June 21, 2017

Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, English Martyrs

Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More

Optional Memorial - June 22nd

Saints Thomas More and John Fisher were talented and energetic Renaissance men who contributed to the humanist scholarship of early modern England. More wrote theological treatises while making a career as a lawyer and government official. Bishop John Fisher worked as an administrator at Cambridge, confronted the challenge Martin Luther presented to Christianity and served as Bishop of Rochester. He dedicated himself to preaching at a time when prelates tended to focus on politics. Both men corresponded with Erasmus, who helped Fisher learn Greek and Hebrew, and famously referred to More as "a man of all seasons".

Above all their accomplishments, these heroic disciples of Christ bore witness to a deep faith in God and his Church. More considered entering religious life and was assiduous in his devotional practices. A married man, he committed himself wholly to his vocation as a father. In the 16th century, disciplinary measures with children tended to be severe, but More’s children testify to his warmth, patience and generosity. St. John Fisher was a model shepherd and evidenced remarkable humility. He remained in the small Diocese of Rochester his entire episcopal ministry, devoting himself to his local church rather than seeking a promotion.

More and Fisher are well-known for opposing King Henry’s divorce. Ultimately, it was their refusal to sign an oath of supremacy that led them to be executed. King Henry VIII claimed to be the supreme head of the Church in England, asserting sovereign power over English Christians. Neither Fisher nor More could abide this claim, and their steadfastness to their consciences put them in conflict with the king. They were sentenced to death for defending the indissolubility of marriage.

When More made his way to the gallows, he is said to have stated, “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Both More and Fisher were patriots. They never rose up to incite rebellion or foment revolution. They were no traitors. But when the law of the court came into conflict with the law of Christ, they chose Christ. These men gave their lives for the freedom of the Church and for freedom of conscience. They bear witness to the truth that no government can make a claim on a person’s soul. O God, who in martyrdom has brought true faith to its highest expression, graciously grant that, strengthened through the intercession of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, may we bravely live the faith we profess.

No comments :