Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Life of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A hunted Priest) part 3



"At the age of fifteen," the autobiography resumes, "I was sent to Exeter College, Oxford, where my tutor was a certain Mr. Leutner, 1 a good and learned man, and a Catholic in mind and heart. There however I did not stay more than a twelvemonth, as at Easter the heretics sought to force us to attend their worship, and to partake of their counterfeit sacrament. I returned then with my brother to my father's house, whither Mr. Leutner himself soon followed us, being resolved to live as a Catholic in very deed, and not merely in desire. While there, he superintended our Latin studies for the next two years, but afterwards going to Belgium, he lived and died there most holily. As for Greek, we were at the same time placed under the tuition of a good and pious priest, William Sutton by name, to whom this occupation served as an occasion for dwelling in our house unmolested. He afterwards entered the Society, and was drowned on the coast of Spain, whither Superiors had called him.

"At the age of nineteen I passed over to France, by permission, with the object of learning the French tongue, and resided for three years at Rheims. While there, though yet a lad, and far from being solidly grounded in my humanities, I applied myself to the study of Sacred Scripture, consulting the commentators for the sense of the more difficult passages, and writing down with my own hand the explanations given publicly to the theological students. Being my own master, I did not, as I ought to have done, lay a sufficiently solid foundation. My own taste guided my choice of authors, and I sedulously read the works of St. Bernard and St. Bonaventure, and such other spiritual writers. About this time I made, by God's providence, the acquaintance of a saintly young man who had been admitted into the Society at Rome, but having for reasons of health been sent out for a time, was then living at Rheims. He gave me the details of his past life; he told me (may the Lord reward him) how he had been educated in the household of God ; he taught me how good and wholesome it was for a man to have borne the yoke from his youth. He taught me the method of mental prayer; for which exercise we were wont to meet together at stated hours, as we were not living in the College, but in different lodgings in the town. It was there that, when about twenty years of age, I heard the call of God's infinite mercy and loving-kindness inviting me from the crooked ways of the world to the straight path, to the perfect following of Christ in His holy Society.

"After my three years' residence at Rheims, I went to Clermont College, at Paris, to see more closely the manner of the Society's life, and to be more solidly grounded in humanities and philosophy. I had not been there one year when I fell dangerously ill. After my recovery, I accompanied Father Thomas Derbyshire to Rouen, in order to see Father Persons, who had arrived thither from England, and was staying incognito in that city, to superintend the publication of his Christian Directory, a most useful and happy work, which in my opinion has converted to God more souls than it contains pages. The heretics themselves have known how to appreciate it, as appears from a recent edition thereof published by one of their ministers who sought to claim the glory of so important a work. 2 To Father Persons, then, did I communicate my vocation, and my desire of joining the Society. But as I was not yet strong, nor fit to continue my studies, and moreover, as I had some property to dispose of, and arrangements to make in England, he advised me to return thither, so as to recruit my health by breathing my native air, and at the same time to free myself from every obstacle which might prevent or delay me in my pursuit of perfection and the religious life. I accordingly went home, and after settling my affairs, set out on my return in about a year; this time, however, without having asked for a licence, for I had no hope of obtaining it, as I did not venture to communicate my plans to my parents."

It is not easy to reconcile the dates at this period of Father Gerard's life, and the only conclusion seems to be that at the time when this was written, when the author was about forty-five, he had forgotten the duration or succession of the various stages of his education. He could not have been nineteen when he went to France, and have lived, as he says, three years at Rheims, one at Paris, and about a year in England before setting out for France again, for he was most certainly a prisoner in the Marshalsea before he had half finished his nineteenth year. His stay at Rheims and Paris was not after his release from the Marshalsea, for he was more than a full year in that prison, to which he was committed in March, 158(3/4), and after his discharge in October, 1585, his recognizances were renewed every three months for another year before he left England for Rome, where he arrived in August, 1586. Besides, he was certainly in London on the 20th of April, 1586, as we shall shortly see.

The most probable solution seems to be that the three years at Rheims, if the time was so long, were spent there before he went to Oxford, when as he tells us he was fifteen. The Douay Diary has an entry 3 "that on the 29th of August, 1577, there came from England Mr. Paschall, 4 a gentleman, and one Aldridge a merchant, and at the same time came Mr. Gerard, son of Sir Thomas Gerard, knight" In August or September, 1577, John Gerard was not yet thirteen. At that time the College was not at Rheims, but at Douay; but as he probably accompanied the students who on the 27th of March, 1578, reached Rheims with Dr. Webb on the transfer of the College, it was only natural that he should speak of his time as spent at Rheims.

Supposing John Gerard's year at Oxford to have followed and not to have preceded his residence at Rheims,—and he says that while at Rheims he was "yet a lad "—he must have gone to Clermont College, Paris, after a very short " two years " spent in Latin and Greek at home under Mr. Leutner and William Sutton. After some months there, followed by an illness and convalescence, he went to Rouen with Father Derbyshire to see Father Persons. Now Father Persons edited the first edition of his Christian Directory when at Rouen, late in the year 1581, and the second in the winter of 1584.5 On the latter occasion Gerard was in prison, so that his visit to Rouen was in the autumn or winter of the year 1581, when he was seventeen; and this is borne out by his saying that it was on Father Persons' arrival from England. This is all that can be done 6 towards clearing up the dates of Father Gerard's life before he was committed to the Marshalsea, but the date of that event is determined with the greatest exactness by "A note of the recusants remaining in the Marshalsea" 7 in 1584, in which he appears among the "temporal gentlemen," thus—"John Gerrard sent in by Mr. Weekes the 5th of March, 1583[4]." The latest date given in the list is but two days after this.

Father Gerard thus describes how he come to be sent to the Marshalsea prison. Having told us that he tried to cross the sea without a licence, he continues in the following terms. "I embarked then with some other Catholics, and after having been kept fat days at sea by contrary winds, we were forced to put in at the port of Dover. On arriving thither, we were all seized by the Custom-house officers, and forwarded to London in custody. My companions were imprisoned, on a warrant of the Queen's Privy Council. For my own part, though I declared myself a Catholic, and refused to attend their worship, I escaped imprisonment at that time, as there were some of the Council that were friendly to my family, and had procured me the licence to travel abroad on the former occasion. They entertained, it would seem, some hopes of perverting me in the course of time, so I was sent to my maternal uncle's, 8 a Protestant, to be kept in his custody, and if possible, to be perverted. He, after three months, sought to obtain my full liberty by praying or paying; but being asked whether I had 'gone to church,' as they call it, he was obliged to acknowledge that he could never bring me to do so.

1 Probably Edmund Lewckener, who appears in the College books as one of the new fellows on Sir W. Petre's foundation in 1566.

2 A Book of Christian Exercises appertaining to Resolution. By R P. Perused by Edmund Bunney, who dates his preface "at Bolton Percie, in the ancientie or liberties of York, the 9 th of July, 1584," and inscribes it to Edwin Sandes, Archbishop of York. This Bunney was Subdean and Prebendary of York. An edition at Oxford and one in London appeared simultaneously in 1585.

3 1577 Aug. 29 die advenerunt ex Anglia Mr. Paschallus vir nobilis et quidam Aldrigius mercator: eodem etiam tempore adventavit Mr. Gerrardus, D. Tho. Gerrardi Equitis Aurati Alius." Second Douay Diary, p. 128, edited by the Fathers of the London Oratory, 1878.

4 Probably John Paschall, of Much Baddow in Essex, scholar of Ralph Sherwin the martyr, who entered the English College at Rome at its opening; in 1579, returned to England with Fathers Persons and Campion, and afterwards fell from the faith "of frailty and upon fear of torments that were threatened unto him." Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, Second Series, P- 294.

5 Troubles, Second Series, pp. 15, 36.

6 See Note A at the end of the chapter.

7 The whole list is given in a note at the end of this chapter.

8 As his mother had no brothers, his "maternal uncle" must be the husband of one of her sisters—either George Hastings, afterwards Earl of Huntingdon, who was not a bigot like his brother Henry, "the tyrant of the north," or else Sir Thomas Stanhope.

9 Prece vel pretio. MS.