What are the effects of persecution? Fr H.J. Coleridge SJ, 1885

“Another feature of persecution is the great apparent success which is sometimes allowed to it.”

Image: WikiCommons. Some line breaks added below, with some headings taken from the original Table of Contents.

Editors’ Notes

As usual, we wanted to include some notes and commentary, but this is already a long text. We have published these notes separately, which consider the following points:

  1. The glib way in which many Catholics discuss persecution today
  2. The example of persecutions of history
  3. Some further results arising from persecution, as discussed in a 2009 article by Dr Joseph Shaw
  4. The means presented to us as a way of surviving persecution.

It should be clear that the above are focused on persecution which is either bloody in nature, or generally ordered towards the legal suppression of the Catholic religion by the state.

However, as we read Fr Coleridge’s extract below, it is impossible to ignore the striking similarity between the results of persecution which he lists, and those of the Vatican II revolution.

We should avoid sensationalism and any hint of the glibness mentioned above. But if a cause can be known by its effects, then it seems fair to conclude that the Vatican II revolution itself represents a kind of persecution.

This is not to embrace a “victim mentality.” In any case, the true victims of this persecution are not the traditional Catholics who have managed to keep the faith and access to the goods of the Church, but those who have lost these things or been deceived by the revolutionaries and their weaponized orthodoxy. Even more victimised, in some ways, are those who have become the revolutionaries’ enforcers, enablers and apologists.

Other persecutions have certainly been bloodier, and more horrible for individuals and local churches than this one may have been for some of us.

Nonetheless, it is hard to see how any other persecution has been more catastrophic for the Church, the world or for souls (especially those mentioned above) than the Vatican II revolution, in which we still find ourselves today.

Explaining this reality in theological terms can be a challenge. But the facts remain true, even if some of the revolution’s contemporary apologists may be too young or ignorant of the history to realise it.

That said, the main point of publishing this extract is to help us prepare ourselves for whatever the future may hold, trusting in the grace of Almighty God. These points are developed in the notes mentioned.

The Thirty Years
Our Lord’s Infancy & Hidden Life
Fr Henry James Coleridge

Burns and Oates, London, 1915
243-250, 253-5

The discipline of persecution was to fill a very large and very essential part in the dealings of God with His Church, and it was therefore seemly that this discipline should have its consecration, as it were, in the early years of Jesus Christ.

It was indeed to have its part in His Public Life, and especially in the bringing about of His Death and Passion. But there are many degrees and modes of persecution, and all of these could not, it seems, be so well included in the short period of His active ministry, which could not be interrupted altogether for any length of time, without a derangement of the appointed order of the Providence of His Father.

Thus it seems to be, that between the first period of the Infancy, which includes the mysteries of His Birth, Circumcision, and Presentation in the Temple, and the Hidden Life, properly so called, at Nazareth, which was to end with the beginning of His Public Life with His Baptism by St John, there should be this interval of the persecution of Herod and the flight into Egypt, which contains many precious examples and instructions, which are not so prominently set before us in other periods of His sojourn upon earth.

This seems to be, in general, the Divine reason underlying the period on which we are now about to enter, which is recorded for us by the first Evangelist only, who sees in every single incident of it some Divine fulfilment of what had been already divinely predicted. It had been predicted because so it was to be, and it came about in the Providence of God because it had been predicted.

God does not interfere

We may consider this Divine ordinance of persecution, if we may so speak of what is permitted rather than originally decreed by God, under many various aspects, and we shall find that each one of these has its place in the history of this particular persecution of our Lord and of others for His sake.

In the first place, we have already said that God does not interfere to prevent persecution. He lets the malice, of men have its own way in a great measure, in this as in so many other matters, though all the time He keeps the measure to which it is to be permitted to go in His own hands, and uses the fury and perversity of the persecutors for His own purposes.

Of all persecutors it may be said, as the Apostles said of the various classes of persons who had conspired together against our Lord in the Passion, Herod and Pontius Pilate with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, “that they were to do what Thy hand and Thy counsels decreed to be done.”[1]

We see that God makes it a rule not to interfere violently with these outbreaks of diabolical fury on the part of His enemies, preferring to bring good out of their evil, rather than to use His unquestioned and irresistible power in order that their evil may not be. He allows therefore the greatest injustice, the most outrageous cruelty, the basest treachery.

He allows the most innocent to suffer, He permits all the various developments of social proscription and legal tyranny, war and persecution in the household, the master tyrannizing over the poor servant, the lord over the vassal.

He permits the persecution of slander as well as the violence of the sword, the scathing fire of ridicule and public contempt, as well as the tortures of the rack or the wheel.

All these forms of persecution are the abuse of things in themselves belonging to the lawful order of society and the world, and everything of which this is true is respected by God, Who has put His Church and His truth into the world and into society as a boat is committed to make its way over the waves of the sea.

As He does not exempt His children from the ordinary sufferings which are the result of disease, or hunger, or weariness, and the like, so He does not exempt them from the sufferings which come from the perverse use made, by men like themselves, of the arrangements of human society and the divinely constituted power of law and of the state.

Diabolical influence in persecution

Another feature in the history of persecutions may next be mentioned. There is usually about them something which seems to breathe a more human malice.

When our Lord allowed Himself to be put into bonds by His enemies in the Garden, He said to them, “This is your hour and the power of darkness.” We cannot read the story of the Passion without being struck with the manner in which the enemies of God and man were allowed to wreak their hatred of both on our Blessed Lord. There were inventions of malignity in the Passion which transcended the malice of men. So it is very often indeed in the persecutions of the Church and of the servants of God.

For persecution is in itself a prime triumph of the enemy. It is turning what God has devised for the good of mankind, against Himself. It is using human power and authority, which come from Him, against His message of peace and reconciliation to mankind.

Those who lend themselves to so malignant a rebellion against the goodness of God are instruments of Satan in the first instance, and deserve to be handed over by God to the will of the master whom they have chosen to serve. Hatred of God and of His truth is at the bottom of all their measures, though they are so often cunningly disguised under the appearance of a vindication of the law and of the rights of the State.

Like the heresiarchs and authors of schism, the persecutors seem almost beside themselves. The Protestant persecutors of the seventeenth century are not in many cases to be charged with the invention of the punishments which they used, for they did not in truth invent them. They only applied, in a most savage and barbarous way, the legal punishments of earlier times. But the method and manner of the application was their own.

In the same way the tortures of Japan and of China probably went far beyond the ordinary severities, even of those barbarous governments. So also it may be said of the savage tortures inflicted by the Indians of North America on the missionaries. It must have been the same with the tortures of the Christian martyrs under the Roman Empire. Many of them seem to have been devised for the occasion with a refinement of ingenuity hardly human.

To estimate rightly the history of any persecution, this diabolical element must be taken into due consideration. It is not always preterhuman cruelty. It is often preterhuman cunning, the subtlety of a most refined and ingenious policy against the truth.

Apparent Success

Another feature in the system of Providence to which persecution belongs is the great apparent success which is sometimes allowed to it.

History is indeed full of noble examples of resistance to and endurance under persecution. But it must be remembered that for one such instance that strikes the eye in the history of a period of this kind, there are many others which do not come to the surface, in which the will of the persecutor has had its way, either partially or entirely.

After many even of the earlier persecutions there were whole multitudes of those who had lapsed, seeking for the pardon of the Church. To these must be added the vast numbers who did not seek reconciliation after their fall.

Moreover, there must have been multitudes of children deprived of Baptism, or of Christian education, swept away by the storm of persecution into the depravities of heathenism, and prevented by a life of sin from returning to the Church, even if they were not altogether heathenized in mind and heart.

The young of the flock are the first to suffer when the Churches must be closed and the priests banished. A persecution that lasts on from generation to generation is seldom unsuccessful. Even where the faith survives, there are often lax opinions and false doctrines.

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Charity sometimes lost, if not faith

There is another most terrible effect of persecution which cannot be omitted in this estimate of its character. It is constantly carried on in the name of law and authority, and its tendency is to make the population exposed to it, bad citizens and subjects of the State which treats them so hardly.

We have in our own history an instance of this in the famous Powder Plot. The Catholics were goaded to extremity, and their hopes were continually disappointed, time after time. At last some of them turned on their persecutors with a plot to get rid of them all by one act of wholesale assassination.

People under such circumstances are apt to forget the doctrine of St. Paul that the powers that be are ordained by God, and if they do not openly break the Divine law by treasonable outbreaks or conspiracies, they hand on to their children a legacy of hatred and rebelliousness, which serves the purpose of the enemies of their souls quite as well as if they had yielded to the temptation to apostatize from the faith.

It matters little to the devils whether they persuade a man to break the law of charity or of justice, or to give up his Faith, to violate the fourth commandment or to violate the sixth. Thus, wherever this feeling of hatred and revengefulness exists, it must be considered as an evidence of the success of persecution.

Thus Catholic populations are sometimes induced to conceive and nourish and hand on, from generation to generation, the most malignant national antipathies, which vent themselves in the secret wars of assassination and destructive plots, and which make whole masses of the people the easy dupes of political agitators, the enemies alike of religion, morality, and social order.

Instead of praying for their oppressors, or for the children of their oppressors, for these last have long ago gone to their account, they return evil for evil. Thus they do to their own souls a far greater injury than any that external persecution has inflicted on their forefathers.

The faithful left to ordinary means

Another thing that may be remarked upon in this subject is that, although God does not abandon His children, but frequently protects them in marvellous ways, still He leaves them to take the ordinary means for saving themselves from the fury of the storm aroused against them.

They have to fly from their homes, they have to hide themselves, they are liable to all the chances of detection and all the dangers of betrayal. He might certainly have saved our Lord and His Blessed Mother otherwise than by the sudden flight into Egypt, which must have cost them so much suffering and St Joseph so much anxiety, lest his guardianship might fail to protect them.

But He chose this means rather than any other, and He chose it probably for the very reason that flight was to be so often the only resource in the case of thousands of His faithful in succeeding ages, and because He designed to make flight before persecution a kind of law in His Church, and to use it very frequently indeed as the method by which the truth, persecuted in one place, made its home in another, and thus propagated itself while it seemed to be on the point of extinction.

Persecutions are chastisements

There is yet another point which must be noticed with regard to the permission of persecutions by Divine Providence. This is, that they frequently come as chastisements and for the purpose of purification.

It can generally be found that the churches on which they fall have much need of such discipline, that faith has waxed dull and charity cold, that there have been abuses in high places, that the clergy have been given to the indolent enjoyment of their temporal and social position, and the like.

Thus it is remarkable that the brunt of the suffering of this the first persecution should fall on the people of Bethlehem, who had just distinguished themselves so miserably by their want of hospitality to our Lady and St Joseph.

At the same time the chastisement was one of great mercy, on account of the immense spiritual benefits bestowed upon the blessed infants whose lives were sacrificed in the massacre. If the Bethlehemites themselves were not made better by the persecution, at least their children became the first of the Christian martyrs, and acquired as such great power in their intercessions for their parents and others of the place.

Thus what was sent as a chastisement became a blessing, and the weeping mothers, if they had but had full faith, might have rejoiced over the dispensation of Providence for their children’s good, instead of bewailing it as a cruel affliction and an irreparable loss.


Chastisement of persecutors

Before we conclude this general consideration of the mystery which we are to dwell on presently more in detail, we must notice one other feature of this providential dispensation, which has frequent and constant illustrations throughout the whole history of the Church.

Even under the Roman Empire it began to be noticed as a principle of history, that the persecutors of Christians came usually to a bad and appalling end.

The reason has often been given, that such persons lift up their hands against the messengers and children of God in the execution of their great commission for the reconciliation of the world to Himself through Jesus Christ. Therefore they have placed themselves, beyond other sinners and rebels against Him in the world, in direct opposition to the work which He is doing for salvation, a work which He specially directs and specially protects.

With many forms of evil and rebellion God forbears and dissembles, seeming not to notice what He has the whole of eternity to punish in. But it is not for the honour of His work, nor would it conduce to a right estimate of the importance which He attaches thereto, if men who put themselves in the position of direct antagonists to God, like Pharao and Herod, should be allowed to die like other men, and end their days in peace.

Thus it is, as has been said, a constant fact in history that persecutors are cut off in some sudden and painful and startling manner. They do not always lose their power or position, though this is often the case, as was the case in our own century with the first Napoleon, and also with his nephew. But their death has most often this character about it, it is either loathsome, or sudden, or violent, or premature, marked, even to the outward eye, by some circumstance which recalls to the mind the part they have taken against God and His Church, the Holy See, or the Vicar of our Lord.

They are used by God for His own Divine purposes, but they are soon swept away in some manner which marks them as the victims of a peculiar Providence in the punishment of His enemies.


In the history of the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents we shall have to observe the fulfilment of many of these conditions, which belong to the general rule of God’s dispensation of persecution. It is this which gives a peculiar character and importance to this period of the Holy Infancy, and which separates it off from the former mysteries of the Nativity and the Purification, as well as from the later time of the tranquil Hidden Life in the holy house at Nazareth.

Thus, if this period had been left out, we should have been without a considerable portion of the light which may be derived from the personal history of our Blessed Lord for the intelligence of the ways of God in His Providence over the Church. Our Lord’s example at this time, as also the example of His Blessed Mother and of St Joseph, is full of practical instruction for the personal guidance of His children. He is as much our Teacher in the flight and exile, as in the womb of Mary, the cradle at Bethlehem, or in the Holy House.

Each one of these stages of His earthly existence had its place in His Life for our sakes, and each one of them has its peculiar lesson.

From Fr Henry James Coleridge, The Thirty Years, Our Lord’s Infancy & Hidden Life, ‘The Circumcision’, published 1885, this edition Burns and Oates, London, 1915, pp 81-7, 370-1.

Further Reading

Preparation for Tyranny I: Becoming Strong by Rejecting False Hope

Preparation for Tyranny II: What about our Families?

Preparation for Tyranny III: Persecution, Bravado and the Japanese “Hidden Christians”

How Advent and the Apocalypse can immunize us against the fear of tyranny

Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ

What are the warnings that the final storm approaches?
The Church in the Last Days – Part I: How will we see her?
The Church in the Last Days – Part II: How will we know her?
One of the greatest pains of Purgatory and how to avoid it
What might Jairus’s Daughter tell us about the pains of Purgatory?
Our Lady, the Rosary and the Holy Souls
The Cleansing of the Temple – How Our Lord will come and purge our souls
The price of delay in relieving the souls in Purgatory
Our Lord’s expectation of his Nativity – Part I
Our Lord’s expectation of his Nativity – Part II
The Presentation of Christ – Candlemas, Passover and the buying-back of the firstborn
Persecution – What are its effects?
St Joseph – do the Gospels tell us more about him than we realise?


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[1] Acts iv. 27, 28.

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