Edmund Campion

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St. Edmund Campion (January 24,1540 - December 1, 1581) was an English Jesuit and Roman Catholic martyr.

Born in London, he received his early education at Christ's Hospital, and, as the best of the London scholars, was chosen in their name to make the complimentary speech when Queen Mary visited the city on August 3, 1553. He went to the Oxford, where he became fellow of St John's College in 1557 and took the oath of supremacy on the occasion of his degree in 1564. He had already shown his talents as a speaker at the funeral of Amy Robsart in 1560; and when Sir Thomas White, the founder of the college, was buried in 1564, the Latin oration fell to the lot of Campion. Two years later he welcomed Queen Elizabeth to the university, and won her lasting regard. He was chosen amongst the scholars to lead a public debate in front of the queen. An example of his eloquence can be seen in his introduction "One thing only reconciles me to this unequal contest, which I must maintain single-handed against four pugnacious youths; that I am speaking in the name of Philosophy the princess of letters, before Elizabeth the lettered princess" Edmund Campion - Evelyn Waugh. By the time the Queen had left Oxford Campion had earned the patronage of the powerful William Cecil and also the Earl of Leicester, tipped by some to be future husband of the young Queen. People were now talking of Campion in terms of being a future Archbishop of Canterbury, in the newly established Anglican Church.

Religious difficulties now arose; but at the persuasion of Edward Cheyney, Bishop of Gloucester, although holding Catholic doctrines, he took deacon's orders in the English Church. Inwardly "he took a remorse of conscience and detestation of mind." Rumours of his opinions began to spread and, giving up the office of proctor, he left Oxford in 1569 and went to Ireland to take part in a proposed restoration of the University of Dublin. The suspicion of papistry followed him; and orders were given for his arrest. For some three months he eluded pursuit, hiding among friends and occupying himself by writing a history of Ireland (first published in Holinshed's Chronicles), a superficial work of no real value.

At last he escaped to Douai, where he joined William Allen and was reconciled to the Roman Church. After being ordained subdeacon, he went to Rome and became a Jesuit in 1573, spending some years at Brtinn, Vienna and Prague. In 1580 the Jesuit mission to England began, and he accompanied Robert Parsons who, as superior, was intended to counterbalance Campion's fervour and impetuous zeal. He entered England in the characteristic guise of a jewel merchant, arrived in London on June 24, 1580, and at once began to preach. His presence became known to the authorities and an indiscreet declaration, "Campion's Brag," made the position more difficult. He led a hunted life, preaching and ministering to Catholics in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Lancashire.

During this time he was writing his Decem Rationes ("Ten Reasons"), a rhetorical display of reasons against the Anglican Church. The book was printed in a private press at Stonor Park, Henley, and 400 copies were found on the benches of St Mary's, Oxford, at the Commencement, on June 27, 1581. The sensation was immense, and the pursuit was stepped up. On his way to Norfolk he stopped at Lyford in Berkshire, where he preached on July 14 and the following day, by popular request. Here he was captured by a spy and taken to London, bearing on his hat a paper with the inscription, "Campion, the Seditious Jesuit."

Committed to the Tower of London, he was questioned in the presence of Elizabeth, who asked him if he acknowledged her to be true Queen of England. He replied in the affirmative, and she offered him wealth and dignities, on conditions which his conscience could not allow. He was kept a long time in prison, twice racked by order of the council, and every effort was made to shake his constancy. Despite the effect of a false rumour of retraction and a forged confession, his adversaries in despair summoned him to four public conferences (1st, 18th, 23rd and 27th of September), and although still suffering, and allowed neither time nor books for preparation, he bore himself so easily and readily that he won the admiration of most of the audience. Tortured again on October 31, he was indicted at Westminster that he with others had conspired at Rome and Reims to raise a sedition in the realm and dethrone the queen. On November 20 he was brought in guilty before Lord Chief Justice Wray; and in reply to him said: "If our religion do make traitors we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise are and have been true subjects as ever the queen had."

He received the sentence of the traitor's death with the Te Deum laudamus, and, after spending his last days in pious exercises, was led with two companions to Tyburn and executed. Of all the Jesuit missionaries who suffered for their allegiance to the ancient religion, Campion stands the highest. His life and his aspirations were pure, his zeal true and his loyalty unquestionable. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized in 1970. His feast day is December 1.

See Richard Simpson's biography, Edmund Campion (1867); Evelyn Waughs biography 'Edmund Campion' (1935) and a complete list of his works in De Backer's Bibliothèque de la compagnie de Jesus.

External links

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