Jesuits In Conflict: Or Historic Facts Illustrative of the labours of the English Mission and Province Of The Society Of Jesus. In the times of Queen Elizabeth and her successors. By a member Of The Society Of Jesus.
GEORGE GILBERT, S.J. PART X.
George Gilbert was received at Rheims by Dr. Allen with all the love and veneration of an angel from Heaven. During the few weeks he remained with him, says the Doctor, he treated with me tenderly upon the affairs of his soul; and in sending him, and with him Charles Basset, who was one of his Catholic Association, and had also fled abroad from the storm of persecution at home, and was the worthy great-grandson of the noble confessor of the Faith and martyr, Sir Thomas More, the Lord High Chancellor of England, the victim of Henry "VIII.'s passions, "These two young men," said he, "will be two great luminaries, shining resplendently there, as they have done in England." And in speaking of Mr. Gilbert in a letter to Father Agazzari, then Rector of the English College at Rome, of the 30th August, 1581, he says—"If any man of all the English nobility deserves well of the Seminarians, of the Fathers, of the Catholic religion, and of his country, it is this same most noble youth. There is no peril to which he has not been exposed. With a ready will and joyful heart he has suffered the plunder of his estates and fortune. Out of what remains to him he has been a large benefactor to the Catholics; also to us at Rheims, seeing the great poverty of our College, he has afforded no small relief—eighty golden crowns. And following his example, Charles Basset has done the same; which, for gentlemen in a strange land, exiles, and spoiled of their patrimony, was princely magnificence, or to speak worthily of them, was saintly charity."
The following is a copy of a letter which Dr. Allen wrote to the same Father Agazzari. The entire letter is given on account of its great interest, although the latter part only relates personally to our subject.
A copy of this letter is amongst the State Papers, 1 in Latin. Mr. Simpson gives the following translation 2
"We have heard from England, by a letter of Father Robert Parsons, S.J., that the persecution still rages with the same fury, the Catholics being haled away to prison, and otherwise vexed, and the Fathers of the Society being most diligently looked for, but they are still, by God's singular providence, at liberty. One of them in the same chamber with Father Robert was, not long ago, seized and searched, but the Father was absent at the time. But a Mr. Briant who was a scholar of our College at Rheims, was not only taken, but twice most cruelly tortured on the rack, to make him tell where ' that Jesuit' was. But, so far from confessing anything of the sort, he laughed at the torturers, and though nearly killed with the pain, he said, 'Is this all you can do? If the rack is no more than this, you may bring a hundred more for this matter.' 3 The day after, John Nicholls, the apostate, met Father Tirrel, a scholar of your College, in the street and as soon as he saw him cried out' Traitor,' and so took him; but he is not committed to the Tower, but to another prison called the Gatehouse, where he and Father Rishton, another pupil of your College, live happily. The Catholics were never more courageous, or more ready to suffer.
"Two days afterwards, a certain Mr. Ireson was taken with ten copies of our Apology; thus the book came to the knowledge of the Lords of the Council.
He is once again confined to his old home, the Fleet Prison, from whence he had by favour been delivered.
"The heretic, John Nicholls, boasts that he made a long oration at Rome before the Cardinals (nothing can be more false), which he has just published in his second book, and has at the same time promised to publish the former turned into Latin, with an appendix of his travels, in which he will explain at length the horrible murders and adulteries of the Catholics and the immoral life of the Jesuits and students. He now preaches publicly in London, but people are already universally tired of him, and I imagine that he will be soon tripped up, especially when the abjuration of heresies that he made at Rome in the Inquisition comes to England; for I have received the authentic copy of it which you sent, containing his whole recantation, and have sent it to Father Robert in England.
"Father Robert wants three or four thousand or more of the Testaments, for many persons desire to have them. He says that he earnestly hopes and expects more fellow-labourers of your Order; he says also that everything is going on well there, and that our Apology is vastly approved.
"I inclose a letter for the Holy Father, and another for our Protector, which you must see delivered to them. Therein I thank His Holiness for his many favours of this year, namely, for the foundation of the English College at Rome, for our College here provided for fifteen years, for his late extraordinary subsidy of five hundred golden crown, for assigning so good a protector to each College, and particularly, for not listening to the detractors of the Colleges and Missions, who, to excuse their own idleness and cowardice, assert that all these attempts on our country are in vain; and I show that it is sufficiently evident that these missions, and the endeavours of the Fathers and Seminarists are of extraordinary utility and finally, I assert and boldly pronounce,, from the opinion, sense, and experience of all good men, that the Fathers and Priests have gained more souls this one year, in their own country, than they could possibly have gained in the whole world else, in the very longest lifetime. I write also that the dangers are not so great as to make it expedient to relinquish this duty, seeing that, of the fifty Priests (at least) who have this year been sent from the two Colleges, not more than ten have fallen into the enemies' hands, and up to this time the Fathers are altogether free, and labouring fruitfully. Lastly, we show that our books are thus moderately worded, and nothing brought forward in anger, but rather directed by pity, because of the vast utilty that accrues to every class of persons by reading them. So much for the letter to the Pope.
" But to our Protector, I merely write to beg him to turn his ears from certain idle and envious men, who say that the work of the Fathers and Seminarists in our country is useless. Moreover, I beseech him, for Christ's sake, not to forbid my sending five or six young men to that College next autumn, because ours has become so numerous, that we cannot anyhow feed them, although His Holiness has given us an extraordinary gift of five hundred gold crowns. So much for my letter to him. Note, that I am afraid to send any against his express injunction, lest we may seem to have no moderation, and to abuse the Pope's liberality too much. At this very time, we are obliged to send for twenty youths (for the most part gentlemen) from Douay to our own College here at Rheims, who otherwise would have to return to England, to the manifest damage of soul and body, since, on account of this proclamation, they can get no money from England. Moreover, within the last fortnight, more than twenty young men have come to me (poor me) from England, and where shall we get bread that these may eat, that each one of them may have only a little, lest they faint in this exile? May our Lord God bless arid multiply our food !
"This week I have heard that the Fathers in England are not only well, but so occupied in the vineyard that they could not write to me. Father Campion is said to have published a Latin book of advice to the two Universities, but as yet it has not come to our hands. See, Father, whether or no they push the work forward. I have sometime ago sent them the letter of the Father General. May the Lord Jesus send many such labourers into His vineyard! At least thirty Priests have entered England since Easter, not one of whom was hindered on landing, or has since been taken, blessed be God. This year, I hope, will be every way a happy one for us. We sow in tears, but I trust in the Lord that we shall carry our sheaves with joy, through God, and this Pope Gregory, our true Father.
"I have with me, at present, the most generous companion and benefactor of the Priests in England, Mr. George Gilbert, who, on their account, has suffered the confiscation of almost all his goods and estates, and whom the heretics have personally persecuted more than the rest, knowing that the Fathers of the Society were kept and sustained by him. He has come hither into France, by the advice of Father Robert and others, in order to keep himself for that time 4 God willing, he will go to Rome in the autumn, and will dispose of himself according to the advice of the Father General and yourself. He tells me that more Fathers are very much wanted, if it were only to assist Father Robert, who, he says, has an incredible burthen to bear. He wrote those two beautiful little books himself, one of which we have hitherto supposed to be Campion's work. He preaches continually, he resolves cases of conscience for innumerable persons. The Catholics, in the midst of persecutions, have less scrupulous consciences than anywhere else that I know of, and have such an opinion of the Father, that they will not acquiesce in the judgment of any common Priest unless it is confirmed by Father Robert. He has seven men continually at work at a press, outside of London (where the noise of the machine is less likely to betray it). He is continually appealed to by gentlemen, and by some of the Council, for necessary advice; so this Mr. Gilbert tells me, who has been his inseparable companion for this whole year, and who, at his departure, left Father Robert seven horses, for the necessary journeys and affairs of the Fathers and Priests, and a large sum of money to procure needful things, paper, types, ink, and the like, for great things can only be done at great expense, and for the success of such works we must have men who are not only despisers of money, but rich into the bargain.
"Father Campion is no less industrious in his own province, and it is supposed that there are twenty thousand more Catholics this year than last. Nor has God in this age anywhere given to the preachers of His word more power or success. Blessed be His Name for ever.
"Our Apology, as I hear, is read both by adversaries and friends, and the chief of the French mission has given it to the Queen to read. Christ Jesus, &c.
"Your Reverence's brother for eternity, as I hope, both in earth and Heaven,
"William Allen. 5
"Rheims, June 23rd, 1581."
1 State Papers, Dom Eliz., P. R. O., Vol. cxlix.,'No. 51.
2 Campion, p. 208.
3 This was the glorious martyr, Father Alexander Briant, S.J. He was seized April 28, 1581, suffering at Tyburn, December 1, 1581, set. 28. For two years before his death he had determined to enter the Society of Jesus, and his desire was accomplished in prison. He endured worse than cannibal torture. Further notice of this great man must be reserved for a special history.
4 Ad illud tempus— meaning, no doubt, for better times to dawn.
5 There seems to be a little discrepancy in the dates of Father Parson's letter to the Pope, by Mr. Gilbert, which is dated 24th June, and Dr. Allen's dated 23rd June, when Mr. G. was at Rheims. This may be reconciled by the writers using the different styles, which would cause a difference of ten days.