Friday, July 14, 2006

Campion's Brag

St. Edmund Campion (+1581) was one of the martyrs of the English Reformation. He was tortured and killed for his Catholic faith, in his native country of England, which had separated itself from the Church of Rome and had subsequently begun a persecution of Catholics, especially priests.

In reading Evelyn Waugh’s biography of the saint (Edmund Campion: A Life), I learned about a document he had penned on his way to England from Rome. He was quite prepared to die for his faith, but he wanted to write a testament of his mission, lest he be secretly arrested and executed without his being able to fulfill his mission, or worse, that forged “confessions” might be circulated, etc, to the discouragement of the faithful. As this document circulated in England, it was referred to by his detractors as “Campion’s Brag,” but it was originally entitled, “Challenge to the Privy Council,” that is, the chief advisors of the queen.

The reason I bring all this up is that I was impressed by his spirit, his courage, his faith, and his confidence in the triumph of the Truth. We live in an age of compromise, of relativism, and of tolerance of nearly every aberration. There aren’t enough people who stand up and say: this is true and this is false, this is right and this is wrong. But St. Edmund Campion was one of them. I’d like to share a bit of his “brag” here. Catch the spirit of one who, as he prepared for martyrdom, was “directly, truly and resolutely opening [his] full enterprise and purpose.”

“I confess that I am (albeit unworthy) a priest of the Catholic Church… I have taken upon me a kind of special warfare under the banner of obedience, and also resigned all my interest or possibility of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldly felicity… My charge is, of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors—in brief, to cry spiritual alarm against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused… I undertake to avow the faith of our Catholic Church by proofs innumerable—Scriptures, councils, Fathers, history, natural and moral reasons…

“…see upon what substantial grounds our Catholic Faith is built… discountenance error when it is revealed, and hearken to those who would spend the best blood in their bodies for your salvation. Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven or to die upon your pikes… Be it known to you that we have made a league…cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored…

“I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, to send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.”

It is to Campion’s credit that his unyielding witness to the Truth was not an arrogant threat of conquest, but a plea for reconciliation unto salvation, that “we may at last be friends in heaven.” Yet the testimony of his life shows that we cannot make “friends” with opponents through apostasy, compromise, or violation of conscience. Rather, his mission was to enlighten others to the full truth, so that all could be one in the True God.

May God raise up more courageous and single-hearted men and women who are willing to proclaim the truth and even to die for it, in imitation of Him who laid down his life for the sake of truth and as a supreme act of love. As the saying goes, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Stand for something. Stand for Someone. Stand for his Church, which is persecuted overtly and covertly throughout the world. “Instruct the simple, reform sinners, confute errors,” pray for the enlightenment and salvation of all—that all “may at last be friends in heaven.”