Cleansing Fire

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Thoughts on the Former Bishop of Rochester

June 22nd, 2013, Promulgated by DanielKane

Today marks the Feast Days of both St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, two of the great English saints to challenge King Henry VIII and in the process lost everything, including their heads.  While at present Sir Thomas More is perhaps the better known of the two, thanks to there being more literary and cinematic treatments of his life, Cardinal Fisher is a figure whose life provides us with a number of points on which to reflect.

I will refer to him as “Cardinal” Fisher, even though he is often referred to simply as “Bishop”.  The esteemed Catholic Encyclopedia lists him as a Cardinal. Pope Paul III raised him to the cardinalate, but Henry VIII refused to allow the cardinal’s hat to arrive from Rome, promising instead to send the Pope the cardinal’s head.  Not having received the “red hat” technically he is not a cardinal. But in this  blog post I reject this harrying act of Henry VII, one of the great turds of history, and deferring to the wishes of Pope Paul III consider Bishop Fisher a Cardinal.

The parallels between His Eminence and his namesake, John the Baptist, is a tapestry that only the Holy Spirit could weave. Like the Baptist challenging King Herod’s marriage, Cardinal Fisher dared to dispute Henry’s divorce of Queen Catherine of Aragon and marriage to his concubine, Anne Boelyn, speaking out about the sacramental nature of marriage, and later against Henry’s attempt to make himself head of the Church in England.  The symbolic parallels were certainly even more apparent in the Cardinal’s own day, when the Faith was much more integrated into daily life than it is at present.  In fact, Cardinal Fisher was executed on this date in 1535 specifically because Henry did not want the Cardinal to be executed on the Vigil of his patron saint (by name) The Vigil of the Nativity of  St. John the Baptist’s (June 23rd).   

During his trial, Cardinal Fisher was challenged for being singularly obstinate; the sine qua non of any martyr’s accusation and trial – given that all of the other English bishops had given in to Henry’s demands.  To this the cardinal replied, that, having on his side “all the other bishops and all of the Catholics of the world, from Christ’s Ascension until now, joined with the entire consent of Christ’s universal Church, he must account his own side much the surer.”

Needless to say, such statements did not help him much with those assembled for the purpose of killing him.

After the sentence had been passed, the Cardinal made a closing statement proclaiming his innocence, asking forgiveness of those who condemned them, and paraphrasing the words of Christ as he did so, “for I think, they know not what they have done.”   He also left Henry with a warning, which unfortunately went unheeded. If the King will now adventure himself in proceeding in this strange and unwonted case, no doubt but he shall deeply incur the grievous displeasure of Almighty God, to the great damage of his own soul, and that of many others, and to the utter ruin of this realm committed to his charge. “

It would be a great thing if more of the bishops in this country, where things are getting to a very bad place indeed with respect to moral relativism, would pray to Cardinal Fisher for his intercession, and follow his example.  So often St. Thomas More is held up to those of us who are lay professionals as a model whom we ought to follow, in standing up and saying, “No.”  Yet let not our prelates forget the example of his friend, Cardinal Fisher who, alone among his synod, stood up and called a spade a spade, as he was consecrated to do.

Prayer of St. John Fisher:

Good Lord, set in thy Church
strong and mightly pillars
that may suffer and endure great labours,
which also shall not fear persecution,
neither death,
but always suffer with a good will,
slanders, shame and all kinds of torments,
for the glory and praise of thy holy Name.

By this manner, good Lord,
the truth of thy Gospel
shall be preached throughout the world.

Therefor, merciful Lord,
exercise thy mercy,
show it indeed upon thy Church.

Amen.

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on the Former Bishop of Rochester”

  1. avatar Catinlap1 says:

    This is the kind of bishop Rochester needs — a saint!

  2. avatar Ron says:

    I have long admired Cardinal Fisher and the courageous example he set. Here’s hoping our next bishop is in his mold.

  3. avatar annonymouse says:

    Daniel – thank you for posting. Cardinal Fisher demonstrated with his life what the Church means by “conscience.”


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