Saint John Fisher





A good man is not a perfect man but a good man honest, faithful and unhesitatingly responsive to the voice of God in his life.


Saint John Fisher was a Catholic Bishop, Cardinal and Theologian who was martyred by order of Henry VIII during the English Reformation.









Saint John Fisher was born on October 19th, 1469 in Beverley, Yorkshire. His father was Robert Fisher a prosperous merchant but tragically died only eight years after Saint John's birth. His mother did go on to remarry and by most accounts Saint John Fisher seemed to have a positive relationship with his extended family and with his step father, William White. After an early education at the collegiate church in Yorkshire he entered studies at the University of Cambridge in 1484.


After earning a Bachelor of Ars degree in 1487 he completed a Master of Arts degree in 1491 and received a Papal disposition to enter the priesthood as he was under the canonical age at the time. His formal ordination came on December 17th, 1491 an important year for him as he was also elected as a fellow of the college. In 1494 he became Master Debater of the college and chaplain and confessor to the Countess of Richmond and Derby (Mother of King Henry VII) Margaret Beaufort. He rapidly moved upwards in the academic ranks - on July 5th, 1501 he became a doctor of sacred theology and only 10 days afterwards was elected Vice-Chancellor of the University. Lady Margaret, following his advice, founded Saint John's and Christ's Colleges at Cambridge and a Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity at both Cambridge and Oxford. Saint John Fisher gathered and assembled funds and attracted scholars from throughout Europe, placing great weight upon them for pastoral commitments.


On October 14th, 1504, Saint John Fisher was appointed as the Bishop of Rochester. This position was generally seen as a first step in an ecclesiastical career as it was the poorest diocese in England. He also began serving as tutor to the future king, Henry VIII. For both King Henry VII and Lady Margaret Saint John preached the funeral orations. As King Henry VIII took the throne, conflict began between the tutor and former student almost immediately over funds left by Lady Margaret for financing foundations at Cambridge. Saint John was nominated in 1512 to be one of the English representatives at the Fifth Council of Lateran but he was never able to make the journey to Rome. He wrote the Defense of the Seven Sacraments in 1521, a treatise against Martin Luther that won the title Defender of the Faith for King Henry VIII.


Trouble between the Bishop and King exploded when King Henry tried to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon. Saint John became the Queen's chief supporter and appeared on her behalf in the legates court where he passionately argued that he was willing to die like Saint John the Baptist for the indissolubility of marriage. Henry exploded in rage and wrote a letter in Latin to the legates - Saint John kept a copy and left notes in the margins describing how little he feared the King's anger.


In November of 1529, King Henry's Long Parliament began the terrible road of persecution against the Catholic Church. Saint John attempted to travel with the Bishops of Bath and Ely to Rome to appeal to the Pope. The three Bishops were arrested by King Henry and all such appeals were immediately forbidden. The Bishops were eventually pardoned but were forced to pay 100,000 pounds for such a royal pardon. In May of 1532, Sir Thomas More resigned the chancellorship. A few months later, in August, King Henry proposed Thomas Cranmer be made Archbishop of Canterbury and in January the King married Anne Boleyn. In March of 1533 Thomas Cranmer was consecrated - a week later Saint John Fisher was arrested. He was quickly pardoned but the cause was clear - his arrest meant he could not oppose the sentence of divorce Cranmer pronounced nor oppose the coronation of Anne Boleyn.


The First Succession Act was passed in 1534 - the Act demanded that all who were called upon were to take an oath of succession acknowledging that Henry and Anne were legitimate heirs to the throne. When he refused, Saint John was arrested and placed in the tower of London for over a year. In hopes of inducing the king to ease Saint John's treatment, Pope Paul III created Saint John Cardinal Priest of San Vitale in May of 1535. Instead of calming matters, this cardinalate only enraged the King as he forbade the cardinal's hat to be brought to England (and threatened to send his head to Rome instead). On Thursday June 17th Saint John was arraigned in Westminster Hall before a court of seventeen (including Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn's father and 10 justices). The charge was treason (as he refused to acknowledge the King as the rightful head of the Church of England) and he was condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered.


King Henry commuted the sentence to that of beheading and ordered it to be carried out before the Vigil of the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Saint John was executed on June 22nd, 1535. This date not only drew parallels to Saint John the Baptist for the circumstances but also because June 22nd is the feast of Saint Alban, the first martyr of Britain.


Pope Leo XIII beatified Saint John Fisher alongside Saint Thomas More and 52 other English Martyrs on December 29th, 1886. He and Saint Thomas More were formally canonized on May 19th, 1935 by Pope Pius XI and his feast day set for June 22nd.


10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All