Sunday, May 29, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 22 ~ St. John Kemble


I had intended for my contributions to this series to be mainly saints of northern Europe, and particularly those of the British Isles who were martyred during the Protestant Reformation. I did not intend for John Kemble to be among them, for the simple reason that I had never heard of him. I only learned of him a few weeks ago when I read about him in Magnificat: he was the saint of the day for April 26, as part of the magazine’s emphasis for the month on “Saints Who Did Their Great Work in Old Age.” John was martyred when he was 80 years old, and his death was less gruesome than many—he was not tortured, he was not burned; he was hanged, but allowed to die before being drawn and quartered. The hanging was, however, incompetently done, so that Kemble was said to have taken half an hour to die. (It is not clear from the accounts I’ve read whether the butchering actually took place or not, although that apparently was the sentence.) So considering that he was already well past his three-score-and-ten, and that his suffering was perhaps not as great as that of others, it might be easy to pass over his martyrdom as a rather ordinary one: a description I hesitate to use, but the truth is that we do become accustomed to these stories.

But he did one very cool thing which makes him stand out, and made me decide immediately upon reading about it that I would write about him: when informed, after an imprisonment of several months, that he was about to be executed, he asked for, and was granted, permission to finish his devotions, to smoke his pipe, and to have a cup of sack.

John Kemble was born in Herefordshire in 1599. At that time of course the victory of Protestantism in England was long since complete, and the practice of Catholicism incurred dangers and penalties ranging from fines to execution (for clergy). But the laws were not always strictly or consistently enforced, and after Kemble was ordained at Doaui and had returned to his home county in 1625, he seems to have pursued his ministry without penalty for over fifty years. He appears to have been well regarded locally, even by those who did not share his religion.

This long toleration came to an end in 1678 when Kemble was drawn into the net of lies cast by Titus Oates, perpetrator of the famous “Popish Plot”, which accused many Catholics of plotting against the king’s life. I did not know, until I started reading about Kemble, just how utterly despicable a character Oates was. I will admit to being shocked at the extent of his villainy, which you can read about in Wikipedia.

Being warned to flee his imminent arrest in December of 1678, Kemble responded “According to the course of nature, I have but a few years to live. It will be an advantage to suffer for my religion, and therefore I will not abscond.” Kemble’s own Wikipedia article provides an account of his death which agrees with others I’ve found online,
In April 1679 Father Kemble, now 80, was ordered to be taken to London to be interviewed about the plot. As the elderly priest had difficulty riding a horse, he was strapped like a pack to his horse on the way there. He was found to have had no connection with the alleged plot but found guilty of the treasonous crime of being a Catholic priest. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. He was returned to Hereford for the sentence to be carried out, and allowed to walk most of the way back.
Before he was led out to his execution on 22 August 1679 Father Kemble insisted on saying his prayers and finishing his drink, and the assembled party joined the elderly priest in a final smoke and a cup of sack. The Herefordshire sayings, Kemble pipe and Kemble cup, refer to a parting pipe or cup. Before his death Father Kemble addressed the assembled crowd, pointing out that no association with the "plot" had been charged to him. The old priest went on to say: "The failure of the authorities in London to connect me to the plot makes it evident that I die only for profession of the Catholic religion, which was the religion that first made this Kingdom Christian."
Consoling his distraught hangman, the priest is said to have whispered, "Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy."

One other account, which I’ve now lost track of, said that the hangman was unable to carry out his duty and was replaced by another, who also couldn’t manage it, and so the deed was finished by a third. If true, this no doubt has some connection to the report that Kemble lived for thirty minutes. Several mention that his hand was severed, and one says that this was a token quartering. Other accounts stress the regret at his execution felt by the Protestants who knew him, and their admiration for the way in which he met death.

The wife and daughter of the officer who arrested Fr. Kemble, Captain John Scudamore, were the priest’s parishioners (if that’s applicable to the arrangements of those confused and perilous times). The two of them professed to have received miracles of healing by the intercession of their late priest. If you look at older sources for the lives of the saints, such as the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org, you’ll see Kemble described as Venerable or Blessed. He was beatified in 1929 and is one of the Forty Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

I doubt I’ll have the opportunity to meet death with the same gallantry as St. John Kemble, but I can try to have his good cheer and equanimity.


Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 Authors. In this series he has written about St Henrik, and St. John Fisher.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 21 ~ St. Francis Revisited

A while back, Marianne sent me a review that she wrote of  Francis of Assisi: A New Biography which she read after Sheila Vamplin mentioned it in her post on St.Francis. As I had been wanting to say more about another book from Sheila's post, Sweet River Fool, I thought I'd combine the two for this week's post. I'll begin with Marianne's.

Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson, O.P., was for me an eye-opener. What I’ve known of the saint has been limited to the sentimental picture presented to me in childhood. Thompson’s biography, though, presents a very complex man, struggling with a sense of sin, and sometimes seeming downright mentally disturbed. But what grabbed my interest most was learning how devoted to the Eucharist and to churches Francis was. From the text:
Francis continued to live and work among lepers, taking temporary refuge in churches, praying, working, and, at least at San Damiano, repairing the building. In the lonely and decayed church, Francis found a substitute for the home in Assisi that he had lost. There he became aware of such a powerful divine presence that the once-distant God became for him tangibly present. In medieval Italian piety, God manifested himself in concrete ways and particular places. Francis encountered at San Damiano the consoling presence of the Savior who had suffered and died for him. It was a presence that he grew to recognize in other churches as well. Of this he later wrote: ‘And the Lord granted me such faith in churches, that thus I would pray simply and say: We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, in all your churches throughout the whole world, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world’.

Perhaps I’m basically like a medieval Italian because all that holds great appeal for me.

With regard to his devotion to the Eucharist, Thompson says: “Francis returned often to the theme of the Eucharist in his writing, far more consistently than to that of poverty, which has attracted so much medieval and modern attention.” This entailed not only veneration of churches, but of the priests who served those churches as well -- from Francis: “I [venerate priests] because, in the world, I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God except his Most Holy Body and Most Holy Blood, which they receive and which they alone minister to others. And these Most Holy Mysteries I want above all things to honor, to have venerated, and to be placed in the most precious places.”

It would be lovely if more knew of this Francis as well as the Francis who wrote the beautiful “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

And now mine.

I really enjoyed Sweet River Fool by Larry Hunt. It's a very sweet (though sometimes tragic) story about grace and conversion of life. The main character in the book is a man who has reached the very bottom of the barrel, or in his case, the dumpster. Awaking in a dumpster after a failed suicide attempt, Snody, not having even the will to climb out of the dumpster, comes across a children's book about St. Francis, and is so moved by the man that he meets in the book, that he begins to model his life after that of the saint.

Sheila said that in this book, "We learn about his chosen poverty, his love for God, his call, his love of creation, his caring for the needy, his joyful spirit, his life of prayer," and we do. We can see that following St. Francis in these areas can change someone's life, that they can be conduits of grace. We learn something in the book about the legend of St. Francis.

However, all the while I was reading and enjoying the book, I kept thinking, "Something is missing." And that something is the Catholic faith. It's impossible to know Francis without seeing that his Catholicity is integral to everything he did. While this book can be a good introduction to St. Francis, I wouldn't want it to be the only book that someone read about him because it doesn't tell us about the most important area of his life, and that is what we learn from Thompson's quote above, "Francis returned often to the theme of the Eucharist in his writing, far more consistently than to that of poverty...."

As the source and summit of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist, so was it the source and summit of the life of St. Francis, and we can understand neither his spirituality nor his call without understanding that fact. His spirituality was Eucharistic, it was partially his example that led to the practice of Eucharistic adoration. His call was to rebuild the Church, not just a broadly understood church, but the Catholic Church.

Dream of Innocent III, Giotto
For anyone who isn't familiar with the story of this call, I'll explain it briefly here. Francis, praying in the church of San Damiano one day, heard the Lord tell him to repair (or rebuild) His church. Francis took this as a command to repair San Damiano, so he did. Later, while Francis was travelling to Rome to seek approval for his rule from Pope Innocent III, the pope had a dream that St. John Lateran, the ecclesiastical seat of the Holy Father, was collapsing, and a small man appeared dressed in simple robes and kept the church from falling. When Francis got to Rome, Pope Innocent III recognized him as that man.

So, read Sweet River Fool by all means, but go deeper and find the real man.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

AMDG


Sunday, May 15, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 20 ~ St. Dymphna

Who knows why the faithful might be attracted to a certain saint? Like so many things in life it is a matter of taste, interest, and in the case of saints where your prayer-life may lead you. I’m not sure if I saw an image of her on a prayer card in a Catholic bookstore, or if I purposefully went looking for another Irish saint besides the most notable one (Patrick). Whichever if happened to be, I was a new Catholic about ten years ago coming from the Protestant tradition with its empty crosses and barren walls, and I found the idea of saints very comfortable and appealing. As this series has shown, one can soon be overwhelmed with all of the saints in antiquity. How can you learn enough about them to be a good Catholic? Is it something I should be striving to do? Perhaps the best thing is to find a few who you feel the Holy Spirit is moving you towards, and ask them to help you with your prayers. So that is what I try to do.

I was just re-reading Dymphna’s story in some of my literature sent to me by Father Gretchko at the National Shrine of St. Dymphna in Massillon, Ohio. A while back I found them on the internet and filled out something online which amounted to my receiving an envelope full of stuff. I was moved to send them $25, and a few weeks later received more stuff along with a “Perpetual Membership” (see picture below). I looked over his price list and noticed that a perpetual membership for one person costs $25, so although I did not specify anything this is what I received. I am quite pleased.

Please ignore the frog.
Dymphna’s story comes from the seventh century in Ireland, which makes it little more than a part of legend and faith. Her father was a pagan king, and her mother was a Christian and very beautiful. Her mother dies suddenly and her father goes crazy. He sends people to several countries trying to find him another wife to match the beauty of Dymphna’s deceased mother, but they are unable to. He decides the only woman who can replace his wife is his own daughter.

Now comes my favorite part of the story, and I’m not sure why but I suppose because one particular detail always makes me smile. Wherever you read the story it always states that Dymphna fled Ireland with her personal priest, Father Gerebran, the court jester and his wife. I’m not sure if the “wife” mentioned is married to the court jester, or to Fr. Gerebran, but what I find funny is the specificity of mentioning the court jester. As far as I can tell there is no rhyme or reason he went with them, but he did and he is always mentioned. I suppose it is a more lofty mention than simply “wife”. We already have two unnamed wives in the legend; the wife who flees with the group, and the initial wife of the king (Dymphna’s mother).

This unlikely foursome ends up in Gheel, Belgium. It seems like a very hard trip for the seventh century: crossing the Irish Sea, across Wales and England, then crossing the North Sea to the continent! The king follows them and orders Fr. Gerebran killed, and after she rejects him again he kills his daughter Dymphna. I don’t know what happened to the court jester and his wife (if she was indeed the wife of the court jester). The people of Gheel buried the two who were martyred, years later went to re-bury them more properly, and this is the catalyst for which miracles and cures began to occur in the area. A church is built on the site, and later an institution named the “Infirmary of St. Elizabeth” which gave care to patients from that point on who were insane or afflicted with other mental disorders. The care given was very much before its time, with the idea being that the people cared for would end up again as productive members of society. Is it because of her father’s mental state when he killed her that Dymphna became a patron for people with mental issues? I suppose so.

And so St. Dymphna is remembered, novenas are said in her name, daily prayers are recited to her mostly with special attention given to those who might suffer from some sort of mental disorder. If Janet posts this piece on Week 19, not only will it be Pentecost Sunday but it will also be May 15th, the day Dymphna was martyred and her feast day in the Catholic Church. As my little booklet from the National Shrine reads, Thus the glorious crown of martyrdom was accorded to St. Dymphna in the fifteenth year of her age, on the fifteenth day of May, between 620 and 640. The day of her death has been assigned as her feastday.

It is amazing to me that such a small story, so obscure as to be little more than a legend, could end up having such an enormous impact on so many people. This is of course a testament to the faithful; the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit brings St. Dymphna to me in particular because of people in my family that need her intervention, both alive and passed away. So I do my best to lift them up in prayer to her, with faith that my prayers will be answered.



Their website is: www.natlshrinestdymphna.org

Stuart Moore is a Catholic who is doing the best that he can. In this series, he has written about El Santo Nino de Atocha.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 19 ~ St. Jude Thaddaeus


If anyone had told me that one of the saints I was going to write about for this series was St. Jude, I would have said, "Impossible!" I've never thought much about St. Jude at all. I knew that he was the patron saint of impossible causes (or Desperate Situations and Hopeless Cases), and that there is a rather unattractive statue of him with a flame on his head (having to do with Pentecost) and BIG medal of the head of Jesus around his neck in almost every church that has statues at all. I knew that he wrote a short book in the Bible (the 5th shortest if you are interested with about 461 words, depending on translation, I guess). And, of course, he is one of the apostles, although he is called Thaddaeus, and only shows up in the lists of the apostles.

I also knew that he has a large and devoted following among Catholics whose spirituality consists largely of novenas and devotions to saints (I'm not belittling this.). I used to go to a church with Perpetual Adoration and many people there prayed novenas to St. Jude which partially consisted of leaving nine copies of the novena in the church for nine days, and there were so many that the assistant pastor went around the church everyday collecting them. This borders on the superstitious to me, but who can tell what is in the hearts of people who pray like this. There is probably as wide a spectrum of motivations as there is in any other kind prayer. Still, this didn't exactly attract me to devotion to St. Jude.

Then last Sunday, he got my attention. Usually, I am either in the choir loft of our large church, or I sit on the right hand side of the church. When I am the lector, though, after I read, I come down and sit on the left hand side and there in the back corner of the transept, I saw the nicest statue of St. Jude I've ever come across, and he was looking at me (I attribute this to the position of the statue, not some miraculous intervention.), and I started thinking about impossible causes, and why it is a good thing to have a saint who is sort of in charge of them.

Who does not at some time in his life have a situation that seems impossible--something that casts a pall over every good thing when it comes to mind, and against which he is powerless? Who does not have a person in his life, who is impossible--who seems to move from one horrible situation to the next and never learns how to live rationally? Who has never had a loved one with an impossible sickness? Which of us could not use a friend in these situations who will help us to carry these burdens?

So, I decided to write about St. Jude.

One thing I found is that there is some disagreement about whether the Jude who wrote the Epistle of Jude was the Jude who was one of the apostles, and therefore the saint we are talking about. The Catholic Encyclopedia says yes, the USCCB website (You will find an introduction and the book here.) says otherwise. Here is the entire paragraph from the Catholic Encyclopedia which I found rather confusing.
In the address of the Epistle the author styles himself "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James". "Servant of Jesus Christ" means "apostolic minister or labourer". "Brother of James" denotes him as the brother of James kat exochen who was well-known to the Hebrew Christians to whom the Epistle of St. Jude was written. This James is to be identified with the Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; 21:18), spoken of by St. Paul as "the brother of the Lord" (Galatians 1:19), who was the author of the Catholic Epistle of St. James. and is regarded amongst Catholic interpreters as the Apostle James the son of Alpheus (St. James the Less). This last identification, however, is not evident, nor, from a critical point of view, does it seem beyond all doubt. Most Catholic commentators identify Jude with the "Judas Jacobi" ("Jude, the brother of James" in the D.V.) of Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13 — also called Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3: Mark 3:18) — referring the expression to the fact that his brother James was better known than himself in the primitive Church. This view is strongly confirmed by the title "the brother of James", by which Jude designates himself in the address of his Epistle. If this identification is proved, it is clear that Jude, the author of the Epistle, was reckoned among the Twelve Apostles. This opinion is most highly probable. Beyond this we find no further information concerning Jude in the New Testament, except that the "brethren of the Lord", among whom Jude was included, were known to the Galatians and the Corinthians; also that several of them were married, and that they did not fully believe in Christ till after the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:10; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14). From a fact of Hegesippus told by Eusebius (Church History III.19-22) we learn that Jude was "said to have been the brother of the Lord according to the flesh", and that two of his grandsons lived till the reign of Trajan.
As you can imagine, we don't seem to be entirely sure where Jude went or what he did, but he is mentioned in Eusebius and elsewhere, including an apocryphal . An article from the Catholic News Agency says this;
St. Jude, known as Thaddaeus, was a brother of St. James the Lesser, and a relative of Jesus. Ancient writers tell us that he preached the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, Idumaea, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Lybia. According to Eusebius, he returned to Jerusalem in the year 62 and assisted at the election of his brother, St. Simeon, as Bishop of Jerusalem.
There is also an apocryphal text, The Acts of Thaddeus, which tells about St. Jude's visit to the King of Edessa, and this is the most interesting thing (to me) that I found out when I was looking for information about St. Jude. I have always wondered why St. Jude was wearing that enormous medal around his neck, and the answer is that it wasn't a medal at all, it was a miraculous image on the order of the veil of St. Veronica, the Image of Edessa, or Holy Mandylion of Edessa. This image was involved in the healing of the King. There are many theories about what it was and where it is, and one of the theories is that it was the Shroud of Turin. There is a blog entry by Dr. Taylor Marshall that explains the ins and outs of the story here.

Image of San Silvestro which is one of the images
thought to be the Holy Mandylion

If you find yourself in a desperate situation and would like to ask for St. Jude's intercession, there is a novena here. I wrote this over a week ago and today I find myself rather in need of the novena. St. Jude Thaddaeus, pray for us.

Janet Cupo is the proprietor of this blog.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 18 ~ St. Kizito


Fresh from school I spent half a year teaching English at St Kizito Minor Seminary in Malawi. It would have been longer, but the work permit proved hard to obtain. Looking back, I suspect I was supposed to bribe somebody, but was too wet behind the ears to pick up whatever hint was given. The school was run for the diocese of Dedza by the Missionaries of Africa, or White Fathers (named for their Arab-style white robes), an order founded in Algiers in 1868. For those few months I lived in a clerical compound along with four aging Missionaries of Africa (the headmaster, the bursar, a Latin teacher, and a vigorous French Canadian who did a lot of work in the nearby parishes), two diocesan priests, a seminarian, and a lay missionary from the United States. A number of lay teachers, professional educators with families of their own, came in on a daily basis. The school itself was a large quadrangle, with a chapel at one end, teachers' offices at the other, and ground-floor classrooms along either side with dormitories above. Off the quadrangle were workshops and the boys' refectory. The bursar ran a pig farm nearby, and employed a number of men in the workshops. On Wednesday afternoons the boys hoed the fields belonging to the school. The establishment was relatively self-sufficient – certainly compared to any other school I have ever been to.

Despite all the usual precautions I did come down with malaria; which was unpleasant but short-lived, and has not recurred. From the comfort of a full recovery I think I would rather be able to say I have had malaria than never have had it at all, but it is a vicious disease that can be devastating to the under-nourished or those with weakened immunity. I was far from under-nourished; in fact the constant diet of maize paste (nsima), yams, groundnuts and pork, regularly supplemented with Malawi Carlsberg, cost me my youthful slenderness.  I returned to Europe in July, for my sister's wedding, and that autumn matriculated at St Peter's College, Oxford, where the dining hall was named Hannington Hall. It took a while to register with me, but there is an important connection between the St Kizito to whom the Malawian school was dedicated, and the James Hannington for whom the Oxford dining hall was named.

Kizito was Catholic and Hannington was Anglican, but both were among the victims of a short-lived but intense persecution unleashed against Christians by the teenaged Mwanga II, King of Buganda, in 1885–86. Hannington, the first Anglican Bishop of East Africa, was assassinated en route to his see in October 1885. Joseph Mukasa, a Catholic chamberlain at Mwanga's court, was killed in November for openly criticizing the murder. The main persecution came in the spring of 1886, sparked by Christian pages at court resisting the sexual advances of their king and some of his friends. The king, himself only 18 or 19, was convinced that it was his prerogative to use or lend his servants as he saw fit, but Christian morality had convinced these boys otherwise. Kizito was the youngest of them, aged 13 or 14 when he was burnt alive for his attachment to his sexual integrity.

Over the following years King Mwanga was deposed, reconquered the throne, was deposed again, and died in exile as an Anglican, with the baptismal name Daniel.

The Catholics among the Ugandan Martyrs were canonized in 1964 by Paul VI, as "Charles Lwanga and companions" (after the 25-year-old catechist among the pages). In 1969 Paul VI became the first pope to visit Africa, specifically to bless the altars at their shrine (from which the picture above is taken; a recent video of the shrine can be found on YouTube). Here is a short excerpt from his brief homily on the latter occasion:

But, you will ask me, why should the Martyrs be honoured?
And I answer you: It is because they have performed the most heroic, and therefore the greatest and most beautiful of all actions; they have, as I said, laid down their lives for their Faith, that is, for their religion and for the freedom of their conscience. Therefore they are our champions, our heroes, our teachers. They teach us how real Christians should be. Listen to me now: Should a Christian be a coward? Should he be afraid? Should he betray his own Faith? No! Of course not! Your Martyrs teach us just how true Christians should be, especially young Christians, African Christians. For Christians must be courageous, they must be strong, they must, as Saint Peter wrote, “be firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5, 9). Your Martyrs teach us how much the Faith is worth!


Pope Paul clearly had a great veneration for these young martyrs who were, for the most part, killed for resisting the sexual violence of the politically powerful. Pope Francis celebrated mass at their shrine in November last year, and also visited the shrine to the Anglican martyrs. Perhaps it is just me not noticing, but I would have thought rather more could be made of the ecumenical aspect of these witnesses to a shared Christian teaching.

Their feast day is 3 June. It is a national holiday in Uganda.

Paul Arblaster is my second oldest internet acquaintance (The oldest is Mary who also comments on this blog.). He has also written about St. AnthonySt. Cuthbert, and Margaret  for this series.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 17 ~ St. John Fisher


Protestants, I think, at least Protestants in the English-speaking world, are sometimes a bit surprised to hear the word martyr applied to Catholics executed for their faith during the Protestant Reformation in England. Perhaps that’s not as true as it once was, when English Protestants grew up on Foxe’s Book of [Protestant] Martyrs (actually not the title, which begins Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church and goes on at some length).

John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was one of the first of these. Rochester, for Americans whose knowledge of geography is as poor as mine, is roughly 30 miles southeast of London, and roughly halfway between London and Canterbury. I presume that made it a pretty important see in Fisher’s time. He was certainly a prominent man, being among many other things the chaplain and confessor of the mother of King Henry VII. There is an excellent and concise account of his life in the old Catholic Encyclopedia online at NewAdvent.org, so rather than repeat it I’ll direct you there.

Fisher was beheaded on June 22, 1535, only a few weeks before his more widely known fellow martyr St. Thomas More. Here’s one incident from the sad story that strikes me as illuminating the forces at work toward the end of Fisher’s life:
In May, 1535, the new pope, Paul III, created Fisher Cardinal Priest of St. Vitalis, his motive being apparently to induce Henry by this mark of esteem to treat the bishop less severely. The effect was precisely the reverse. Henry forbade the cardinal's hat to be brought into England, declaring that he would send the head to Rome instead.

This shouldn’t be taken as a suggestion that Fisher might have been spared if not for the pope’s intervention, which is surely not the case. Only capitulation on Fisher’s part would have done that, and he clearly was made of the same stern stuff as More.

Most of us have probably seen A Man For All Seasons and will recognize from it the name of the treacherous Richard Rich. Rich was also instrumental in getting Fisher condemned. Fisher was attempting to avoid execution by simply not speaking of Henry’s supremacy over the Church, but Rich tricked Fisher into confiding in him, then betrayed him. (http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-Fisher)

It is an obviously timely lesson for us that Fisher was the only English bishop to resist Henry. The others not only acquiesced, but attempted to persuade Fisher to go along with them. His reply is for me one of the most stirring things in English Christianity:
Methinks it had been rather our parts to stick together in repressing these violent and unlawful intrusions and injuries dayly offered to our common mother, the holy Church of Christ, than by any manner of persuasions to help or set forward the same.
And we ought rather to seek by all means the temporal destruction of the so ravenous wolves, that daily go about worrying and devouring everlastingly, the flock that Christ committed to our charge, and the flock that Himself died for, than to suffer them thus to range abroad.
But (alas) seeing we do it not, you see in what peril the Christian state now standeth: We are besieged on all sides, and can hardly escape the danger of our enemy. And seeing that judgment is begone at the house of God, what hope is there left (if we fall) that the rest shall stand!
The fort is betrayed even of them that should have defended it. And therefore seeing the matter is thus begun, and so faintly resisted on our parts, I fear that we be not the men that shall see the end of the misery.
Wherefore, seeing I am an old man and look not long to live, I mind not by the help of God to trouble my conscience in pleasing the king this way whatsoever become of me, but rather here to spend out the remnant of my old days in praying to God for him.

The fort is betrayed even of them that should have defended it. There’s a good deal of resonance for us in that line.

Here is a longer piece, at CatholicCulture.org, that goes into a good bit of detail about Fisher’s life as a churchman, his efforts toward internal reform, and his involvement in the theological controversies of the time.

Fisher was originally sentenced to be drawn and quartered, but was beheaded instead. I had intended to give Henry some credit for that gesture of decency, but according to a footnote in the article just cited it was done out of concern that the aged and sick bishop “would not survive being drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn two miles away, thus depriving Henry of the satisfaction of his execution.”

For my part I do not feel great indignation at this story, although it would be very much justified. I feel, rather, a great sorrow that these tragedies in the history of the Church are so frequent, and I wonder what would have happened if things had gone otherwise. And with a sigh I note the resemblance of our situation to that of Fisher and More. It is not, obviously, as dangerous and violent as that, but the lines are being drawn on the same fundamental question: is the state the final authority on matters of conscience? No one is in danger of losing his head, but we have seen people lose their livelihood because, to use the words Robert Bolt gives Thomas More, “[they] would not bend to the marriage.”

Maclin Horton is the proprietor of his own blog Light on Dark Water from which sprang this series. You might want to check out the current series there, 52 Movies or last year's 52 Authors.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.