Sunday, April 06, 2008

Truth over injustice, mercy and love over betrayal

Edmund Campion, by Evelyn Waugh

(the first part of this post is here)

The jury returned with the inevitable verdict. The Lord Chief Justice demanded whether there was any cause why he should not pass sentence of death upon the prisoners.

It was then that Campion’s voice rose in triumph. He was no longer haggling with perjurers; he spoke now, not merely for the handful of doomed men behind him, nor to that sordid court, but for the whole gallant company of the English counter-Reformation; to all his contemporaries and all the posterity of his race: -

“It was not our death that ever we feared. But we knew that we were not lords of our own lives, and therefore for want of answer would not be guilty of our deaths. The only thing that we have now to say is, that if our religion do make us traitors, we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise are, and have been, as good subjects as ever the Queen had.

“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 judgment is not so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.”

The Lord Chief Justice answered: “You must go to the place from whence you came, there to remain until ye shall be drawn through the open City of London upon hurdles to the palace of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cot off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your heads to be cut off and your bodies divided into four parts, to be disposed of at her Majesty’s pleasure. And God have mercy on your souls.”

As the Lord Chief Justice’s final commendation sounded, with peculiar irony, through Westminster Hall, the condemned men broke into the words of the Te Deum and were led back in triumph to their several prisons.

There was 11 days between the trial and execution; only one visit is recorded, that of the “pursuivant” – the professional Catholic hunter who betrayed and captured Campion.

“If I had thought that you would have had to suffer aught but imprisonment through my accusing of you, I would never have done it,” he said, “however I might have lost by it.”

“If that is the case,” replied Campion, “I beseech you, in God’s name, to do penance, and confess your crime, to God’s glory and your own salvation.”

But it was fear for his life rather than for his soul that had brought the informer to the Tower; ever since the journey from Lydford, when the people had called him “Judas,” he had been haunted by the spectre of Catholic reprisal.

“You are much deceived,” said Campion, “if you thing the Catholics push their detestation and wrath as far as revenge; yet to make you quite safe, I will, if you please, recommend you to a Catholic duke in Germany, where you may live in perfect security.

But it was another man who was saved by the offer. Elliot went back to his trade of spy; Delahays, Campion’s gaoler, who was present at the interview, was so moved by Campion’s generosity that he became a Catholic.

Delehays continued the unending tradition of the faith; from the Roman circus, to Augustine's day, through Campion's time, to now men have seen the witness of the martyrs and stepped joyfully into their newly emptied shoes. Waugh did a beautiful job of capturing that faith so well attested by Bede eleven centuries before him.

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