Monday, June 21, 2010

June 22nd: Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher

In 1534, Henry VIII of England locked John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, and Sir Thomas More, former Chancellor of England, in the Tower of London for their opposition to his seizure of control over the Church in England. After 14 months of imprisonment, Fisher knelt down for the last time -- not before the tabernacle, but before the executioner's block on Tower Hill, Tyburn. Pope Paul III had created Fisher a cardinal during his imprisonment in the hope that Henry would deal leniently with him.  But this time, the red had that symbolizes a cardinal's willingness to undergo martyrdom was more than a symbol: Henry forbade the hat to to be brought into England, undertaking instead to send Fisher's head to Rome.  The head fell on June 22, 1535.  Two weeks later, Sir Thomas followed his friend to the block.  Exactly four centuries elapsed before the pair was raised to the altar by Pope Pius XI, with a shared feast day.

In his Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, set in Hungary on the eve of the Turkish invasion, and written in the Tower of London, St. Thomas More has this to say on the subject of martyrdom, for which he himself had not long to wait:
When we feel ourselves too bold, let us remember our own feebleness, and when we feel ourselves too faint, let us remember Christ's strength.  In our fear, let us remember Christ's painful agony -- that agony which for our encouragement He suffered before His Passion, to the intent that no fear should make us despair -- and let us ever call for His help, such as He Himself is pleased to send us.  Then we need never doubt but that either He will keep us from that painful death, or else He will not fail so to strengthen us in it that He will joyously bring us to heaven by it -- in which case He does much more for us than if He kept us from it.  God did, after all, do more for poor Lazarus by helping him to die patiently of hunger at the rich man's door than if He had brought to him at the door all the rich glutton's dinner.  So though He is gracious to a person whom He delivers out of painful trouble, He ye does much more for a person if through a right painful death He delivers them from this wretched world into eternal bliss....

I think, indeed, that almost every good Christian would be very glad today to have been cruelly killed yesterday for Christ's faith -- and glad simply for desire of heaven, even if there were no hell.  The problem is the fear while the pain is coming; that's what really holds us back.  But if we would at that time remember the hell pain that lies on the other side, that pain into which we would fall by fleeing from this one, then this short pain would be no hindrance at all.  And if we were full of faith, we would be spurred on even more by a deep consideration of the joys of heaven.  As Saint Paul says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" [Romans 8:18].      


  1. Thanks SO much for the reminder! Ever since I found out about St. Thomas and St. John, I have been very fond of them.

    In 1964 or so, I had seen four of the five movies up for best picture, and when the one I hadn't seen got the award, I decided I had to see it. Of course it was "A Man For All Seasons," with Paul Scofield. I bought the script and read it over many times (Bolt's prediction about the future of the live theater has come true, by the way). In the fall of 1968, the play was produced by the University of Minnesota Theatre at Scott Hall, and I worked on the costume crew; part of my job was to make the two chains of office. (I believe another version of the movie was made, but I have never seen it.)

    They're truly heroes for our times - martyrs to Henry VIII's version of Political Correctness - and I pray they will give me - and all of us - their strength of character to stand against the tide.

  2. Thank you, Bob. A Man for All Seasons is a great movie, and Paul Scofield was a great actor. I've never seen a stage production of A Man for All Seasons, but Scofield would be a really tough act to follow. (And Leo McKern would be a tough act to follow as Cromwell.)

    Incidentally, when I went to attend the TLM in honor of St. Thomas More today, I found that June 22 is not in fact his feast day according to the old calendar, so I guess that's a correction to my statement in the post about the pair of these saints sharing a feast day as of 1935.

  3. Speaking of Leo McKern, I always liked his character in, an English series, Rumpole of the Bailey. Have just seen (probably) less than 10 episodes over the years... on PBS, I think. What I found appealing about the character, and McKern as an actor, was that world weariness that emanated from him.

  4. What great examples for our time!
    I love the English Martyrs (and Welsh, Irish, and Scots)...such important figures for us in this time of secular godlessness...Jesus and His Church, always!

  5. Father, a couple of years ago, I posted on the coincidence that some of the English Martyrs, including Bl. Margaret Pole, were put to death on the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Apostle of the English who brought to England the Faith for which they gave their lives. (I think his feast has shifted a little down the centuries, but that doesn't damage the coincidence, in my opinion.)

  6. I made a comment here the other day about Leo McKern, but it was not posted, so I assume it got lost in the ether, or else I have been banned from this blog.

    So I'll give it another go....

    Just said (to the effect) that I liked Leo McKern as an actor, for his role in Rumpole of the Bailey , particularly the world weariness aspect of his character in that role.

  7. Sorry, TH2! It just got temporarily lost in the shuffle. I thought I had posted all incoming comments via email, but somehow missed that one.

    I LOVE Rumpole of the Bailey. I grew up watching it on PBS, which of course led me to read the stories. And I own the last two series on DVD. Leo McKern was a great actor.

  8. No probs. Why am I not surprised that you enjoy that program. Did not know there were books too.

    I am reading (now) the books based on L.A. Law . Exhilarating. Next up... Ally McBeal

  9. The Rumpole short stories are excellent. There are a few novel-length ones, too.

    And speaking of short stories by English writers, another big favorite of mine is Sherlock Holmes. I have the complete stories, including the novels.

  10. I admit ignorance regarding the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I should make an effort to read them. However (getting back to actors), I think that Jeremy Brett (ca. 1980s) brilliantly portrayed Holmes (at least, how I perceive/assume the character to be, without reading the books).

    With respect to mystery/intrigue (and even science fiction) I also confess an immense liking for your fellow countryman, Edgar Allan Poe. I really enjoyed The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket What a story! His only full-length novel. Have not read it in years. Should do so again. I also enjoyed Poe's The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall . My favourite line, after landing on the moon and commenting upon its inhabitants: "I tumbled headlong into the very heart of a fantastical–looking city, and into the middle of a vast crowd..., who none of them uttered a single syllable, or gave themselves the least trouble to render me assistance, but stood, like a parcel of idiots, grinning in a ludicrous manner, and eyeing me… with their arms set a–kimbo.”

    I love it!

  11. Yep, Jeremy Brett is also my favorite portrayer of Sherlock Holmes. I thought Edward Hardwicke made a pretty good Watson, too.

    Haven't read a lot of Poe. I found him depressing in high school. Then again, there were things I hated in high school that I appreciated later in life, so maybe I ought to give Poe another chance.