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The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2013
An exposition of 16th Century England under Elizabeth the First and later, at the beginning of the 17th, England under James the First but with no improvement on Elizabeth's murderous campaign against Catholics. Read about those who resisted and wonder would you be able to do the same.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I first read this autobiography in 1961. It was a school assignment, for that once sophomore in high school that was me. I still remember the Catholic book store in downtown Pittsburgh where I had to go to purchase it. As one of the first "serious" books that I had read, it was WAY over my head. It is very unlikely that I had even heard of the term "Elizabethan England," which is the setting of John Gerard's memoir, and for sure, I had never heard of Graham Greene, who wrote the introduction. Gerard was a Jesuit, and he says that the Society requested that he write his story, after his last escape from England. He wrote it in Latin, and it was not translated into English until around 1870. That translation was `Elizabethan' according to the new translator, Philip Caraman, A lot of sand has flowed down that proverbial wadi (arroyo) over the last half century, so I wanted to determine how different my perspective would be. Among other matters, along the way I not only learned who Graham Greene was, but read several of his works, including the ever so prescient The Quiet American.

Gerard was born in 1564. His childhood is briefly covered, and he mentions that there were already serious religious differences within his family. Throughout the book, the historical context is completely missing for the modern reader. A good ten-page introduction would do wonders for the reader's understanding. For example, it would be useful to know - and I recently read it in a radically different book, Robert McFarlane's The Wild Places that the "Act of Supremacy" had been promulgated in 1558 by Elizabeth I, which updated her father, Henry VIII's break with the Pope and the Catholic Church in Rome. This Act, and subsequent amendments effectively outlawed the Catholic Church in England, with their priests being guilty of treason. Death, in the most unpleasant manners of the time (like being drawn and quartered) was the punishment. Hence the "hunted" in the title.

The "safe haven" was nearby Belgium, where Gerard went, and became a Jesuit. The author provides little information on his motivations, or the corresponding beliefs that he held. He decided to return to England in 1588 (yes, the year of the defeat of the Spanish armada). In the company of three other priests, they landed in the north of England since it was a less likely destination. (He notes that the other three were martyred). For almost two decades he would provide Catholic services and counselling to the many Catholics who had not renounced their beliefs. Most of the time he was "on the run"; hopefully a few steps ahead of the law. He needed the protection of the rich, with large houses, where his movements were easier to disguise.

He was eventually betrayed, and spent a number of years in prison, including "The Clink," and thus I learn the derivation of that expression: "thrown in the clink." He was there for three years, 1594-97, and was later transferred to the Tower of London, where he was tortured on a number of occasions. Eventually he made a rather dramatic escape. The prison period was the climatic portions of the book. Bribes worked then (and probably now) to improve one's conditions, and he was able to communicate with the outside world with the old trick of "invisible writing" with lemon and/or orange juice (and he explains the varying properties).

It IS a book written by a profound believer in his faith so there should be no surprise that there are a lot of "miracles" occurring. And there is that religious phrasing for events. For example, in referring to the execution of Master Page at Tyburn on 20 April, 1602, he says that "...he washed his robe in the blood of the Lamb." (p. 150). Again the historical context is missing. He never mentions that Elizabeth I died in 1603, and James I assumed the throne. Gerard eventually fled England on a permanent basis due to the "Gun Powder" plot (to blow up parliament). He literally says that since the "facts of the plot" are well-known, he will not cover them. (Yes, I had to look them up.) He claims he was not involved, and had no knowledge of it, but one of the other priests was executed for it.

There is the drama of life lived "on the run," with issues of doctrine, heresy, and steadfastness to a given belief always in the background. Even over the last half century, these "critical" issues have faded, and the competing churches of both faiths, particularly in Europe, are largely empty. Now the "critical" issues, sometimes of life and death, are a belief in a particular football team, or doctrinal economic issues promulgated by the International Monetary Fund. Plus ca change... and for Gerard's work, the second time around, 3-stars.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is an autobiography of John Gerard a catholic priest in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. He tells the story of his experiences anjd those of fellow Catholics priests and lay at the time of persecution. A story of faith, courage and advenure keeping Catholism alive in dangerous days. A fascinating story of an aspect of Elizabethan life and of Catholic history.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 2014
Fascinating insite into life of a Catholic priest during 16th century.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2015
I'm glad I purchased this, it has been interesting enough to justify the small price paid. As an autobiography of someone who lived a hair-raising life as a hunted fugitive from the Elizabethan State it deserves a place among historical sources. However, I could never get used to reading this eye witness account in modern English which repeatedly jarred. I would much prefer to have the original Latin so at least I could check the meaning and nuance. Gerard presents himself and his friends as humane, caring and conscientious individuals who are victims of a tyrannical and fanatical protestant regime and its thugs. You won't find any evidence in the book to counter the Jesuits' self-congratulation; the edition itself is a Jesuit work and steps into the realm of propaganda. At several points I found the Jesuit bias too much to bear without regretting the absence of an independent, subjective reviewer who could put the Elizabethan state terror in perspective with the revolting atrocities being committed by the Inquisition in Europe.
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