The Life Of A Conspirator Part 8

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[165] _History of the Gunpowder Plot_, Jardine, Appendix, p. 329.

Some of the modern admirers of Father Garnet have maintained that the worse Catesby, the worse Garnet; the better Catesby, the better Garnet.

Without suggesting the exact converse, I would venture to point out the danger to Garnet's memory in anything that might tend to show some sort of co-partnership in spirit and intention between himself and Catesby.

All the facts lead me to a very different conclusion, and one which is much more to the interest of Garnet's memory, namely, that Catesby deceived him from first to last, and that he was, in fact, the innocent dupe of Catesby. To begin with, Catesby, when, during the first half year of James's reign, Garnet desired him not to join in "some stirring, seeing the King kept not his promise," deceived Garnet by a.s.suring him "he would not."[166] He deceived him in 1604, when, on Garnet's urging him not to take up arms, etc., against the king,[167] "he promised to surcease." He deceived him when he put a case before him on the question of slaying "innocents together with nocents," as if it concerned his projected campaign in Flanders, when it really concerned the Gunpowder Plot. He deceived him at the[168] "house in Ess.e.x," when he "a.s.sured"

him "that all his plans were unexceptionable." He deceived him when he[169] "promised" "to do nothing before the Pope was informed by"

"messenger." He deceived him at White Webbs, when he told him that what he had in hand was quite "lawfull." He deceived him at Harrowden when he said that he was going to start for the war in the Low Countries as soon as he possibly could.

[166] Examination, March 13. _Records, S. J._, Vol. III., p. 157.

[167] _Ib._

[168] _Father Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot_, Pollen, p. 8.

[169] _Ib._, p. 10.

In other places I either have shown, or will show, that he deceived all his fellow-conspirators, that he induced them to join in the plot on false pretences, and that he told the lie direct to Sir Everard Digby at Dunchurch. Undoubtedly he had a charming manner, he was an agreeable and well-informed companion; there is much in his history that is interesting, much that is romantic, much that excites pity, but let not any modern Catholics imagine that by attempting to minimise his misdoings they will do any credit to the cause of the Church; for the man began as a libertine, and, after a period of spasmodic piety, ended as a liar. Catesby was one of those people who are fond of asking for priestly advice, obey it only if it coincides with their own wishes, and have no scruple whatever in misquoting it to their friends. This race is not extinct, nor is it limited to the male s.e.x. Sometimes the performance is varied: instead of misquoting the advice of the priest, these candid penitents misstate the case on which they ask the priest to form an opinion.

Such people are exceedingly dangerous, and do immense mischief to the cause of the Catholic Church. When we consider the evil that may be wrought by one inaccurate and not over-scrupulous woman of this sort, who says to her friends:--"Oh, you may be quite easy in your mind. I asked Father Dash, and he told me there was no harm whatever in it," of some action which that Father would have condemned in the most unqualified terms, what limit can be put to the disaster that a man like Catesby might bring upon a credulous friend such as Sir Everard Digby?

It is unfortunate that there should be men of the Digby cla.s.s as well as the Catesby! A priestly judgment has to be given in a court in which the inquirer is witness for both plaintiff and defendant, as well as advocate for both plaintiff and defendant. The friend, therefore, of the inquirer, who is asked to accept the decision which he brings from that spiritual court, ought not to do so unless he feels a.s.sured either that he would lay his case with absolute impartiality before that tribunal, or that the judge would discredit his evidence if given with partiality.

Now, knowing Catesby very intimately, had Sir Everard Digby good reasons for believing that he could be trusted as an absolutely impartial witness and an absolutely impartial advocate on both sides? or else that the priest consulted would certainly detect any flaw in the evidence of a man so notorious for his plausibility and his powers of persuasion? If not, and he was determined only to join in the enterprise on the condition that it had priestly consent, he was bound either to go and ask it for himself, or, if his oath of secrecy prevented this, to refuse to have anything further to do with the conspiracy. So far as I have been able to ascertain of the previous history of Robert Catesby, he was one of the very last men from whom I should have felt inclined to take spiritual advice or spiritual consent at second hand; and, on this point, I find it difficult to exculpate Sir Everard Digby, although the difficulty is somewhat qualified by an unhappy remark made to Sir Everard by Father Garnet, to be noticed presently.

But first let us notice an incident which, in the case of two men professing to be practical Catholics, is nothing short of astounding! As a modern Jesuit, the present editor of _The Month_, the chief Jesuit journal in this country, points out,[170] Catesby "peremptorily demanded of" his a.s.sociates in the conspiracy, of whom Sir Everard Digby was one, "a promise that they would not mention the project even in confession, lest their ghostly fathers should discountenance and hinder it."

Considering that that project, even when regarded in the most favourable light, was one likely to entail very intricate questions of conscience in the course of its preparation and its fulfilment, it is inconceivable how men called, or calling themselves, good Catholics could either make such a demand or consent to it.

[170] _The Month_, No. 369, p. 353-4.


In the last chapter we saw how Catesby, by means of his infamous perversion of Father Garnet's words, induced several of his friends, among others, and last of all, Sir Everard Digby, to join in his conspiracy; but even with his extraordinary powers of personal influence and persuasion, his unscrupulousness, and his intimate friendship with Sir Everard, it is just possible that he might have failed in enlisting him as a conspirator, had it not been for a most unfortunate, and apparently unguarded, remark made by Father Garnet.

Garnet had been at his wits' end to put a stop to the dangerous inclination to civil rebellion which he had observed among certain of the English Catholics; and, in his despair, he had written to Father Claudius Aquaviva, the General of the Society of Jesus:[171]--"If the affair of the toleration go not well, Catholics[172] will no more be quiet. What shall we do? Jesuits cannot hinder it. Let the Pope forbid all Catholics to stir."

[171] _Narrative of the G. P._, Gerard, pp. 72-3.

[172] "Wherein he meant belike Mr Catesby and some such whom he most feared," says Father Gerard; _ib._

The date of this letter was August 29, 1604,[173] that is to say, more than a year before Sir Everard Digby had ever heard of the Plot. Now, will it be believed that when he was asked by Sir Everard Digby what the meaning of "the Pope's Brief was"[174] [which "Brief" it may have been matters little to my purpose; Lingard[175] thought it referred to that of July 19, 1603], Father Garnet was weak enough--can I use a milder term?--to reply "that they were not (meaning Priests) to undertake or procure stirrs: _but yet they would not hinder any, neither was it the Pope's mind they should, that should be undertaken for Catholick good_."

And this after all his anxiety that the Pope should be induced to "forbid all Catholics to stir!" I say "after," for if the conversation had taken place very much earlier, what reason would Sir Everard have had for saying:--"This answer, with Mr Catesby's proceedings with him and me gave me absolute belief that the matter in general was approved, though every particular was not known." If the point be pressed that it _may_ have been earlier, I would reply, be it so; for in the very initiatory stages of the Plot, Father Garnet learned that some scheme was in hand, although he knew nothing of its details, and even then he was most anxious to prevent any "stirr." Let me quote Father Pollen.[176] "About midsummer 1604, some steps in the Plot having been already taken, Catesby intimated that they had something in hand, but entered into no particulars. Father Garnet dissuaded him. Catesby answered, 'Why were we commanded before to keep out one that was not a Catholic, and now may not exclude him?' And this he thought an 'invincible argument,' and 'was so resolved in conscience that it was lawful to take arms for religion, that no man could dissuade it, but by the Pope's prohibition. Whereupon I [_i.e._, Garnet] urged that the Pope himself had given other orders, &c.'" Yet Garnet told Sir Everard Digby that priests "would not hinder any" "stirs" "that should be undertaken for the Catholick good," "neither was it the Pope's mind that they should."

[173] _Father Garnet and the G. P._, p. 4.

[174] _Papers and Letters of Sir Everard Digby._ Paper 9.

[175] Hist. Eng., Vol. viii Note H. H. H. 9.

[176] Father Garnet and the G. P., p. 4.

A friend of my own, who is a great admirer of Father Garnet, as well as a deeply read student of his times, disagrees with me in my view of Father Garnet's speech to Sir Everard about the "stirrs." He writes:--"It seems to me you make too much of _one word_, and not enough of the _known tenour_ of his instructions." Well, in the first place, this one word is the chief thing that I have to deal with, in respect to Father Garnet. I am not writing a life of Garnet, but of Sir Everard Digby; and as Sir Everard stated that on that one word, to a great extent, depended his belief that the plot was approved of by the Jesuits, and consequently his consent to join in that plot, it is scarcely possible for me to "make too much of it." Moreover, I expressly pointed out that it was contrary to "the known tenour of his instructions," and I emphasised the fact that it was a direct contradiction to those instructions, as well as to his wishes, and that it was given in a moment of good-natured weakness; but I venture to suggest that that weakness, instead of being contrary to what we know of his character, was in remarkable accordance with it.

I will admit that I long hesitated to use the word "weakness" in connection with Father Garnet; but he himself practically owned that he was not always free from it.

"I acknowledge," he wrote,[177] before his death, "that I was bound to reveal all knowledge that I had of this or any other treason out of the sacrament of confession. And whereas, partly upon hope of prevention, partly for that I would not betray my friend, I did not reveal the general knowledge of Mr Catesby's intention, which I had by him, I do acknowledge myself highly guilty to have offended G.o.d, the King's Majesty and Estate, and humbly ask of all forgiveness, exhorting all Catholics that they no way follow my example." To Father Greenway, again, he wrote:--[178] "Indeed, I might have revealed a general knowledge I had of Mr Catesby out of confession, but hoping of the Pope's prevention, and being loth to hurt my friend, I acknowledge to have so far forth offended G.o.d and the king."

[177] S. P. Dom. James I., Vol. xx. n. 12.

[178] Hatfield MS., 115 fol. 154.

With all humility, I beg to submit that a feeble, unguarded, nervous and indulgent speech such as that about the "stirrs," attributed by Sir Everard Digby to Father Garnet, is not very inconsistent with that good Father's conduct, as described by himself in the above ma.n.u.scripts.

The question whether Father Garnet did, or did not, die a martyr, however interesting, is altogether apart from my subject; a life of Sir Everard Digby is in no way affected by that controversy; nor am I taking upon myself the offices of Devil's Advocate in Garnet's case, when I endeavour to do justice to that of Sir Everard.

I fully admit that _if_ Father Garnet was weak, his weakness was owing to an excess of kindheartedness and a loyalty to his friends that bordered on extravagance. I am well aware that it is easy to be "wise after the event," and that that sort of wisdom is too cheap to justify confident or summary sentences on those whose surroundings in their own times were so complicated as to make it impossible to put ourselves exactly in their places. Again, it may be that Sir Everard misheard or misunderstood Garnet, that his memory failed him, or even that he lied.

Yet, again, it is possible that Digby's letter may have been incorrectly transcribed, though I can see no reason for thinking this at all likely to be the case.

There is, however, another side to the question. The mischief which may be wrought by a holy, amiable, but weak man, especially one whose dread of giving pain to others, or putting them into bad faith, or making them give up all religion by saying more than they can bear, when it is his duty to speak plainly, fully, and decidedly, is almost unlimited; and if we are to hesitate to form opinions of the actions and characters of those who have lived in the past, for the reasons given above, we must relinquish historical studies once and for ever. Lastly, we ought not to extol one character at the expense of another. Father Garnet's weak speech, if weak it was, to some extent excuses, or rather somewhat lessens, the guilt of Sir Everard Digby. We must try to put ourselves in Digby's place as well as in Garnet's; nor do I see that Sir Everard's evidence need be discredited. It was not extorted under examination; on the contrary, it was deliberately written to his wife, and whatever his faults may have been, deceit and dishonesty do not appear to have been among them.

But let me say one word now as to the difficulties in which Father Garnet was placed. Familiar as we are with the means through which he came to know of the plot, I will take the liberty of reminding my readers of them.[179] Suspecting that Catesby was scheming some mischief, he had taxed him with it, and told him that, being against the Pope's will, it would not prosper. Catesby had replied that, if the Pope knew what he intended to do, he would not hinder it. Then Father Garnet urged him to let the Pope know all about the whole affair. Catesby said he would not do so for the world, lest it should be discovered; but he offered to impart his project to Father Garnet. This Father Garnet refused to hear. Catesby, with all his double-dealing, seems to have become filled with remorse and anxiety, for he revealed the plot to Father Greenway in confession, giving him leave to reveal it in his turn to Father Garnet, in the same manner and under the same seal.

[179] _Father H. Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot_, Pollen, pp. 10, 11.

It is difficult for Protestants to realise the secresy of the confessional. Not only can the confessor say nothing of what he has heard in it to anyone else, but he may not even speak of it to the penitent himself, unless the penitent specially requests him to do so, except in confession; nor can he in any way act towards him, or concerning him, on the strength of it. On the other hand, the penitent, although sometimes bound in honour and honesty not to reveal what the priest may say to him confidentially, as man to man, is theologically free to repeat anything that the priest may have said to him in the confessional to the whole world if he so wills; he can also, if he pleases, set the priest at liberty to speak either to himself about it, outside the confessional, or to any other particular person or persons whom he may choose to name, or to everybody, if he likes; but, unless so liberated, if the confessor hears that his penitent is publicly or privately giving a wrong version of the advice given him in confession, he cannot set himself right by giving the true one.

Father Greenway, horrified at the disclosure, availed himself of Catesby's permission to confide it to Father Garnet in confession. The latter[180] "was amazed," and "said it was a most horrible thing, the like of which was never heard of, for many reasons unlawful, &c.," and he proceeded to reprimand Father Greenway very severely for even giving ear to the matter.[181] By this, Endaemon the Jesuit, who tells the story, probably means "for discussing" the matter, and not refusing to listen to any defence of it. A priest can hardly be blamed for "hearing"

anything in confession; yet this is what Endaemon says. Therefore it would appear that, whether Father Garnet acted imprudently or not, Father Greenway certainly did so--at any rate, in Father Garnet's opinion.[182]

[180] _Father Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot_, pp. 11, 12.

[181] See Endaemon Johannes, S.J., _Apologia pro Henrico Garneto_, p.


[182] The following is the description of Father Greenway given in the Proclamation for his apprehension. "Of a reasonable stature, black hair, a brown beard cut close on the cheeks and left broad on the chin, somewhat long-visaged, lean in the face but of a good red complexion, his nose somewhat long and sharp at the end, his hands slender and long fingers, his legs of a good proportion, his feet somewhat long and slender."--S. P. James I., Vol. xviii. n. 21.

The position in which Catesby was placed with regard to the sacraments of confession and communion is delicate ground for a layman to approach; especially as n.o.body knows exactly what took place with regard to either. I am told, however, by those who ought to know, that this much may be said from my own point of view, without danger of theological error. Father Greenway, after telling Catesby in confession about the nature of the enormity he was meditating, must have refused him absolution and the sacraments if he persevered.[183] After so striking a sentence, what possible room is there for thinking that Catesby could have gone on without even a _serious practical doubt_ as to the lawfulness of his object? Yet to have persevered with such a doubt would have put him at once into a state of _mala fides_. And if he became in a state of _mala fides_, as he was in the habit of going to the sacraments every week, he must have done one or other of two things. He must either have made sacrilegious communions, or he must have given up going to Holy Communion in order to commit the crime of proceeding with the Gunpowder Plot.

[183] Although it may seem an insult to most of my readers, there are some who are so ignorant of Catholic matters, that it may be safer to explain that in saying Father Greenway must have refused absolution, I mean absolution for _past_ sins. Absolution cannot be given for future sins, as some Protestants have supposed, and a "dispensation to commit a sin" is an impossibility. Certain Protestant writers have implied that both were given by the Jesuits to Catesby and his fellow-conspirators.

There is another point in connection with Catesby's confession which is worthy of notice. When he first told the other conspirators that he had obtained the consent of a Jesuit to a case similar to the Gunpowder Plot, he could at least honestly say that no priest had at that time directly _condemned_ the Gunpowder Plot itself as such; but, when Father Greenway had distinctly done so, he still seems to have left them under the impression that the Jesuit Fathers approved of the conspiracy "in general, though they knew not the particulars." To do this was to _act_ a lie! But it seems to have been after he had heard Greenway condemn the Plot in confession that he said something of the same kind to Sir Everard Digby for the first time, and in that case he _told_ a lie! In short, if--mind, I say if--after hearing Greenway's denunciation of the Plot, which, according to Father Pollen,[184] was in July, he gave Sir Everard Digby to understand, on first telling him of the plot, in the following September, that the scheme in general had the approval of the Jesuits, though they knew not the particulars, when he was well aware that he himself _had_ told them the main particulars, and was certain that they did _not_ approve of it, he obtained Sir Everard's adherence to the plot by a direct fraud, and acted the part of an unscrupulous scoundrel.

[184] _Father Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot_, p. 13.

Some devout people have endeavoured to find excuses for Catesby--not for his action with regard to the plot, of course, but for the condition of mind into which he fell preparatory to it--on the ground that he was a good Catholic. What is a good Catholic? I suppose a man who keeps G.o.d's commandments and obeys his Church. One commandment is, "Thou shalt do no murder"; and one of the Pope's orders, in Catesby's time, was that the Catholics in England were not to rise against the Government. But then it is said that Catesby went to Holy Communion every week. Be it so! Another historical character, one Judas Iscariot, committed a still worse crime immediately after receiving his First Communion.

Robert Catesby was one of those most dangerous men to his own cause, a Catholic on Protestant principles. He acted in direct opposition to the commands of the Divine Founder of his Church, as well as to the precepts of the representative of that Divine Founder upon earth. He preferred his own private opinion to that of either. He considered his own Decalogue and Beat.i.tudes juster and more sublime than the Almighty's, his own intentions for the welfare of the Church wiser than the Holy Father's, his own moral theology more orthodox than that of the Jesuits; and then this Protestant in practice--for Protestantism is not exclusively restricted to protests against such matters as the supremacy of the Pope or transubstantiation--took it upon himself to pose as a prominent champion of the Catholic Church.

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The Life Of A Conspirator Part 8 summary

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