Today (Dec 1) is the anniversary of the martyrdom of the English Saint Edmund Campion, who was hung, drawn, and quartered by order of Queen Elizabeth in 1581 for refusing to return to Queen Elizabeth’s Church of England.
When I was an Anglican clergyman, I remember being on retreat with the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth at the Jesuits’ retreat center in Dallas. One morning I saw the Evelyn Waugh biography of St Edumund Campion on a table of the retreat house (it was no doubt laid there by divine providence through the hand of a snarky Jesuit who knew that the Anglicans were coming to roost at the center for the week).
Knowing nothing about Campion, I picked up the book and started to read it. Thanks be to God for that book! I quickly discerned the powerful witness of St Edmund Campion against the Protestant elements of Elizabethan Anglicanism.
Campion was raised in the 16th century as a Catholic and attended St John’s College at Oxford. He became a Fellow at the young age of seventeen. The Oxford dons quickly recognized Campion as one of the most brilliant minds at Oxford. Queen Elizabeth also took notice of the young man and sought to secure his place in her court. He was an up-and-comer.
His success at the university required that he apostatize and take the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging Queen Elizabeth (not the Pope) as the Governess of the Church of England. Regrettably, Campion took this oath and even pursued Anglican Holy Orders. He was ordained as an Anglican deacon in 1564. However, he began to have doubts about Anglicanism and his future as an Anglican cleric. His brilliant mind, on further investigation, discovered that Anglicanism did not truly maintain the Catholic Faith as deposited in Scripture, nor did it conform to the witness of the early Church Fathers. Campion repented and returned to the Catholic Church.
Campion fled England and went to Douai where he joined the Jesuits. After seminary training, he was ordained as a Catholic priest and began to prepare for his return to England as an underground Catholic priest. Dressed as a layman, he traveled secretly in England. He heroically heard confessions, reconciled those who had left the Catholic Church, and celebrated the Holy Mass in private homes since Elizabeth had forbade the celebration of the Catholic Mass on English soil.
He was eventually captured and sent to the Tower of London. He was offered money, prestige, position, and academic reward if he would recant and return to Elizabeth’s Church of England. He refused to deny either the Catholic Faith or his allegiance to the Pope. As a consequence of his resolute faith, he was first tortured in the Tower of London and then hung, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn on December 1, 1581. He was charged with high treason for having been ordained a “Roman” priest and for exercising that ministry in English territory.
Pope Paul VI canonized Edmund Campion in 1970 as one of the forty English and Welsh Martyrs. His feast day is today, December 1.
With the establishment of the new Anglican Ordinariates by Pope Benedict XVI, let us invoke Saint Edmund Campion and ask for his prayers to our true King and Lord Jesus Christ – that many Anglican souls will follow his pattern, not merely by being reconciled to the Catholic Church, but by also living heroic lives of sacrifice and sanctity.
Saint Edmund Campion, pray for us.
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