Today is the feast of Saint Edmund Campion. Evelyn Waugh’s biography of the English Jesuit martyr presents us with a gripping account of his final days. Upon receiving the news that he and his companions had been found guilty of treason in a sham trial under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Campion delivered a remarkable address to his desperate accusers. A sentence of death for him on account of his Catholic faith was nothing less than a condemnation of all that made England glorious in previous ages. Campion lit into his accusers:
In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors–all the ancient priests, bishops and kings–all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.
For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these lights–not of England only, but of the world–by their degenerate descendants, is both gladness and glory to us.
God lives; posterity will live; their judgement is not so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.
Besides Saint Stephen’s testimony, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, has a more moving speech been given by a man about to be martyred?
Imprisoned and bound in chains for eleven days, Campion awaited his gruesome death. (He was eventually hanged, drawn and quartered.) Waugh goes on to describe the final march Campion made to the spot of his martyrdom.
It was raining; it had been raining for some days, and the roads of the city were foul with mud. A great crowd had collected at the gates. “God save you all, gentlemen,” Campion greeted them. “God bless you and make you good Catholics.”
God bless you and make you good Catholics.
A prayer that never grows old.