We’re hearing a lot about martyrdom in the news these days. Not so much Christian martyrdom, although that is regular, albeit unreported here, in more distant places in the globe; but another religion.
Christians, from the earliest Roman persecutions, were called to witness to Jesus Christ. That’s what the word martyr means: witness.
To be close to the beloved, recently deceased martyrs, and in prudence for their own protection, Christians would celebrate the Eucharist in the catacombs. This is where the Catholic custom of relics of saints, especially martyrs, comes from. Even when a physical church building is dedicated to a saint, and a relic of the saint is placed beneath the altar stone in the center of the altar, this recalls those early remembrances of the Last Supper celebrated on the tombs of the martyrs.
Montanism was an early Christian heresy. Modern day Pentecostalism is the closest example we have to relate to today in attempting to understanding what Montanism was then.
As opposed to Catholics, ancient Montanists actively sought out persecution and martyrdom by the Romans. The Romans were only too happy to oblige. Christians are NOT to actively seek out martyrdom. If, in the course of doing the Lord’s will, they are offered the crown of martyrdom, we are to accept with equanimity. His will be done. His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven. We go to Him: our hope, our joy, our all.
-from “The First and Second Diaries of the English College, Douay” (Douai), Introduction by founder Cardinal William Allen, Sep 29, 1568, the founder & head of the institution in its earliest years. The English College in Douai, France was a school for English speaking seminarians to be formed in the spirit and letter of the Council of Trent (1545-1563), part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. It was suppressed, finally, in 1793 as part of the French Revolution, and the students there then imprisoned for thirteen months in Doullens, Picardy. They were released in November 1794, returning to Douai for only a few months before obtaining permission to return to England. They found their first refuge at Old Hall Green, Ware, and dedicated the new work of the college to St Edmund of Canterbury on his feast day, November 16th, 1794.
“In ordinary years we advance to the priesthood twenty, or thereabouts, and send as many every year to England. Since the college began we have given to the Lord’s work above 160 priests, concerning whose instruction, learning and method of training I will say a few words, at your request, if you will allow me to premise what follows…
Our students, being intended for the English harvest, are not required to excel or be great proficients in theological science, though their teachers ought to be as learned and prudent as possible; but they must abound in zeal for God’s house, charity and thirst for souls. True it is that the more knowledge they possess concerning the Scriptures and controversial divinity, and the greater the prudence and discretion which they couple with this knowledge, so much the more abundant will be their success. Still when they have burning zeal, even though deep science be wanting, provided always they know the necessary heads of religious doctrine and the power and nature of the sacraments, such men, among the more skilled labourers whom we have in nearly all the provinces of the kingdom, also do good work in hearing confessions and offering sacrifice, which are the points to which we especially direct our instructions according to the gifts and ability of each one…
Moreover we make it our first and foremost study, both, in the seminary and in England by means of our labourers, to stir up, so far as God permits, in the minds of Catholics, especially of those who are preparing here for the Lord’s work, a zealous and just indignation against the heretics. This we do by setting before the eyes of the students the exceeding majesty of the ceremonial of the Catholic church in the place where we live, the great dignity of the holy sacrifice and sacrament, and the devotion and diligence with which the people come to church, confess their sins and hear sermons: while at the same time we picture to them the mournful contrast visible at home, the utter desolation of all things sacred which there exists, our country once so famed for its religion and holy before God now void of all religion, our friends and kinsfolk, all our dear ones and countless souls besides perishing in schism and godlessness, every jail and dungeon filled to overflowing, not with thieves and villains, but with Christ’s priests and servants, nay, with our parents and kinsmen…
Then turning to ourselves we must needs confess that all these things have come upon our country through our sins. We ought therefore to do penance and confess our sins not in a perfunctory way as we used to do when, for custom’s sake, we confessed once a year; but we should go into our whole past life and perform the spiritual exercises under the fathers of the Society in order to perfect the examination of our consciences, and choose a holier state of life and one more fitted to secure our own salvation and that of others. We should likewise enter into a holy union with these fathers or others, so as to pray unceasingly with many for our church and country and the afflicted Catholics who live there, and we should excite ourselves to pity and tears for them, but above all for those who are perishing so wretchedly at home, and then consider in what way we, even we, may be able to snatch some of them from ruin, remembering that this would cover the multitude of our sins…
Lastly we should resolve to confess more frequently, communicate more devoutly and study more diligently, so as to prepare ourselves for the priesthood, which Christ has given us the opportunity of receiving even in exile, beyond all our hopes and deservings; seeing that we have found so much favor with foreigners that they assist us, nay more, that Christ’s own Vicar does not disdain us, miserable and unworthy though we be, but entertains us at his own expense for that end which God has predetermined.
For His name’s sake, Therefore we should desire to correspond in some measure with God’s providence which has brought us forth unharmed from Sodom, and we should long to serve Him in the sacred priesthood, not because that order, as was formerly the case and always should be, brings with it profit or honor among men, but because we wish at this present time, when it is an office contemptible in the world’s eyes and perilous, to labour for Christ and the church and the salvation of our people in tears and penance.”
Martyrs of the College of Douai
John Nelson, Thomas Sherwood
Everard Hanse, Edmund Campion, Ralph Sherwin, Alexander Briant
John Payne, Thomas Ford, John Shert, Robert Johnson, William Fylby, Luke Kirby, Laurence Richardson, Thomas Cottam, William Lacy, Richard Kirkman, James Hudson Thompson
William Hart, Richard Thirkeld, John Slade, John Bodey
George Haydock, James Fenn, Thomas Hemerford, John Nutter, John Munden
Thomas Alfield, Hugh Taylor
Edward Stranchan, Nicholas Woodfen, Richard Sergeant, William Thomson, Robert Anderton. William Marsden, Francis Ingolby, John Finglow, John Sandys, John Lowe, John Adams, Richard Dibdale
Thomas Pilchard, Edmund Sykes, Robert Sutton, Stephen Rousham, John Hambley, Alexander Crow
Nicholas Garlick, Robert Ludlam, Richard Sympson, William Dean, William Gunter, Robert Morton, Hugh More, Thomas Holford, James Claxton, Thomas Felton, Robert Wilcox, Edward Campion, Christopher Buxton, Ralph Crocket, Edward James, John Robinson, William Hartley, John Hewett, Robert Leigh, William Way, Edward Burden
John Amias, Robert Dalby, George Nichols, Richard Vaxley, Thomas Belson, William Spenser
Christopher Bales, Miles Gerard, Francis Dickinson, Edward Jones, Anthony Middleton, Edmund Duke, Richard Hill, John Hogg, Richard Holiday
Robert Thorpe, Momford Scott, George Beesley, Roger Dickinson, Edmund Genings, Eustace White, Polydore Plasden
William Patenson, Thomas Pormont
Edward Waterson, James Bird, Anthony Page, Joseph Lampton, William Davies
William Harrington, John Cornelius, John Boste, John Ingram, Edward Osbaldeston
Robert Southwell, Alexander Rawlins, Henry Walpole, William Freeman
Peter Snow, Christopher Robinson, Richard Horner
Christopher Wharton, Thomas Sprott, Robert Nutter, Edward Thwing, Thomas Palasor
John Pibush, Mark Barkworth, Roger Filcock, Thurston Hunt
James Harrison, Thomas Tichborne, Robert Watkinson, Francis Page
Matthew Flathers, George Gervase
Roger Cadwallador, George Napier, Thomas Somers
Richard Newport, John Almond
Thomas Atkinson, John Thulis, Thomas Maxfield, Thomas Tunstal
William Ward, Ambrose Edward Barlow
Thomas Reynolds, Alban Roe, John Lockwood, Edmund Catherick, Edward Morgan, Hugh Green
Henry Morse, John Goodman
Nicholas Postgate, John Wall, John Kemble