“What was it like to live each day in the hope for an end to the “patriotic” religious hatred that forced every citizen to choose between loyalty to country and fidelity to faith?” Dena Hunt, Treason, p. xii
This question is posed in the preface to a novel about Catholics in Elizabethan England. We think of England as a Protestant country, but despite her father Henry VIII's attempts, it remained a very Catholic one at the time of his death. Queen Mary had little trouble restoring the Faith among the majority of her subjects, for there was little to restore. The elites, especially those made rich by the dissolution of the monasteries, were a different story.
Like her father, Queen Elizabeth wanted nothing to do with Catholicism. She made martyrs of some, especially the priests, like the famous St. Edmund Campion. She also sought to cut off the people from their religion.
“The attempt to obliterate the memory of traditional religion was not confined to the eradication of Catholic ritual and Catholic drama. Both the bishops and their Puritan critics were especially aware of the potent influence of what they called the “monuments of superstition”, the physical remnants of Catholic cult which represented both a symbolic focus for Catholic belief, a reminder of the community's Catholic past and its corporate investment in the old religion, and a concrete hope for its ultimate restoration.” - Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, p. 582
As George Orwell famously put it in 1984: "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Catholic drama and ritual—above all, the Mass—along with physical manifestations of culture, such as art and architecture, connected the English with their Catholic past.
But the drama and ritual were forbidden until they were mostly forgotten; the art was destroyed and the architecture was confiscated by the State. Although a remnant kept the Faith, on the whole, Elizabeth's policy proved tremendously successful:
“By the end of the 1570s, whatever the instinct s and nostalgia of their seniors, a generation was growing up which had known nothing else, which believed the Pope to be Antichrist, the Mass a mummery, which did not look back to the Catholic past as their own, but another country, another world.” - Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, p. 593
It would be almost three hundred years until Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman would convert to Catholicism. That substantial interlude is a dark period in English history, at least for Catholics.
It would be an exaggeration to suggest that American Catholics under President Obama are in the same position as English Catholics under Queen Elizabeth. But it would be fair, indeed wise, to ask ourselves Mrs. Hunt's question: “What was it like to live each day in the hope for an end to the “patriotic” religious hatred that forced every citizen to choose between loyalty to country and fidelity to faith?”
We are not yet at that point, but it is good to consider our answer. Hunt writes of white martyrdom, those who “bear the cross each day of their lives.” Brendan Eich, a Catholic, has already been forced to resign because of his opposition to gay marriage. There will be others. The triumphalist left will no more rest on its laurels than Elizabeth relaxed once Queen Mary was locked in the tower.
In the mean time, we can learn from the example of the English Catholics. We must build up Catholic culture so that it will be able to resist the attacks of the secular State. If our rulers strike at our culture, we may fare no better than did the English, but with their example, we can use our time to prepare. It may not be too late.
And above all, we should ask the English martyrs to intercede on our behalf.
St. Edmund Campion. Pray for us.