Campion: Ten Reasons

December 1, 2015

campion-rationesTen Reasons
Proposed to his Adversaries for Disputation in the Name of the Faith and Presented to the Illustrious Members of our Universities
St Edmund Campion, S.J.
[1581]

Campion’s Decem Rationes was written covertly and published illegally in 1581. Campion himself had become, by that time, a notorious (or celebrated, depending on one’s allegiances) figure. He was the most well-known of the Jesuit priests who had slipped into England, under threat of death, to minister to England’s beleaguered Catholic minority. He travelled quietly around the country, often under an assumed name and in disguise, and was something of a thorn in the side of the authorities.

Ten Reasons was given a memorable launch: copies were painstakingly printed and assembled using a mobile press, and, once ready, were taken to Oxford University and slipped into the seats of a hall in which an academic meeting was scheduled. When the attendees arrived and it was discovered, it caused a tremendous stir.

Campion’s purpose was to set forth arguments — ten of them, naturally — against Protestantism. Since his arrival in England some years before, he had been challenging the Anglican churchmen and academics to debate, but thus far none had accepted. The publication of Ten Reasons was his way of forcing the issue.

The ten reasons are gathered under headings: Holy Writ, the Sense of Holy Writ, the Nature of the Church, Councils, Church Fathers, the Grounds of Argument assumed by the Church Fathers, History, Paradoxes, Sophism, and, finally, All Manner of Witness. Because he wrote at a time when Protestantism was new, he had a particularly keen sense of how it was undoing the integrity of the faith, and several of his arguments are probing. His manner is, by turns, jocular, satirical, passionate, and exasperated; the book is a very entertaining read. He was writing to those whose declared intention was to capture and kill him, and he was not inclined to be docile.

I won’t rehearse the arguments themselves here; the book is brief enough that an interested reader could get through it without too much trouble. Basically they boil down to the claim that Protestantism, by rejecting some but not all of its Catholic inheritance, finds itself in a very confused state indeed.

One month after Ten Reasons was published, Campion was captured. He was held in the Tower of London for several months, tortured on the rack, and finally hanged, drawn, and quartered, alongside Fr. Ralph Sherwin and Fr. Alexander Briant, on 1 December 1581.

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