“I am a Catholic man and a priest,” declared St. Edmund Campion (whose feast we celebrated last week) from the scaffold in 1581, moments before he was hanged for the crime of being a priest in Queen Elizabeth I’s England. His final words echo through the centuries to us, beleaguered by enemies outside the Church and slithering within her.
“In that faith have I lived and in that faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then am I guilty; as for other treason I never committed any, God is my judge.”
Formerly an Anglican, Campion had been the brightest young scholar at Oxford. At age thirty, he understood that the Anglican Church was heretical. But that was not, according to his biographer Evelyn Waugh, the reason he converted. He could have ignored the heresy, as most of his scholar-friends did, and gone on blithely to enjoy earthly comforts and fame.
But conformity to the world and to public pressure would not be his way. In Waugh’s telling, Campion converted because he wrestled with more fundamental questions: “[W]hether, in point of fact, heresy was a matter of great importance; whether in problems of such infinite magnitude human minds could ever hope for accuracy, whether all formulations were not, of necessity, so inadequate that their differences were of no significance.”
In other words, Campion understood that we can know the truth and, because of this fact, we must submit to it to be set free.
Today it’s easy to think like Campion’s contemporaries: that belief in God is good but the details do not really matter: that all religions are the same; that as long as a man lives as a “good person” he will go to Heaven. Campion’s heroic death teaches us that God is real, that we can hear His voice calling in our hearts, and that true religion matters for our eternal salvation. And, most importantly, he testifies that to walk away from God’s call is to suffer a worse death than the gruesome butchering he endured after he was hanged.
Campion was invincibly confident in the truth of Catholic teaching over Protestant objections. One month before his capture (following his conversion in France, his ordination in Rome, and his return to England), he published a pamphlet, Ten Reasons, that answered such objections and exposed the weaknesses of Protestantism as a theological position.
At the time, English Protestantism was – religiously, intellectually, and socially – the only faith allowed in England. Yet the Oxford dons did not want to debate Campion, likely because they knew the inferiority of their position and his clear ability to expose it.
His ten reasons are less immediately relevant today when secularists, non-believers, and unconvinced Catholics – not Protestants – pose greater resistance to Catholic claims. But with Campion for inspiration, we can take on their arguments and establish the superiority of the Catholic position because it speaks to the truth of what human beings are and are called to be.
Here, briefly, are Ten Reasons for our own time, inspired by Campion’s example:
1. God exists and we can know Him. Rational demonstrations and personal experience all point in God’s direction. There is no need to distrust our intuitions. Then let us consider the lives of the saints. St. Francis and St. Clare are legends because they believed in God with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strength.
2. God created to share His love, and everything He created is good – especially human beings, the crown of His creation.
3. Our lives have meaning and purpose because God chose you and me to receive His love. He did not have to. He wanted to. Let us, therefore, rejoice in Him.
4. Evil is real and we are fallen. But we are not hopeless.
5. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gives us hope because He became man to lift us up to God. In Him we have redemption from our sins.
6. God created us in His image and likeness, which includes possessing the freedom to choose. We maximize our freedom when we choose to obey God’s will, which in the big picture includes the Ten Commandments and on the microlevel includes every situation we face every day.
7. God numbers the hairs on our head, so He cares what we do. Our actions have consequences that reverberate in eternity. Past sins need not define us if we repent of them. Being Catholic is not about where we have been but where we are going.
8. Suffering is a reality in life that challenges our limits of comprehension. But we know in faith that any suffering can be redemptive for us if we bear it along with Christ carrying His cross to Calvary.
9. Mass and Confession are essential goods for the soul that must be sought at least weekly and monthly, respectively. These gifts from God receive their power from the Church, which is the extension of the Son’s incarnation in time.
10. Eternal life is real. How we live provides the basis for the reward or punishment we receive.
When he returned to England as a Jesuit priest, Campion knew he was courting death. But he was not afraid; he knew God was with him and guaranteed the truth of the Catholic doctrine and sacraments he came to communicate. Before beginning his clandestine travels through the countryside, he dashed off what is now called “Campion’s Brag,” a declaration of his purpose in returning to England.
Trusting that God will triumph here in our own lives, let us evangelize with our Ten Reasons, drawing energy from The Brag’s culminating sentence: “The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.”
*Image: Edmund Campion by 17th-century printmaker Johann Martin Lerch [British Museum, London]
You may also enjoy some of our most popular columns from the last dozen years:
Prof. Bonagura’s Why Catholicism is the True Religion
Terence K. O’Leary’s Is Confession Dead?