Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Great Book; A Tragic Story


When studying the long history of the English Reformation and its aftermath, one thought the student may have is, when so many priests and laymen and laywomen were willing to risk so much--their livelihoods, property, freedom, and even life--why did it take so long for Catholicism to revive in England? Of course, one answer is the power of the state and the burdens of those risks. It was difficult: all the penal and recusant laws, all the pressure to conform, all the danger, etc, made remaining loyal to the Catholic faith something extraordinary and for the few, humanly speaking. That's what my book is about: the power of the state against individual freedom of religion, what it costs the person and the Church.

The other answer, however, is that the Church made tactical errors; that for all the extraordinary efforts of missionary priests and the laity who protected them, Church leadership made some crucial political, organizational, and even disciplinary errors. Father Philip Hughes reviews those issues in this book, looking first at the Marian efforts to re-establish the Catholic Church with the papacy and hierarchy in England (during the reign of Mary I), then the long recusant period of missionaries, martyrs, and hopes of political conquest (during the reign of Elizabeth I), and finally the divisive disasters of the effort to bring on-site leadership to the clergy and the laity with the Archpriest controversy and the Bishops of Chalcedon failures (during the reigns of James I and Charles I).

Rome and the Counter-Reformation in England is divided into three parts, one for the leading figure of the eras described above: 1) Reginald Cardinal Pole; 2) William Cardinal Allen; 3) Richard Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon. For each man Hughes provides an insightful character sketch and analysis, noting his strengths and weaknesses. Those strengths and weaknesses contribute, of course, to each man's successes and failures.

Of Reginald Pole, Hughes demonstrates that for all his knowledge and love of Jesus and His Church, he lacked "irascible passion"; he was too ready to be a victim--and that he had "a temperament that instinctively turned from the hard, unpleasant realities of a problem to the ideal way in which it ought to be solved." (p. 43) Although Pole was a man of action and ready to promote reform and renewal, Hughes claims that he lacked audacity: he was not bold and he could not be stirred to righteous anger. Therefore, he wasn't able to take crucial action in a crisis. Nevertheless, Hughes does not blame the failure of the Marian revival and re-establishment of the Catholic Church in England on Pole's character; he acknowledges that time was the main factor. Mary and Pole died too soon to effect a long-lasting Catholic revival. They left great resources for Catholicism in England, however, in the good bishops they'd appointed, but they left also left the disastrous legacy of the burnings of Smithfield to the memory of Protestants in England. Unlike Eamon Duffy, who proposed that the prosecution of heretics was working in Fires of Faith, Hughes notes that even this effort was made ineffective by the too early deaths of Mary and Pole, especially without a Catholic heir. The other great legacy Mary and Pole left to Catholics in England was William Allen.

Of William Allen, Hughes notes two great weaknesses: First, he always thought of England as being what he experienced at Oxford during the Marian revival and what he saw when he went back to Lancashire in the early years of Elizabeth I's reign, a strong and loyal Catholicism. Second: he relied too much on the support of the Spanish Empire and the hopes of military invasion and overthrow of the Elizabethan regime. Allen's strength, however--and here Eamon Duffy would concur with Hughes, as demonstrated by his biography of William Allen in Reformation Divided--was that he recognized what the missionary priests needed to be able to make their forays into enemy territory. He prepared a seminary curriculum and lifestyle that prepared them: study of the Holy Bible, apologetics, Church history, especially English Church history, preaching in English, etc. The spiritual preparation of fasting twice a week for the conversion of England, use of St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, frequent Confession as spiritual development, not merely juridical forgiveness of sins, and other spiritual devotions also prepared the priests for the moral and spiritual dangers they would face in the dangerous Catholic underground of England.

Hughes also provides an extensive analysis of the Catholic martyrs of Elizabethan reign to prove that they died for religion, not because of any treason against the state. Father Robert Persons, SJ, Allen's ally in many of his efforts, almost squares the triangle, as his influence on how the Catholic mission became divided between the Secular, non-order priests and the Regulars, especially the Jesuits and the Benedictines, provides the segue into the last era, when the idea of conquest was abandoned and the effort to gain toleration and stability took over.

That brings us to Richard Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon, whose greatest weakness was that he did not have a clear understanding of what his role was in the English mission. He was consecrated a bishop for England but the Regulars did not think he should have any control over them. Perhaps he was too insistent on control, but both he and the Archpriests appointed before him had little success in bringing order and consistency to the distribution of the missionary priests in England. Part of that blame lies in Rome, where there was division within the Curia. Pope Urban VIII unfortunately, it seems to Hughes, sided with the Regulars and reduced the powers of the Ordinary (Bishop) in England. With England on the cusp of the Civil War between King and Parliament, Catholics were leaderless and the missionary priests dependent on the laity to such an extent that there was conflict between incumbent chaplains in noble households and other priests who wanted their positions.

As Hughes states at the end of this book, we knew at the beginning that the Catholic mission had failed, but it's important to understand why. Mediatrix Press is to be congratulated for publishing this book with its introduction by Charles A. Coulumbe. There are, at least in the copy I purchased, however, too many typographical errors. Even some years are incorrect; incorrect words obviously used, and extra punctuation marks. I provided the publishers with a list of these errors as I found them, but I did not proofread the book for them! They mar an otherwise wonderful, thought-provoking reading experience. Although the book was first published in 1944, and Father Hughes even admits that he did not have access to all the primary sources he knew existed, his analysis and insights are still most valuable to anyone interested in the history of Catholicism in England during the Counter-Reformation era. Reading it makes me want to find and read Father Hughes' book on the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution: The Catholic Question, 1688-1829: a Study in Political History!

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