Friday, May 14, 2010

This trutination of sinnes: Edmund Campion's 'Decem rationes'

Over to Stonor House, which I had not visited for many years. The house sits inconspicuously in dry side-valley of this chalk landscape, three stories high at the front, and just one at the back, orientated south, as if towards countries more favourable to its owners’ obstinately held Catholicism. Considering the history of oppressed faith to which the house has been witness (and more recent troubles) it’s a surprisingly pleasant house, its elements of Strawberry Hill Gothick alleviating what could be an oppressive family history.

Upstairs, in a room dedicated to the memory of Edmund Campion, you can peer through into the place under the eaves where Stephen Brinkley’s fugitive and clandestine press ran off the Decem Rationes, Campion’s suicidally brave ‘Ten reasons for the confidence with which Edmund Campion offered his adversaries to dispute on behalf of our Faith, set before the famous men of our Universities’. From this room copies were taken on horseback for their audaciously direct ‘setting forth’, when Father William Hartley left copies on the benches in St Mary’s Church, Oxford, to be picked up by every student attending a Commencement service (27th June, 1581), a kind of degree ceremony where ‘student supplicants for degrees were required to defend their theses’ (ODNB, Campion).

What a sensational morning that must have been! Campion’s coup perhaps gave pace to his inevitable doom: it was the flow of Oxford students eager to meet and talk with him, and talking about him, that brought his betrayer, George Eliot, to Lyford Grange, a temporary but dangerous refuge from which Campion had already departed, but students insisted that he return there, and preach.

I had never actually read the ‘Ten Reasons’ (to my shame), and the tour of the house persuaded me that I ought to do so. I read the 1632 translation. I had not expected such a spirited read, but this was ignorance on my part: Campion clearly aimed to captivate his young male readership by continuing in the same vein as his previous challenge or ‘brag’: the book enacts his positions of attack and defence in the intellectual duel he was denied (it being Campion’s wish to maintain his faith against the best theologians among his adversary Protestants):

“I did fervently demaund the Combat; not that jocularie and sportfull skirmish, which the vulgar performe in their publike streets; but that severe and grave conflict, by which we may encounter in the Schooles of your owne Universities…”

It is a book of challenge, and charge, of direct combat, with even his opponents conceding the pun on his name: “like a jolly Champion yee challeng the Combat”,
‘this bragging Champion’ who was willing to take on anyone sent out against him (and the first attempts to answer his challenge were utterly, embarrassingly, pedestrian, awkwardly jocose and without any of Campion’s gentlemanly élan).

Campion’s attacks were sweeping, while his defence gave no ground in the cause for which he fought, and for which he would die. Here he assails Martin Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin - Luther for his marriage to his Sister in Christ, Katherina von Bora:

“that unhappie Monke had polluted a Virgin (devoted to God) by incestuous copulation, or that Swash-buckler & Roaring-Boy of Helvetia had conspired against his Countrie, or that Stigmaticall fugitiue had impatronized himself of Geneva.”

The personal attack on Luther is mainly sexual. Campion is addressing young men undertaking study at a university of celibate fellows, far from marriage themselves, so it was effective (and easy) to make Luther sound incorrigibly permissive, establish a common ground between the students and the Jesuit addressing them so directly: “There yet remaine behind certaine most hurtfull gobbetts of Hereticall doctrine, touching life and Manners; the which Luther had vomited out in his papers, that so from the impure belching of his stomach, he might inhale & breath poyson into his Readers. Heare ô you Academians) with patience, but withall blush (for I presume your cheekes cannot endure such vnchast words) and pardon me, being the Relatour. If the wife will not, nor can performe the due of marriadge, let the chamber-mayde come, and stepp in her roome. Certainly the art of Venerie is as necessarie to euerie one, (see what filth he disgorgeth) as meate, drinke, or sleepe. Matrimonie is much more excellent then Virginitie, since from this latter Christ and Paul haue dehorted all Christians.”
~ Luther’s ‘Sermon on Matrimony’, apparently.

On matters of doctrine, Campion first, and most astutely, attacks Protestantism for what it had actually dared to do to the Bible Protestants so hotly maintained, particularly in the excision of the Book of Wisdom: “But what would the said Father (i.e., St Augustine) say, if he were here conversing upon earth, and should behold divers Luthers and Calvins to become Bible-makers, who with their polishing fyle and castigation have shaved the Old and New Testament…?”

The New Testament provides the proof text for Catholicism: “The words thereof even depose the Truth in our behalfe; Hoc est corpus meum; hic est sanguis meus”. The sheer directness of this thrust, the brow-beating confidence is the thing: no more really need be said.

Meanwhile, Protestant teachings are heresies which he, Campion, will not allow their authors to disown, and he produces a few prize examples: “I will cause them to owne these their Axioms and Principles: God is the authour and cause of Sinne, willing, suggesting, effecting, commanding, working, and gouerning the flagitious counsells of the wicked: As the calling of Paul, so the adulterie of Dauid, and the impietie of Judas the proditour, was the peculiar hand-worke of God. Campion supplies the incriminatory side-notes, of course, so that his impressionable readers can see for themselves the truth that has been kept from them; Calvin’s Institutes and Peter Martyr on the Book of Samuel being fingered here.

Campion has all the gifts for this sort of thing: alertness for examples, a capacity for witheringly scornful paraphrase and extrapolation, and a brass neck. You’d hardly have thought the murder of the Duke of Guise a tactful choice for the worst of sins, but it’s wittily done, and demonstrates Campion’s utter unwillingness to deviate: the Duke was a Catholic hero, and the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre nothing to worry about as remotely detracting from the Duke’s status:

“This also is obvious and frequent in their Schoole. That all Sinnes are equall; yet with this cautionarie explication … if God, as Judge, doe ballance them. As if God, who is a most just Judge, (and yet coveteth to overweigh more in Mercie, then Justice) should rather by exaggerating our offence, adde a heape than ease, to our burden. And thus in this trutination of Sinnes, it followeth, that that Cook doth not commit a lesser sinne against God most severely judging, who should kill (when there is no neede) gallum gallinaceum, a dung-hill cock, then that infamous Homicide did, which (being full of Beza) murthered with his pistol Gallum Heroa Guisit(ite?)m, the Noble French Guyse; a Prince of unmatcheable Vertue; then which facinorous act our part of Christendome in this our Age hath seene nothing more detestable, nothing more deplorable.”
(The priestly translator of Campion uses that excellent 16th and 17th century word, ‘trutination’, a mental weighing up.)

Here he brushes aside the charge of bad faith in the tragic case of Jan Hus: “A precipitate and headlong malice did overreach this Incendiarie; For after he had stirred up great combustions and Tragedies in his owne Country of Bohemia, he was commanded to make his stay at Constance; He contemned the prerogatiue of the Councell; demaunded warrant of the Emperour. The Emperour sealed thereto. The Christian World (more potent then the Emperour) unsealed. To renounce his Novelismes, this Arch-heretike could not be induced; he perished.”

Not to be a Catholic will be to end up in Hell with all the other persecutors of the true church:

“But now on the contrarie side, if it please, let us peepe and looke downe into Hell. There lye broyling in a sempiternal conflagration and flames of fire: Who? The Jewes. To which Church professed they an implacable hatred and hostilitie? To our Church. Who more? The Heathens. What Church have they most tyranniously persecuted? Ours. Who besides? Tbe Turks. Whose Temples and Oratories have they demolished and beaten downe? Ours. Who yet? The Hereticks. Against what Church have they made their trayterous Insurrections and rebellious Assaults? Against our Church. For what other Church, then Ours, (still breathing new Spirits of fervour) hath layed batterie against all the gates of Hell?”

Campion points out to his readers that Catholic truth is in all the older theologians: it is useless to try to embargo, or seek out and destroy latter day writings from his church, for historically Catholic teachings remain in every bookshop:

“The day is too short, and indeede the Sunne must runne a greater circle of his course to serve my turne, before I can number the Epistles, Sermons, Homilyes, smaller Volumes, & Disputations of the Fathers; all being filled and stored with unanswerable proofes in defence of the Sentences and Articles of our Catholike Religion. As long as these their Monuments of Learning are to be soulde in the Stationer’s shopps, (in which the Enemie most unworthily pretends, as you have seene, so many chaynes of Errour and Superstition to have beene woven) so long in vaine are our Bookes forbidden to be read; in vaine are the Sea-ports so narrowly kept, for the preventing of their entrance in, in vaine are the houses of Catholiks, their trunks, boxes, and other private receptacles violently broken open; in vaine are so manie minacious & threatening Proclamations sett upon the publike Gates, and other chiefe places in Cittyes; since neither Harding, nor Sanders, nor Allan, nor Stapleton nor Bristoll, doe affect these supposed new dreames, more zealously, or with greater fervour and sedulitie, then these Fathers (above by me mentioned) have donne.”

Poor brave Campion knew what he fate would be from the moment (against his own protest, quite outspoken for a Jesuit) he left Prague, on a mission compromised by the Pope’s political intervention. He anticipates the treason charge, but his ‘plot’, his ‘machination’, is only to teach the Queen her duty, as an act of love:

“Give eare, ô Elizabeth, most potent Queene; To thee so great a Prophet preacheth, thee he instructeth in thy dutie. I doe confidently averre, that one Heaven in not wide enough, to contayne Calvin and these Princes. Only this thing I plott towards thee, and this I will plott, whatsoever be the event: This is my dangerous machination, this is my trayterous attempt against whome, as against the designed enemie of thy life, the Adversaries so often do threaten the gibbet. All hayle, ô holie Crosse! The day will come (ô Queene Elizabeth) that verie day, I meane, when the veyle of each man’s actions shalbe drawne aside, & when it will evidently appeare, whether the Societie of JESUS, or the broode of Luther did affect thee with Christian Love and Charitie. I hasten forward.”

Returning to Stonor, where the original Latin version of this suicide-belt of a work was produced, I had some talk with the present owner, Ralph Thomas Campion George Sherman Stonor, the 7th Baron Camoys, who appeared in his own library. He said that the works there were largely liturgical (and I don’t suppose that any recusant works would have survived raids by Elizabethan searchers). But it’s a big, and early, Catholic library, with a long continuity of use. Had scholars visited? I asked. He very vehemently said not, that the house could afford neither a librarian nor an archivist, and that items would be stolen, instancing thefts from books in the British Library (a place rather replete with librarians and archivists, but one takes his point). Baron Camoys then grumbled at some length about estate duties and inheritance tax. Well, I thought, here’s a man who had had plenty to annoy him in his life:
(“For over 20 years I have been having professional exorcisms to try and lift the curses with which our mother has inflicted me.”)

A great house, with a long history, will have had all kinds of people. Stonor has sheltered a fanatic as brave, and spirited, as Campion, and fanatics of other kinds.

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