Friday, September 29, 2023

Preview: Another Confessor, George Gilbert and "The Catholic Association"

Just a reminder, when Father Henry Sebastian Bowden included Confessors in the title of his Mementoes, men and women who suffered for their loyalty to the Catholic Faith during the long English Reformation but did not suffer martyrdom, he is not indicating that these Confessors are Beatified or Canonized Saints. (Blesseds and Saints are either martyrs or confessors), so there could be some confusion.

On Monday, October 2, we'll discuss another Confessor, George Gilbert, SJ, in our continuing series on the Son Rise Morning Show. So I'll be on at my usual time, around 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, to talk with Anna Mitchell or Matt Swaim about George Gilbert, SJ, and The Catholic Association he formed with the approval of Pope Gregory XIII (at left). Please listen live here or find the podcast later here.

The Catholic Association was a group of brave, young Catholic men of land and fortune who dedicated themselves to raising funds to support the missionary priests, to help those missionary priests with the contacts they needed to, as safely as possible, celebrate the Sacraments with the recusant, underground Catholic community.  As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains in the entry for another member of the Association, Stephen Brinkley

The members undertook to content themselves with the bare necessaries of their state of life, to spend the remainder of their goods in the cause of the Church, and to devote themselves wholly to the salvation of souls and the conversion of heretics.

They did so at a particularly dangerous time for Catholics in England as the great Jesuit missionary martyrs St. Edmund Campion, St. Robert Southwell, and other Jesuit missionaries Father Robert Parsons, Henry Garnet, and John Gerard, were coming to England. Stephen Brinkley helped Father Edmund Campion print and distribute his Decem Rationes (Ten Reasons), producing them at a hidden press in the Stonor House so they were placed on benches of St. Mary's the Virgin in Oxford in 1581, the year of Campion's imprisonment, torture, disputations on the Decem Rationes, trial, and execution. Brinkley was also arrested and tortured that year.

As Father Bowden describes George Gilbert, he was:

OF an old Suffolk family, possessed of a large fortune, a Puritan by profession, he followed in his youth the life of a gay cavalier. Going abroad, however, his eyes were opened to the faith, and he was reconciled by Father Parsons at Rome. Returning to England, he devoted himself to the services of the missionary priests, and formed for this purpose, with Lord Henry Howard, Lord Oxford, Mr. Southwell, Lord Paget, and other young men, a " Catholic Association," which was solemnly blessed by Pope Gregory XIII, on April 14, 1580. The members promised to imitate the lives of the Apostles, and to devote themselves wholly to the salvation of souls and the conversion of heretics. They were to be content with the necessaries of their state, and to bestow all the rest for the good of the Catholic cause. They supplied the priests with altar requisites, with horses, and various changes of apparel, and disguised themselves as grooms or servants and escorted the priests through the country from house to house. To Gilbert is due the first idea of the frescoes of the English martyrs in the English College, Rome. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus on his death-bed.

The Catholic Association found danger very quickly, as the arrests of 1581 led Parsons, Brinkley, and Gilbert to leave England. The Dictionary of National Biography provides these details, showing that Gilbert continued to work for Catholics in England in exile:

Proceeding afterwards to Rome, he entered the English College as a pensioner, and devoted himself to promoting the catholic (sic) cause in England. Gregory XIII frequently consulted him on a matter of high importance that necessitated his going to France. Gilbert was so eager about his preparations for departure that he was seized with a fever, which terminated fatally on 6 Oct. 1583. While on his deathbed he was admitted into the Society of Jesus. The pope declared that his death would be a serious blow to Catholicism in England. 

Gilbert incurred great expense by covering the walls of the English College at Rome with frescoes of the English martyrs.. . .

In a way, Gilbert's greatest service to the Jesuit and other priests may have been those frescoes of the English martyrs in the Venerabile in Rome (the Venerable English College). They were important to the Cause of the Martyrs of England and Wales, as evidence of a cult of devotion and veneration. Engravings of the frescoes were collected after Gilbert's death on October 6, 1583, by a Marian era priest, Father William Good, SJ in a volume titled Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea (The trophies of the English Church). Among the martyrdoms pictured: Saints Edmund Campion SJ, Alexander Briant SJ, and Ralph Sherwin, on December 1, 1581.

Father Bowden chose a verse from the Acts of the Apostles to accompany this confessor's memento (4:32):

And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them.

May George Gilbert and other members of the Catholic Association rest in the peace of Christ.

Image Credit (Public Domain): Pope Gregory XIII attributed to Bartolomeo Passarotti
Image Credit (Public Domain): Execution of Edmund Campion, Alexander Briant and Ralph Sherwin: engraving by Giovanni Battista Cavalieri (after Niccolò Circignani's frescoes in the chapel of the Venerable English College in Rome), and published in Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea (Rome 1584). Stonyhurst Collections

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