Friday, June 22, 2018

Defending St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More

Watch this space for an article on St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, defending them again this year as brave and holy martyrs for Jesus and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church! It seems like every year there's some attack against them or some disparaging of their opposition to Henry VIII's supremacy. This year it came from Peter Hitchens in First Things:

This leads to the unavoidable conclusion that Henry’s judicial murders of Thomas More and John Fisher were political in origin, not religious. Both More and Fisher were brave and principled, beyond doubt. They were also given to fierce and cruel persecution of Protestant heretics—both, along with their Catholic King Henry VIII, were implicated in the savage death by fire of the Protestant martyr Thomas Hitton in 1530. Nor is there any doubt that Fisher, saintly Englishman or not, made treasonous approaches to Eustace Chapuys, Charles V’s ambassador in London, urging Charles to invade England and overthrow Henry. By going to their deaths over the question of papal authority over the king, Fisher and More chose an issue peripheral to Christ’s teaching, which renders unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and is preoccupied with a kingdom that is not of this world. Far from being an unalterable principle, the dissolubility of marriage had already been conceded by the chief of their Church, and would be conceded again in the future, right up to the extraordinary annulment of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s first (and in Christian terms only) marriage.

These facts are a nuisance to Roman Catholic martyrology in England. More and Fisher are essential to the story of Protestant brutality and intolerance, which greatly aided the nineteenth-century re-founding of the Catholic Church in England and sustains it still. Reborn Catholicism in England needed a counterblast to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and its long list of Mary’s victims, and to the commemorations of Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley in Oxford. It needed Englishmen who had died for the Catholic faith. Foreigners were of no use.


It also needed a martyrs’ memorial. More and Fisher, like Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, were undeniably great and courageous Englishmen, and eloquent ones, too. One especially potent use of their memory can be found in St Wilfrid’s Chapel in the Brompton Oratory in London, perhaps the supreme headquarters of Catholic militancy in England. Above the altar of the English martyrs, in a side chapel of this majestic church, is a powerfully sinister and suggestively grim mural. It looks very old, but it was painted in 1938 by Rex Whistler (who is possibly the model for Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited). It depicts executions at Tyburn, London’s principal place for such things, and is flanked by idealized portraits of More and Fisher. 

So check out my response here.

Saint John Fisher, pray for us!

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

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