November 30, 2016

Saint Edmund Campion, Martyr, "the Pope's Champion"

St. Edmund Campion
December 1st, is the feast of Saint Edmund Campion, S.J., (1540-1581) the 16th century English priest and martyr, also called "the Pope's Champion", who was one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The most renowned of the English martyrs, Campion abandoned a promising career at Oxford, and an invitation to serve in the court of Queen Elizabeth, to enter the Catholic priesthood. He displayed heroic virtue in ministering to his fellow Catholics, despite great personal danger and widespread oppression. During the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the Catholic Church was displaced by the Church of England. English monasteries were dissolved and Catholics were brutally persecuted and killed.

Campion was born in London, the son of a bookseller near St Paul's Cathedral. He was first educated at Christ's Hospital school. In August 1553, at age 13, he was selected to make the complimentary speech for the visit of Queen Mary. He attended St John's College, Oxford, where he became a junior fellow and took the Oath of Supremacy. In 1564, he earned a master's degree and two years later, welcomed Queen Elizabeth I to the university. She was deeply impressed by his oratory and intellect. So much so, that she promised him her patronage and a position in her court. Compelled to follow that path, he was originally ordained an Anglican deacon. His path to power and prestige was assured, yet, in the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences. God would move Campion's heart.

The more he studied theology, the more he became convinced that the Catholic Church had the true faith. He journeyed to Dublin in 1569, to live as a Catholic, but would eventually return to London. In June 1571, he left England for Belgium where the English College trained seminarians for England. Campion finished his degree in 1573, and traveled to Rome with the intention of becoming a Jesuit.

Within a month of his arrival in Rome, he was accepted into the Society of Jesus. Since there was neither an English province nor an English mission, he was assigned to the Austrian province, and went to Prague and Brno to make his novitiate. He remained in Prague, after professing his vows and was ordained there, fully expecting to spend the rest of his life there teaching. He wrote, lectured and directed plays for his students, winning renown as a gifted orator.

Campion could have remained safely in Prague, but felt called to minister to abandoned Catholics in England who greatly desired the sacraments. He could only do this traveling in disguise, celebrating the sacraments in secret, and avoiding the many spies who sought him out. But Campion did not keep his mission a secret. He wrote and circulated the Challenge to the Privy Council to debate him on all issues between Protestants and Catholics. His mission began in 1580, but soon ended with his arrest in 1581.

Following his arrest, Campion was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. On hearing this verdict, Campion and those condemned with him joined in singing the Te Deum. He was tortured, suffering the dislocation of his bones on the rack. Despite being in agony, he held his own in debates with his persecutors. Showing her esteem, Queen Elizabeth met with Campion to urge him back into the Church of England. Campion remained steadfast and refused to renounce his Faith. Finally, on December 1, 1581, Campion received the crown of martyrdom after being hanged, drawn and quartered. Edmund Campion was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on December 9, 1886 and canonized by Pope Paul VI on December 9, 1970. Each December 1st, the anniversary of his martyrdom, the actual ropes used in his execution are placed on the altar of Saint Peter's Church for Mass.

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