Appeared in Spring 2004, Vol. XXIX, No. 1
The sixteenth-century English poet and martyr St. Robert Southwell produced writings which emanate from a vision which unites biblical, patristic, medieval, and Jesuit traditions into one interdependent whole. Southwell wrote during an age of intense political division and religious controversy, and his poetry and prose distinguish themselves as confidently rooted in an unbroken tradition going back to the primitive Church. From his deep personal commitment to his vocation in the Society of Jesus (as revealed in his early Spiritual Exercises and Devotions, 1578-86), to his affirmations of his vision in his “Letter to Sir Robert Cecil” (April 6, 1593, his last writing, sent from the Tower), and his final statements prior to his martyrdom at Tyburn in 1595, Southwell consistently reveals himself as a man and writer of unified vision. His vision is both universal and particular, and his writings present a man utterly committed to the Catholic Church as well as to his own English nation; his prose works in particular, though shamefully neglected by English scholars, disclose his Catholic understanding of God, man, and history.
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