Volume > Issue > The Seventh Last Word

The Seventh Last Word

REVERT'S ROSTRUM

By Casey Chalk | June 2024
Casey Chalk is a Contributing Editor of the NOR. His latest book is The Obscurity of Scripture: Disputing Sola Scriptura and the Protestant Notion of Biblical Perspicuity (Emmaus Road Publishing). He is a regular contributor to The American Conservative, The Federalist, Crisis Magazine, Catholic World Report, and more. His website is caseychalk.com.

Ed. Note: This marks the conclusion of Casey Chalk’s seven-part series on Christ’s last words from the cross. This and the six earlier installments can be found online at newoxfordreview.org/topics/reverts-rostrum.

 

Almost 150 years after the English Reformation, life remained perilous for Catholics residing in lands governed by the English Crown. Even in majority-Catholic Ireland, many bishops had been driven into exile. One brave prelate who chose to stay was Oliver Plunkett, who in 1669 was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. For a few years, Plunkett enjoyed a careful peace due to the fairness and moderation of the island’s viceroy, Lord Berkeley of Stratton, who was tolerant of Catholics and friendly to Plunkett. But in 1673 persecution of Catholics began afresh, and the archbishop went into hiding.

Five years later, anti-Catholic fervor intensified when English Protestant clergyman Titus Oates fabricated the story of a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II, allegedly to be carried out by the Jesuits. Plunkett, in particular, was accused of plotting to facilitate the landing of 20,000 French soldiers, as well as levying a tax on Catholic clergy to raise a rebellious army against the Crown. He was put on trial at Dundalk, north of Dublin, before an all-Protestant jury. For two days the prosecution was unable to summon a single witness; on the third day an expelled Franciscan named MacMoyer arrived drunk and asked for a remand until other witnesses could be found. Frustrated authorities moved Plunkett to London to face trial at Westminster Hall.

At this second trial, Plunkett was denied defending counsel or sufficient time to gather witnesses — who were still in Ireland — in his defense. In response to Plunkett’s complaints, Lord Chief Justice Sir Francis Pemberton reprimanded him, “Look you, Mr. Plunkett, it is in vain for you to talk and make this discourse here now.” After a 15-minute deliberation, the jury declared the archbishop guilty of high treason “for promoting the Roman faith.” He was condemned to death, the judge telling Plunkett, “For the bottom of your treason was your setting up your false religion, than which there is not any thing more displeasing to God, or more pernicious to mankind in the world.”

Through these many miscarriages of justice, the indefatigable Plunkett retained a stoic piety. When told of the guilty verdict, the archbishop solemnly replied, “Deo gratias.”

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