St. John Fisher, Reformer, Humanist Martyr: Sample Chapter

The following is from St. John Fisher: Reformer, Humanist, Martyr by E.E. Reynolds, the only complete biography of St. John Fisher currently in print! View a glimpse of the excellent historical work that makes this book a must have! If you like what you see here don’t forget to order at the links below!

 

CHAPTER VIII
THE BISHOP IN HIS DIOCESE—I

CAMBRIDGE affairs were only part of the business that occupied John Fisher’s days and thoughts. He was summoned to the Parliaments and Convocations of 1510, 1512 and 1515. Nothing is recorded of the part he played on those occasions. We get glimpses of him at great functions; thus on 15th November 1515 he was crosier to Archbishop Warham at Westminster Abbey when Wolsey received the Cardinal’s hat, “in so solemn wise,” wrote George Cavendish, “as I have not seen the like unless it had been at the coronation of a mighty prince or king.” In the following year, the Bishop of Rochester christened the son of Mary, the king’s sister, who was now Duchess of Suffolk after having been Queen of France.
Pope Leo X urged the princes of Europe to war against the Turks who were threatening to carry their power north of the Danube. He proposed in 1518 to send Cardinal Campeggio as his legate to England to advance this intention. Henry and Wolsey objected that it was contrary to English practice to receive a cardinal legate; this difficulty could be overcome, however, if Wolsey were granted the same powers as Campeggio. So on 17th May Wolsey became cardinal a latere, an exceptional appointment that he skillfully made permanent. Campeggio was kept waiting at Calais until further, and more profitable, concessions were granted to Wolsey. John Fisher was one of the prelates who received Campeggio at Canterbury on 23rd July 1518, and, no doubt, joined the cardinal’s train as far as Rochester.
Shortly afterwards, Wolsey called a synod of the clergy; in this way he demonstrated that his new powers were greater than those of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The early biographer of John Fisher gives an account of this synod which needs to be read with the caution that it does not report speeches verbatim, but as historical reconstructions. The words he puts into the mouth of John Fisher no doubt expressed the bishop’s real opinions though it may be questioned if he would have used some of the phrases given to him.

This council was called by my lord Cardinal rather to notify to the world his great authority and to be seen sitting in his pontifical seat, than for any great good that he meant to do, which this learned and wise prelate [Fisher] perceived quickly. Wherefore having now good occasion to speak against such enormities as he saw daily rising among the spirituality, and much the rather for that his words were among the clergy alone, without any commixture of the laity, which at that time began to hearken any speaking against the clergy. He there reproved very discreetly the ambition and incontinency of the clergy, utterly condemning their vanity in wearing of costly apparel, whereby he declared the goods of the Church to be sinfully wasted and scandal to be raised among the people seeing the tithes and other oblations given by the devotion of them and their ancestors to a good purpose so inordinately spent in indecent and superfluous raiment, delicate fare and other worldly vanity.
Which matter he debated so largely and framed his words after such sort that the Cardinal perceived himself to be touched to the very quick. For he affirmed this kind of disorder to proceed through the example of the head and thereupon reproved his pomp, putting him in mind that it stood better with the modesty of such a high pastor as he was, to eschew all worldly vanity, specially in this perilous time, and by humility to make himself conformable and like to the image of God. “For in this trade of life,” said he, “neither can there be any likelihood of perpetuity with safety of conscience, neither yet any security of the clergy to continue, but such plain and imminent dangers are like to ensue as never were tasted or heard of before our days.”
“For what should we,” said he, “exhort our flocks to eschew and shun worldly ambition, when we ourselves, that be bishops do wholely set our minds to the same things we forbid in them? What example of Christ our Saviour do we imitate, who first exercised doing and after fell to teaching? If we teach according to our doing, how absurd may our doctrine be accounted? If we teach one thing and do another, our labour in teaching shall never benefit our flock half so much as our examples in doing shall hurt them. Who can willingly suffer and bear with us in whom (preaching humility, sobriety and contempt of the world) they may evidently perceive haughtiness in mind, pride in gesture, sumptuousness in apparel and damnable excess in all worldly delicates? Truly, most reverend fathers, what this vanity in temporal things worketh in you I know not; but sure I am that in myself I perceive a great impediment to devotion and so have felt a long time, for sundry times when I have settled and fully bent myself to the care of my flock committed unto me, to visit my diocese, to govern my church, and to answer the enemies of Christ, straightways hath come a messenger for one cause or another sent from higher authority by whom I have been called to business and so left of my former purpose. And thus by tossing and going this way and that ways, time hath passed and in the meanwhile nothing done but attending after triumphs, receiving ambassadors, haunting of princes’ courts and such like, whereby great expenses rise that might better be spent many other ways.”

That last passage may well have been spoken from the heart of one who regarded himself first as a bishop and to a less degree as a statesman.
The early biographer went on to lament that “few were persuaded by his counsel. . . . So that (excuses never wanting to cover sin) this holy father’s words spoken with so good a zeal were all lost and came to nothing for that time.”

As Rochester lay on the road from Canterbury to London, visitors of distinction who were travelling from or to Dover would expect to be received by the Bishop of Rochester.
The letter he received from the Council in 1514 when the sword and cap presented by Leo X to Henry VIII arrived in England, is typical of others.

. . the prior of Christ’s Church of Canterbury shall meet with the said ambassador and . . . shall conduct him to some place convenient between Sittingbourne and Rochester, where the king hath appointed that your lordship, the Master of the Rolls, and Sir Thomas Bolyn shall meet with him and so conduct him to London.

So too in 1522 when Charles V came to England, the Bishop of Rochester had to be at Canterbury with the archbishop to meet him, and, on the way to London, to entertain the emperor at Rochester during a Sunday.

The early biographer said that “if any strangers came to him, he would entertain them according to their vocations with such mirth as stood with the gravity of his person, whose talk was always rather of learning or contemplation than of worldly matters.”
John Fisher could easily have allowed affairs of state and the prestige and allurements of court life to draw him more and more away from the care of his diocese, nor would anyone have thought this surprising; he was peculiar in that he never allowed secular matters to overwhelm his primary duty to the Church as a bishop. William Rastell recorded the opinion of a young contemporary.

He was in holiness, learning and diligence in his cure and in fulfilling his office of bishop such that of many hundred years England had not any bishop worthy to be compared unto him. And if all countries of Christendom were searched, there could not lightly among all other nations be found one that hath been in all things like unto him, so well used and fulfilled the office of bishop as he did. He was of such high perfection in holy life and strait and austere living as few were, I suppose, in all Christendom in his time, religious or other.

The diocese of Rochester, it has already been noted, was the smallest in the kingdom, but it was even smaller than a map suggests; there were thirty-four parishes belonging to Canterbury and forming the deanery of Shoreham; these therefore did not come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rochester.
There were two episcopal palaces and several manors belonging to the bishop. In those days of horseback travel and of bad, and, in winter, sometimes impassable roads, it was necessary for the bishop to have several centres from which he could carry out his duties. This also met the problem of supplies as the produce of each manor could be used in turn. The palace of Rochester, which had been built during the previous century, was between the monastery (the present cathedral) and the river. The site today seems more removed from the Medway mud than Erasmus suggested, but the banks of the river have been built up and there may have been inlets up which the tide could wash. There are no substantial remains of the buildings.
The bishop’s London palace was by Lambeth Marsh adjoining the archbishop’s palace to the east, so it was simple for John Fisher to hurry off to show William Warham the complimentary passages in the Novum Instrumentum. From the Register we learn that John Fisher built a brick wall round the palace and repaired the buildings. It ceased to be a palace of the Bishops of Rochester in 1540; after many changes of use and occupation it was demolished in 1827.
There were manors at Hailing (between the church and the river), at Bromley, at Stone (near Dartford), and at Trottescliffe (near Wrotham), but John Fisher does not seem to have used the last two.
The Register for the period of John Fisher’s episcopate has been preserved; so too has the Act Book of his Consistory Court.
Unfortunately the records of his visitations have not survived. The first began on 15th May 1505. The early biographer gives us:

And first, because there is small hope of health in the members of that body where the head is sick, he began his visitation at his head church of Rochester, calling before him the priors and monks exhorting them to obedience, chastity and true observation of their monastical vows; and where any fault was tried, he caused it to be amended. After that he carefully visited the rest of the parish churches within his diocese in his own person; and sequestrating all such as he found unworthy to occupy that high function, he placed other fitter in their rooms; and all such as were accused of any crime, he put to their purgation, not sparing the punishment of simony and heresy with other crimes and abuses. And by the way he omitted neither preaching to the people, nor confirming of children, nor relieving of needy and indigent persons; so that by all means he observed a due comeliness in the house of God.

During the first half of his episcopate, he carried out visitations in 1508, 1511, 1514 and 1517. His archdeacon no doubt shared this important work but to what extent we cannot now determine.

From the Register we can follow the bishop’s movements about the diocese from year to year. Occasional intervals of a month or two indicate when he was away on state or university business but without giving information of what occupied him.
A survey of one year, 1513, will give a typical record of his official acts. There is much more we should like to know, but these bare facts add something to the picture.
The first entry is dated 5th March; it records an abjuration of heresy before the bishop in his chapel at Hailing. Henry Potter of West Mailing was accused of saying publicly that he would not believe in the Last Judgment “till I see it.” He promised to avoid suspect persons in the future, also books of Scripture in English, and to give information about them as soon as possible. The bishop absolved him from excommunication and ordered him as penance to walk in procession in his parish church with the faggot on his back, and to do so again in the cathedral on the following Sunday unless dispensed from this by the bishop. In addition he was to see that no harm came to those who had testified against him. Finally he was not to leave the diocese for two years, during each of which he must present himself to the bishop. Henry Potter made his cross on the record.
On 12th March, also at Hailing, the bishop ordained a deacon. He was at Rochester on 4th April when he collated one priest and admitted another to vicarages. On the same day he confirmed the election of the new abbot of Lesnes, William Ticehurst, formerly Prior of Bilsington. The bishop, vested in pontificals, received the profession of obedience of the abbot elect. There is a long account of the proceedings, including testimonies that William Ticehurst was of legitimate birth, and discreet and circumspect. On 27th June at Lambeth, the bishop admitted a cleric to a vacancy in Cobham College in conformity with the king’s wishes.
The bishop collated three priests to livings on 20th August at Bromley, and on 7th October, two others at the same place. There is then a copy of a letter from the bishop instituting Richard Clarke to the vicarage of Hailing vacant by the deprivation of John Cotton. Here the Acts of the Consistory Court explain the circumstances. On 17th September at Hailing the bishop had dealt with five cases of correction of his clergy. One of these was John Cotton who had again fallen into adultery; he said, “I would my lord had put me in prison when he commanded Joan Hubbard to prison.” The investigation took several sittings and was not concluded until 27th September.
There is also the copy of a letter dated 1st October. This is from the bishop to the Barons of the Exchequer stating what arrangements he was making to collect the four-tenths ordered by the king. The Augustinian canons of Tonbridge and of Lesnes, and the prior of Rochester were to be responsible for making the collection by stated dates. A list of nearly forty benefices follows which he described as too poor to be taxed.
This summary of one year of the Register shows the pattern of the normal diocesan business. A similar account could be given for any one of the other years of John Fisher’s long episcopate, the only noticeable variation being that in the later period he seems to have spent more time at Rochester; this may have been due to declining health.
Some particular entries may be noted from the other years for the first half of his rule. One instance of an abjuration has been given. Two earlier cases give other examples of heretical opinions before the onset of the full tide of Lutheranism.

The first is dated May 1505. John Mores (or Wener) of St. Nicholas Parish, Rochester, was accused of saying, in addition to expressing “divers doubts concerning Scripture”:

1. that Christ did not die in perfect charity on Good Friday because he did not die to redeem Lucifer as well as Adam and Eve;
2. that our Lady “is butt a sakk”, and the Son of God desired the Father to come to middle earth to take a sack upon his back.

It is impossible to make sense of the last statement. Mores made his cross to a document in which he promised to have no further dealings with heretics, nor to use any suspect books of Scripture in English, and to denounce such books and persons as soon as possible.
The abjuration was made in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral before the bishop. Mores was freed from excommunication and had to do penance in the usual form. He was not to leave the diocese for seven years. He made his cross on the record.
Another case of heresy was brought before the bishop in 1507. This concerned a Richard Gavell of Westerham who said that:

1. the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle [sic: of Canterbury?] should not be observed;
2. it was not necessary to take holy water “of the priest’s hand”;
3. offerings and offering days were only ordained by priests and curates “by their own covetous minds and singular avayles [advantages]”; on one such day he had caused Joan Harries to withhold her offering “to the evil example of the people”.

It was further stated that:

1. he often left church and went to the alehouse rather than hear a sermon;
2. he had spoken against the priest while he was in the pulpit, saying “Now the priest standeth in the pulpit and he doth nothing but chide and travail for I look more on his deeds than of his words whatsoever he saith”;
3. he despised the authority of the Church saying that the Church’s sentence had no effect, only that of God who was not in the power of priests and bishops;
4. after being accursed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and so openly by my curate demanded now of late in the church of Westerham”, he replied, in the presence of divers persons, “Sirs, though my lord of Canterbury has accursed me, I am, I trust, not yet accursed of God, and pray, sirs, fear ye not to company or eat and drink with me for all that.”;
5. he had a bad reputation for heresy.

The usual penance of going in procession was imposed; he was not to leave the diocese for four years, and during those years, he was to present himself annually to the bishop. Richard Gavell made his mark. The penance was to be carried out at Bromley and at Rochester, but he was dispensed by the bishop from appearing in the cathedral.
The problem of heresy must be dealt with more fully later in these pages; here it may be noted that the penances imposed by the bishop were of the customary character.
Some further examples from the Register will indicate the scope of the bishop’s activities.
On 17th July 1508 in the chapel of St. Blaise at Bromley, the bishop received the profession of William Temple, “singleman”, as a hermit. He gave him the eremetical habit with his blessing. The hermit promised before God and the Saints to direct his conduct and conversation according to the rule of St. Paul the first hermit; he was to live in the hermitage built in honour of St. Catherine at Dartford. All this was written down and the hermit made his cross.
There is one example of the bishop’s desire to have a better instructed clergy. On 29th November 1508, Hugh Taylor of Foot’s Cray came before the bishop with letters of presentation from the canons of St. Mary Overy, Southwark, to that benefice. The bishop examined him but was not satisfied with his attainments. Hugh Taylor was therefore told that he must spend a year in a grammar school, and if, after that, he had made sufficient progress, he would be admitted. Meanwhile a curate would be put in charge. Hugh Taylor made good use of his twelve months and was then able to satisfy the bishop.
On 21st April 1511, the bishop received the vow of chastity of Elizabeth Fitzwaren, a widow of Beckenham. She undertook “to be chaste of my body and truly and devoutly shall keep me chaste from this time forward as long as my life lasteth after the rule of St. Paul [the hermit].”
The bishop presided at a synod of his clergy on 6th October 1518. After a Mass of the Holy Ghost had been sung, he preached a sermon; this was followed by the reading of the constitutions, provincial and legatine, against concubinage.
The Acts of the Consistory Court do not add much to out knowledge of the bishop’s work. The court was held in the churches of parishes conveniently situated for the cases to be heard. Thus in December 1511 the itinerary was West Mailing, Strood, Gravesend, Dartford, Trottescliffe and Swanscombe, dealing with over a hundred cases in all. The bishop himself rarely presided, but from time to time he was present for more serious cases; thus on 17th March 1511 at Lambeth he absolved a priest from his contumacy (the nature of which is not stated), but suspended him from saying Mass in his parish or elsewhere in the diocese.
The Register records one royal intervention in the work of the court. A letter from the king, 13th February 1520, ordered the bishop not to proceed with the action brought by William Rogers, vicar of Plumstead, for tithes against William Goldwyn, gent. The vicar had denounced Goldwyn in the church at Woolwich and declared him excommunicate in defiance of the decision of the civil courts.
The Acts of the Consistory Court and the Register do little more than tell us of the normal duties of a bishop; the unusual feature for the times was that John Fisher carried out these duties himself as far as other responsibilities would allow.
The early biographer adds life to the bare facts of these records.

Wheresoever he lay, either at Rochester or elsewhere, his order was to inquire where any poor sick folks lay near him, which, after he once knew, he would diligently visit them. And where he saw any of them likely to die, he would preach to them, teaching them the way to die, with such good persuasions, that for the most part he never departed till the sick persons were well satisfied and contented with death. Many times it was his chance to come to such poor houses as for want of chimneys were very smoky and thereby so noisome that scant any man could abide in them. Nevertheless himself would there sit by the sick patient many times the space of three or four hours together in the smoke, when none of his servants were able to abide in the house, but were fain to tarry without till his coming abroad. And in some other poor houses where stairs were wanting, he would never disdain to climb up by a ladder for such a good purpose. And when he had given them such ghostly comfort as he thought expedient for their souls, he would at his departure leave behind him his charitable alms, giving charge to his steward or other officers daily to prepare meat convenient for them (if they were poor) and send it unto them. Besides he gave at his gate to divers poor people (which were commonly no small number) a daily alms of money, to some 2d., to some 4d., some 6d., and some more after the rate of their necessity. That being done, every one of them was rewarded likewise with meat, which was daily brought to the gate. And lest any fraud, partiality, or other disorder might rise in the distribution of the same, he provided himself a place whereunto immediately after dinner he would resort and there stand to see the division with his own eyes.

To this may be added William Rastell’s testimony:

He, like a good shepherd, would not go from his flock, but continually fed them with preaching of God’s word and example of good life. He, like a good shepherd, did what he could to reform his flock both of the spirituality and temporality, when he perceived any of them to range out of the right way, either in manners or doctrine.

The first half of John Fisher’s episcopate was a period of steady work and quiet achievement. He had regulated his diocese and had gathered round him like-minded men such as Nicholas Metcalfe. He knew his small diocese as only a diligent bishop could know it. By 1520 the priests must have known him as a person and as a pastor to whom they could turn in times of difficulty. The example of his austere and devout life would be a reproach to the easy-going and an inspiration to the faithful. “All pastors and curates used him for their lantern, as one of whom they might perfectly learn when to use action and when contemplation; for in these two things did he so far excel that hard it were to find one so well practised and expert in any one of them, apart, as he was in both of them together.”
His work for his university had prospered; Christ’s College was established, and, in spite of all the obstacles, St. John’s had been well founded. His encouragement of sound learning and preaching, and of the study of Greek and Hebrew had helped to lead Cambridge out of the lethargy of the past into the more vigorous world of the new scholarship.
The second half of his episcopate was to prove more and more discordant; the rapid spread of heresy, not least in his own beloved university, and the increasing bitterness of anti-clericism, of themselves would have brought sorrow enough, but to these was to be added “the king’s great matter” and his subsequent claim” to be “the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England.”

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St. Thomas More

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St. Thomas More, by E.E. Reynolds, is a complete life of the saint based on primary source accounts, state papers and contemporary registers. Reynolds leaves no written source uncovered in drawing together for us the man who became one of the most famous men not only in England, but even in Europe, who gave his life for the rights of the Church over the tyranny of the state.

Reynolds traces More’s life and environs, as well as More’s writings and poetry, to bring out the man and the hour in which he lived. There are lengthy studies of Richard III, Utopia, and The Dialogues which More wrote against heretics. Lastly, he concludes with a penetrating legal analysis of the reasons which brought More to the Tower and to beheading.

Throughout there are many crucial and important direct quotes from letters, speeches and of course, the words of More related by early authorities in court and at his trial. Thereby we see the warm relationship between More and great scholars like Colet and Erasmus, as well as his close relationship with his daughter Margaret (Meg) and his great strides to provide her an education which she took up brilliantly. This makes More come to life as a real person, with wit and joy and above all passion, not the plaster saint of a second nocturn variety. There is a reason why More is one of the few and best known laymen to be canonized and remembered through the ages.

This will be an excellent companion to Reynold’s Life of St. John Fisher, which is also available from Mediatrix Press.

Defense of the Catholic Priesthood against Martin Luther – St. John Fisher

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Defence of the Priesthood - Fisher
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To the extent that St. John Fisher is remembered at all, he is remembered as the one Bishop that refused to pinch incense to Henry VIII. Yet, he was also a holy Bishop and an expert Theologian. Those familiar with the Mediatrix Press reprint of the Life of St. John Fisher by E.E. Reynolds, will know that St. John Fisher was a model for all Bishops. Yet his theological writings, which are mostly in Latin, had not been translated at all until the 1930’s. Fr. Hallet translated the shortest but no less important of St. John Fisher’s works, his defense of the priesthood against Martin Luther.

In these pages we see that it is Fisher, not Luther, who is the true witness to the gospel, defending the Catholic priesthood by the Scriptures, the Fathers and reason, while quoting Luther directly in his refutation.

While responding to Luther, Fisher lays out several Axioms and proves them one by one in

order so that as the pages turn, it is abundantly clear that Fisher is following the Scripture completely, while Luther’s position is increasingly indefensible. It is no wonder that Fisher was the only opponent of Luther that that the latter did not and could not answer.

Given that it is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, what better work could be published, to help dispel some of the confusion engendered by those who wish to celebrate Luther in ignorance of what the great heresiarch had actually taught. Anyone seeing this will immediately see that it is Fisher who is the witness to the Gospel.

Rome and the Counter-Reformation in England

Rome and the Counter-Reformation in England
By Mgsr. Philip Hughes
With a new foreword by Charles A. Coulombe

 

ISBN-10: 069272933
ISBN-13: 978-0692729335

500 pages
$26.00

 

One can find many of Fr. Hughes works on the Reformation reprinted. Still, one that is lacking his is great study of the Reformation in England. He admits at the outset that the conclusion is already known by the reader before he picks up the book, that the counter-reformation failed in England. What the reader may not know is why.

To that purpose, Fr. Hughes begins his study with the accession of Queen Mary and the appointment of Cardinal Reginald Pole to England as Cardinal Legate. Then he begins the study of how they refashioned the Church to be so strong that the episcopacy universally resisted Elizabeth. He also explores the condition of the average cleric, layman and other things from official documents and primary source texts.

In the next phase, he examines in detail the rise of Protestantism again under Elizabeth, and the projects of St. Pius V and Gregory XIII to help Englishmen depose Elizabeth. The importance of this study is that in the English Protestant historical tradition, Pius V and Gregory, along with the Jesuits and others, are accused of plotting the murder and assassination of Elizabeth. Fr. Hughes, by examining official papers, shows why this was not true, albeit also offering criticism of the official policy in these years. What he shows is that Rome never really had an accurate story on what was going on in England, and as a result committed many blunders in the period when the counter-reformation might have succeeded.

Following the scene to the eventual failure, Fr. Hughes also answers the pivotal questions: Were the English martyrs really traitors to the crown, as official history maintains? Were Cardinal Allen, the founder of Douay College, or Fr. Persons of the Jesuits, active tools of Spanish policy in England? Or did they rather believe the Spaniards would help the Catholic cause? Did St. Pius V try to assassinate Elizabeth?

In all this Fr. Hughes uses primary sources, letters, and reason to paint for us the picture of the counter-reformation’s failures. If one wants to know what Catholic action and life were like in England during the Marian Restoration and the Elizabethan imposition of Protestantism, this is the work. To top it off, Fr. Hughes adds information that is simply not available in print, such as what happened to Catholics in England under the reigns of the first Stewarts, James I and Charles I, and the breakup of Counter-Reformation unity over Episcopal oversight and other issues that fractured Catholic life in England until the restoration of the Hierarchy in the 19th century.

St. John Fisher by E.E. Reynolds

St. John Fisher: Reformer, Humanist, Martyr

by E.E. Reynolds
416 pages
6in x 9in
ISBN-10: 0692546774
Paperback

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Hardcover:

St. John Fisher: Reformer, Humanist, Martyr
E.E. Reynolds

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978-1-329-65587-4
403 pages

 

 

 

 

 

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This work, by E.E. Reynolds, is still one of the best resources for the life of St. John Fisher, being based entirely on primary sources. This is more of a work of history than of hagiography (e.g. the life of the same saint by McNabb was the reverse) carefully detailing the saint’s life from the sources, and his important role in the greatest moment of English history.

John Fisher’s times are remembered, but he is often not. While information on the Tudor period proliferates, with so many studies in art, architecture, power and other matters, there is scarcely a mention of John Fisher or his place in the struggles of those times

Even in Catholic circles, Thomas More has numerous books written about him, numerous centers devoted to his memory, while Fisher gets barely a remembrance. Yet, of the two great men, Fisher was the greater in the life and events of that time.

John Fisher was made a bishop by King Henry VII, solely due to his holiness, and Henry sought to remedy much evil he had done by making such a man a bishop. Fisher regularly preached to the people, in an age where many bishops scarcely preached one sermon in their lives. Fisher established the forerunner to the seminary system in St. John’s college Cambridge before it had that name. He traveled frequently in his diocese and visited the faithful in every manner of life. On top of being the most famous preacher in England, he became respected as the greatest theologian in Christendom, having written 5 books against Luther and his disciples while at the same time he was known as the holiest bishop in Christendom.

E.E. Reynolds’ work is history rather than Hagiography, bringing out these details carefully from official state archives, ambassadorial correspondence, letters and near contemporary biography. The work is a continuation of the work of earlier scholars, making use of more sources than were previously available.

In his introduction, Reynolds notes: “Father Thomas E. Bridgett’s Blessed John Fisher (1888) was the first full-scale biography to be based on a careful study of state papers; the result was a work that, once and for all, established the position and stature of John Fisher. When that book was published, Froude’s [James Anthony Froude] reputation was at its height; he had derided John Fisher as “a miserable old man”, and had scoffed at his “babbling tongue”. Not the least of Bridgett’s services was that he confuted Froude, not so much by argument, as by an accurate presentation of evidence taken from primary sources. He believed that “the best answer is the simple record of historic facts.”

Two generations have passed since this pioneer work; Bridgett was scrupulously careful not to go beyond the available evidence; since he wrote, other material has become accessible that strengthens the portrait given in Blessed John Fisher. The publication in Analecta Bollandiana (1891 and 1893) of Fr. Van Ortroy’s edition of the manuscript of the earliest life of John Fisher, was an event of first importance; this work of fine scholarship must be the basis of all study of John Fisher’s life. Fr. Bridgett was unaware of the existence of copies of three of John Fisher’s sermons—the one preached in 1525, and the two printed in 1532 by William Rastell. Nor does he seem to have examined the episcopal registers at Rochester.”

Reynolds makes use of all of this to bring further illustration to the only Cardinal Martyr in a must have for any historian of the Tudor period. A veritable antidote to Wolf Hall!

On the Roman Pontiff, by St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J.

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At long last, the very first translation of St. Robert Bellarmine’s masterpiece of a theological tract on the Papacy.

For the first time in history, St. Robert Bellarmine’s work, De Romano Pontifice, On the Roman Pontiff, has been translated and made available in English!
In this Theological treatise, St. Robert Bellarmine takes on Protestant as well as Greek Orthodox objections to the Papacy.
This Volume contains books 1 and 2, with 3-5 forthcoming in June. These two books take up two subjects:
First, that Christ established the Primacy of Peter by means of an Ecclesiastical Monarchy, which takes up subjects as diverse as: What is the best form of government? Why it is fitting the Church’s government should be a monarchy; Exegetical Commentary on the Lord’s words in Matthew 16 and John 21, along with copious Patristic testimony.
The second subject, which is taken up in Book 2, is whether Peter has successors in the Ecclesiastical Monarchy, wherein Bellarmine defends the Church’s position on: The true history of Peter; that Peter truly went to Rome; that Peter was truly a Bishop there; that upon his death he was succeeded by men in the Ecclesiastical monarchy, as well as its proof from the Fathers, then through all the refutations, Bellarmine asks what would happen if the Pope were a heretic.
This important work was foundational to the thought of the Council Fathers at Vatican I, where Bellarmine enjoyed as great a prestige as St. Thomas Aquinas at the Council of Trent.

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St. John Fisher by Vincent McNabb

StJohn_Fisher_McNabb_FrontSt. John Fisher
By Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P.121 pages

$10.00

Ebook [Coming Soon]

“DEAR reader! you are about to take part in
perhaps the greatest tragedy of an age that wrote Hamlet and Macbeth. Greater even than the writer’s part will be yours, the reader’s and hearer’s part. Only your hearing ear and your seeing eye will bring the tragedy to its own. But your seeing eye and hearing ear must first recognise that a greater than Hamlet or Macbeth is here. They are but splendid fiction. But the tragedy of the first and only Cardinal to receive the martyr’s crown is as real as the Yorkshire moors where John Fisher was born, or as Tower Hill where the Cardinal Bishop of Rochester was beheaded. Do not expect anything melodramatic or
miraculous in this tragedy of tragedies: all on the
hero’s side is as sober in colouring as the heather on a Yorkshire moor. All is as normal as the steadiness of the hills or the falling of flakes of snow.

Search as you may in the plain tale of this Yorkshireman who was spokesman of England’s faith and chivalry, you will find no gesture, no stir, no noise, but only a humble self-distrusting quest of the best. But, dear reader, in this outwardly emotionless love of God and men to see a tragedy beyond all telling or seeing will call from you the best of your mind and heart.”

From the Introduction

Fr. Vincent McNabb, O.P., a prolific Dominican known for his humility and preaching, takes advantage of the historical research of his contemporaries to weave the drama of St. John Fisher’s amazing life.

This is a short work, rather than a detailed historical analysis, that is both endlessly enjoyable as literature-even a work of art, yet at the same time pious and inspiring to faith. McNabb’s life of Fisher traces the saint’s early days from his childhood to his enrollment in Cambridge, his becoming a priest, a chaplain to Lady Margaret Beaufort, and at last, being appointed Bishop of Rochester, in which office he would be cruelly put to death by Henry VIII, the exemplar of tyrants.

Fisher is an important study for us today, not only because he died for the Catholic Faith, but also because he died for not believing as the monarch would have him believe. Henry VIII, in his quest to divorce his wife to marry his mistress, created the model of the Totalitarian state. Fisher is for us, a witness both of solid adherence to faith, as well as the courage to speak out when most others are content to get along.  The perfect antidote to Wolf Hall!