
One other passage also struck me as applicable to the St. Louis situation. On page 53, Waugh describes the reaction to the promulgation, by Pope St. Pius V, of the bull excommunicating Elizabeth I, Regnans in Excelsis.
His contemporaries and the vast majority of subsequent historians regarded the Pope’s action as ill-judged. It has been represented as a gesture of medievalism, futile in an age of new, vigorous nationalism, and its author as an ineffectual and deluded champion, stumbling through the mists, in the ill-fitting, antiquated armor, of Gregory and Innocent; a disastrous figure, provoking instead of a few buffets for Sancho Panza the bloody ruin of English Catholicism. That is the verdict of sober criticism, both Catholic and Protestant, and yet, as one studies that odd and compelling face which peers obliquely from Zucchero’s portrait at Stonyhurst, emaciated, with its lofty and narrow forehead, the great, beaked nose, the eyes prominent in their deep sockets, and, above all else, the serene and secret curve of the lips, a doubt rises, and a hope; had he, perhaps, in those withdrawn, exalted hours before his crucifix, learned something that was hidden from the statesmen of his time and the succeeding generations of historians; seen through and beyond the present and the immediate future; understood that there was to be no easy way of reconciliation, but that it was only through blood and hatred and derision that the faith was one day to return to England?
Is there a secular media outlet that thinks Archbishop Burke is acting prudently by his steadfast defense of the faith, and the authority of the Church? Do most Catholics in this Archdiocese agree with them, or him? And yet, when his eye is on the proper end, the course of action is clear and correct.
Great book about a great saint. Even today, the short essay he wrote to defend his actions in case of his apprehension, commonly called Campion’s Brag, is a moving and informative piece. I pray that I am able to produce something half as good should the day come when I must provide my own defense.