Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 21.

 While the Catholics and their persecutors were wrangling on this point, Father Francis Page, taking advantage of some one's opening the door, got away from those that held him and slipped out, shutting the door behind him. He then went upstairs to a place that he knew, where Mrs. Line had had a hiding-place made, and there he ensconced himself. Search was made for him the whole house over, to no purpose.

" So they took Mrs. Line and the richer ones of the party to prison, and let the others go on bail. God lengthened out the martyr's life beyond her expectation. It was some months before she was brought to trial, on a charge of harbouring and supporting priests. To the question of 'guilty or not guilty' she made no direct answer, but cried out in a loud voice, so that all could hear her, ' My lords, nothing grieves me, but that I could not receive a thousand more.' 1 She listened to the sentence of death with great show of joy, and thanksgiving to the Lord God. She was so weak, that she had to be carried to court in a chair, and sat there during the whole of the trial. After her return to prison, a little before her death, she wrote to Father Page, who had escaped. The letter is in my hands at present. She disposed therein of the few things that she had, leaving to me a fine large cross of gold that had belonged to her husband. She mentioned me thrice in the letter, calling me her father. She also left some few debts which she begged me to see paid. Afterwards she bequeathed me her bed by word of mouth. I wanted to purchase it from the gaolers, who had plundered everything found in her cell after her death; but I could only get the coverlet, which I used ever after during my stay in London, and reckoned it no small safeguard.

"Being arrived at the place of punishment, some preachers wanted to tease her, as usual, with warnings to abandon her errors ; but she cut them short, saying, ' Away! I have no dealings nor communion with you.' Then kissing the gallows with great joy, she knelt down to pray, and kept on praying till the hangman had done his duty. So she gave up her soul to God, along with the martyr Father Filcock 2 of the Society of Jesus, who had often been her confessor, and had always been her friend. Her martyrdom, however, happened six or seven years after the time of which I am now speaking. 3 She managed my house for three years, and received therein many holy priests.

" I always had a priest residing in this house, whom I used to send to assist and console my friends, as I was unable to visit them myself. The first 4 I had there was Father Jones, a Franciscan, afterwards martyred, but then newly arrived in England. I was glad to be able to provide for him there, as I hoped thereby to establish a good feeling between his order and ours. He, however, finding a number of friends whom he was desirous of assisting, after thanking me for the hospitality afforded him, in a few months betook himself to his own connections. A little later he was taken, and suffered martyrdom with great constancy.

"After him I received another priest, lately arrived from Spain, and formerly known to me, Robert Drury by name. He was of gentle birth and well educated, and could consequently associate with gentlemen without causing any suspicion. I introduced him, therefore, to my chief friends, and he assisted them well and zealously for two years and more that he tarried in my house. This good priest also God chose to be His witness and martyr. For after my escape from England, two years ago from this present writing, he was taken, found guilty of high treason, and executed accordingly; although they had nothing to bring against him, save only that he was a priest, and refused to take the new-invented oaths. At his martyrdom happened a noteworthy circumstance. When he had arrived at the scaffold, some of the principal officers pressed him to have pity on himself, to conform to the King's laws, to go to the Protestant church, and to save his life.

"' Well, my masters' said the martyr, ' can you warrant me that I shall truly be saved from death, if I consent to go to your churches ?'

"'Aye, verily can we' they replied, 'and we promise you this in the King's name, that you shall not die.'

" Then the martyr turned him to the people, and said aloud : ' You see now what sort of high treason they find us guilty of. You see that religion is the only cause for which I and other priests are put to death.'

" Hereupon the officers were enraged, and revenged themselves by cutting him down directly he was turned off, and disembowelling him while he was still alive. But they killed his body only, and had nothing more they could do to him.

"In that house of mine, while I was in prison, there lived a while one of our fathers, who was in ill health, Father John Curry. 5 There also he died, and there he lies buried in some secret corner. For those priests who live secretly on the mission, we are obliged also to bury secretly when they die.

" All this while my good host [William Wiseman], who had been taken a little before me, was kept imprisoned; and for the first four months so straitly, that neither his wife nor any of his friends were allowed to have any access to him. After this, however, the persecutors, seeing that they could not produce any proof against him, because none of the Catholic servants would acknowledge anything, and the traitor had never seen me in priest's guise, and was only one witness after all, by degrees relaxed a little of their harshness, and permitted him to be visited and cared for, though they still kept him in strict custody.

"While thus close shut up, he wrote a work by no means contemptible, which he divided into three parts, and called Three Farewells to the world, or three deaths in different states of soul. 6 In the first book he described a man of moral life, and virtuous in the opinion of men, but directing himself in all things by his own lights. In the second book he described a good and pious lady, who at first wished to be guided in everything, but subsequently, deceived by the devil, determined in some things to follow her own ideas. In the third book he described the death of a pious and devoted man, who, though living in the world and possessed of riches, yet always sought and followed the counsels of his spiritual father, manifesting himself entirely for the purpose of being directed by him to the greater glory of God.

" It was written, not with ink, but merely with pencil, upon loose scraps of paper, for at that time he was kept so close that he could get no ink. As he finished each of the three parts, he sent it to me, that I might correct anything I might find against sound doctrine. He gave as a reason for writing the work, that he had himself found, as he thought, so immense a benefit from giving himself thoroughly to the direction of his spiritual guide, and had felt in consequence so undisturbed a peace of mind, even when the malice of the persecutors was daily threatening him with death, that he could not refrain from recommending the same course to others whom he loved. He said, moreover, that he wrote the book, not for the public, but principally for his own family, and secondly for his relations and friends : for that, as he could not communicate with them by word of mouth, he desired to show them in writing the most secure and meritorious way to perfection while living in the world. For he endeavoured to prove that perfection was even more necessary for those who lived in the world than for religious.

" Such were the sentiments of this good man. He nowise regretted that he had during four years given himself up to my direction, though he found himself in consequence exposed to such extreme distresses, and saw his family and fortune made a mark for the persecutors as a result of having harboured me. Nay, it was not only that he bore all these trials patiently, but he really thought it all joy to suffer thus for the good cause. His wife also, though she loved her husband most tenderly, and was of a peculiarly sensitive mind, yet in this juncture bore everything with a singular sweetness and patience. After I was transferred to the Clink, where there was more chance of communicating with me either by word or letter, she took a house in the immediate neighbourhood of my prison, in order that she might consult me constantly, and provide me with everything I needed. In this house she and her husband, who obtained his release after a time by large payments of money, resided, while I remained in that prison. But after my escape from the Tower, they betook themselves back to their country seat, in order that they might have me with them there again."

Though this is not the last mention of the Wisemans in Father Gerard's life, this is a convenient place for inserting a proof of their steadiness and perseverance in the faith in spite of their persecutions. Sir Arthur Capell wrote 7 to Secretary Cecil from Hadham, August 12, 1599, as follows. " The townsmen of Starford have brought me John Gurgeene, whom they stayed upon suspicion of being a Jesuit priest, with certain superstitious wafers, which I send together with his examination, and a book written by him, containing some Popish prayers and the form of mass. He only confesses that he was a messenger to carry the wafers and some other apparel to Mr. Wiseman's house at Broadoaks in Essex. Mr. Wiseman's house has been long known to be Popish, and his mother now stands condemned for entertaining a priest; so I send him up to you, not knowing whether there may be any further matter to be got out of him."

" In the meantime," Father Gerard continues, " I was so fully taken up in the prison with business, and with the visits of Catholics, that in the next room, which was Brother Emerson's, there were often six or eight persons at once, waiting their turn to see me. Nay, many of my most intimate and attached friends have oft-times had to wait many hours at a stretch, and even then I have been obliged to ask them to come another time.

"Among other occupations I heard many general confessions. One case was that of a Catholic gentleman of great wealth, who had always lived quietly, cautiously avoiding anything that savoured of danger. At length however, God so willing, he was taken and thrown into the same prison with me, an occurrence which was certainly the very last he looked for. He was all the more perplexed because the persecutors alleged so slight and trivial a cause for his imprisonment. When he spoke to me of this, I replied that all things indeed happened by permission of God, but especially things of this sort: that He often warned men by such means to 'agree with their adversary quickly' while time allowed, and that this was our Lord's own advice, Who wished to be rather a Father than a Judge. I advised him then to take the opportunity of this forced retirement, to enter into himself, and take account of his soul, how much he owed his Lord ; and that the rather, as he knew not whether he should ever after have the like opportunity. This was, I told him, sent him perhaps as a sort of last summons to hold himself prepared for death. He yielded to my advice, read the book called " Memoriale," by Father Louis of Granada, prepared himself for confession, and made it with great exactness, much to his own consolation and mine. At this time he was in strong and perfect health, but a few days later, being released from prison, he took ill and died within two months.

" About this time I assisted several persons to turn their minds from secular things, and by God's grace to follow the counsels of our Lord. Among these were two young men, friends, who were writers in a certain office in London, an occupation which gave them a considerable income. One was Father Francis Page, afterwards enrolled in the glorious army of martyrs. His friend, a man of excellent parts, gave himself to the study of theology, with the view of becoming a priest and entering the Society; but he died during his studies, leaving behind him a reputation for great virtue and holiness.

" Mr. Francis Page was the son of well-to-do parents, and being both handsome and very winning in manner, was beloved by the daughter of his employer, a man of great wealth. The love was mutual; indeed it was by the jady's means that he had become a Catholic; and they had engaged with each other to marry when the consent of their parents might be had. The young lady was herself a good and devoted soul: she used frequently to come to me for direction, and at last introduced Mr. Page to me. He was already a Catholic, but was, as I have said, looking forward to live in the married state. There shone in him however so singular a modesty and candour of mind, and I found him so powerfully drawn to virtue, that I could not doubt he was intended for higher things. I began therefore to speak with him of the uncertainty of riches, and of the delusive hopes of happiness in this world, and put before him the possibility of a more perfect life. I did this the rather, because I thought it unlikely that the parents of the young lady would consent to her marrying below her degree. After this, I gave him some meditations, and some writings to copy out which treated of the spiritual life ; and God in His goodness gradually weaned his mind from the love of transitory things and fixed it on things eternal. In fact he came to the determination of giving up both his place in the office and the thought of marrying; and, in order that he might be nearer to me for a time, he came to live as a servant in the house of the lady my hostess, though such a position was of course far below that which he was leaving. But he wished to prepare himself for greater things which he hoped for, and in this he was much helped by Father Edward Coffin, who was then residing in my hostess' family. This same Father often visited me, and consoled me much. I shall have occasion to speak more of Father Francis Page hereafter.

1 These words are given in the MS. in English.

2 Roger Filcock S.J., alias Arthur, executed for his priesthood, with Mark Barkworth alias Lambert, O.S.B., and Anne Line, at Tyburn, February 27 1601. '

3 " They have executed three or four poor priests (one [John Pibush, priest] condemned four or five years ago) and Anne Line, a Catholic gentlewoman, only for harbouring priests." Advices sent to Thomas Phelippes, April 3 1601. P.R.O., Flanders Corresp. T7>

John Jones alias Buckley suffered at St. Thomas's Watering, July 12, 1598; and Robert Drury at Tyburn, February 26, 1606 for being priests in England.

5 Father Curry entered the Society in France in 1583, set. 34, and though he was sent back to England immediately, he soon returned to France, for in 1587 he had spent three years in the study of theology at Pont-a-Mousson. He left Chideock House for London about Michaelmas 1593. Troubles, Second Series, p. 24. His death, occurring while Father Gerard was in prison, will have been between May 1594 and October 1597.

6 Tres valedictiones mundo datse a tribus in diverso statu morientibus.— MS.

7 P.R.O., Domestic, Elizabeth, vol. cclxxii. n. 36.