Ambrose Phillipps de Lisle - born 17 March 1809 died 5 March 1878
Brought up in the Church of England, while at school he met for the first time a Catholic Priest, the Abbe Giraud, a French émigré priest whose holy life struck the boy as inconsistent with what he had always heard about Catholicism. Talking with the Abbe, his interest was aroused and he began to read about the Faith from books in his father’s library. A visit to the continent allowed him to witness the Catholic Liturgy which made a deep impression upon him. Pious and serious by nature he was reflecting on things spiritual one day while walking in the hills in the neighbourhood of his school. He was musing on the Pope of Rome being the anti-Christ of Prophecy. He wrote ‘all of a sudden I saw a bright light in the heavens and heard a voice say ‘Mahomet is the anti-Christ for he denieth the Father and the Son’.
‘On my return home in the next holiday I looked for a Koran and there I found the words, tucked away in the 112 suara (chapter) out of 114 Suaras. Sincere religion ‘In the Name of God the Merciful the Compassionate, say He is God One, God the Everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, and has not been begotten, and equal to him is not any one’.’ When aged sixteen he had a dream in which Our Lord seemed to rebuke him for not having fully complied with the light he had received. Spurred into action he contacted Fr Thomas Macdonald in order to be received into the Church. Fr McDonald tested him and found him fully conversant with the tenets of the Faith and he was duly received. Ambrose informed both his schoolmaster and his father and it was arranged for him to continue his study for university under private tuition.
In 1826 our new convert went up to Trinity College Cambridge and there met Kenelm Digby, like himself a recent convert. Every Sunday these two young Catholics used to ride over, fasting, to St Edmunds College Old Hall, a distance of twenty-five miles for Mass and Communion. His health broke down and he was obliged to leave Cambridge without his degree and retire to the Continent to recuperate. He was to maintain his friendship with Kenelm Digby as they both shared a love of ceremonial and church music. Years later, Kenelm was to write his Mores Catholici, almost an encyclopaedia of religious practices and tradition which work further deepened their association.
Returning to England in 1829 he met George Spencer, then an Anglican, and in 1831, while in Italy again, he met Rosmini, who made a great impression on him. He married in 1833, and his father gave him the second family estate, the manor of Grace Dieu in Leicestershire, which before the reformation had been a priory of Augustinian nuns. He arranged for a new manor house to be built and also a great work of founding the Trappist Monastery of St Bernard there as well - giving land and money for its success. Organised opposition was, of course, aroused and Sir Charles Wolsey presided at the Protestant meeting called when the village chapels were built. However a friendship arose between him and Ambrose, and within a few years, the baronet was received into the Catholic Church.
Fr Gentili was appointed chaplain to Grace Dieu in 1840 and a great missionary work began and was carried on in the district around Grace Dieu resulting in a massive number of conversions. He wrote to Fr Dominic Barberi ‘In less than twelve months more than three hundred Protestants have embraced our divine Faith in the parish of Grace Dieu alone; and in every part of England the Catholic religion is making great progress. In this mission of Grace Dieu we have already formed a Catholic school to educate children in the principles of the true Church, and it will console you to know there are at present one hundred and sixty-six boys and girls in it.’
In 1855 the publication of Ambrose’s work Mohametism in its relation to Prophecy published by Charles Dolman took place, a remarkably detailed and informative work of three hundred pages. We give some of it here.
‘…In 609 a great sign was sent to warn Christendom, especially Eastern Christendom, of what was to come. As the Bishops and clergy in divers cities of Galatia were making solemn processions preceded by the Holy Cross, all at once, a great prodigy was beheld. The crosses reeled to and fro and no human force could keep them steady; and evil-feeling seized upon men, and all felt conscious that a new power of wickedness was coming upon the earth. At that time St Thomas was patriarch of Constantinople and, in consternation at this event, he wrote to the man of God, St Theodore Siceotes, bidding him come to Constantinople so he could be consulted. Theodore was reticent to comment but St Thomas conjured him for the love of God to answer. St Theodore burst into a flood of tears and answered him thus ‘Be it known unto you that this movement of the crosses foretokens great and numberless calamities. Myriads of Christians will shortly abandon our most holy religion; on all sides the barbarians will attack the territory of the faithful, there will be such bloodshed as hath not been seen before, with great destruction and seditions all over the earth.’
…‘The cross of Christ trembled at the coming of Mahomet, and well might it seem to tremble, for Mahomet was its bitterest foe. The cross had redeemed the world, and the Koran of Mahomet was to undo the redemption of the cross. For three hours our Lord Jesus had hung in mortal agony on the cross, giving birth to the children of His adoption, and purchasing the souls of His elect; setting them moreover an example of crucifixion to the world, and a renunciation of all our corrupt passions and lusts; but Mahomet came to level the cross, and to preach sensuality, to set up the power of this world, and to procure the ruin of countless millions. The Church of Christ waxed weak torn by the internal strife of heresy and schism, and the cross was seen to shake and tremble. It only remained for the ‘Son of Perdition’ to inaugurate his accursed apostasy by the ‘lying wonders’ foretold by St. Paul.’
…‘When the Roman Empire had been removed and the world was once more plunged in barbarian anarchy, Mahomet came forth from his obscurity (612) to usher in a new religion, a new empire. (aided initially by the Jews and the Nestorian heretics) His religion was to supersede Christianity and his empire was to be universal so he said, and so he promised his followers. He admitted that Christ was a prophet, but he denied that he was God, and he spurned the doctrine of atonement, while he proclaimed himself to be the last and the greatest of the prophets, consequently greater than Christ: and as Christ had founded a religion and a spiritual empire to embrace, one day within its sacred bounds the whole extent of the world, so did this ‘Father and Son denying’ anti-Christ found a carnal and sensual religion, connecting it with a brutalizing and carnal empire; and as Christ had connected the establishment of His empire with that of every virtue, especially with the Divine gift of continence and virginity, so did this beastly anti-Christ associate his empire with the reign of promiscuous concubinage, and of every sensual gratification. What he adopted and retained of revealed Divine Truth was but the mask and cloak for his impious blasphemies, to deceive the unwary, and if possible to lead captive even the elect.’
‘Be ye perfect’ said Our Lord ‘as your Heavenly Father is perfect - but what was the doctrine of Mahomet? Aged forty he shut himself up in the caverns of Mount Hera and remained there for six months. He states a vision occurred when the Archangel Gabriel, bearing in his hands the Alcoran, the last revelation of God to men, complete in all its parts descended from heaven. He was commanded to read through it and the Archangel took it back to heaven promising to bring it back again as it should be needed chapter by chapter. Now can we imagine any description that more perfectly agrees with the words of St Paul in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, where describing the revelation of the Man of sin, he says ‘Whose coming is according to the work of Satan, in all power and signs and lying wonders.’
‘In 621 Mohamet stated he had another visitation, Satan in the guise of the Archangel Gabriel, on this occasion bringing him a miraculous beast called El-Borac. On this he ascended to the seventh heaven. Apparently beyond the sixth heaven Archangel Gabriel was not allowed to accompany him but Mahomet, holier than the highest Angel!, climbed the tree Sedras, and so ascended through a boundless ocean of light to the very throne of God himself, on the steps of which he beheld these words ‘There is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet’. He was no sooner admitted to the presence of the most High, than God placing one hand on his breast, and the other on his shoulder revealed to him all truth, and declared to him that he was the most perfect of all creatures, and that he should be honoured and raised above all men, and that he should be the redeemer of all those who believed in him, that he should know all languages, and that the spoils of all he conquered in war should belong to him alone. He then ordered him to prescribe fifty prayers a day to his followers - but on the remonstrance of Mahomet he reduced it to five. After which Mahomet returned to the earth and recounted to his deluded disciples the Satanic vision with which Lucifer had deceived his proud and presumptuous mind. Not content with fifteen wives and a whole host of concubines and female slaves, at the age of fifty-four he fell in love with Aicha, a beautiful girl of only nine years of age, who was just married to his own adopted son Zaid, the unfortunate man was forced to repudiate his wife to gratify the insatiable passions of the prophet, who immediately took possession of her, and married her. When some of his followers murmured at his brutality - how did he answer them? He makes the Archangel Gabriel descend from heaven with a fresh chapter of the Koran, prepared on purpose, in which the incest and adultery of the prophet is vindicated (suara 33 The Confederates ‘when thou said to him whom God had blessed keep thy wife to thyself and fear God, and thou wast concealing within thyself what God should reveal, fearing other men, and God has better right for thee to fear Him. So when Zaid had accomplished what he would of her we gave her in marriage to thee).’
‘The Koran subverted every existing system, whether true or false. It subverted truth, to make way for falsehood; it subverted all pre-existing falsehoods to make way for a new, a greater and a more destructive falsehood, than any that had ever heretofore deceived the children of men.’
Ambrose was moved, during his life as a Catholic, to three main aims. First, to restore to England the primitive monastic observance which he did with the foundation of Mount St Bernard as a Trappist Monastery, secondly the restoration of the primitive ecclesiastical chant, which, writing just a few years before his death, he had seen happen. The third and all consuming passion was for the restoration of the Anglican Church to Catholic Unity. Towards this end he founded, with Hon. George Spencer, the Association of Universal Prayer for the conversion of England. Travelling across Europe in 1844 they were to see the cause grow and spread, being taken up by prelates and people everywhere. He really became the lay apostle of prayer for the conversion of England. His ideal for this conversion was corporate reunion and he worked assiduously for this over many years.
He gave great impetus to the cause of Catholicism with the Oxford movement and was in correspondence with Newman and others. After the restoration of the hierarchy in 1850 he wrote a number of pamphlets and then founded, with thirteen others, the Association for Promoting the Unity of Christendom, known as APUC. A lot of letters were flying to and fro from Rome over this and it was not well received in general. Finally Rome declared, by a papal prescript in 1864, a condemnation of the Association and directed the bishops to take steps to stop Catholics joining it. Ambrose was immediately submissive to Rome and withdrew his name and support from the Association. Rome’s reasons were that there was a false claim of equality given between the Catholic, Greek and Anglican Churches.
Throughout his life he was a great correspondent naming among those with whom he readily exchanged letters, Gladstone, Montalembert, Newman, Pugin, Lord Shrewsbury, Cardinal Wiseman, Faber, Cardinal Manning and Dr W G Ward. His writings and translations were equally profuse. All in all he was a perfect example of a Catholic gentleman devoting his life to Our Lord, his family and his country. He died a Holy death at Garendon leaving his saintly wife and eleven of his sixteen children to survive him.