Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Death, Hope, and eternal Salvation - Sir Walter Raleigh; Blessed William Hart (martyr).

The one certainty in life is the inevitability of death, yet it is a subject which in the normal course of events is rarely mentioned. Obituaries are published in local and national newspapers, and the death of well-known personages or victims of disasters or violence receives wide coverage in the media. Death does make news, but perhaps the reality is that it is not death itself that people are interested in, rather is it the personal details of the deceased. The spiritual implication of death is rarely acknowledged in today’s secular world, the day of judgement and eternal life, if thought of at all, is regarded rather as a ‘religious’ belief that most people prefer not to think about. By the grace of God, Christians know otherwise, but even we can be strangely muted when it comes to discussing death.  The following two articles, written some four hundred years ago by the famous Elizabethan courtier, explorer, soldier, writer and poet, Sir Walter Raleigh c.1552-1618, reveal a commendably ruthless honesty which would not be out of place today in a sermon on the ‘Four Last Things’, although  a critic might suggest a certain absence of that spirit of Hope  found in the writings of the Saints.  Hope, one of the three Cardinal virtues, keeps us on track when we are tempted to despair, helping us to persevere throughout life in  knowing, loving, and serving God, so that we may be welcomed by Him when we die. Hope keeps death in perspective, for while the body will die, the soul of the just will find eternal joy and happiness with God.

The Workmanship of Death

'Our attendants are sicknesses and variable infirmities, and by how much the more we are accompanied with plenty, by so much the more greedily is our end desired, whom when Time has made undesirable to others, we become a burthen to ourselves: being of no other use than to hold the riches we have from our successors. In this time it is (as aforesaid) we, for the most part, and never before, prepare for our eternal habitation, which we pass on unto, with many sighs, groans, and sad thoughts, and in the end, by the workmanship of death, finish the sorrowful business of a wretched life, towards which we always travel both sleeping and waking; neither have those beloved companions of honour and riches any power at all to hold us any one day, by the glorious promise of entertainments; but by what crooked path soever we walk, the same leadeth on directly to the house of death:  whose doors lie open at all hours, and to all persons.  For this tide of man’s life, after it once turneth and declineth, ever runneth with a perpetual ebb and falling stream, but never floweth again: our leaf once fallen, springeth no more, neither doth the sun or the summer adorn us again, with the garments of new leaves and flowers.'
                                                      Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552-1618)

O Eloquent, Just, and Mighty Death

'Death, which hateth and destroyeth man, is believed; God, which hath made him and loves him, is always deferred.  I have considered (saith Solomon) all the works that are under the sun, and behold, all is vanity, and vexation of spirit: but who believes it, till Death tells it us: it was Death, which opening the conscience of Charles the First, made him enjoin his son Philip to restore Navarre; and King Francis the First of France, to command that justice should be done upon the murderers of the Protestants in Merindol and Cabrieres, which till then he neglected.  It is therefore Death alone that can suddenly make man to know himself. He tells the proud and insolent, that they are but abjects, and humbles them at the instant; makes them cry, complain, and repent, yea, even to hate their forepassed happiness.  He takes the account of the rich, and proves him a beggar; a naked beggar, which hath interest in nothing, but in the gravel that fills his mouth.  He holds a glass before the eyes of the most beautiful, and makes them see therein, their deformity and rottenness; and they acknowledge it.
    O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! Whom none could advise thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised: thou hast drawn together all the far stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two narrow words, Hic iacet – here lies …'
                                                      Sir Walter Raleigh (c.1552-1618)


                      'Sir Walter Raleigh (1598)' by William Segar

Sir Walter Raleigh, was born in 1554 in East Budleigh, Devon, and brought up in the Protestant faith.  In 1569, he left for France to serve with the Huguenots in the French religious civil wars. In 1572, he was registered as an undergraduate at Oriel College, Oxford, leaving a year later but subsequently completing  his education in the Inns of Court.  He moved to Ireland taking part in the suppression of local rebellions, and eventually becoming the owner of property in Munster confiscated from the native Irish. He returned to England in 1581, becoming a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, and was knighted in 1585. Raleigh was instrumental in the English colonisation of North America and was granted a royal patent to explore Virginia, which paved the way for future English settlements. In 1591, he secretly married Elizabeth Throckmorton one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, without the Queen's permission, for which he and his wife were subsequently punished and sent to the Tower of London. After a few months they were released, and returned to his estate at Sherborne in Dorset. In 1594 Raleigh sailed on a voyage of exploration to South America searching for the mythical El Dorado. Once back in England he published  ‘The Discovery of Guiana’ (1596), an account of his voyage which made exaggerated claims as to what had been discovered.  In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died and the throne passed to James I. The following year Raleigh was implicated on uncorroborated and flimsy evidence in the Main Plot, and was again imprisoned, but this time for many years. The Main Plot was an alleged conspiracy  by English courtiers, to remove King James I from the English throne, replacing him with his cousin Arabella (or Arbella) Stuart. The plot was supposedly led by Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, and funded by the Spanish government. Much of Raleigh’s poetry and historical writing was completed during this period of imprisonment.  In 1616 he was released to lead a second expedition in search of El Dorado. This was unsuccessful, but men under his command ransacked a Spanish outpost, contrary to his orders and in breach of existing treaties with Spain. On his return to England the Spanish government demanded that he be held responsible and punished, and in 1618 he was arrested and executed.  Raleigh’s wife bore him three sons, one of whom died in infancy. They were a devoted couple and after Raleigh was beheaded, it has been said that Lady Raleigh kept her husband's head in a velvet bag until her death 29 years later, when it was returned to his tomb and interred at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster.


The following is taken from 'Martys to the Catholic Faith,  1577-1684' by Bishop Richard Challoner, and is part of a letter written to his mother by the Rev. William Hart, who was imprisoned at York Castle awaiting execution. 

…… ‘Alas! sweet mother, why do you weep? Why do you lament? Why do you take so heavily my honourable death? Know you not that we are born once to die, and that always in this life we may not live? Know you not how vain, how wicked, how inconstant, how miserable this life of ours is? Do you not consider my calling, my estate, my profession? Do you not remember that I am going to a place of all pleasure and felicity? Why then do you weep? Why do you mourn? Why do you cry out? But perhaps you will say, I weep not so much for your death as I do for that you are hanged, drawn, and quartered. My sweet mother, it is the favourablest, honourablest, and happiest death that ever could have chanced unto me. I die not for knavery, but for verity; I die not for treason, but for religion; I die not for any ill-demeanour or offence committed; but only for my faith, for my conscience, for my priesthood, for my blessed Saviour Jesus Christ; and, to tell you truth, if I had ten thousand lives, I am bound to lose them all rather than to break my faith, to lose my soul, to offend my God. We are not made to eat, drink, sleep, to go bravely, to feed daintily, to live in this wretched vale continually; but to serve God, to please God, to fear God, and to keep His commandments; which, when we cannot be suffered to do, then rather must we choose to lose our lives than to desire our lives.’…….(Extract from a letter written by Fr.William Hart to his mother, from York Castle, 10th March, 1583.)

Five days later Fr Hart was executed, being hanged, drawn, and quartered for ‘being a Roman priest’ (Athenae Oxoniensis)

N.B. Fr Hart was one of forty-two English Roman Catholic Martyrs beatified on December 29, 1886, by Pope Leo XIII

'Salvator Mundi' by Andrea Previtali (1519)