"Clearly Unworthy" Thought Gerard

Published Apr 28, 2010
"Clearly Unworthy" Thought Gerard

"I have only one life," said John Gerard. "But if I had several I would sacrifice them to the same cause." He was very weak. All the day before, he had hung by his arms, stretched in a position which caused excruciating pain, passing out repeatedly, only to be revived and forced to endure more agony. Now, on this day, April 15th, 1597, he was hoisted into the torturous position again. ". . .if I had any spirit left in me it was given by God and given to me, although most unworthy, because I shared the fellowship of the Society."

Gerard's crime was to be a Jesuit in an England which had embraced the Reformation. As such he was suspected of complicity in various plots, imaginary or real. His torture was designed to force him to implicate an innocent Catholic priest, Father Garnet.

His torment was made worse by the words of the torturers. "You will be a cripple all your life if you live. And you are going to be tortured every day until you confess."

John Gerard prayed unceasingly. The pain was intense, especially in his hands. He placed himself in the keeping of the Lord Jesus and Mary. It was a long time before he fainted this day. Hot water was poured down his throat to revive him. The jailers had so much difficulty bringing him around that they thought he had died. He came to himself seated on a bench, and supported by a man on either side. "Submit to the Queen," they urged. Tell all you know. Why die miserably? "No I won't," he managed to reply. "And I won't as long as there is breath in my body."

He was hung up again, and was promised another hanging after dinner. Nonetheless he felt consoled in his soul. "Whether it arose from a true love of suffering with Christ or from a selfish longing to be with Christ, God knows best. But I thought then I was going to die. And my heart filled with great gladness as I abandoned myself to His will and keeping. . ."

The governor of the tower was the first to lose stomach for the fight. John was taken down and returned to his cell. His warden ". . .assured me that his wife, whom I had never seen, had wept and prayed for me the whole time." The governor resigned. He did not want to torture any more good men, he said. A new man took his place. Six months later, John escaped.

He was glad to have endured his torments without breaking, but deeply saddened for another cause. God must have seen weakness in him to have given him so short a fight, he wrote. "To others stronger than me, to Father Walpole, Father Southwell and others, He offered a hard fight that they might conquer. . .but I was clearly unworthy of their prize and was left to fulfill the length of my days. . ." Clearly the Reformation in England had martyrs, heroes and villains on both sides--Catholic and Protestant.


  1. Gerard, John. "A Jesuit is Tortured in the Tower, 14-15 April, 1597 John Gerard." In Eyewitness to History. Edited by John Carey. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1988.
  2. Pollen, J. H. "John Gerard." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  3. Various internet articles such as the Wikipedia entry.

Last updated April, 2007.


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