Saturday, December 01, 2018


Today is the memorial of St. Edmund Campion, S.J., martyr. Born in 1540, he was an extraordinarily talented student, winning prizes and honors throughout his education, the culmination of which was perhaps in 1568, when he was charged with delivering Oxford University's welcoming speech to Queen Elizabeth, and to be one of the parties in a public debate before her. As he was both scholarly and had caught the attention of the Queen, people began to say he was likely to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. However, he became Catholic, and eventually joined the Jesuits. When in 1580 the Jesuits began their English mission, he volunteered, sneaking into England in the guise of a jewel merchant, and issued the "Challenge to Privy Council", also known as "Campion's Brag", in which he challenged Protestants to a debate. He was arrested. According to some, he was questioned by Queen Elizabeth herself, who remembered him from his welcoming speech; when asked if he regarded her as Queen of England, he answered that he did. He was offered a position if he would repudiate Catholicism, but he refused, and thus was put on trial and was executed at Tyburn on December 1, 1581, at the age of 41.

From Evelyn Waugh's Edmund Campion: A Life:

He was one of a host of martyrs, each, in their several ways, gallant and venerable; some performed more sensational feats of adventure, some sacrificed more conspicuous positions in the world, many suffered crueller tortures, but to his own, and to each succeeding generation, Campion's fame has burned with unique warmth and brilliance; it was his genius to express, in sentences that have resounded across the centuries, the spirit of chivalry in which they suffered, to typify in his zeal, his innocence, his inflexible purpose, the pattern which they followed.

It was an age replete with examples of astounding physical courage. Judged by the exploits of the great adventurers of his time, the sea-dogs and explorers, Campion's brief achievement may appear modest enough; but these were tough men, ruthlessly hardened by upbringing, gross in their recreations. Campion stands out from even his most gallant and chivalrous contemporaries, from Philip Sidney and Don John of Austria, not as they stand above Hawkins and Stukeley by finer human temper, but by the supernatural grace that was in him. That the gentle scholar, trained all his life for the pulpit and the lecture room, was able at the word of command to step straight into a world of violence, and acquit himself nobly; that the man, capable of the strenuous heroism of that last year and a half, was able, without any complaint,to pursue the sombre routine of the pedagogue and contemplate without impatience a lifetime so employed--there lies the mystery which sets Campion's triumph apart from the ordinary achievements of human strength; a mystery whose solution lies in the busy, uneventful years at Brunn and Prague, in the profound and accurate piety of the Jesuit rule.

[Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion: A Life, Ignatius Press (San Francisco: 2005), pp. 200-201.]

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