Skip to comments.St. John Fisher: "I am come here to die for Christ's Catholic Church"
Posted on 06/22/2006 7:36:40 AM PDT by Pyro7480
When Henry VIII began to dally with the idea of putting away his Queen Catherine and replacing her with Anne Boleyn, it was only natural that one of his earliest bids for support should go to John Fisher, one of the most eminent men of the day. He had been a model bishop of the Diocese of Rochester for twenty-three years, in an age when the lives of many bishops were less than edifying. For the same length of time he had been Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and had guided it out of the doldrums into new learning of the Renaissance. Erasmus, whom he had brought to Cambridge to introduce the study of Greek, said of him, "He is the one man of this tune who is incomparable for uprightness of life, for learning and greatness of soul."
Fisher had years ago been a favorite of Henry's father and grandmother. He had often been a member of the king's Privy Council, was a natural leader in the House of Lords and among the clergy, and was universally recognized for piety and learning. If at the outset the king had been able to engage the support of this venerable prelate, laden with years and honors, he could reasonably expect to avoid many difficulties.
To accomplish this treachery against his wife of 18 years, Henry affected religious scruples about the validity of his marriage. In particular, Henry's piety was troubled by the possibility that Pope Julius II had erred in granting the dispensation which made possible his marriage with Catherine. If the pope had exceeded his powers, then Henry and Catherine had been living in sinand no wonder God had cursed them with only female issue! Henry had Wolsey, the ambitious and worldly Cardinal, put the matter to Fisher in June, 1527, after swearing the saint to secrecy. In September came his opinion: Henry and Catherine were true man and wife, their daughters were legitimate, and what God had joined no man should sunder. When Henry later objected that Fisher could not be so positive on a matter which was very obscure, Fisher replied that it was obscure only to those who had not looked into it but was quite plain to those who had studied it.
If Henry's devious purposes had not been apparent to John Fisher from the beginning, the king's ruthless determination to have his way soon became apparent to all. In the proceedings against the Queen, Fisher had been appointed one of her counsellors, yet he found it difficult to get to see her. Henry attacked from other directions. He apparently encouraged the House of Commons to raise complaints about the clergy (it was easy in those days to recite valid complaints) and to demand impossible reforms. When Bishop Fisher, spokesman for the hierarchy, rejected the reforms, Henry attacked him for being whimsical and arbitrary.
Another tactic Henry used concerned a religious visionary known as the Maid of Kent. This woman, who was probably demented, denounced the king's divorce proceedings to all and sundry, including the king himself on one occasion. When Henry learned that Fisher had once heard her denunciations, he demanded to know why the bishop had failed to report these treasonable utterances. Was he in some disloyal league with the woman?
These affronts were doubtless irksome but they in no way clouded St. John Fisher's clear perception of the issues. He had had many years of experience in which God had prepared him to confront this crucial phase of the Reformation. He was a model spiritual shepherd in his diocese, despite the demands of the university and the governmentvisiting his parishes, examining his clergy, inspecting religious institutions, promoting the sacraments, and preaching, a practice which he was always anxious to foster. At the end of a weary day of official duties in an out-of-the-way part of his diocese, the saintly bishop would search out the hovels of the poor, bringing the sacraments to the infirm and the healing words of the Gospel to all. And he was a man of prayer. When his goods were confiscated near the end of his life, the searchers were especially anxious to open a certain chest which Fisher had never allowed anyone to see the contents of. In it to their chagrin they found a scourge and, badly worn and crudely patched, a hair shirt.
As part of his episcopal duties Fisher had also acquired a particularly solid grasp of the new heretical ideas. He had watched the quaint old Lollard ideas dissolve into the more coherent and more pernicious Lutheran ones. To the first hand experience of these things he added the careful reflection entailed in writing half a dozen books refuting the Lutheran ideasbooks which, incidentally, established his reputation for learning and wisdom throughout Europe.
A character so formed and a faith so strong was not to be deflected by Henry's intimidating ploys. Nor did the king use indirection for long. He had his new Archbishop of Canterbury grant his divorce in spite of Rome. He insisted that a convocation of England's hierarchy should confer on him the title "Protector and Supreme Head of the English Church and Clergy."
Fisher led the opposition to this, almost alone. When in his sickbed Fisher heard that nearly all the prelates had signed an oath affirming Henry's supremacy and repudiating the pope's authority, he said, "The fort is betrayed," thus laying the blame more on perfidious ecclesiastics than on the willful king. The bishops and clergy who betrayed the Church at this pointabout 95%did so sheepishly and reluctantly as men violating their consciences. Only later in the century, under Elizabeth, did there develop clerics who were zealous and self-confident protestantizers, the puritans. When someone asked Fisher why he made such a commotion about the king's bed partners, he replied that Saint John the Baptist had not disdained marriage as a cause worth giving his head for.
In April, 1534, St. John Fisher, along with St. Thomas More, were summoned to take the oath and, both refusing, were confined to London Tower. While More and Fisher were of one mind and faith, their conduct was different because of their different states in life. More, a lay lawyer and politician, could refuse to speak about a subject on everyone's lips, and his silence spoke volumes. Fisher on the other hand had a duty actively to resist the annulment of ecclesiastical authority, an especially binding duty since most ecclesiastics had refused it.
The clever chicanery which finally proved Fisher to be a traitorwhy do they even bother with such travesties?was this: In May, 1535, Richard Rich came to Fisher in the Tower with a tale that the king's tender conscience was deeply troubled about whether it was sinful for him to claim to be the supreme head of the church. He was, said Rich, a troubled Christian seeking spiritual counsel of his father in God, and Fisher's advice would reach no ears but the king's. Although a recent law had made it treasonable to say so, Fisher declared that Henry could not be supreme head. Well, naturally, a few days later Fisher's advice was paraded out in public court as evidence of a malicious defiance of royal prerogative, a treason for which the court ordered him hanged, drawn and quartered.
The king in his mercy remitted the sentence to beheading. Accordingly, on June 22, 1535, Saint John Fisher was led under powerful armed guard from the Tower to nearby Tower Hill. He was seventy-one years old, marvelously emaciated, hardly able to walk. An early biographer reports that upon the scaffold he spoke: I am come here to die for Christ's Catholic Church. And I thank God
"These words, or words to like effect, he then spoke with a cheerful countenance and with such a stout and constant courage as one no wit afraid but glad to suffer death. And these words spoke he so distinctly and perceivably and also with such a strong and loud voice that it made all the people astonished, and noted it in a manner as a miracle to hear so plain, strong and loud a voice come out of so old, weak and sickly a carcass.
"[When his sermon and prayers were done] he laid him down on his belly, flat on the floor of the scaffold, and laid his lean neck upon a little block....And then came quickly the executioner with a sharp and heavy ax cut asunder his neck, and so severed the head from the body, his holy soul departing to the bliss of heaven.
"Then the executioner took away his bishop's clothes and his shirt and left his headless body lying there naked upon the scaffold almost all day after. Yet one at last for pity and for humanity cast a little straw upon the dead man's privities."
His body was buried, finally, without ceremony, coffin or shroud, in the bare earth, but it soon had to be removed because of the crowds which came to venerate him.
The head was parboiled and mounted on a pole on London Bridge. There it remained for two weeks "very fresh and lively " until it was thrown into the river and its place taken by the head of St. Thomas More.
St. John Fisher was beatified on 9 December 1886 and canonized on 19 April 1935.
Sancte Johannes, ora pro nobis.
It's kind of interesting that his schismatic titular successor to Diocese of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, is taking a similar stand for Christian faith against the post-Christian Church of England, almost 500 years later.
It is interesting.I didn't know that pravknight.
What, exactly, did this death accomplish?
His death, as well as his life, provides an excellent example for faithful Catholics. More specifically, in my opinion, it shows how all who believe in the sanctity of marriage should defend it, even to the point of persecution and martyrdom.
All it really showed, was that the king could execute anyone he wanted. I don't see how this helped anyone. People are still the same, we all still have differing beliefs, no matter how many die for them.
You may think that, but I demonstatrated the example it gave.
How did this man dying, show that people should defend their idea of marriage? I just don't get the example. His death showed that he believed it, but not why he should die for it, what good did it do? Wouldn't it be better to live, and continue to feel that way?
He had to stand up for his principles. He couldn't sign Henry VIII's document, and for that, among other things, he died.
Ask yourself that question again, when your mohammedan conquerors demand that you either bow to Mecca, accept dhimmitude, or die. If you don't see the connection, please don't waste my time by responding. Think about it until you DO see the connection.
Pain is temporary. Heaven is eternal.
Yup. Better dead, than Red.
Why not just sign the papers, and continue on with life? It's just some papers. What exactly did his principled death accomplish?
He would have betrayed his own principles.
So it's better to die, and never be able to express your beliefs, even in secret and maybe bring others to your way of thinking, than it is to bow to some stupid city, say praise allah, and continue on believing as you did? I do not understand martyrdom. God couldn't possibly want someone to die, just because they wouldn't say something, would He?
What good are principles, to the dead? I guess, as they throw dirt over your body, someone could say...'well, he was principled'...then a year later, who cares?
Well, apparently and ultimately, many cared, because he became a saint of the Catholic Church.
So, people still get divorced.
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