Skip to comments.Defensor Matrimonii - St. John Fisher
Posted on 06/23/2006 11:37:48 AM PDT by Pyro7480
On 22 June 1535, St. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, England, who had been just made Cardinal Priest of Saint Vitalis by Pope Paul III, was beheaded on Tower Hill in London. Officially, he had been convicted of treason for refusing to recognize King Henry VIII as the new head of the Church of England. This was, however, a culmination of an eight year battle that St. John fought with the king over his marriage with Queen Catherine of Aragon.
In the summer of 1527, Bishop Fisher was summoned to Westminster Palace for an interview with King Henry. The king had earlier consulted with Cardinal Wolsey, his Chancellor, on the matter of annulling his marriage to Catherine, whom he had been married to for eighteen years. Both the king and the cardinal sought Fisher's opinion on the matter. As the late Michael Davies recounts in his excellent biography of the saint, Fisher "fell on his knees and attempted to give the king his reply in the posture, but the king raised him to his feet.... [T]he decision he had come to was that Henry and Catherine were truly man and wife (Henry had argued that his marriage to Catherine was invalid on the account that she was first married to his brother Arthur, but the marriage lasted only months, and was not consummated). This was not the answer that the king wanted, as the bishop well knew, and from that day forward... [Henry's] grudge daily increased against him."
By the autumn of 1527, Henry announced to Cardinal Wolsey his intention to marry Ann Boleyn, who was a member of Queen Catherine's household. A year later, on 8 November 1528, the King gave a speech before a great assembly that he was bringing the question of his marriage before a legatine tribunal, which would investigate its canonical legality. This court opened a few months later on 31 May 1529. During its proceedings, Queen Catherine pled her case, defending the sanctity and legality of her marriage to Henry.
Bishop Fisher served as the Queen's counsellor while the legatine tribunal met. At its fifth session, he gave a speech that made clear how far he was going to defend the marriage of Henry and Catherine. He stated that "[St. John] the Baptist in olden times regarded it as impossible for him to die more gloriously than in the cause of marriage," and that he was even ready to follow his namesake's example in order to defend the sanctity of marriage.
This comment brought the wrath of King Henry, who did not like being compared to the king who had St. John the Baptist executed (King Herod Antipas). Henry claimed that the bishop "was motivated by 'unbridled arrogance and overweening temerity,'" and that he had "never been guilty of such cruelty." But as one biographer of St. John Fisher noted, "the circumstances of Fisher's death bear so close a resemblance to those of the Baptist's, that it is strange that even Henry did not observe and seek to avoid it. Both were cast into prison... [and] were beheaded, and both by the revenge of impure women. But what Herod did reluctantly, Henry did with cruel deliberation."
Even after the legatine tribunal adjourned, and the case was recalled to the papal courts, Bishop Fisher continued his defense of the marriage between Henry and Catherine. He wrote at least seven books on the topic. He preached often on its legality from the pulpit. He continued his efforts in this regard up until his arrest in 1534.
St. John Fisher's eight-year-long defense of the marriage between King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon provides an excellent example on how the sanctity of marriage should be defended. As this sacrament is mocked increasingly in contemporary Western culture, with high divorce rates, cohabitation, and a growing acceptance for homosexual "marriage," faithful Catholics should follow St. John Fisher's example and zealously defend the cause of marriage, even if this leads to persecution and martyrdom. As the two St. John's realized, we could not ask for a more noble cause to die for.
Sancte Johannes, ora pro nobis!
[For another article on St. John Fisher and the sacrament of marriage, go to Only One Man: Bishop John Fisher and Christian Marriage. The history cited in this article was taken from the Michael Davies book mentioned above. The picture of St. John Fisher is from a stained glass window in the Cathedral Church of St. Marie in Sheffield, England.]
Holbein probably took as good a quick likeness as any artist, ever.
I wonder, if Henry VIII would have somehow seen the eventual consequences of his actions (as witnessed by the Episcopal General Convention 2006), he would have taken the course he did...
As the town criers used to proclaim when the visier Jaafar the Barmecide had somebody punished in public [Sir Richard Burton's "Arabian Nights" translation]: "This is the just deserts, and the least of the just deserts, of those who meddle with the others' harems and matrimony..."
This is a picture of the larger window that the detail was taken from, along with the two adjourning windows.
The cathedral is full of beautiful stained glass.
St Michael the Archangel, St Thomas of Villanova, St Mary Magdalene and St Elizabeth of Hungary
Three canonised English martyrs: Thomas More, John Fisher and Philip Howard.
It wasn't so much that the stained glass window made him look too young, and too healthy, but that the features don't match up. St. John has a very distinctive and unforgettable face.
Saint John Fisher, Bishop & Martyr
Optional Memorial with Saint Thomas More, Martyr
John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester
Born at Beverly, 1469 - martyred June 22, 1535, Tower of London
Canonizeed (with Saint Thomas More) 1935
Saint John Fisher studied theology in Cambridge, England and became Bishop of Rochester. His friend Saint Thomas More wrote of him, "I reckon in this realm no one man, in wisdom, learning, and long approved virtue together, meet to be matched and compared with him."
Saint John Fisher and his friend Saint Thomas More gave up their lives in testimony to the unity of the Church and to the indissolubility of marriage.
Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003
Born at Beverly, 1469 + June 22, 1535, Tower of London
Reply to Bishops Stokesley, Gardiner and Tunstal, sent to the Tower by Thomas Cromwell to persuade Fisher to submit to the King:
Methinks it had been rather our parts to stick together in repressing these violent and unlawful intrusions and injuries dayly offered to our common mother, the holy Church of Christ, than by any manner of persuasions to help or set forward the same.
And we ought rather to seek by all means the temporal destruction of the so ravenous wolves, that daily go about worrying and devouring everlastingly, the flock that Christ committed to our charge, and the flock that Himself died for, than to suffer them thus to range abroad.
But (alas) seeing we do it not, you see in what peril the Christian state now standeth: We are besieged on all sides, and can hardly escape the danger of our enemy. And seeing that judgment is begone at the house of God, what hope is there left (if we fall) that the rest shall stand!
The fort is betrayed even of them that should have defended it. And therefore seeing the matter is thus begun, and so faintly resisted on our parts, I fear that we be not the men that shall see the end of the misery.
Wherefore, seeing I am an old man and look not long to live, I mind not by the help of God to trouble my conscience in pleasing the king this way whatsoever become of me, but rather here to spend out the remnant of my old days in praying to God for him.
On the scaffold he said to the people assembled:
Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ's Holy Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my stomach hath served me very well thereunto, so that yet I have not feared death.
Wheefore I do desire you all to help and assist me with your prayers, that at the very point and instant of death's stroke, I may in that very moment stand steadfast without fainting in any one point of the Catholic faith free from any fear; and I beseech Almighty God of His infinite goodness to save the king and this Realm, and that it may please Him to hold His holy hand over it, and send the king good Counsel.
He then knelt, said the Te Deum, In te domine speravi, and submitted to the axe.
You confirm the true faith
with the crown of martyrdom.
May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More
give us the courage to proclaim our faith
by the witness of our lives.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. + Amen.
First Reading: I Peter 4:12-19
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 10:34-39
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.