For Love of England and the Catholic Church
Saints John Fisher and Thomas More
Feast Day: 21st June
Feast Day: 21st June
Today we honour the memory of two great English saints. We owe so much to Saints John Fisher and Thomas More for their loyalty to the Pope and their Catholic faith. They were canonised in 1935 over 400 years after their deaths.
John Fisher was born in 1469, studied theology at Cambridge, was ordained a priest and later appointed Bishop of Rochester. He was a man of learning who mixed with the intellectuals and political men of his day. One of his interests was to raise the standard of preaching in England; he himself was an accomplished preacher and writer. With the coming of Lutheranism he was drawn into controversy, his eight books against heresy giving him a leading position among European theologians.
Asked to study the problem of King Henry VIll's marriage, he incurred Royal anger for defending the validity of his marriage with Catherine, and later by rejecting Henry's claim to be the supreme head of the Church in England. In an attempt to be rid of him, Henry had him summoned in feeble health to take the oath to the new Act of Succession. He refused because it presumed the legality of Henry’s divorce and his claim to be head of the English Church.
John Fisher was the only bishop in the whole country to defy Henry and speak up for the truth. He was sent to the Tower of London where he remained for 14 months without trial. Finally, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and loss of goods but the King was angered when the Pope made him a cardinal, and declared that if he received the Red Hat he would have no head on which to wear it. He had him brought to trial on the charge of high treason and, aged 66, in 1535, John was condemned and executed, his body left to lie all day on the scaffold and his head hung on London Bridge.
Thomas More was born in 1478, studied at Oxford, married and had a son and three daughters. He was a generous and hospitable man, and his home was always full of young people whom he educated, encouraged and treated as members of the family. He wrote a number of books about civic affairs, perhaps the most famous being 'Utopia', a description of an ideal society. His writings in defence of the Catholic faith were powerful and influential. He was fiercely outspoken in condemning the false teachings of Luther, and he helped the young King Henry VIll to write his "Defence of the Seven Sacraments" for which he was given the title of 'Defensor Fidei' (Defender of the Faith) by the Pope.
Tragically, this Catholic king was to abandon the Church in order to divorce his wife and marry again, severing connections with Rome and establishing a separate church in England, with himself as its head. Thomas More was by then Lord Chancellor of England and could not accept the king's decision. His belief that no lay ruler has jurisdiction over the Church of Christ cost him his life. Beheaded on Tower Hill in London on 6 June 1535, he steadfastly refused to approve Henry's divorce and remarriage and the establishment of the Church of England.
When Thomas More was condemned to death he declared he had all the councils of Christendom, and not just the council of one realm, to support him in the promptings of his conscience. He was not prepared to compromise his own moral values in order to please even the King. Henry realized this and tried desperately to win his Chancellor to his side because he knew Thomas was a man whose approval counted, a man whose integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas resigned as Chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, Henry had to get rid of him.
John Fisher and Thomas More gave their lives so that we can enjoy that same Catholic faith in peace. We honour these two great martyrs today by doing our best to practise our faith and hand it onto others.
Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, pray for England and for us.