December 1st 1581 - Campion Edmund And Companions
† in London
In the sixteenth and seventeenth century the Catholic Church in England has a high number of martyrs. Under King Heinrich VIII the most well-known are Chancellor Thomas Morus and Bishop John Fischer. They died in 1535. Under Queen Elizabeth Edmund Campion and his companions are particularly prominent. The group numbers ten Jesuits, ten other regulars, thirteen secular priests, and seven laymen. They all gave their lives for the freedom of conscience, for their faith, and the primacy of the pope.
Edmund Campion was born on January 25th 1540 in London and as the best pupil of London he could welcome Queen Mary by her solemn entry in 1553. Thirteen years later (1566) as student in Oxford he could welcome Queen Elizabeth with a Latin speech.
In view of his high talents Campion stood to win a splendid career. A condition for his career was however the taking of the oath of supremacy. He took that oath in 1564 and acknowledged so the king as the highest lord of the Church of England. After the study of the Church Fathers and the controversial theologians he got doubts about the correctness of his decision. His distance to the Anglican doctrine widened more and more. He travelled to Douai in Flanders to the English College, which had been created 1568 by the later Cardinal W. Allens to win England back for the Catholic church, and performed there officially his return to the Catholic Church.
In March 1573 he went to Rome, where he was admitted to the Society of Jesus and was assigned to the Austrian Province of the Order. Over Vienna he came to Prague and Brno. There he made his noviciate and was in 1578 ordained priest at the celebration of Our Lady's birth. He worked afterwards in Prague as professor of rhetoric and philosophy, as Father Confessor and preacher with so great success that even the Emperor Rudolf II became aware of him and visited his sermons.
In 1580 Father General Everhard Mercurian called Campion to Rome, because he had selected him for the mission in England. With far-reaching authority and the benediction of Pope Gregor XIII Campion and his companions set out to England. Still at the day of their departure an agent of the English government, which had been infiltrated as a student into the English College in Rome, imparted their names to the English police. They travelled over Milan and Reims, and on June 24th they dared the passage from Calais to Dover. After overcoming numerous difficulties they reached London on June 26th 1580. Already on June 29th Campion held in London before a selected circle of Catholics a lecture about the primacy of St Peter (Matth 16,18) for the celebration of Peter and Paul.
Campion came also as writer forward as defender of the Catholic Church. He wrote a paper for the students of the Universities Oxford and Cambridge, which he completed at Easter 1581. It had the title 'Decem Rationes' - ten reasons for the defence of the Catholic faith.
After one year of successful activity Campion was arrested and condemned to death because of alleged conspiracy against Queen Elizabeth. He was hung on December 1st 1581 and his body was quartered.
After the beatification of the whole group of the English Martyrs in the year 1929, they were canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 25th 1970.
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