The Elizabethan Age Revisited

As part of my relaxing summer, I read Come Rack! Come Rope!* by Robert Hugh Benson — a riveting tale set in Elizabethan England, where recusant Catholics are pressured to submit to their sovereign in matters of faith. The queen was following in her father’s footsteps, insisting that she — rather than the pope — was the legitimate head of the church, and that adherence to the Church of Rome was thereby an act of treason.

There were a series of punishments for those who refused to obey, beginning with fines for those who would not make their “Easter duty” at the local state-sponsored church. While many chose to pay the fines, their increase over the years added a cumulative burden that led many to cave over time. The prospect of selling off entire properties to raise the required funds caused deep conflicts within families, who would likewise be unable to find meaningful work in the community.

English priests continued to be formed in French seminaries, returning home in disguise and being spirited from house to house to evade capture. The lives of both the priests and the lay faithful who harbored them were forfeit, though there were usually opportunities to repent: the first capture drawing a warning, the second leading to more dire consequences, with the ultimate price being hanged, drawn and quartered if they held fast to their “popish superstition.” The title of the book indicates the enthusiasm with which many embraced torture and death, which often became necessary in witnessing to the One True Faith.

While we are not presently living in such an age, I read the book with the troubling backdrop of our own generation, in which the foundational institution of marriage is in danger of being redefined. State after state is insisting that we change our views on what constitutes a valid marriage in order to leave behind its association with a life-long, fruitful union between a man and a woman. Other countries beyond our borders are doing likewise, despite deeply held beliefs to the contrary, with the Judeo-Christian view now considered to be bigoted and hateful.

To this end, a graduate student at a state school in Georgia was recently told that “her Christian beliefs are unethical and incompatible with the prevailing views of the counseling profession.” Thus she cannot share her faith with others, she must add intense remedial reading to her heavy load, write essays on her response to each piece and undergo diversity training. If she cannot bring herself to eschew what her faith teaches her about marriage and intimacy then she cannot be certified in her chosen field.

Similarly, in Spain the government has just imposed a heavy fine on a media group for airing a commercial supportive of traditional family values. For many years now, various Human Rights commissions in Canada have fined those who publicly defend traditional marriage, including priests, journals and even one local council of the Knights of Columbus. Many business owners in the US and Canada who cater to the various aspects of wedding celebrations are extremely apprehensive about their conscientious right to reject services to same-sex couples, fearing dire consequences.

Soon enough, the Elizabethan Age may be fully upon us, with the state standing ready to demand the suppression of the conscience of its citizens. No longer will only pharmacists wonder what they will be required to dispense, but every person may have to “diversify” his creed to accommodate what he finds objectively sinful— or suffer the consequences. It’s hard to relax this summer with such a looming mandate to relax the standards of our faith.


* kindly note that that the e-book is free, for there is no copyright to the text. Thus it and many fine titles may be downloaded without charge from sites such as this.

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  • Cooky642

    Ms. Kineke, you made me chuckle with your remark about our NOT living in Elizabethan times, for we surely seem headed in that direction, don’t we? We in the U.S. have not had to suffer much discrimination–even life-threatening violence–for our faith, but others around the world have, and we must look to them for the courage of our convictions. Thank you for the reminder that we will find ourselves in good company.

    (Btw, there is an even older case of a young woman being tossed out of her counselling instruction program because of her faith: Julea Ward, a student at Eastern Michigan University. She is also being represented by the ADF, and her case seems to be going well. Perhaps we still have time….)

  • Christi Derr

    Thanks for this article! We do seem to live in a time of when our religious liberties are being slowly crushed. A local Evangelical church in our community was turned down for an expansion by country commissioners. Three courts have since ruled that the Church was unfairly treated as a religious institution. (an nearly identical request was approved by the county for a secular school.) After spending MILLIONS of tax payer dollars keeping this church in court, the county is now considering taking this case to the Supreme Court!

  • We do seem to be headed in the direction of religious oppression, but happily (and thanks to God and our Constitution) things are not yet that bad. We still have recourse to due process through the court system, and we have national advocates like the Catholic League and the Thomas More Law Center. And we have the most powerful advocate of all–Mary, Queen of Heaven and Patroness of the United States.

    I still believe that despite all our problems and our real and grave concerns, the U.S.A. still has a special role to play on the world stage, and Mary is the one in charge. Let’s all pray to her for her intercession for our beloved homeland.

  • caoimhin

    What’s the matter? It’s just a little pinch of incense offered to Caesar…

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  • Cooky642

    caoimhin, good for you! I love subtle humor done well, and you did well.

    In response, let me say that you’re right: “it’s just a little pinch” today. Tomorrow, it’ll be an arm-and-a-leg. And, next week, it’ll be your neck in a noose! We must pray for each other to be strong and not give even a “pinch”!

  • elkabrikir

    Please don’t talk about “Good Queen Bess” and her Age in such a manner. Textbooks are teaching, right now, that SHE was indeed quite tolerant of “Papists”. It was “Papists” who were continually threatening her life.

    Bloody Mary. Now SHE all English feared. And, we must despise her (not the beverage) and fear those descendants of hers: Modern Roman Catholics.

    Forget studying historical figures contextually. Bias must prevail, and it’s as antiCatholic today in protestant based America, as it was 500 years ago. However, Satan has about finished using the protestant heresy and is using the evil of this age, “selfmade man”, to defeat body and soul and drive any form of Christianity from the marketplace of ideas. Unfaithful Christians have been his agents in destroying the cross, one splinter at a time.

    However, if only one splinter remains, carried on the shoulders of the remnant, the full cross is carried. Jesus’ question was, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on Earth.” Will he? It is up to us to carry the cross of our age. Do not despair. He is with us until the end of the age.

    Vis-a-vis practicing a faithless psychology: I don’t see how it can be done. How can you treat a soul-less mind?

    As St Joseph Moscati said, “you must first treat the soul and then the body.” Often one will find, as with the case of my 8 year old friend who died a month ago from cancer, that the soul can be healed this side of the veil, while cancer, ALS, etc.. only seccumb to eternity.

    We must all fight the good fight within the arena God has placed us. Awareness of our adversary must occur first. Thanks for raising awareness.