Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

WILLIAM FITCH. The pare and spotless life of this holy man, after he had entered the religious state, was long a subject of admiration and edification, among the Franciscan brethren; and has formed the groundwork of a poem which appeared soon after his death. It commences thus :

“ Rose of glory, comely flower,
Bles't by

God

with sovereign grace,
Translated to the heavenly bower,

Enthroan'd in that imperiáll pláce.
Blessed -Benet in thy praise,

To thee this himne I dedicate ;
To thee my thoughts with love I raise,

Rejoicing in thy blissful state." An English translation of his life written by a French author was published at Doway in 1693, and it is principally from this work that we have selected the following details. He was born at Canfield, in Essex, of parents possessing considerable property; and was the second of three brothers, the eldest of whom inherited his father's landed property, and the third son married a rich widow, advanced himself in life, and received the order of knighthood. William from his very Childhood was so attached to books and to learning, that even while pursuing the sports of the chase he usually carried a book in his pocket, that should an opportunity offer, he might be en

abled to steal a few minutes, for what had always constituted his chief delight-the cultivation of literature. After he had made a considerable proficiency in learning, he was sent by his father to study in Gray's-inn, London, where he made a rapid progress in acquiring a knowledge of the law; and as he was the favourite child of his parents, he received every pecuniary assistance and attention which it was in the power of his father to bestow. Although he was addicted to no flagrant vice, he nevertheless gave in to all the follies and frivolous amusements which are generally followed by young men of his own age.

He had no fixed religious ideas; however he called himself a Protestant, and frequented the Protestant churches. It happened that while he was spending a few days in the country, at the house of a friend, he accidentally took up a small book, which he had previously heard highly extolled; it treated of a resolution to live well, and he acknowledges in the following words the effect produced on him by the perusal of this little tract : 66 After I had read some little thereoff, I began to see the end whereat hee aimed, which was a present and speedie reformation of the life of the reader; whereupon I was desirous to see what arguments hee used to persuade thereto, and if peradventure, I liked them well, I would put them in practise. But in reading I began to have a remorse of conscience, and therefore I left the book for the present, with a purpose to reade more thereof the next day, the which was Sunday.". 66 But on Tuesday I took the book again into my hands, and I read therein many pages, during which time I laboured 10 favour myselfe, as though torments which were threatened to sinners were not touching me, although my conscience reproved me therein. But the more I read the more my conscience accused mee, soe that I began to assigne and limitt a time wherein I would amende my life.”

By a providential coincidence of circumstances, it so occarred that a Catholic gentleman, for whom he entertained the greatest degree of friendship, was also upon a visit at the same house. To this friend he upbosomed himself; and described to him the unsettled state of his mind; his religious scruples ; and the perplexity in which he found bimself involved, how to discover, among the various and conflicting doctrines that had of late years inundated his native land, the religious code or faith taught by the Redeemer and his apostles ; or where to look for a divinely commissioned guide, a regular successor of those to whom Christ himself had said, “Go teach all nations and behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world, and he that heareth you heareth me.” He was pleased with the remarks of this gentleman; he was consoled by his advice; and having put his hand to the plough, was resolved not to look behind him. They agreed to return to London immediately, and' a very short time elapsed before Mr. Fitch embraced the Catholic faith. A relation of which event he afterwards published, and minutely described the many and various temptations he underwent, and his mode of proceeding to discover the truth; he also announced his determination of retiring from the world, and of ending his life within the walls of a cloister.

He was received into the church on Sunday the feast of St. Peter ad vincula ; a feast he ever after held in the greatest veneration : 'and thus he exclaims in his narrative, “ So that I might say with the churche in greate exhultation of hart; this is the day which our Lord has made, lett us rejoice in it, for thou hast broken my bands, I will sacrifise to thee a sacrifise of praise, for now I am thy servant, O Lord I am thy servant, and the sonne of thy handmaid the holy church.” Soon after this, he distributed half his property to the poor, and crossing the sea' with the intention of entering among the Franciscans he went to Paris, where he debated a considerable time with himself whether he should give the preference to the Cordeliers, or to the Capuchins ; at length, however, on the 23d of March, 1586, he took the habit among the latter, in company with two other gentlemen, whom he had persuaded to embrace a religious life.

. During his noviceship, he was remarkable for his profound humility; his love of holy obedience, his edifying piety; and the progress he made in mystic divinity. At the expiration of twelve months he made his solemn vows, and assumed the name of Benet or Benedict. His reputation for learning and sanctity soon spread abroad ; for he was well acquainted with the Latin,

2.

Greek and Hebrew languages, and became one of the best preachers of his time even in the French tongue. Mạny persuns of rank and piety resorted to him as their spiritual director, and he was generally beloved and esteemed by every class of society.

Animated with the desire of shedding his blood in the cause of religion, and of cultivatiog the vineyard of the Lord in his native country, he left Paris in July, 1689, and embarking at Calais in company with father John Chrysostom, a Scotch religious, landed on the second day between Sandwich and Dorer The two fathers immediately proceeded on their road to London, but mistaking a prison for an inn, they immediately entered into it, with the intention of procuring some relief for the Scotch father who was very uuwell. Here a serjeant of the town perceiving that they were strangers, ordered them before the mayor to give an account of themselves. Their true character was immediately discovered, and they were committed to the same prison. The queen's council was written to for further instructions, and a short time after, orders were sent down, that the two prisoners should be conducted to London : these orders were immediately obeyed, and they were taken before lord Cobham, and sir Francis Walsingham, and father John Chrysostom was soon after set at liberty, in consequence of his not being an English subject.

Several Protestant divines held at different times disputations with father Benet, and as these were always worsted in such rencontres, the father's ropatation as an invincible controvertist found its way to the court; and Elizabeth herself gratified her curiosity, by privately seeing a man of whose learning and talents she had heard such advantageous reports. He was however afterwards sent to Wisbeach castle. In his journey thi. ther he had the opportunity of practising the christian virtues of patience, meekness and mortification; for as, by his own election, he was conducted in the habit of his order, the people, long unaccustomed to such antiquated habiliments, hailed him every where with revilings and shouts of insults and derision. But he was mindful of the example left him by his divine Master, who when he was reviled did not revile when he suffered threatened not-but delivered himself up to those that judged

him unjustly, and consequently he remained calm and unmoved amid his accumulated afflictions; pay was glad and rejoiced that he was found worthy to suffer for his adherence to the faith once delivered to the saints. He was also the hapry instrument of conducting mạny to the faith of their ancestors, and of admitting them into the pale of the Catholic church. : At length he was discharged from confinement, and ordered into banishment. Returning again to France, he was made master of the novices at a convent of his order at Orleans, where he remained some time, and then exercised the same of fice at Rouen : here he was after a lapse of some years nominated guardian, from thence he was called to Chartres, where he held the same charge. He was also employed in preaching among the Huguenots in the neighbourhood of Orleans. While at Chartres he was afflicted with a very severe fit of sickness wbich brought him to the verge of the grave, and his care was by many thought to be supernatural. Paris was however the chief place of his residence ; in this town he spent many years. At length with a frame reduced by the habitual practice of every mortification allowed by his rule, he sunk under his missionary duties, and falling sick, he seemed to have a foreknowledge of his approaching dissolution, and after edifying all around him by the fervency of his compunction ; by his moving exhortations to the religious; by his confidence in the merits of a crucified Saviour ; and by the ardent love of God with which he appeared to be enflamed; he sweetly resigbed his pure soul into the handa of his Redeemer in the year of our Lord 1611,' in the convent of the Capuchins of our blessed Lady. “Whosoever," says his life already noticed, “had seene at that time, the poore Cam puchins (but rich in heavenly graces) on their knees, their armes spread in forme of a crosse, their eyes lifted up to heaven, watering their cheeks with tears, now redoubling the fervoor of their prayers, and invoking the quires of angells, and all the blessed saints to come and receive this blissfull soule, he would doubtlessly have said, that one moment in the desert of religion, bringeth more true contentment to a soule, than an bundred years in the fairé open fieldes of this miserable world.”

« НазадПродовжити »