English Catholic Heroes edited by John Jolliffe
English Catholic Heroes looks at the 1500 years of Catholicism in England through the stories of nineteen men who contributed in various ways to the growth and glory of the Catholic faith. Some of the figures are quite famous, such as Thomas Becket, Thomas More, Edmund Campion, and John Henry Newman. Other names are obscure, especially to readers not raised on the British Isles. They all had fascinating stories.
While most were scholars and clergymen, others were laymen who did things other than teach, write, and preach. Augustus Pugin was an architect in the Victorian era who contributed greatly to the Catholic Revival of the early 1800s. Leonard Cheshire opened many local hospices for the handicapped and disabled. Robert 9th Lord Petre worked in political circles to improve the freedom of Catholics in the late 1700s. The diversity of contributions is impressive.
The book has some larger narrative threads. Historically, the greatest crisis for the Catholic Faith in England was during King Henry VIII's reign, when the Protestant Reformation snuck into England by way of his desire to have a male offspring. Centuries of oppression and martyrdom ensued. Five of the men in the book were martyrs under the Anglican crown. At the time, the only legal Catholic churches were the chapels at foreign embassies.
Even when the practice of the Catholic faith was permitted again and Catholics were allowed to work in trades and the government, a new challenge arose. Irish and continental immigrants wanted a more "Romish" liturgy with pomp and circumstance and grandeur. The native English wanted a more "British" style with simplicity and without confrontation, a movement known as "Cisalpine" for its "this side of the Alps" attitude. The others were known as "Ultramontane" or beyond the mountains, i.e. in Italy and Rome. Men in this book were on both sides of the issue. Arguments can be made for both sides.
As with any compilation of essays from various authors, some are more well written than others. And they don't always agree 100 percent. Even so, the differences are more in emphasis and style than in substance. The Catholic Church is quite diverse in its appeal, a diversity that can be found within a nation and even within a parish. This book represents the great wealth and diversity of the Catholic Church in England, that wealth being in its faithful members.
The book had a sort of sequel called English Catholic Heroines, which I reviewed here.