In the Preface to the American edition of his 1946 biography of the Jesuit saint and martyr, Edmund Campion, Evelyn Waugh wrote:
We have seen the Church driven underground in one country after another. The martyrdom of Fr. Pro in Mexico re-enacted Campion’s. In fragments and whispers we get news of the other saints in the prison camps of Eastern and South Eastern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England and of the same pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended. The hunted, trapped, murdered priest is amongst us again, and the voice of Campion comes to us across the centuries as though he were walking at our side.
Is ours another age of persecution? Is the time since the end of the cold war what Waugh would call “a brief truce in an unending war?” When even the Pope abdicates, is there anything solid and lasting on this earth? It is this “unending war” that we will consider in these brief thoughts. More particularly, the fact that the enemy in this unending war has used a powerful weapon—he has assaulted our reason making us unsure of who we are, whose side we’re on, or that there is even a war.
The political and cultural situation in our country makes a consideration of Campion and this “unending war” more relevant than ever. Though the roots of this problem stretch back to the Garden of Eden and more recently to the Enlightenment, the more proximate cause of our cultural decline has been a lack of confidence in the human intellect and in the intellect’s ability to know God through faith as well as reason.
Culturally, the last forty years has seen a progressive (I use that term purposefully with all that it implies) dimming of the intellect and a substitution for the hard work of thinking with a priori assumptions and sloganeering. I often wonder if the smart guys—the university professors, political leaders, and the members of the media—have a “Lexicon of Cultural Dogmas” (LCD) wherein to reference and propagate their causes du jour. Perhaps LCD is not an inappropriate acronym as it does refer to the screens to which modern man is so often glued. But I digress. To attain worldly honors, riches, and accolades the aforementioned elites generally pursue both a worship of Mammon and a subservience to power, both in an effort to have a share of both. Right thinking and sound morals are put aside for the attainment of the goal; or the goal justifies the putting aside of these things in order that when one attains such, he can impose the morality of the elite. How often have we seen the desire to attain power to “right the wrongs” of society or a community. These elites look to the past, unfortunately they see nothing good in the past, they focus only on injustices—real or perceived. They then use their positions of influence to enforce upon an unwitting and, initially, unwilling populace their LCD.
What is the response of the populace, the “regular Joes and Janes?” Oftentimes, subservience; more often, silence. From the intellectually gifted graduate student to the simple common sense grandmother, there is frequently a lack of conviction or confidence in their ability to challenge the elite and their LCD. How often have we heard a hesitancy to challenge something ridiculous because it was said by a professor or politician or media talking head?
I was recently reminded of this when I engaged in a discussion with a female graduate student from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. The issue at hand was the fidelity expected of the faithful to the Magisterium. She challenged this by stating that definitive pronouncements by the Magisterium “stifles the Spirit” and displays a “creeping infallibility.” In the same conversation, she questioned the need for infallibility at all. This from a Catholic! She bought the a priori assumptions of the modernist schools of theology; never questioning, I would wager, what “stifling the Spirit” might mean. I responded by posing to her something that we all should have learned in our second grade catechism: Jesus is God. Jesus founded the Church as His Instrument of salvation for the entire human race. He entrusted the Faith and Sacraments to her and established a structure wherein she would faithfully transmit such throughout the ages. He also promised that He would not abandon her. How could the Magisterium err under such conditions and with the promise of Our Lord? The young graduate student chose not to answer. I suspect, for her, it is because of a crisis in confidence; a crisis of faith. A lack of confidence in the Church, and ultimately Our Lord!
It is also a crisis of reason. Understanding that God is outside of time and sees everything whereas our ken can only apprehend that which is before us (and indeed in a limited way), we must continually place our trust in Him. Understanding also that God would never contradict Himself or go back on His word to us, we have the assurance of the certainty of the truth. Why, therefore, do people place their trust in the elites—parroting the LCD of the politicians, professors and public faces? Why do they analyze people and events through the lens of the City of Man rather than through the lens of the City of God? Indeed, the eras of Elizabeth I and now—increasingly—Obama, are not so different. Will we have the courage in the coming days and years to withstand the enforcement of the elite’s LCD? Have we the courage of a Fr. Campion who spoke the truth to power and risked his own life to bring the truth to those who suffered at the hands of an elite enforcing their unjust dictates? Have we the courage of a Mrs. Yate who—risking her life—hid Fr. Campion in her home, Lyford Grange?
Campion is a model for us today. His was an integrated and secure mind—confident in his reason and even more so in His faith. The City of God was his preoccupation not the accolades of the City of Man. For priests, especially Jesuits, his example is of particular importance; for the laity, not only his example, but his lay associates, like Mrs. Yate, are an example of courage for us today. Our faith is in Christ and His Church; it is not in the worldly elite. Our dogmas are His dogmas—the truth; not the passing fancies or fads of a rather provincial and passing crowd.
Perhaps the coming years for us will echo Campion’s last sermon before he was arrested at Lyford. The text was from the Gospel of the day’s Mass: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets.” In the words of Evelyn Waugh, “It was the Tenebrae of his Passion. Never, it was remembered, had his eloquence been more compelling than in this last sermon.” I suspect that this last sermon had something to do with confirming the brethren and instructing them not to lose heart or the faith. In a word, to be confident in their God and His Church.
Lyford Grange, the house where Campion was captured.