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Thoughts on Psychology of 40 Martyrs of England and Wales 16th and 17th Century

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  • Author: Richard Michael Lamb


Thoughts on the psychology of 40 Martyrs of England and Wales 16th and 17th century – put to death for their catholic faith.


I first learned of these martyrs at Prep School in Bournemouth – the Oratory Prep School (1961-65) under Kit and Judy Maude. We were encouraged to pray for their Beatification which came about in 1973 approx under Paul VI (Montini). I believe (my last year at University) when my religion had worn thin 1971-72 yet rose again 1972-73. I had the forty Martyrs Prayer Card and Altarpiece pictured of the Venerable (English College in Rome) on the card and names of Martyrs – all 40 who had been selected as good examples in their lives for Beatification and what they represented (not that every single martyr of those times did not deserve sanctification. Catholic and Protestant (e.g. Cranmer and Ridley) burned at Stake and under Pernicious Mary Tudor). (The Oxford Protestant Martyrs – my mother would remind me as I spoke of Catholic 40 Martyrs).


All the Catholic Martyrs were canonised under John Paul II, I believe in 1980’s building on Montini’s decision as the Popes are wont to do. There was no doubt about their sanctity in their lives and deaths. Wotilja followed the lead of Montini in the matter of the 40 Martyrs.


Many trained at the Venerable in Rome or Valladolid Seminary Spain or the College at Lisbon or Douai North Eastern France. Campion himself learned Rhetoric at Prague Catholic University – then entered England. (art of persuasion verbally and in writing). St Philip Neri of the Rome Oratory got to know many of the Martyr priests under Elizabeth 1 of England and Neri encouraged many Martyrs knowing those men would sacrifice their lives before they left Rome.


The then Pope endorsed the policy of training young men for the Catholic Priesthood and sending them to minister to the Catholics of Elizabethan England in 16th Century. Where they were certain to be put to death if captured and very likely to be arrested. Catholic priests were traitors and spies for the opposing Catholic powers on the Continent in the eyes of the Elizabethan regime and its apparatus – whatever Campion and Co might do to deny that imputation. England had no hierarchy or bishops – the Pope commanded that personal loyalty of many of these priestly Martyrs as he had met them like Neri also an Italian. Essentially these priestly martyrs represented the authority of the Papacy and thus attracted the opposition to Roman Catholicism in England (Sir Francis Walsingham and the English Judges and parliament). The 40 Martyrs were the focus of anti-Catholicism (anti-Christ) yet the Elizabethans saw the Pope as “the anti-Christ” themselves.


The core of Catholicism as always lies in the sacrifice of the Mass – the Holy and Living Sacrifice. With the Sacrament of Holy Communion so brought about and consumed the priest and lay communicant both in effect swear allegiance to the papacy and all it stands for Vicar of Christ and Bishop of Rome – Supreme Pontiff yet servant of all. The particular idiosyncrasies of the Pope or that Pope don’t matter – it is the fulfilment of the office holder that counts. Some have tried to argue the late 20th Century papal policy re: the Martyrs and the Beatifications inn 1973 and then Canonisations in 1980’s/90’s were all politically inspired. No it can never be a party or political policy or political act to perform the Sacrifice of the Mass based on the Last supper on Holy Thursday such practice begun by Jesus Christ. The Mass is above all a sacramental act of sacrifice – sacrifice is at the centre of our Roman Catholicism. That cannot be political but it may have political consequences namely the Protestant reaction and interpretation based on a perceived threat to the English State. The Elizabethan Protestants had to cope with the Spanish Armada in 1580’s and were anxious about the Catholic threat from the Continent not unsurprisingly. The Elizabethan Protestants feared “another Armada” before or after the real one – that is the blunt truth.


The Beatifications and canisations in the 20th Century recognised the exceptional heroism of the martyrs for their religion. They were put to death because they represented in one shape or another the Pope in Rome and his Roman Catholic faith then, now and forever and that Catholicism was imbued in their veins and lives. The Papacy never alters. The Martyrs themselves were no political animals and the Beatification process followed their personal sacrifice in their religion years indeed centuries after their deaths. They should not be aggrandised to politics. We should all recognise and acknowledge religious achievement in others as with the English and Welsh Martyrs 400 years ago. The Church R.C. is ultimately the servant of all like the Pope – the 40 Martyrs did good service for everyone through their religious example – let us be humble to those Martyrs and recognise their sacrifices for the sake of humility worldwide now again in 20th and 21st Century. Ultimately the 40 Martyrs are the essence of humility and charity.

7. Conclusion

It is always in humility and charity and sincerity or we are nothing. Those three virtues are enshrined in the lives and deaths of the 40 Martyrs. Thus humility means “forgive us our trespasses”. Charity means “as we forgive those who trespass against us”. (i.e. hold out the arm of conciliation to your neighbour. This may not mean being close to your neighbour, the 40 Martyrs could not be all over their neighbours due to the extreme danger the Elizabethan apparatus posed to them). Sincerity means being sincere within yourself i.e. being true to yourself and not fudging the issues and blurring the boundaries – rather being a Leader. Essentially being prepared to work out the best way forward for yourself and others. “Lead us not into temptation – Sed libera nos a malo”. Therefore by prudence and caution we will achieve the final goal with the Martyrs who were also prudent and cautious. There is no obligation to replicate a martyrs death in anyway, they are purely an example of being steadfast.

The ultimate quality of each Martyr was to forgive those who sinned against him/her i.e. those who captured him, conspired to catch him, those who prepared the evidence and tried him to the sentence of death, those who imprisoned him and finally those who put him to death. There was a lot to forgive by the martyrs were generous hearted.

Re: Psychology of 40 Martyrs (continued)


Each person be he Martyr, Saint or simple, humble, ordinary soul has a peculiarly Individual and unique path to God the Father through death Judgement, Heaven or Hell and through Jesus Christ. No one person exactly imitates another but we do clearly learn from each other. Thus to attain salvation we should follow Christ’s path for us individually or we will risk not following Christ’s way for that person. Therefore one person’s way is not another’s. This must be clearly understood yet we are not on our own. We have the universal Church as our guide.


I do not deny my voie sacre would be alien and obnoxious to many indeed probably practically all bar a very few. The reason I pursue my voie sacre is the driving force of the Holy Spirit within me.


No one else should pursue my path. It is not meant to be replicated. Each Martyr of 16th and 17th Centuries had their own highly unusual way to Christ and that is the lesson of their particular martyrdom however we may group the 40 Martyrs. I do not deny I have been greatly inspired by these Martyrs and their self-sacrificing lives – they shine the light for me and explain my strongly driven Catholicism before 1982 and from 1982 onwards. Nevertheless I have had to make “translation” into my life and thoughts and actions of the “language” of the lives of these Martyrs as Newman would understand. The result of the “translation “ is my life and times different to all around me and only I can live that way to Christ then God the Father.


The essence of Christianity is the original and unique characteristics of each person’s soul which never dies in Heaven or Hell. It is precisely because of this essence each Martyr could make the final sacrifice undaunted with the moral support of the other Martyrs. . Nothing has changed in the Catholic Church, the Church is the body of Christ and that body was mutilated and maimed by the persecutors of those 40 Martyrs. One Martyr builds on another’s exploits. Nothing is ever the same in the lives of the Catholic Martyrs. The sacrifice always mutates.