Angelic Cardinal Reginald Pole - C. M. Antony

Reginald Pole, a Catholic Cardinal of England during the reign of Henry VIII, lived much of his life in exile. Pole was the cousin of Henry's father, but was younger than the king, and the Pole family was among the highest ranking nobles of England to maintain their Catholic identity after the Reformation. Cardinal Pole played a leading role in attempting to reconcile the church of England after the break with Rome. Altlhough Pole himself did not die a martyr, he suffered a fate even worse; that of witnessing the torture, martyrdom, and betrayal of his entire family by Henry VIII. His mother and elder brother were both executed for treason, and other members of his family tortured and exiled.

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Prefatory Note

The history of Cardinal Pole is the history of the great schism and great reconciliation of England. The two are so intimately bound up in each other that it is impossible to write of one without the other; and this must be the author's apology for her frequent reference to contemporary history.

Over the shadowy, bloodstained stage pass stately historic figures of Pope and Emperor, King and Cardinal, Saint and Martyr, Nun and Queen; great statesmen and powerful prelates; while the back ground is alive with crowding faces monk, friar, ambassador, assassin, student, servant, friend and traitor, each with his part to play in the stately drama of that tragedy called the Life of Reginald Pole.

It has been the writer's endeavor to seek to outline, as far as possible, the personality and character of "the Angelical Cardinal," by means of contemporary records and letters, quoted in or translated from the original, rather than in her own words. Her most grateful thanks are due, for valuable help given in several ways, to her friends, the Very Rev. Fr. Reginald Buckler O.P.; Father Robert Hugh Benson; and three Fathers of the Solesmes Benedictine Monastery at Farnborough, whose kindness and sympathy has been unbounded.

Also to another priest, through whose generosity she was able to undertake this book, which, but for him, would never have been written.



It is hardly possible to imagine a character less suited, in popular estimation to the needs of his time, than was that of Reginald Pole to the period of the English schism. They were days of fierceness, brutality and literally Machiavellian diplomacy; and the nature of the Cardinal who played so great a part in them was one of gentleness, kindness and simple transparence. It was an age when scholars suffered for their knowledge of the truth, Christians for their fidelity, and citizens of God's Kingdom for that loyalty that includes, but transcends also, patriotism: from a merely temporal point of view it was almost an advantage to be ignorant, unconscientious and selfish.

It is no wonder then that the Cardinal, a lover of peace and study, sensitive in conscience and passionately zealous for souls, should, as the world reckons success, have failed in nearly every task to which he set his hand. He failed in his first legation to England, and in his second legation to the continental sovereigns; and his success in the reconciliation of his country to the Holy See was, as he foresaw perfectly well, no more than temporary. Finally he failed before men to keep even that reputation for which alone he cared, that is, his reputation as a perfect Catholic Christian, and died under the suspicion of heresy.

Yet, as history gradually justifies the ways of God to men, every increase of our knowledge of the past goes steadily, though unsensationally, to lift Pole's failure up to that victory which is alone really worth the winning. While kings betrayed their trust, and even popes did not whole-heartedly maintain it—while Henry VIII. lost his soul and Paul IV. his head—Reginald Pole at least retained his Christian innocence and counted all things but loss if he might win Christ. He prayed, he adventured himself, he went to and fro in simpleness of intention and utter self-sacrifice; his mother died tragically in the cause for which he labored, and himself had to bear the reproach that he would have done better if he had died himself in the same manner. Yet, if the actual affairs in which he was employed came to unhappy issues, the fault was never in their agent, neither as regarded his capacities nor his goodwill. Failure to perform an impossible task has, more than once in history, been the occasion of a startling personal success.

As regards the suspicion of heresy under which he fell, it is unnecessary to say even a word in refutation. For his nature was the precise counterpart of that of which self-choosers are made. At Bethlehem there came to the cradle of God two classes of persons, the wise and the simple, the kings and the shepherds; it was the bourgeois who remained at home. The significance is to be found in every age of religious unrest. And it was Cardinal Pole, above all others, who combined in himself the characteristic of king and shepherd. His learning was profound, and his simplicity equally profound. So he, with More and Fisher, and a hundred more, retained the Faith, while Henry, Cranmer, and Cromwell lost it.

As regards his attitude towards the penalties inflicted in the name of religion during reign in England, it is necessary to say a word or two, although, as a brilliant writer has recently remarked, it is a hopeless task, in this age of sentimentality and extravagant humanitarianism—among per sons who fear death more than sin and regard pain as the greatest of evils—to discuss the matter with the hope of a fair hearing. First, however, it must be remembered that the Protestantism of that date was of a totally different character, morally as well as dogmatically, from that into which it has since developed. Now it stands, on the moral side for a harmless individualism, often coupled with a real personal piety, alike granting and demanding toleration an individualism, which, from the very fact of its denial of a Living Authority in matters of Faith can indeed imagine no higher virtue than toleration and which in matters of State at any rate, is essentially indifferentist. But in Tudor days it stood rather for anarchy and even coercion; and Henry and Elizabeth—Nationalists rather than strict Protestants—recognized this no less than Mary. Denying authority in religion it denied that which stood behind all the European governments of that date and its significance is brought out unmistakably by the fact that all the seditious movements against Mary were inaugurated and wrought in its name. To deny then authority in matters of faith was to raise the presumption of anarchy and to merit the penalties inflicted by the State, in self-defense, upon all who menaced its claim upon obedience;—for it was the Commons of England, and not primarily ecclesiastics nor the Queen herself who demanded these penalties.

Pole's attitude then was one of simple acquiescence in the methods of the time, as might be the acquiescence of a tender hearted chaplain who stands behind the judge when sentence of death is given. If he did not raise his voice against the principle of punishment, at least he did not raise it upon the other side. It is ludicrous to compare him even for an instant to such a man as Henry himself who hanged the Carthusians for asserting the Pope's supremacy and burned Frith for impugning the sacrament of the altar. While Bonner and Gardiner are accused of rigidity and even truculence, no such accusation was made against Pole. It was, indeed, his leniency on a certain occasion towards some followers of Luther that brought his orthodoxy under suspicion. And this is the more remarkable, when we reflect upon the manner in which he himself had suffered under parallel circumstances.

It is to be hoped then that this volume will not only bring the name of Reginald Pole back into remembrance, but will also detach the truth, as illustrated in his life and adventures, from the all but inextricable tangle of falsehood, deliberate and unintended, with which it has been confused in the minds of English readers.

March, 1909

[Contents] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony
[Illustrations] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony
[Catalog of Works, Page 1 of 2] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony
[Catalog of Works, Page 2 of 2] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony
[Geneology] from Cardinal Pole by C. M. Antony