St John Houghton

O. Cart. (one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, entered heaven on this day in 1535)

Dear Jake,

I find it distressing that your faith is getting colder as the weather gets warmer.  I understand it, however.  When spring comes, and summer peeks over the horizon, we start to feel that familiar sense of exuberant self-sufficiency.  As if we no longer need God. And in that state of soul, we are vulnerable to false doctrines like the one you have been flirting with.

My bold young nephew, you cannot call yourself a Christian and at the same time put yourself in judgment of the Pope.  The Pope is Christ’s Vicar on earth.  He is the visible head of the Church.  We are to follow him as we would follow Christ, not arrogantly relegate him to the tribunal of our own wits.  Take a lesson from today’s saint.

John Houghton was a Cambridge man.  He graduated from that venerable university and went to serve God as a humble parish priest.  There he discovered a vocation to an even greater spiritual dedication, and he became a Carthusian monk.  Eventually he was made prior of two Carthusian communities (called “charterhouses”, named after the place where the order was founded, the Chartreuse in France), in Northampton and then in London.  He served them well.

But things got complicated in 1534, when King Henry VIII published his Act of Supremacy, claiming supreme authority over the Church in England (which was his way of authorizing a divorce from his wife Catherine so that he could then respectably – in his mind, anyway – marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn).  St John Houghton recognized immediately that this Act was specious.  There is only one supreme authority of the Church on earth, and that is the one appointed by Christ himself, the successor of St Peter, the Pope.  So Houghton denounced the Act of Supremacy, and was promptly imprisoned.  He was the first to resist the King’s audacity.

When the Act was modified to limit the King’s authority by including the phrase “in so far as the law of God permits”, St John felt that he could agree to it, and so he was released from prison.  But a few months later the King resurrected the original version, and demanded that all subjects take an Oath of Supremacy.  Houghton immediately retired into three days of prayer and reflection.  Afterwards, he and two companions went to the Chancellor of England (Thomas Cromwell) to petition exemption from the Oath.  Cromwell had them all arrested.  They were thrown into prison in the Tower of London.

Houghton refused to defend himself in court (because of his Carthusian vow of silence).  But his innocence and holiness were so evident that he was only condemned because the prosecutors were threatened with punishment if they didn’t condemn him.  So he and his companions were tortured, humiliated, dragged through the streets of London, hanged, drawn and quartered.  The first martyrs of a 150-year wave of persecution against the Catholic Church in merry old England…

And in the long wake of such heroic fidelity to this crucial Christian doctrine, there you go questioning the Pope’s role as Supreme Pastor!  You ought to be ashamed.  I recommend a prompt repentance and a return to your senses.  And by the way, you may want to start reading what the Pope is actually saying, not what his deluded critics are saying he’s saying.

Your concerned uncle,


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