Arise Once More: Reviving Catholic Britain — Part I


Britain started it all for present-day Europe. Yes, much of the evangelisation during the Roman rule was done by the apostles and the earliest believers, many of whom were scattered during the persecution of Christians carried out by the Jews and the Romans. But Europe’s Christian, if not Catholic identity and history, started from Britain.

On the day of the tea party, the students who came for the fellowship after mass gathered to watch a DVD titled “Arise Once More: Reviving Catholic Britain”. The vid was done on a shoestring budget, but set the tone for the start and end of the academic year. We began our academic year going on a pilgrimage down the Tyburn trail; we end our academic year (pretty much!) with a reminder that Britannia needs to be restored to her former glory… before the Crown wrested it.

AUTHOR’S WARNING: The following is a retelling of the story of Arise Once More: Reviving Catholic Britain, but a longer version with explanations where possible. Heavy plot details follow. A number of points brought up involve questions of faith. If you do not wish to be spoilt, please scroll down quickly and shift your attention to another post. Thank you.


When Britain got her name

Now, the earliest British saint existed at the height of the Roman Empire. Britons and chaplaincy friends, you might be very familiar with Saint Alban, a Roman soldier who was executed for sheltering a priest, and whose life has first been documented by the historian, Bede. His name has been immortalised in the district (and city) of St Albans (formerly Verulamium, his place of birth and death).

In case you’re unaware of his story, here’s a refresher: Alban sheltered a priest at the height of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Orders were given for the priest to be captured and put to death. When Alban found out that soldiers had set out to capture the priest, he exchanged robes with the priest, and the soldiers captured Alban instead. Before the tribunal, Alban proclaimed, upon inquisition, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” He was sacrificed to the Roman gods and beheaded in the priest’s stead, and the place where he was beheaded is where St Albans Abbey now stands.

After the beheading, crucifixion, stoning and persecution of people like Saints John, Stephen, Paul, Peter, Andrew and Alban, people expected Christianity to die out. The people procuring the persecution intended for Christianity to die out. The rationale: if we kill the leader, the followers will be scattered and the movement will die out. If we kill the followers, there’ll be no more of them. WRONG. Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrin during the time after Christ Jesus’ resurrection, said that if a movement was of human origin, it would die out by itself, but it if was indeed from God, anyone who tried to stop them would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:34-39). And oh, how right he was… and still is. The words uttered by Gamaliel find significance throughout the ages, from the first century to modern (and apparently post-modern) times. And the memory, if not the names of those who have been persecuted still remain fresh in the minds of the faithful.

It was from this point that the rest of West Europe, at the very least, heard the message of Christ Jesus and the call to conversion.


The Middle Ages

People may call this period the Dark Ages, but Wikipedia does not even cite a single reason why it’s called the “Dark Ages”. In fact, despite the barbarian invasions and the controversy that took place in the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages in Europe, much good came out of the Middle Ages. In Britain in particular, the two foremost universities — Oxford and Cambridge — were built, hospitals were built, schools were built (despite there being a male-only population of students), and all of it flowed from the centre — a sturdy belief in Christ, a sturdy Catholic faith. The mottos of Oxbridge say it all — Hinc lucem et pocula sacra (From this place, we gain light and precious knowledge [Cambridge]) and Dominus Illuminatio Mea (The Lord is my Light [Oxford]). That is to say nothing about the marks and impressions left all over Britain by Catholic Christianity in the medieval era.

But with the addition of that previous sentence, it should all come back to you, the reader — this was a time where religious and secular art, music and literature started to flourish. Oh, and religious architecture too. Much of the art forms that flourished during the time were religious, and the people who got involved with the arts simply did it with this in mind — it was not in any way for self-glorification, but for the glory of God on high. And people appreciate those forms of art, even today, because, in their own words, they are simply beautiful.


The Reformation

I believe you are familiar with the fact that the key figure of the Reformation in Britain was King Henry VIII, whose dissent division from the Catholic Church led to the gradual establishment of the Church of England.

Henry VIII (surprisingly) dismissed Martin Luther, the procurer of the Reformation in Germany, as a heretic. He defended conventional Christian piety (again, surprisingly), but only one point led him to his severance of ties with the Catholic Church: the sanctity of marriage. Annulments are only permitted in the Catholic Church where the circumstances are so severe that their living together becomes practically impossible, even though there may be hope for their reconciliation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1629-1649). Furthermore, civil divorce and remarriage are not permitted: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12).

Shakespeare accurately portrays the circumstances of Henry VIII’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon, as a formidable woman who was wronged, in his play Henry VIII. They could have just let bygones be bygones, but we all know that Henry VIII wanted to annul his marriage with Catherine. And when the Holy See could not annul the marriage, he divorced her in his own courts, severed ties with the Holy See, married Anne Boleyn and became patriarch of his own church — the Church of England. And goodness knows what he was thinking when he ordered the destruction of shrines dedicated to the saints — he himself supported them in the first place.

The Reformation was sealed with the rule of Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I.

The people wanted the Catholic Christian faith back. It was not merely something they were attached to; it was, to them, something good, right and true, something to die for. And true to this statement, many men, women and children suffered and died under the intolerant laws towards Catholics set by the Crown. The women were hanged, and the men were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn (presently at the junction of Edgware Road, Marble Arch and Oxford Street). Nine notable deaths at the Tyburn tree were those of Catholic priests, but I do not remember the exact number (I’ll find out on my next visit to Tyburn). The history of the persecution is still stored in Tyburn today.

To be out of the radar of the Crown (where one could be persecuted for not going to church… whilst out in the open), Mass celebrations went underground, or were held in private houses. Sheltering a priest was a crime punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering. People could die simply because they were Catholic… For this reason and for Henry VIII’s infidelity, I humbly submit that the Reformation did not reform anything; it only brought back horrors of the persecution of the early Christians. The people who converted out, however, converted out of pressure from the laws of the land.

Just across the sea, however, for major doctrinal differences, the Huguenots (the French Calvinists) were persecuted by Catholics. Many would call it an epic FAIL (and it was indeed an epic fail on our part), but lest we get all riled up, let us remember the surrounding tension and hostility of the Reformation in itself. Today, I ask myself if it really did have to come to that, but I do not forget that in Britain, the situation was reversed — Catholics were the ones beaten up drawn in the torture chamber and killed.



There was a growing fear of Catholics in England, and King Charles’ II’s Royal Declaration of Indulgence (which was supposed to suspend all penal laws for Catholics and other dissenters) did not help. Following this was the Popish Plot, which was a web of accusations by Titus Oates that Catholics were forming a conspiracy to assassinate Charles II. Following this, at least fifteen innocent people, including five Jesuits, were hanged. After the last victim, Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, was executed, they soon found that the people they had executed were innocent victims, and opinion began to turn against Oates…… and that spelled his end. He was pilloried, humiliated by the public, whipped, stripped of his clerical dress and imprisoned for life.

Following this (though not directly after this) was (LLB students, you might remember this) the Bill of Rights 1689, which permitted, among others, the freedom of speech, the dissolution of Church courts, freedom to petition the monarch without fear of retribution, and the abolition of cruel and unusual punishment. Never mind that this act barred Roman Catholics from ascending the throne. That Bill of Rights spoke volumes for the people’s fundamental freedoms.

Coming soon:

Arise Once More: Reviving Catholic Britain — Part II


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