Saturday, June 22, 2013

St. John Fisher's Tower Works

St. Thomas More's devotional writings while in the Tower of London are well-known: A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation; Treatise Upon the Passion; Treatise on the Blessed Body; Instructions and Prayers; De Tristitia Christi. What is not as well known is that St. John Fisher wrote devotional works while in the Tower of London:

Saint John’s sister, Elizabeth White, was a saintly Dominican nun. While imprisoned in the Tower, he wrote two devotional works for her. One, titled The Ways to Perfect Religion, concluded with seven sentences, each a short prayer intended to be used on successive days of the week. In our consideration of these prayers, we should bear in mind: first, Saint John’s deep reverence for the Holy Name of Jesus, to whom each prayer is addressed; and second, his great devotion to the Daily Office, the official prayer of the Church, which takes into account the liturgical character of each day of the week.

Sunday: O blessed Jesu, make me to love Thee entirely.
Monday: O blessed Jesu, I would fain, but without Thy help I cannot.
Tuesday: O blessed Jesu, let me deeply consider the greatness of Thy love towards me.
Wednesday: O blessed Jesu, give unto me grace heartily to thank Thee for Thy benefits.
Thursday: O blessed Jesu, give me good will to serve Thee and to suffer.
Friday: O sweet Jesu, give me a natural remembrance of Thy Passion.
Saturday: O sweet Jesu, possess my heart, hold and keep it only to Thee.

The other work was titled A Spiritual Consolation. Oxford University Press (not Cambridge?) published an edited volume of his works in 2002:

Bishop John Fisher was a scholar and theologian of European reputation, famous as a preacher and author of the first sermon-sequence to be printed in English. He was beheaded for his opposition to Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and pursued after his death by the enmity of the king, who suppressed his books and sought to blacken his name. John Fisher's English writings are distinctive for their structured elegance and clarity. This new edition contains sermons written during the last fifteen years of Fisher's life, including a previously unpublished eyewitness account of the Field of Cloth of Gold celebrations, and devotional works composed while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London.

It was edited by Cecilia A. Hatt and promises that it is/accomplishes three goals:

~The first annotated edition of the English works of John Fisher.
~Sets the theology of this distinguished churchman in its historical context.
~A unique look at the history of the Church during one of its most important stages of development

In the chapter on the Tower Works, Hatt puts them in perspective:

A spiritual consolation and The ways to perfect religion were written while John Fisher was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He composed them for the use of his half‐sister Elizabeth White, who was a nun in the Dominican house at Dartford. The introduction explains the literary and religious background, of the ars moriendi and the meditatio mortis, and the commentary points out resemblances with the work of Henry Suso.

Readers of Nancy Bilyeau's novels The Crown and The Chalice, might remember that the protagonist, Joanna Stafford, was a novice at Dartford Priory, the only house of Dominican nuns in England, suppressed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries!

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