The Lord is the king of martyrs: come, let us adore him.
Year: B(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: Red.
St Alexander Briant (1556-1581)
Alexander Briant (or Bryant) was born in Somerset (1556), and entered Hart Hall, Oxford (now Hertford College), at an early age. While there, he became a pupil of Father Robert Parsons which lead to his conversion to the Catholic Church. Having left the university he entered the seminary at Douai, and was ordained priest in 1578. He was assigned to the English mission in August of the following year to work as a priest in his own county of Somerset. After working only briefly he was arrested in April 1581 by a group who were searching for Father Parsons. After spending some time in Counter Prison, London, he was taken to the Tower where he was subjected to tortures that, even in Elizabethan England, stand out for their viciousness. The rack master admitted that Briant was “racked more than any of the rest,” and following a public outcry was imprisoned for a few days for cruelty. With six other priests Briant was arraigned, on November 16, 1581, on the charge of high treason, and condemned to death. In a letter to the Jesuit Fathers in England written from prison he says that he felt no pain during the various tortures he underwent, and adds: “Whether this that I say be miraculous or no, God knoweth, but true it is.” He also asked that he might become a Jesuit, having vowed to offer himself should he be released. Accordingly he is numbered among the martyrs of the Society. He was scarcely more than twenty-five years old on 1 December, the day of his martyrdom. He suffered with Edmund Campion and Ralph Sherwin.
Other saints: Blessed Clementine Anuarite (1939 - 1964)
Kenya, Southern Africa
Nengepeta Anuarite was born in the Belgian Congo (now in North Zaire) on 29 November 1939. In 1955 she joined the Religious Institute of the “Holy Family” (Jamaa Takatifu) where she became known as Clementine. She trained as a primary school teacher and for a few years, was the matron of a boarding school. In 1964 she, and the whole community, were kidnapped by the Simba rebels. Anuarite was killed on 1 December 1964 having refused to be the wife of the Colonel.
Other saints: St Ralph Sherwin (1550-1581)
1 Dec (where celebrated)
Ralph Sherwin was born at Rodsley, Derbyshire (19 October 1550), and was educated at Eton College. He was a talented classical scholar and was nominated by Sir William Petre from Ingatestone to one of the eight fellowships which he had founded at Exeter College, Oxford. He graduated in 1574, being then accounted “an acute philosopher and an excellent Grecian and Hebrician.” The following year he became a Catholic and fled abroad to the English College at Douai, where he was ordained a priest in 1577. He left to go to the English College in Rome, where he studied for about three years. In April 1580, Sherwin and thirteen companions (including Edmund Campion and Robert Persons) left Rome for England; a few months later he was arrested while preaching in a private house in London and imprisoned in the Marshalsea prison, where he converted many fellow prisoners. After a month he was removed to the Tower of London, where he was twice tortured on the rack and then laid out in the snow. He is said to have been offered a bishopric by Queen Elizabeth if he would abandon his Catholicism, but refused. After spending a year in prison he was finally brought to trial with Edmund Campion and others on a charge of treasonable conspiracy. He denied this with the comment: “The plain reason of our standing here is religion, not treason.” He was convicted in Westminster Hall on 20 November 1581. Eleven days later he was taken to Tyburn on a hurdle along with Alexander Briant, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered. His last words were Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesus! He was the first member of the English College in Rome to be martyred.
Other saints: St Edmund Campion (1540-1581)
Birmingham, Northampton, Berkshire, Oxfordshire
Edmund Campion was born in London on January 25, 1540, received his early education at Christ’s Hospital, and, as the best of the London scholars, was chosen aged thirteen to make the complimentary speech when Queen Mary visited the city. He then attended St John’s College, Oxford, becoming a fellow in 1557 and taking the Oath of Supremacy on the occasion of his degree in 1564. Two years later he welcomed Queen Elizabeth to the university, and won her lasting regard. He was chosen amongst the scholars to lead a public debate in front of the queen. People were now talking of Campion in terms of being a future Archbishop of Canterbury, in the newly established Church of England. Although holding Catholic doctrines, reinforced by his reading of the early Fathers, he received deacon’s orders in the Anglican Church. Inwardly “he took a remorse of conscience and detestation of mind.” Eventually he went to Douai where he was reconciled to the Catholic Church and received the Eucharist that he had denied himself for the last twelve years. The college was a centre of intellectual excellence and Campion found himself reunited with many of his former Oxford friends. His studies completed he left for Rome, travelling on foot and alone in the guise of a poor pilgrim. He then entered a novitiate with the Jesuits, and spent some years in Vienna and Prague.
In 1580, the Jesuit mission to England began. Campion entered England in the guise of a jewel merchant, and at once began to preach. His presence soon became known to the authorities, not least because of the challenge he made, known as the “Challenge to the Privy Council” to his allies and as “Campion’s Brag” to his enemies. As a result his position became increasingly difficult. He led a hunted life, preaching and ministering to Catholics in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Lancashire. On his way to Norfolk, he stopped at Lyford, near Wantage, where he celebrated Mass and preached both on July 14 and on the following day. Here after a long search he was found in hiding above the gateway. He was taken to London with his arms pinioned and bearing on his hat a paper with the inscription, “Campion, the Seditious Jesuit.” Committed to the Tower of London, he was questioned in the presence (it is said) of Elizabeth, who asked him if he acknowledged her to be the true Queen of England. He replied in the affirmative, and she offered him wealth and dignities, but on condition of rejecting his Catholic faith, which he refused to do.
He was kept a long time in prison, where he was twice racked, and every effort was made to shake his defiance. He took part in a number of public debates and reportedly conducted himself so easily and readily that he won the admiration of most of the audience. He was indicted at Westminster on a charge of having conspired, along with others, in Rome and Reims to ‘raise a sedition in the realm’ and dethrone the Queen. He was sentenced to death as a traitor. He answered: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England — the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.” After spending his last days in prayer he was led with two companions to Tyburn and hanged, drawn and quartered on December 1, 1581, aged 41.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Gregory Nazianzen (329 - 390)
Gregory Nazianzen, “Gregory of Nazianzus”, was the son of Gregory, Bishop of Nazianzus, a Christian convert. (Nazianzus is a small town in Cappadocia, now the village of Nenizi in the Turkish province of Aksaray).
The culture of the Hellenic world means that a religion is not merely something to be lived: it also has to make sense. It has to work not only in practice, but in theory as well. Despite the passionate anti-Greek reaction of the Reformation, we are still, in this sense, all Greeks today. Take the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. Some people reject it because it sounds like polytheism. Instead, they make Jesus not God but something created by God – either a supremely favoured man or some kind of intermediate being. The Arians had such a view, and so does the Koran. Or they make Jesus only God, not man, relegating the intense humanity of the Passion to the status of a mere performance, a show put on by God through phantoms and angels rather than something utterly real and of eternal significance. Both these responses show a general feature of heresies, which is that they simplify the richness of orthodoxy and flatten it into a shadow of itself. “Simpler” may well mean “more easily acceptable”, but that is not the same as “true”. One could simplify quantum physics and get rid of its paradoxes until there is no metaphysical weirdness for anyone to object to – that might well make more people happy, but it would not be true.
The three men we call “the Cappadocian Fathers” were active after the Council of Nicaea, working to formulate Trinitarian doctrine precisely and, in particular, to pin down the meaning and role of the least humanly comprehensible member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. St Basil of Caesarea, “St Basil the Great”, was the leader and organizer; Gregory of Nazianzus was the thinker, the orator, the poet, pushed into administrative and episcopal roles by circumstances and by Basil; and Gregory of Nyssa, Basil’s younger brother, although not a great stylist, was the most gifted of the three as a philosopher and theologian. Together, the Cappadocian Fathers hammered out the doctrine of the Trinity like blacksmiths forging a piece of metal by hammer-blows into its perfect, destined shape. They were champions – and successful champions – of orthodoxy against Arianism, a battle that had to be conducted as much on the worldly and political plane as on the philosophical and theological one. The sciences ought not to have to work like this, but all of them, at one time or other in their history, do.
It is a relief to us as readers to note, after all this, that St Gregory of Nazianzus, as well as receiving the title of Doctor of the Church, is acknowledged as the most accomplished rhetorical stylist of the patristic age, and that this “style” does not adopt the over-ripe excesses of some late-imperial rhetoric (Augustine can get carried away in this direction sometimes, and Cassiodorus, in the sixth century, spends altogether too much of his time there). Gregory’s Second Readings do sound almost operatic at times, but the grandeur of the style does not exist for its own sake but comes from the splendour of its subject-matter. It is possible to be carried away by it, and enjoyable, even, to let that happen; but underlying the experience there is always a sense of being carried away in the direction of somewhere definite and somewhere worthwhile.
Liturgical colour: red
Red is the colour of fire and of blood. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate the fire of the Holy Spirit (for instance, at Pentecost) and the blood of the martyrs.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Jeremiah 23:5 ©|
See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David, who will reign as true king and be wise, practising honesty and integrity in the land.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Jeremiah 23:6 ©|
In his days Judah will be saved and Israel dwell in confidence. And this is the name he will be called: ‘The Lord our righteousness.’
|Afternoon reading (None)||(Ezekiel 34:15-16) ©|
I will pasture my sheep, I will show them where to rest – it is the Lord who speaks. I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall be a true shepherd to them.