Today is the feast of St. Edmund Campion, a convert to the Catholic Faith from Anglicanism and a Jesuit priest who was martyred on December 1st, 1581 by the English authorities. Campion was probably the most famous and celebrated of all the martyrs of the English church and the English government did everything they could to stop him. From New Advent:
Historians of all schools are agreed that the charges against Campion were wholesale sham. They praise his high intelligence, his beautiful gaiety, his fiery energy, his most chivalrous gentleness. He had renounced all opportunity for a dazzling career in a world of master men. Every tradition of Edmund Campion, every remnant of his written words, and not least his unstudied golden letters, show us that he was nothing less than a man of genius; truly one of the great Elizabethans, but holy as none other of them all.
Often, when reading a biography of a saint, one is struck by a certain dissonance: the heavenly heights of the subject matter do not correspond to the writing level of the book. The saint biography is one of my favorite genres, but it is at times a chore to get by the substandard writing to penetrate the beauty of the life of the saint.
Nothing could be further from the case in “Edmund Campion” by Evelyn Waugh. Here we have a combination for the ages: the story of a magnificent saint told by one of the great authors of the 20th century. In many ways, it reminded me of Mark Twain’s excellent book on Joan of Arc. Waugh’s use of the language allows the story of Campion to come alive in ways a lesser author could have never conveyed. One is swept up into the time of Campion, and allowed to experience the persecution he experienced first-hand, as well as understand the motivating love behind his actions.
Highly recommended for all lovers of literature and the saints.
St. Edmund Campion, pray for us!