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Fortnight For Freedom: More and Fisher, Martyrs For the Catholic Church and Freedom

 

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

 

Forasmuch, my lord, as this indictment is grounded upon an act of Parliament directly oppugnant to the laws of God and his holy church, the supreme government of which, or of any part thereof, may no temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual preeminence by the mouth of our Savior himself, personally present upon the earth, to Saint Peter and his successors, bishops of the same see, by special prerogative granted; it is therefore in law amongst Christian men, insufficient to charge any Christian man….

Saint Thomas More, 1535

It is glorious that two men who were friends in life, who died within weeks of each other, executed by the State for upholding the freedom of the Catholic Church, share the feast day of June 22.  More and Fisher were martyrs for the freedom of the Catholic Church and also for the great truth that there are aspects of our lives that Caesar must no be allowed to control.

Saint Thomas More was considered an unworldly fool by many of the Machiavellian operators in the England of his time. They were right to a large extent. With ruthlessness and supple consciences they prevailed and Saint Thomas died a traitor’s death. And yet, almost five centuries later, the memory and example of Saint Thomas is honored the world over, and his foes are largely forgotten except by history nerds like me. Their creation, the Anglican Church, is on its way to the dustbin of history while the Catholic faith for which Saint Thomas went to the axe waxes ever greater on the global stage. Saint Thomas was superbly eloquent in life, and he has proven even more eloquent in death.

John Cardinal Fisher was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III in May of 1535, King Henry stopped the cardinal’s hat from being brought into England, bellowing that he would send Fisher’s head to the Pope.  Tried by a kangaroo court and convicted, the only testimony brought against him was by Richard Rich, a specialist in lying men to the headman’s block.  Fisher was condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.

A public outcry was brewing among the London populace who  saw a parallel between the judicial murder of Fisher and that of his namesake, Saint John the Baptist, who was executed by King Herod Antipas for challenging the validity of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. For fear of the mob King Henry commuted the sentence to that of beheading, to be accomplished before 23 June, the Vigil of the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Fisher’s martyrdom on Tower Hill on 22 June 1535, had the opposite effect from that which King Henry VIII intended as it created yet another parallel with St John the Baptist who was also beheaded; his death also happened on the feast day of Saint Alban, the first martyr of Britain.

Fisher met death with a courage which impressed those present.  Go here to view a superb recreation from the Tudor series. His body, on Henry’s orders, was stripped and left on the scaffold until the evening, when it was taken on pikes and thrown naked into a rough grave in the churchyard of All Hallows’ Barking. Two later, his body was laid, fittingly, beside that of Sir Thomas More in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. Fisher’s head was stuck upon a pole on London Bridge, but its lifelike appearance excited so much notice that, after a fortnight, it was thrown into the Thames, its place being taken by that of Sir Thomas More, whose martyrdom, also at Tower Hill, occurred on 6 July.

Tyrants can create Catholic martyrs, Caesar always being the master of imposing death, but it is beyond the power of the State to suppress truth, or liberty, forever.

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

2 Comments

  1. In this Fortnight of Religious Freedom which Catholics in America have begun [June 22, (memorial of Sts John Cardinal Fisher and Sir Thomas More) to July 4th, Independence Day] we need to remember the encroachments that have taken place over the last fifty years or so on religious freedom in America: transforming the First Amendment Clause into the protection of American society from “the Church” and relegating freedom of religion to a ‘mere’ ‘freedom of speech. This then gives rise to the translating of religious freedom into ‘merely’ ‘freedom of worship’

    However, as central as worship: leiturgia [Eucharistia] is for the Church, our religion has two other equally important aspects that are fundamental to our existence: kerygma-didache [proclamation-teaching] and diakonia (service). Our very nature as Church cannot be reduced to a ‘mere’ ‘freedom of worship’ nor can we separate love of God (worship) from love of neighbor (teaching and service). We, the Church are not a result of people choosing to be Catholic, but are the result of the love of God revealed in His sending of Jesus Christ into the world, the Word made flesh, the Sacrament of God, Who gave His life for His Bride the Church, washed her in the saving tide of His Blood in Baptism, and constantly gives Himself to her “This is My Body”, “This is My Blood”. We are ‘called out’ [ekklesia] of the world to be His Church which in turn is the primordial Sacrament of Salvation for the world. We therefore are a ‘community of response’, not choice. How can ‘freedom of religion’ then be reduced to ‘freedom of worship’?

    As in the time of Sts John Fisher and Thomas More, we are witnessing in our own country and throughout the Western World a vast politico-socio-cultural ‘revolution’ with vast religious ‘overtones’. New orthodoxies set up by new ruling elites are confronting Catholics daily at every level of society. New rulings have been made by the Chief Executive without Congress’ approval which are attempting to force the Church (which is more than her church buildings) to comply with funding activity which we do and have always considered to be immoral, from the beginning of the Church. Our sacramental practice is under threat in several areas [reducing baptism to nothing more than a naming ceremony with no faith or moral dimension; comments by a former President concerning our sacrament of Holy Orders, and the raising of the question by White House reps during Supreme Court hearings; finally of course the continued pressure to comply with the irrational (reason tells us marriage is between man and woman) redefinition of marriage]. Even in the aspects of teaching (education) and service, our religion has been under pressure and even attack. How many dioceses have been forced to end all adoptions (our very pro-life message) because we will not place orphans within same sex households? Our Catholic schools from Pre-K thru the Universities are under assault precisely if they dare to identify as Catholic rather than comply to the socio-political orthodoxies of the day.

    Most troubling however, is the vast political-social revolution in our country which has taken up a “New Reformation”: no longer the dissenting “Protestant” against the Catholic Church’s power, but instead, purposefully attempting to transform this country and its heritage from one based on Judaeo-Christian values etc to one which is totally secularist-thinking, acting, living ‘as if God does not exist’. Since ‘man’ is created in ‘the image of God’ what WILL become of ‘man’ when God is so eclipsed?

    During this Fortnight of Freedom we also remember the countless Christians who are experiencing even worse condition in their countries of origins, experiencing great alienation, oppression and even persecution and martyrdom. Here we are witnessing the ecumenism of the martyrs. Those who are persecuting Christians do not discriminate whether one is a Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant-they are being persecuted as Christians. And their blood cries out from the sands of the Middle East and the rain forests and savannahs of Africa and Asia. Nor can we forget the Christians in China. Attempting to control every aspect of Chinese life from the moment of conception until death, the government there even seeks to control the Catholic Church through its puppet, the Patriotic Catholic Church. China has and will fail. China will become the most Christian country by 2030

    The guards are still watching over an empty tomb. They just don’t get it!

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