St Thomas More & St John Fisher – dying in defence of Rome

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Today is the feast of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, one was Chancellor of England and the other is the only English Cardinal to be martyred.

St Thomas More’s life of holiness and public service was one the Holy Father remembered when he was here in the UK in September 2010. There were many who took the Oath of Succession in word only, yet for More, words were vital. He was also an example of paying the ultimate price for holding publicly to his beliefs. As the current successor of Peter reminded us:

“The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, was the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God. Religion, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.

“There are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.”

This warning should be heeded, yet today is not only a feast day in St Thomas More’s memory, he is forever associated with Bishop John Fisher, who was in prison at the same time as More. Fisher is perhaps less well known to the wider world because he was at heart a priest, a strong supporter of Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife.

Fisher’s defence of the indissolubility of marriage was so steadfast that his execution for treason was brought forward to today, for fear it should fall on the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist – June 24 – since people were drawing parallels between Fisher’s fate and that of his namesake, who also enraged a king by defending marriage.

Jesus said “Of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen,” and while he lived, St John Fisher was, in the minds of the people, a modern John the Baptist. There can surely be no higher praise for this saint, who also suffered the same death as Christ’s cousin.

St John Fisher and St Thomas More, pray for us.

Prayers of St Thomas More – A guide for the conscience by St Thomas More, William Roper and Pope Benedict XVI is available from CTS priced £1.95


Of related interest:

B677 Thomas More – A talented scholar, lawyer and politician, More rose to the highest position in England under Henry VIII. However, when he was called upon to choose between God and earthly power he remained firm in his faith and was executed as ‘the King’s good servant and God’s first’.
John Fisher – His Yorkshire roots ensured a plain-speaking loyalty to the truth that led to his martyrdom. He remains the only British Cardinal to be martyred and the only bishop in England who held out against Henry VIII until the very end.
H505 The Reformation in England – This booklet looks at the events which led up to the Reformation in Europe, and particularly in England. It shows how much that was good was lost in this conflict.

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