St. Edmund Campion’s Epistle to Richard Cheney, Bishop of Gloucester, written from Douai in 1572. Transcribed from Edmund Campion : A Biography by Richard Simpson (1896)

Simpson writes on p. 66 :

“Dr. Allen’s splendid foundation at Douai was now beginning to flourish…One of Dr. Allen’s rules was, that, while those who were now forgotten in their old circles busied themselves in writing books, or in instructing the scholars, the young men, whose memories were still fresh in the affections of those they had left at home, should write letters to move them to attend to the salvation of their souls, and to beseech them not to damn themselves wilfully, under pretence of preserving their property for themselves and their children. The letters by which Gregory Martin had drawn Campion to Douai are only specimens of the practical utility of this rule. And before he left Douai, Campion obtained some results from the same practice. He wrote to certain special friends of his in England, some Catholics and some Protestants, with such fervour, that some of them were moved by his words to leave all and follow him to Douai. To this rule of Dr. Allen we are indebted for perhaps the most beautiful of all Campion’s compositions,—his letter to Cheney, the Bishop of Gloucester {Nov. 1, 1571), ‘whom,’ says Persons, ‘he doth so rattle up (yet with great modesty and show of reverence, and hearty good will), that it may easily appear how abundantly God had imparted His Holy Spirit unto him, for his letter is truly apostolic.’ ”

¶ It is not now as of old the dash of youth, or facility of pen, nor even a dutiful regard of your favours, that makes me write to you. I used to write from the mere abundance of my heart ;—a greater necessity has forced me to write this letter. We have already been too long subservient to men’s years, to the times, to our heaps of glory ; at length let us say something for the service of our soul. I beg you by your own natural goodness, by my tears, even by the pierced side of Christ, to listen to me. There is no end nor measure to my thinking of you ; and I never think of you without being horribly ashamed, praying silently, and repeating the text of the Psalm, Ab alienis, Domine, parce servo tuo. What have I done? It is written, Videbas furem et currebas cum eo ; and again, Laudatur peccator in desideriis suis, et impius benedicitur. So often was I with you at Gloucester, so often in your private chamber, so many hours have I spent in your study and library, with no one near us, when I could have done this business, and I did it not ; and what is worse, I have added flames to the fever by assenting & assisting. And although you were superior to me in your counterfeited dignity, in wealth, age, and learning ; and though I was not bound to look after the physicking or dieting of your soul, yet since you were of so easy and sweet a temper as in spite of your gray hairs to admit me, young as I was, to familiar intercourse with you, to say whatever I chose, in all security and secrecy, while you imparted to me your sorrows, and all the calumnies of the other heretics against you ; and since like a father you exhorted me to walk straight and upright in the royal road, to follow the steps of the Church, the councils and fathers, and to believe that where there was a consensus of these there could be no spot of falsehood, I am very angry with myself that I neglected to use such a beautiful opportunity of recommending the faith through false modesty or culpable negligence, that I did not address with boldness one who was so near to the kingdom of God, but that while I enjoyed your favour and renown I promoted rather the shadowy notion of my own honour than your eternal good.

¶ But as I have no longer the occasion that I had of persuading you face to face, it remains that I should send my words to you to witness my regard, my care, my anxiety for you, known to Him to whom I make my daily prayer for your salvation. Listen, I beseech you, listen to a few words. You are sixty years old, more or less, of uncertain health, of weakened body, the hatred of heretics, the pity of Catholics, the talk of the people, the sorrow of your friends, the joke of your enemies. Against your conscience you falsely usurp the name of a bishop, by your silence you advance a pestilential sect which you love not, stricken with anathema, cut off from the body into which alone the graces of Christ flow, you are deprived of the benefit of all prayers, sacrifices, and sacraments. Who do you think yourself to be? What do you expect? What is your life? Wherein lies your hope? In the heretics hating you so implacably, and abusing you so roundly? Because of all heresiarchs you are the least crazy? Because you confess the living presence of Christ on the altar, and the freedom of man’s will? Because you persecute no Catholics in your diocese? Because you are hospitable to your townspeople, and to good men? Because you plunder not your palace and lands as your brethren do? Surely these things will avail much, if you return to the bosom of the Church, if you suffer even the smallest persecution in common with those of the household of faith, or join your prayers with theirs. But now whilst you are a stranger and an enemy, whilst like a base deserter you fight under an alien flag, it is in vain to attempt to cover your crimes with the cloak of virtues. You shall gain nothing, except perhaps to be tortured somewhat less horribly in the everlasting fire than Judas or Luther or Zwinglius, or than those antagonists of yours, Cooper, Humphrey, and Samson. What signifies the kind of death? Death is the same, whether you are thrown from a tall rock into the sea, or pushed from a low bank into the river; whether a man is killed by iron or rope, by rack or bullet, by knife or axe ; whether pounded by stones or by clubs, whether roasted with fire or boiled in scalding water. What is the use of fighting for many articles of the faith, and to perish for doubting of a few? To escape shipwreck and to fall by the dagger? To flee from the plague and die of famine? To avoid the flames and be suffocated with the smoke? He believes no one article of the faith who refuses to believe any single one. For as soon as he knowingly oversteps the bounds of the Church, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, to which Christ Jesus, the highest, first, and most simple truth, the source, light, leader, line, and rule of the faithful, reveals all these articles,—whatever else of Catholic doctrine he retains, yet if he obstinately depraves one dogma, that which he holds he holds not by orthodox faith, without which it is impossible to please God, but by his own reason, his own conviction. In vain do you defend the religion of Catholics, if you hug only that which you like, and cut off all that seems not right in your eyes. There is but one plain known road, not enclosed by your palings or mine, not by private judgment, but by the severe laws of humility and obedience ; when you wander from this you are lost. You must be altogether within the house of God, within the walls of salvation, to be sound and safe from all injury ; if you wander and walk abroad ever so little, if you carelessly thrust hand or foot out of the ship, if you stir up ever so small a mutiny in the crew, you shall be thrust forth,—the door is shut, the ocean roars, you are undone. He who gathereth not with Me, saith the Saviour, scattereth. Jerome explains, He who is not Christ’s is Antichrist’s. You are not stupid enough to follow the heresy of the Sacramentarians ; you are not mad enough to be in all things a slave of Luther’s faction, now condemned in the general councils of Constance and Trent, which you yourself think authoritative. And yet you stick in the mire of your imagination, and wish to seem to hit the bird in the eye, and to sit as a friendly arbitrator in the petty disputes of your brethren. Do you remember the sober and solemn answer which you gave me, when three years ago we met in the house of Thomas Dutton at Shireburn, where we were to dine? We were talking of St. Cyprian. I objected to you, in order to discover your real opinions, that synod of Carthage which erred about the baptism of infants. You answered truly, that the Holy Spirit was not promised to one province, but to the Church ; that the universal Church is represented in a full council; & that no doctrine can be pointed out, about which such a council ever erred. Acknowledge your own weapons which you used against the adversaries of the mystery of the Eucharist. You cry up the Christian world, the assemblies of bishops, the guardians of the deposit, that is, the ancient faith ; these you commend to the people as the interpreters of Scripture ; most rightly do you ridicule and refute the impudent figment of certain thieves and robbers. Now what do you say? Here you have the most celebrated fathers and patriarchs and apostolic men, collected at Trent, who have all united to contend for the ancient faith of the fathers. Legates, prelates, cardinals, bishops, deputies, doctors, of diverse nations, of mature age, rare wisdom, princely dignity, wonderful learning. There were collected Italians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, Greeks, Poles, Hungarians, Flemings, Illyrians, many Germans, some Irish, Croats, Moravians,—even England was not unrepresented. All these, whilst you live as you are living, anathematise you, hiss you out, excommunicate you, abjure you. What reason can you urge? Especially now you have declared war against your colleagues, why do you not make full submission, without any exceptions, to the discipline of these fathers? See you aught in the Lord’s Supper that they saw not, discussed not, resolved not? Dare you equal yourself by even the hundredth part with the lowest theologians of this council? I have confidence in your discretion and modesty ; you dare not. You are surpassed, then, by your judges in number, value, weight, and in the serious and clear testimony of the whole world. Once more consult your own heart, my poor old friend ; give me back your old beauty, and those excellent gifts which have been hitherto smothered in the mud of dishonesty. Give yourself to your mother, who begot you to Christ, nourished you, consecrated you ; acknowledge how cruel and undutiful you have been ; let confession be the salve of your sin. You have one foot in the grave ; you must die, perhaps directly, certainly in very short time, and stand before that tribunal, where you will hear, Give an account of thy stewardship ; and unless while you are on the way you make it up quickly and exactly with the adversary of sin, it shall be required to the last farthing, and you shall be driven miserably from the land of the living by Him whom you will never be able to pay. Then those hands which have conferred spurious orders on so many wretched youths shall for very pain scratch and tear your sulphurous body ; that impure mouth, defiled with falsehood and schism, shall be filled with fire and worms and the breath of tempests. That high pomp of your flesh, your episcopal throne, your yearly revenues, spacious palace, honourable greetings, band of servants, elegant furniture,-that affluence for which the poor ignorant people esteem you so happy, shall be exchanged for fearful waitings, gnashing of teeth, stink, filth, dirt, and chains. There shall the spirits of Calvin and Zwinglius, whom you now oppose, afflict you for ever, with Arius, Sabellius, Nestorius, Wiclif, Luther,—with the devil and his angels you shall suffer the pains of darkness, and belch out blasphemies. Spare yourself, be merciful to your soul, spare my grief. Your ship is wrecked, your merchandise lost ; nevertheless, seize the plank of penance, and come even naked to the port of the Church. Fear not but that Christ will preserve you with His hand, run to meet you, kiss you, and put on you the white garment ; saints and angels will sing for joy. Take no thought for your life ; He will take thought for you who gives the beasts their food, and feeds the young ravens that call upon Him. If you but made trial of our banishment, if you but cleared your conscience, and came to behold and consider the living examples of piety which are shown here by bishops, priests, friars, masters of colleges, rulers of provinces, lay people of every age, rank, and sex, I believe that you would give up six hundred Englands for the opportunity of redeeming the residue of your time by tears and sorrow. But if for divers reasons you are hindered from going freely whither you would, at least free your mind from its grievous chains ; and whether you remain, or whether you flee, set your body any task rather than let its grossness oppress you, and banish you to the depths of hell. God knows those that are His, and is near to all that call upon Him in truth. Pardon me, my venerated old friend, for these just reproaches and for the heat of my love. Suffer me to hate that deadly disease, let me ward off the imminent danger of so noble a man and so dear a friend, with any dose, however bitter. And now, if Christ gives grace, and if you do not refuse, my hopes of you are equal to my love ; and I love you as passing excellent in nature, in learning, in gentleness, in goodness, and as doubly dear to me for your many kindnesses and courtesies. If you recover your health, you make me happy for ever ; if you despise me, this letter is my witness; God judge between you and me, your blood be on yourself. Farewell.—From him that most desires your salvation,

Edmund Campion

* While it is uncertain if Cheney died in the Faith, Balbinus (Miscell. Decad. i. lib. 4, p. 196) says that he kept this letter among his archives, and prized it as his chief treasure.



1 Comment

Filed under Recusant History


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