Friday, February 28, 2014

Cardinal Vincent Nichols at Westminster Cathedral

The continuity with the past that Cardinal Nichols is expressing with objects from three Reformation and post-Reformation English Cardinals is impressive. When he celebrates his Mass of Thanksgiving at Westminster Cathedral today he will remember the great St. John Fisher, Cardinal Reginald Pole, and Cardinal William Allen:

Cardinal Vincent will process through the West Doors from Cathedral Piazza along with individual possessions of three English Cardinals from the Reformation. These artefacts symbolize the Catholic Church’s connection to the Reformation Cardinals: The signet ring of Cardinal St John Fisher (c.1469-1535), the pectoral cross of Cardinal Reginald Pole (1500-1558) and the crozier of Cardinal William Allen (1532-1594). Cardinal Vincent has a particular devotion to John Fisher and following further studies, has written a book about the saint who inspires him.

The book Cardinal Vincent wrote about St. John Fisher seems to be out of print: St. John Fisher: Bishop and Theologian in Reformation and Controversy, published by Alive Publishing. EWTN has the introduction in their online library:

As a man of his time, who carried many of the strengths and weaknesses of his age, John Fisher might appear distant from us today. Yet that need not be so. There are many themes of his thought and writing which carry strong echoes for us in this age.

Throughout his life, John Fisher had a deep concern for the well-being and ministry of the clergy. He realised that the health of the Church depended largely on the health of the parish and, in turn, this depended on the work and presence of the clergy. Many of his initiatives, especially during his years of academic life, were aimed at the support and improvement of the priests of his day. . . .

Fisher's main effort in support of the clergy was in the area of education. He wanted a clergy that was better educated, thereby better able to inform and form itself for its important ministry. And in that ministry the task of teaching the faith was uppermost in his mind. He wanted his priests to be able and ready to study. He wanted them to bring the fruits of that study into their preaching. He wanted a laity that understood their faith and not be led astray by erroneous opinions and error. Thus was behind his initiatives at Cambridge. . . .

What would be Fisher's view of similar matters today? He would be dismayed at the public failings of even one priest. He would be adamant about the need for personal renewal and discipline of life. He would look to us bishops and priests in particular to give a clear and helpful account of the truths of faith in a manner which spoke to people of today. I think he would be delighted at the richness of resource available to us, embracing with enthusiasm some of the potential of contemporary means of communication while always on guard for the way in which these same means can be used to circulate misleading or corrosive views. In short, he would recognise a similar pattern of strengths and weaknesses and would offer to us today the same example of steadfast study, disciplined self-application, courage of expression and faithful observance of duty, not least the duty of personal prayer and devotion.

As a reformer, then. Fisher's stance was clear. Reform was not a matter of radical change of structure or teaching of the Church, but rather an issue of personal lives being reformed to the age-old wisdom of the Church in each contemporary setting. I cannot believe that his stance would be any different today.

Here is a review of then Archbishop Nichols' book about St. John Fisher. I heard then Archbishop Vincent Nichols speak of his admiration of St. John Fisher on the great documentary--which is forthcoming from Ignatius Press--Faith of Our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs. I received a review copy from Saint Anthony Communications, and thoroughly enjoyed it! More about it this Sunday!

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