“And first behold the beauty of the place / Where all the saints with Christ in glory reign; / Where honor is not mixed with disgrace, / Where joy is free from talk of any pain: / Where great rewards attend on good deserts, / And all delights possesseth faithful hearts. . .” (Stanza 87).
The above verse is taken from one of Venerable Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel’s poems, which he wrote in his Tower of London cell.
Born in 1557, he belonged to a prominent family in England. His grandfather, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, is a well-known English Renaissance poet, despite his execution by King Henry VIII. Later, Henry’s son, Thomas Howard, would be executed for his role in an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth I.
Philip Howard’s ancestry points to his own destiny.
A scholar, he attempted to gain Queen Elizabeth’s favor and establish himself in courtly life. His lavish lifestyle and monetary attempts for success rendered him a debtor. In this shame, he joined his wife, Anne, who resided in the country. She had become a practicing Catholic during her husband’s absence and introduced him to the Faith.
In time, they began assisting Catholic priests in their underground evangelization and hiding them from civil authorities. In 1585, Philip Howard was caught and implicated in conspiring with Catholic priests.
He was held in the Tower of London for many years. In April 1589, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to execution based on another man’s confession. Under torture that man stated that Philip had asked him to pray for the Spanish Armada of 1588’s success.
That fateful day never arrived. Philip was sentenced to suspense as his execution date never came.
His poem, The Fourfold Meditation: “Of the Four Last Things: Of the Hour of Death, Day of Judgment, Pains of Hell and Joys of Heaven,” beautifully reminds us that we belong to God alone.
In this month of November, we recall the example of all the saints and the memory of all departed souls. Venerable Philip reminds us:
“No eye hath seen what joys the saints obtain, / Nor ear hath heard what comforts are possessed; / No heart can think in what delight they reign, / Nor pen express their happy port of rest: / Where pleasure flows and grief is never seen, / Where good abounds and ill is banished clean. . .” (118).
On October 15, 1595, he died in his cell. Philip was unable to see his wife and two children before he died as he refused to attend Anglican services. It is believed that he died of a natural sickness due to the cell’s conditions, or that he was poisoned.
Regardless of the means, his story serves as a testimony of love and devotion in serving God. Philip failed to find earthly pleasures fulfilling as they drained him of his wealth and good name. Instead, he found eternal satisfaction knowing Who God was through the Catholic Church. In this light, he decided to aid Catholic priests in their mission.
Some of Venerable Philip Howard’s writings can be found in Benedict Whalen’s, Lyra Martyrum: The Poetry of English Martyrs, 1503-1681.
November is a wonderful month for contemplation of the four last things. It is these things that unite all of humanity together, even those dwelling in the present with those who lived in the past. As Catholics, our goal is to gain Heaven, so we can once more dwell with the One Who we belong to — God.
With this in mind, Venerable Philip Howard can add to our contemplation of our eternal home…
“Oh state of joy, when endless joy remains, / Oh haven of bliss, where none doth suffer wrack! / Oh happy house, which all delight contains! / Oh blessed state, which never feeleth lack! / Oh goodly tree, which fruit doth ever bear! / Oh quiet state, which danger need not fear! /
Oh mixture pure, which basest dross refines! / Oh pleasant place, which only comfort brings! / Oh joyful sun, where glory ever shines! / Oh fruitful soil, where pleasure ever springs! / Oh glorious souls! Oh bodies wholly blessed! / Oh sea of good and of all good the best. . .” (120-121).