|St. Edmund Campion, S.J.|
Today is the feast day of one of my favorite Saints, St. Edmund Campion (1540-1581). As an Anglican, he was one of Oxford University’s brightest students, personally welcoming Queen Elizabeth during her visit to the University. He went on to become an Anglican deacon, but his seminary formation exposed him to the Church Fathers in a serious way for the first time. Discovering that, contrary to what he’d been taught, the early Christians were actually Catholic, Edmund had no choice but to return to the Catholic Church in which he had been raised.
This posed a bit of a problem, as Catholicism was illegal in England at the time, and Edmund wasn’t exactly low-profile. He fled the island, first to Ireland, then to Europe, and was there reunited with the Church. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1573, and became a priest in 1580. He was then sent back to England, where he wasted no time preaching the Gospel. Queen Elizabeth’s government quickly learned of his presence, and the hunt was on. His ministry in England didn’t last long: in July of 1581, a spy named George Eliot turned him. He was arrested, tortured and martyred by the British government.
John Chapman, in the 1881 Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, recounts the circumstances of his death:
He was apprehended in Oxfordshire, on the i;th of July, 1581, brought to London, and lodged in the Tower. Every effort was made to induce him to conform. He was brought into the presence of the Queen and the Earl of Leicester, and Hopton, the governor of the Tower, was instructed to tell him that even the Archbishoprick of Canterbury was not beyond his reach. When these efforts proved fruitless, he was twice tortured on the rack, and on the 20th November, 1581, he was brought to trial. No act of treason was proved against him : with such skill and logical force did he conduct his defence, that even the spectators in court looked for an acquittal ; but the order had been given, and he was condemned to death with the rest. The general feeling that the verdict was against the evidence has been confirmed by recent research amongst the State papers.
What’s remarkable is that, in the little more than a year he spent in England, Campion administered the sacraments, preached, and wrote two important works: Campion’s Brag and the Ten Reasons. Yet more remarkably, these works were composed in Latin on an illegal printing press while Campion was on the run. Both are worthy of the read: Campion’s Brag is a profession of his faith, and a defense against the charge of treason (for opposing the state religion); the Ten Reasons are what the book calls “Ten Reasons Proposed To His Adversaries For Disputation In The Name Of The Faith.” In other words, he’s giving his Protestant readers ten reasons to reject the Reformation in favor of Catholicism.
At times, Campion’s tone is sharp, and not politically correct by today’s standards. Try to bear in mind the circumstances in which it was written, because the content of what Campion has to offer is virtually unparalleled (the only Reformation-era apologist that I would place above Campion is St. Francis de Sales, partially due to de Sales’ sweeter tone). Plus, while Campion’s sharpness can be jarring, it can also be illuminating, as he lays out the truth bluntly. I want to carefully explore excerpts from each of the ten reasons that Campion gives, rather than presenting them all at once. So today, let’s just focus on the first of his reasons; Scripture.
I’ve mentioned the “canon problem” that Protestantism has before, but I like the way that Campion approaches it. He begins by situating the problem historically:
The Table of Contents and beginning of the First Reason, from the original Decem Rationes (Ten Reasons)
Of the many signs that tell of the adversaries’ mistrust of their own cause, none declares it so loudly as the shameful outrage they put upon the majesty of the Holy Bible. After they have dismissed with scorn the utterances and suffrages of the rest of the witnesses, they are nevertheless brought to such straits that they cannot hold their own otherwise than by laying violent hands on the divine volumes themselves, thereby showing beyond all question that they are brought to their last stand, and are having recourse to the hardest and most extreme of expedients to retrieve their desperate and ruined fortunes. What induced the Manichees to tear out the Gospel of Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles? Despair. For these volumes were a torment to men who denied Christ’s birth of a Virgin, and who pretended that the Spirit then first descended upon Christians when their peculiar Paraclete, a good-for-nothing Persian, made his appearance. What induced the Ebionites to reject all St. Paul’s Epistles? Despair. For while those Letters kept their credit, the custom of circumcision, which these men had reintroduced, was set aside as an anachronism. What induced that crime-laden apostate Luther to call the Epistle of James contentious, turgid, arid, a thing of straw, and unworthy of the Apostolic spirit? Despair. For by this writing the wretched man’s argument of righteousness consisting in faith alone was stabbed through and rent assunder. What induced Luther’s whelps to expunge off-hand from the genuine canon of Scripture, Tobias, Ecclesiasticus, Maccabees, and, for hatred of these, several other books involved in the same false charge? Despair. For by these Oracles they are most manifestly confuted whenever they argue about the patronage of Angels, about free will, about the faithful departed, about the intercession of Saints. Is it possible? So much perversity, so much audacity?
After trampling underfoot Church, Councils, Episcopal Sees, Fathers, Martyrs, Potentates, Peoples, Laws, Universities, Histories, all vestiges of Antiquity and Sanctity, and declaring that they would settle their disputes by the written word of God alone, to think that they should have emasculated that same Word, which alone was left, by cutting out of the whole body so many excellent and goodly parts! Seven whole books, to ignore lesser diminutions, have the Calvinists cut out of the Old Testament. The Lutherans take away the Epistle of James besides, and, in their dislike of that, five other Epistles, about which there had been controversy of old in certain places and times. To the number of these the latest authorities at Geneva add the book of Esther and about three chapters of Daniel, which their fellow-disciples, the Anabaptists, had some time before condemned and derided.
The Reformation begins with the noble-sounding ambition that the Bible trumps everything, including the Church. But it turns out, having rejected the authority of the Church, the Reformers had no way of knowing which books belonged in the Bible. So they all throw out part of the Bible (the Deuterocanon, and the Greek portions of Esther and Daniel), and can’t even agree amongst themselves which books ought to be considered Scripture. Rather than elevating the authority of Sacred Scripture, this ends up undermining its authority.
By way of contrast, Campion points to Augustine, revered by Catholics and Protestants alike, as a model of how one ought to approach the canon of Scripture:
How much greater was the modesty of Augustine (De doct. Christ. lib. 2, c. 8.), who, in making his catalogue of the Sacred Books, did not take for his rule the Hebrew Alphabet, like the Jews, nor private judgment, like the Sectaries, but that Spirit wherewith Christ animates the whole Church. The Church, the guardian of this treasure, not its mistress (as heretics falsely make out), vindicated publicly in former times by very ancient Councils this entire treasure, which the Council of Trent has taken up and embraced. Augustine also in a special discussion on one small portion of Scripture cannot bring himself to think that any man’s rash murmuring should be permitted to thrust out of the Canon the book of Wisdom, which even in his time had obtained a sure place as a well-authenticated and Canonical book in the reckoning of the Church, the judgment of ages, the testimony of ancients, and the sense of the faithful. What would he say now if he were alive on earth, and saw men like Luther and Calvin manufacturing Bibles, filing down Old and New Testament with a neat pretty little file of their own, setting aside, not the book of wisdom alone, but with it very many others from the list of Canonical Books?
Turning back to the Reformers, Campion shows the absurdity of each of the competing Protestant sects claiming that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to form their contradictory Biblical canons:
Sir Joseph Noel Paton, Dawn: Luther at Erfurt (1861)
Seated in their armchairs as censors, as though any one had elected them to that office, they seize their pens and mark passages as spurious even in God’s own Holy Writ, putting their pens through whatever they cannot stomach. […] I would ask them what right they have to rend and mutilate the body of the Bible. They would answer that they do not cut out true Scriptures, but prune away supposititious accretions. By authority of what judge? By the Holy Ghost. This is the answer prescribed by Calvin (Instit. lib. I, c. 7), for escaping this judgment of the Church whereby spirits of prophesy are examined. Why then do some of you tear out one piece of Scripture, and others another, whereas you all boast of being led by the same Spirit?
Campion supports this characterization by giving several examples of the Reformers having contradictory canons of Scripture:
The Spirit of the Calvinists receives six Epistles which do not please the Lutheran Spirit, both all the while in full confidence reposing on the Holy Ghost. The Anabaptists call the book of Job a fable, intermixed with tragedy and comedy. How do they know? The Spirit has taught them. Whereas the Song of Solomon is admired by Catholics as a paradise of the soul, a hidden manna, and rich delight in Christ, Castalio [Sebastian Castellio], a lewd rogue, has reckoned it nothing better than a love-song about a mistress, and an amorous conversation with Court flunkeys. Whence drew he that intimation? From the Spirit. In the Apocalypse of John, every jot and tittle of which Jerane declares to bear some lofty and magnificent meaning, Luther and Brent [Johannes Brenz] and Kemnitz [Martin Chemnitz], critics hard to please, find something wanting, and are inclined to throw over the whole book. Whom have they consulted? The Spirit.
Luther with preposterous heat pits the Four Gospels one against another (Praef. in Nov. Test.), and far prefers Paul’s Epistles to the first three, while he declares the Gospel of St. John above the rest to be beautiful, true, and worthy of mention in the first place,—thereby enrolling even the Apostles, so far as in him lay, as having a hand in his quarrels. Who taught him to do that? The Spirit. Nay this imp of a friar has not hesitated in petulant style to assail Luke’s Gospel because therein good and virtuous works are frequently commended to us. Whom did he consult? The Spirit. Theodore Beza has dared to carp at, as a corruption and perversion of the original, that mystical word from the twenty-second chapter of Luke, this is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which (chalice) shall be shed for you [Greek: potaerion ekchunomenon], because this language admits of no explanation other than that of the wine in the chalice being converted into the true blood of Christ. Who pointed that out? The Spirit. In short, in believing all things every man in the faith of his own spirit, they horribly belie and blaspheme the name of the Holy Ghost. So acting, do they not give themselves away? are they not easily refuted?
Obviously, many of these references are dated. Modern Protestants have abandoned all of these positions on Scripture: they think that Luther’s canon was wrong (too small), Calvin’s canon was wrong (too big), and so on. But is that really an argument in favor of modern Protestantism: that it uses a canon that was used neither by the early Christians, nor the institutional Church of any age, nor even the Reformers?
All of this demands the question of where the Protestant 66-book canon comes from, and why we should trust it. Campion has demolished the idea that it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. What does that leave, exactly?