St. John Fisher

Fifty-four men stood between the King and what the King wanted most in the world.  That’s a dangerous place to put yourself, yet these men know the risks and the price they’d likely pay for their stand.  Fifty-four men stood in the way of King Henry VIII’s divorce and all fifty-four paid with their lives.  Perhaps the best-known of these martyrs is St. Thomas More, the Chancellor to King Henry who was made famous in the play and film “A Man For All Seasons.”  When Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn he was already married to Catherine of Aragon.  The Pope had told Henry that their marriage was valid and could not be annuled.  This enraged Henry, probably because no one had ever said “no” to him before.  So Henry set about making himself the head of the Church of England, and making up his own rules about marriage.  But there were men in England who didn’t believe that an earthly king could change the truth about marriage that Jesus had taught and that the Church had upheld for fifteen hundred years.  Some of them, like Thomas More, were very powerful and important people in English politics.  Others were some of Henry’s oldest and dearest family friends, like John Fisher.
Fisher was born in Yorkshire, England in 1469 to a middle-class merchant family.  He was educated at Cambridge University where he earned his doctoral degree in theology and later served as chaplain, professor and University president.  As a priest, he served as the confessor of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII.  John Fisher loved the university and loved being a teacher, but his heart and soul were devoted to the priesthood and he spent much of his personal time and resources working for and with the poor.  With King Henry VII’s patronage, Fisher was named Bishop of Rochester in 1504.  Later that year he was elected Chancellor of Cambridge.  He also served as the personal tutor of Crown Prince Henry, who would become King Henry VIII when he inherited the throne of England from his father in 1509.
John Fisher was the trusted priest and counselor of Queen Catherine of Aragon, King Henry’s wife.  He argued in defense of her character and of the sanctity of the royal marriage when Henry sought to divorce her so he could marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.  Henry never forgave his old friend for his public opposition to his private desires for a new wife.  Fisher objected to Henry’s actions to dissolve his sacramental marriage based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church that marriage is for a lifetime.  Henry ordered Fisher to acknowledge that he, the King, now led the church in England and not the Pope.  When John Fisher refused, Henry had him imprisoned and seized all his personal property.  In 1534, Henry required all members of Parliament and all state officials to sign the Act of Succession which acknowledged that any children born to Henry and Anne Boleyn would be the heirs to the throne.  Fisher refused to sign and was sent to the Tower of London on April 26, 1534.  Pope Paul III named him a Cardinal of the Church in May, 1535, probably in hopes of getting better treatment for him in prison.  Unfortunately, Henry was outraged by the Pope’s actions and refused to allow Fisher’s Cardinal’s hat to be brought to England, declaring that he would send Fisher’s head to Rome, instead.  Tried and convicted of treason, Fisher was beheaded on Tower Hill on June 22, 1535.  Frail, elderly and nearly blind, he was so weak that he had to be carried from his cell.  Clutching his copy of the New Testament on his way to the scaffold, he spoke his last words:  “Christian people, I come to die for the faith of Christ’s Catholic Church…I desire you to help me that I faint not in any point of the faith.  And I pray God save the King and the realm.”  He then knelt down and prayed quietly before the executioner delivered the final blow.  His body was placed on a pike and thrown into a rough grave without a funeral.  His head was stuck on a pole on London Bridge before Henry had it thrown into the Thames.  King Henry went on to have four more wives.  St. John Fisher was canonized in 1935 and is an example to us all of someone who was willing to lay down his life for the truth of Christ.  Who among us today speaks out for the truth?  Do we defend life and denounce abortion?  Do we defend chastity and modesty?  Do we stand up for marriage as a sacramental bond between a man and a woman?  Or do we fall in behind whatever is easy and politically-expedient instead? 
“Where are now the kings and princes that once reigned over all the world, whose glory and triumph were lifted up above the earth?”  —St. John Fisher (1469-1535)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

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    May 29, 2012 @ 22:16:23

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