Page 7, 19th November 1999

19th November 1999
Page 7
Page 7, 19th November 1999 — A "trivialisation" of St John Fisher
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A "trivialisation" of St John Fisher

From Dom Alberic Stacpoole Sir, Dr Christopher Haigh of Christ Church, Oxford — Cardinal Wolsey's College (the tie today bears his hat, and both College & Cathedral bear the Catholic Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History) — wrote a history of the Reformation in 1993 after other books on recusancy. On Guy Fawkes' Day his review of Maria Dowling's new book, Fisher of Men: A Life of John Fisher, 1469-1535, appeared in The Catholic Herald. He called Thomas Wolsey a "bloated irrepressible careerist" and pluralist, a fixer and maker of deals — where "Fisher was a man of principle, who lost his head and never got to wear the hat". His final judgement of these Cardinals? "I would rather spend an evening with Wolsey". His review has systematically trivialised the sole bishop to stand against Henry VIII unto death, even death on the Tower block. What he has written is not funny.

The root of it is Henry VIII, whose only wife was Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). Arthur, elder son of Henry VII, had her as wife for a year before dying in 1502. In 1503 she was betrothed to the younger Henry, who on accession in 1509 married her. They were initially devoted; she bore him four children and acted well as regent. All other women in Henry's life were trash — so Elizabeth, ever unmarried, was from 1558 a bastard monarch. The Pope warned Henry never to divorce or attempt remarriage (invalid), for Catherine was his valid wife till five years of harsh treatment killed her. To circumvent all this, Henry invented a "Church" naming himself "Supreme Governor". Lord Chancellor More resigned in 1532, as Cramer was appointed Cantuar (a stool-pigeon for King against Pope). More got the literary limelight, largely by agonising in conscientious silence. Fisher alone in all England confronted Henry — who was then stripping the Church of all power and property. Moreover Henry proved a killer: in 1540 he destroyed Cromwell and Catherine's chaplain, five years after Fisher and More and various religious.

A word on the central subject, Cardinal Fisher. He alone stood as representative of the greatest "liberty" in the land, a world-orientated Church, independent of state. Since Henry succeeded, British society has been of secular focus. Spiritual life shrank, as recusancy fought for survival. The Church was not purged of parasites, as monasticism was wiped out, and with it holy humanism. A single voice was heard awhile among the bishops.

John Fisher was executed on 22 June 1535, aged 66: Cambridge's We-Chancellor, the most learned of prelates, guide to Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry VII, champion of universal orthodoxy. Virtually alone, he spoke out at the Legatine Court, in the House of Lords, and at Convocation — against his Monarch. He refused any oath to the Act of Succession. He was locked in the Tower for 14 months without trial or charge. He was persistently interrogated, but remained silent till this judgement: "The King could not be, by God's law, Supreme Head". So his head was hung on London Bridge till that of More was so hung nine days later. Fisher did not doubt or waver.

Dr Haigh should wonder more, not falling to brashness in the presence of holiness.

Yours faithfully, AJ STACKPOOLE OSB Ampleforth Abbey.




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