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Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Campion the Champion".....

 first became a major part of my life when I was assigned to read Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground by Harold C. Gardiner, S.J. I was in 4th Grade at the time and already fascinated by England thanks to my earlier love-affair with Robin Hood. But the story of Fr. Campion opened up a whole new dimension of interest for me. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales became my ultimate inspirations, and Campion especially captured my imagination. This was a saint with sparkle; this was a man with know-how; this was the cream of Catholic England.

    Campion started out life as a London book-seller's son, won a scholarship to Oxford University, and charmed everyone with his brilliant intellect and vivacious delivery, including Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester. He became a professor, gaining the admiration and idolization of his students, and he even inspired a college clique who called themselves "Campionists" and mimicked his hand gestures and figures of speech. He could have gone on to enjoy the comfortable life of an Anglican clergyman, but his forays into the works of the Early Church Fathers stopped him dead in his tracks. He found himself drawn more and more to the teachings Catholic Church. But he knew only too well the penalty that awaited "seditious papists" and was unwilling to abandon all his worldly gains.

    Determined to silence his conscience, Campion dodged several attempts to get him to debate in favor of Anglican doctrines and travelled to Ireland to stay with conservative friends. While he was there, he wrote a heavily biased book on the history of Ireland (proving just how much of an Englishman he really was!) and dedicated it to his patron, the Earl of Leicester. But then the radical Protestants cracked down on the Emerald Isle, and he was forced to return to England or else be censured as a Papist sympathizer. After witnessing the merciless condemnation of an elderly Catholic priest in London, Campion decided go to mainland Europe to avoid a similar fate and determine his future. Finally, he was forced to face up to himself and His God.

    Campion eventually converted to Catholicism and became a Catholic priest of the Society of Jesus. Ten years after he had left his homeland, Campion was ordered to return to England as a missionary to the persecuted Catholics there. He was now an outlaw of sorts, disguising himself as a jewel merchant in order to hide his true identity. A lay brother who accompanied him named Ralph Emerson acted as his man-servant. Campion traveled across the country, administering the sacraments and keeping the faith alive. Ironically enough, his headquarters in London was a building rented from the sheriff of London, who was frantically searching for Campion to arrest him!

    Campion wrote a letter to the Queen's Council to be opened in case of his capture, explaining his reason for returning to England and his desire to engage the Protestants in debate. He claimed that any well-formed Catholic would be able to take them on, no matter how many there were or how well-prepared they came. Thus, the letter (which was opened and circulated by the custodian prior to Campion's capture) came to be known as "Campion's Brag". He also went on to write an apologetics pamphlet called "Decem Rationes" ("Ten Reasons"), using logic to uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith. While some of his analogies and wording appears excessively harsh today, it must be remembered that it was written in a time period when Catholics and Protestants were engaged in a life-or-death struggle in which neither side could afford to tread lightly.

    Fr. Campion was trailed by George Eliot, a government spy who pretended to be a Catholic recusant, and apprehended while staying in a Catholic home in Berkshire. He was in the midst of saying mass when the authorities arrived. After failing to evade capture by hiding in a "priest hole" (a secret compartment in the house), his captors arrested him....and then took him to dinner! They all were impressed by their famous prisoner's good conversational skills, joyful countenance, and forgiveness towards the traitor, Eliot. Campion was brought to the Tower of London and tortured to reveal the names of the members of the Catholic underground. Through it all, he never revealed any convicting evidence, sparing many lives. Nearly crippled, he was brought before the Queen and offered a pardon and a prominent position in the Church of England if he would apostatize. He expressed his loyalty to the Queen, but flatly refused her offer.  

   Campion and several other Catholic priests was tried and condemned for being involved in a plot against the Queen's life, although there was never any real evidence to support the charge. In truth, as he asserted in his final speech, they were condemned as Catholic priests, and for that they were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered as traitors to the state. As Campion was being dragged on a hurdle to the place of execution at Tyburn, he raised his hand in a salute to the statue of Our Lady located in Newgate Arch. This was in recognition of the vision Campion had before setting sail for England. The Mother of God had appeared to him and told him that he would die a martyr for the faith. And so it was.

    St. Edmund Campion and his companions were martyred on December 1st, 1581. His last words were a prayer for Queen Elizabeth I. He truly was "a man for all seasons" in his own right. He was a student, a teacher, a scholar, an author, a missionary, and so much more. He was a man of both words and deeds. His vibrant style and incandescent zeal made him a source of great light for the Church under the shadow of persecution. His patriotism and loyalty make him an excellent source of succor for the Catholic Brits of today who struggle to keep the faith in times of turmoil. Of course, his influence "transcends nationality"; he belongs to the Universal Church in ever corner of the world. His feast is December 1st.

Edmundus Campianus, Matyr, Ora Pro Nobis!

"Campion the Champion"


  1. Hmm, very interesting. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. And in an ironic twist, George Eliot was the pen name for the woman who wrote "Silas Marner".

  3. Most Excellent Pearl,

    I mentioned your site in my unashamedly VANITY collection of poems, THE ROAD TO MAGDALENA, available for .99 on under the name Lawrence Hall (The Lawrence thing is a perfectly boring and irrelevant story). Thank you for your kindness in printing some of my modest endeavors.

    - Mack

  4. Hi, everyone!

    @Rae-Rae: Thanks for reading! I'm glad you found it interesting!

    @Emerald: I wonder if "George Eliot" of "Silas Marner" fame ever knew about the other "George Eliot" of less than savory reputation!

    @Mack: Thanks for the mention, and your most welcome for printing your poems. You really have a great talent. I tried looking for "The Road to Magdalena" on, but didn't turn anything up. Am I searching in the wrong way?

    God Bless,