6/22/2005

St. John Fisher

Today is the feast of the patron of the parish where I grew up. I only wish they had but one drop of the devotion to the Eucharist as their patron shows here:

"Had you but tasted one drop of the sweetness which inebriates the souls of those religious from their worship of this Sacrament, you would never have written as you have, nor have apostasized from the faith that you formerly professed."
- Saint John Fisher, writing to the bishop of Winchester

I had the good fortune while I was in Chicago of finding a first edition copy of a biography of the Saint written a few decades after his martyrdom and reissued in the 1930's. It reports faithfully and (except for a few minor details corrected by the editors in the footnotes) accurately with what convoluted machinations the King enacted Schism in what had theretofore been one of the most devout countries in Christendom. [It remained devout at least until the Elizabethan persecutions. But the writing was on the wall before she took the throne.] Those who did not submit were systematically killed or bribed.

Only two souls remained firm unto the last, two men whose validation Henry VIII craved almost as much as his mistress Anne. Thomas More and John Cardinal Fisher went to their deaths because they refused to disavow their fealty to the Pope even after acquiescing the right of succession to the offspring of his adulterous lovemaking. His insatiable need to have their validation seems rather to confirm their case. More's righteous stand, because he had always been a favorite of the Court, clearly stung the King; at least More was allowed to see his family one last time. But the Bishop of Rochester was the victim of a protracted vendetta; in his pure, unmitigated malice Henry VIII deprived the frail old man of every dignity, including the cardinalatial one.

Yet even before enduring torture and martyrdom, John Cardinal Fisher had proven his holiness. He was a brilliant scholar, devout ascete, dutiful citizen, prayerful preacher, and a humble servant to his people. Of all the bishops in England, he was the only one to publicly oppose the Oath of Allegiance. That requires truly heroic virtue, and such virtue comes from a life lived virtuously.

On the scaffold he said to the people assembled:

Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christs holy Catholick Church, and I thanke God hitherto my stomack hath served me verie well thervnto, so that yet I have not feared death: Wherfore I do desire you all to help and assist me with your praiers, that at the verie point and instant of deaths stroake, I maie in that verie moment stand stedfast without faintinge in any one point of the Catholick faith free from any feare; and I beseech almightie God of his infinite goodnes to save the king and this Realme, and that it maie please him to hold his holy hand ouer yt, and send the king good Counsell.

He then knelt, said the Te Deum, In te domine speravi, and submitted to the axe.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Just a dusty little historical note.
Rochester is also the birthplace of Charles Dickens.

Blog Archive