Want to be Prepared for a Persecution? Read the History of the English Martyrs July 20, 2016Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, Christendom, Domestic Church, General Catholic, history, Holy suffering, martyrdom, persecution, priests, reading, Revolution, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.
I just finished a great book on the life of William Weston, one of the many Jesuit priests sent to England during the hellish reigns of the later Tudor monarchs. Amazingly, even though this man was revered by many Saints for his incredible holiness and record of service to others, which they felt far surpassed their own, he is not only not canonized, he doesn’t even have a cause of canonization. That’s a shame, as his book is the best of the 6 or 7 I’ve read on the subject.
Anyway, more to the point of this post, I’ve had people request from time to time resources that could help them survive what many feel is a coming persecution. I’ve thought about it for a long time, and I’ve conclude that nothing could prepare one better for a persecution than the historical record of one that has already occurred. And I don’t think any preceding persecution can better inform Catholics of the horrors that await, nor the heroism they are called to, than the history of the the English persecution of Catholics. I believe this for the following reasons:
- The persecution occurred in early modern times. While those times were very different from today, they are much more similar than, say, the persecutions of Decius or Diocletian. In fact, the Anglosphere of today grew directly out of this time period, and was fundamentally shaped by it.
- We can read the record in its native tongue. While flowery, we can understand the language of the English Saints and martyrs.
- The English persecution was one of the first to use the power of the totalitarian modern state to extend the persecution as deep into people’s lives as possible. At times, Catholics could not travel more than a mile or two without being accosted by pursuivants, sheriffs, bailiffs, etc., all bent on finding them out and receiving the reward for putting them in prison. The organs of state repression invaded people’s homes, tore them apart looking for priests (whether one was there or not), and then charged the homeowner for the privilege of having his home wrecked!
- It was fueled by unbridled hatred for the Catholic Church. Nothing makes a man more wicked than an guilty conscience, and in Elizabethan England, there were many, many to go around. This was an especially vicious, personal persecution.
- The persecution was justified by the state’s fear of Catholics holding beliefs different from the officially-sanctioned state religion. Sound familiar?
- The government used false flag operations and the use of deeply embedded spies as a matter of course. Plot after plot was hatched by government representatives and then innocent Catholics were blamed for them. Greed abounded. After thousands became incredibly rich from the rape of Church lands, government agents found they could steal still more wealth by throwing Catholic landowners in prison and stealing their property for themselves.
There’s a great deal more, of a more positive nature: the endlessly edifying example of the English Catholics, the great number of Saints, the extensive writings they left us, the fact that the Church bore up under this, one of the longest persecutions in world history (nearly 300 years). The fact that there were still Catholics after 250+ years of constant abuse, theft, murder, wrongful imprisonment, and worse is a shining example for us all.
As far as very good sources to turn to from the English persecution, here are some of my favorites:
- Edmund Campion, A Life by Evelyn Waugh – straightforward, easy-to-read modern biography. Waugh kept the opinionating to a minimum and reported the facts more or less straight. Much appreciated, that.
- Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, by Fr. John Gerard, SJ Excellent autobiography, especially for its details of his priestly mission, the lives of good Catholics of the time, the lengths to which pursuivants would go to find priests, and the horrors of torture and prison. Very good.
- The King’s Good Servant, but God’s First by James Monti – provides great background on the genesis of the English persecution, the protestant greed and errors that caused it, and of course much on the life and writings of one of England’s greatest Saints, Thomas More. The book is modern in outlook and is perhaps wounded a bit by modern sensibilities, but it’s still a solid resource
- An Autobiography from the Jesuit Underground – Father William Weston, SJ, foreward by Evelyn Waugh – perhaps the best book of the bunch. Extremely extensive notes that add a great deal of valuable information, especially of the role played by turncoat Catholics who spied and reported on their former co-religionists. The damage they did was unbelievable. Cannot recommend this one enough
- Blessed Margaret Clitherow by Margaret Monro – short but good 1940’s biography from when the Saint was still a Blessed. I liked it. It’s a good source of inspiration. Clitherow’s death was grisly, however.
- The Cleaving of Christendom – Warren Carroll’s history of the period is a very good reference work but of necessity has to gloss over specific events since it is a broad tour of the entire history of the Church
- The Outlaws of Ravenhurst – Yes, it’s a kid’s/teen’s novel but it still gives a very good sense both for how severe was the English persecution, and its very long reach. Catholics really were abducted back from Belgium, France, and even Maryland and made to suffer.
- Treason by Dena Hunt – I am torn recommending this one, it is a solid enough novel on the subject of the English persecution, the lengths Catholics would go to maintain their Faith, and the kinds of horrific moral quandaries persecution could cause, but there is one unfortunate scene in an early chapter that is really inappropriate and unnecessary. Be forewarned, when the gentleman goes upstairs to the woman of ill-repute’s room in the inn, it’s a bad scene. Probably not what you think, but bad nonetheless.
I’m afraid I’ve forgotten one or two I wanted to recommend. Another good source of information and inspiration, of course, is reading about the Cristiada, the persecution of Mexico’s Catholics, which was much shorter but equally fierce. Mexican Martyrdom and The Power and the Glory are good books on that subject.
I’m open to your suggestions. I pray you find this post useful.