Pope Paul III passed over the notion that Henry VIII had stripped Bishop John Fisher of his episcopal status and declared the imprisoned Bishop of Rochester a cardinal on May 20, 1535, a little more than a month before the good Cardinal's execution on June 22 that year. Of course, Fisher never received his Cardinal's hat, and the usual report is that Henry VIII threatened to send the Cardinal's head to Rome instead! Pope Paul III had named Fisher the Cardinal Priest of San Vitale, the altar of which is seen above. The full name of the church is the Basilica of Sts. Vitalis, Valeris, Gervase and Protase, honoring a family of martyrs!
Four hundred years later, Pope Pius XI canonized John Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas More on the anniversary of this creation. Pope Pius XI praised the new saint during his homily:
He was wont to afflict his delicate body with fastings, scourges, and hair cloth; nothing was dearer to him than to be able to visit the poor, in order to comfort them in their miseries and to succour them in their needs. When he found someone frightened at the thought of his faults and terrified by chastisements to come, he brought comfort to the erring soul by restoring confidence in God’s mercy. Often when celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice, he was seen shedding abundant tears, while his eyes were raised to heaven in an ecstatic expression of love. When he preached to the multitudes of the faithful that crowded round to hear him, he seemed neither a man nor a herald of men, but an angel of God clothed in human flesh.
Nevertheless, whilst he was meek and affable towards the afflicted and the suffering, whenever there was question of defending the integrity of faith and morals, like a second Precursor of the Lord, in whose name he gloried, he was not afraid to proclaim the truth openly, and to defend by every means in his power the divine teachings of the Church. You are well aware, Venerable Brethren and Beloved Sons, of the reason why John Fisher was called in judgment and obliged to undergo the supreme test of martyrdom. It was because of his courageous determination to defend the sacred bond of Christian marriage—a bond indissoluble for all, even for those who wear the royal diadem—and to vindicate the Primacy with which the Roman Pontiffs are invested by divine command. That is why he was imprisoned and afterwards led to death. Serenely he advanced toward the scaffold and with the words of the Te Deum on his lips, he rendered thanks to God for being granted the grace of having his mortal life crowned with the glory of martyrdom, and he raised up to the Divine Throne a fervent prayer of supplication for himself, for his people and for his King. Thus did he give another clear proof that the Catholic Religion does not weaken, but increases the love of one’s country. When finally he mounted the scaffold, whilst a ray of sunlight cast a halo of splendour about his venerable grey hairs, he exclaimed with a smile: “Come ye to Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded.” (Ps. xxxiii, 6.) Most assuredly the heavenly hosts of angels and saints hastened in joy to meet his holy soul, freed at last from the fetters of the body and winging flight toward eternal joys.
Saint John Fisher, pray for us!
Saint Thomas More, pray for us!