Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Indisputable Logic of Blessed Christopher Bales

Blessed Christopher Bales, priest and martyr, and companions (laymen who assisted him) Blessed Alexander Blake, and Blessed Nicholas Horner, were all executed on March 4, 1590 at three different sites in London. More about their stories here. They were beatified on December 15 in 1929 by Pope Pius XI.
What I want to highlight today is Father Bales' great question to the presiding judge at his trial, which presents an excellent historical argument against the idea that these martyrs were traitors because they had studied for the Catholic priesthood on the Continent and returned to serve the oppressed Catholics of England--even if Elizabeth's Parliament had technically made it so. It was an unjust law. 

Philip Caraman, SJ, includes Blessed Christopher Bales' question to Judge Anderson in his collection of primary sources, The Other Face: Catholic Life Under Elizabeth I:
He was asked by the judge according to custom . . . when judgment was about to be pronounced, if he had anything to say for himself. He answered, "This only to I want to know, whether St. Augustine sent hither by St. Gregory was a traitor or not." They answered that he was not . . . He answered them, "Why then do you condemn me to death as a traitor? I am sent hither by the same see: and for the same purpose as he was. Nothing is charged against me that could not also be charged against the saint." But for all that they condemned him. (Greene, Collections); page 230.

Judge Anderson replied that no, St. Augustine of Canterbury was not a traitor in the 5th and 6th centuries but that the law had changed in the 16th century. So the universal Catholic Church had indeed remained the same--just as Blessed John Henry Newman found during the Long Vacation of 1839, as he was studying the history of the Monophysite heresy. As he searched ancient Church history to establish the apostolic foundation of the Anglican Via Media, he found something disturbing:

My stronghold was Antiquity; now here, in the middle of the fifth century, I found, as it seemed to me, Christendom of the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries reflected. I saw my face in that mirror, and I was a Monophysite. The Church of the Via Media was in the position of the Oriental communion, Rome was where she now is; and the Protestants were the Eutychians. (from the Apologia pro Vita Sua, chapter 3)

So Rome (the Catholic Church) "was where she now is" in the fifth and sixth centuries--both in Kent and in Egypt (where the Monophysites dissented from the Council of Chalcedon)--and in the sixteenth century, when Blessed Christopher Bales continued St. Augustine of Canterbury's work as a missionary in England, sent by Pope Urban VII. If Judge Anderson had looked closely enough, he would have seen himself in that same mirror.

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