Edmund Campion, born in 1540, was one of the most promising young men at Oxford. When Elizabeth visited the university in 1566, she was so impressed by him that she assured him of her patronage. Although there was a strong Protestant group in the university, Oxford then had a population of students who were mostly Catholic in religion, for laws against Catholics were not rigidly enforced. Campion, who as proctor held a responsible position, was suspected of Catholicism, however, and was asked to make a public declaration of his principles by delivering a sermon in a suitable church. He refused, and when his term was over he left for Dublin, where he was warmly received by the Stanihurst family. A university was to be built in Dublin, and he was waiting to accept a post on its faculty. Then rebellion threatened, and all Catholics were ordered arrested. Campion managed to escape and make his way to Dousai and the English College there.
The mild restrictions against Catholics turned into persecution when the Pope issued a Bull of Excommunication against Queen Elizabeth. Because of the fear of a French-Spanish alliance against England, the Bull caused grave anxiety in England and led to reprisals against Catholics. It became illegal to hear mass, to harbor a priest, or openly to profess Catholicism.
With the Catholic bishops imprisoned, thereby preventing the ordination of priests, and with all Catholic schools closed, the faith began to die out in England. The college at Dousai sent young English priests into England to preserve the faith of the English Catholics.
Campion went to Douai and became a priest. Then he announced his intention of going to Rome entering the Society of Jesus. Although Dr. Allen, the venerable head of the college, did not like to lose him to the Jesuits, he made no objection to Campion’s plans. Admitted into the Society, Campion was sent to Bohemia, where he held important posts at the University of Prague.
Dr. Allen wrote Campion a letter informing him that he was to go to England. He and a few others, including Robert Persons, who had been an undergraduate at Oxford during the time of Campion’s proctorship, were to be smuggled into England, there to carry on the work of the Church. They all realized that capture meant certain death. Campion demanded that Persons be made his superior before the group departed. Though the English government had learned of the group’s intentions and had all the ports guarded, the priests succeeded in getting into England.
In disguise, Campion visited the homes of various Catholics, where he said mass and brought the sacraments to the faithful who had been long without them. He wrote his famous CAMPION’S BRAG, a defense of himself and his Church, which the best minds of the Anglican Church were called upon to answer. Persons wrote his own CENSURE of the Anglican reply. Later Campion wrote his equally famous TEN REASONS.
Persecution grew more intense, with Campion the prize the government most hoped to capture. During one of...
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