King Henry VIII
Where are now the kings and princes that once reigned over all the world, whose glory and triumph were lifted up above the earth? Where are now the innumerable company and power of Xerxes and Caesar? Where are the great victories of Alexander and Pompey? Where are now the great riches of Croesus and Crassus? But what shall we say of those who once were kings and governors of this realm? Where are they now whom we have known and seen in our days in such great wealth and glory that it was thought by many they would never have died, never have been forgotten? They had all their pleasures at the full, both of delicious and good fare, of hawking, hunting, also of excellent horses and stallions, greyhounds and hounds for their entertainment, their palaces well and richly furnished, strongholds and towns without number. They had a great plenty of gold and silver, many servants, fine apparel for themselves and their lodgings. They had the power of the law to proscribe, to punish, to exalt and set forward their friends and loved ones, to put down and make low their enemies, and also to punish by temporal death rebels and traitors. Every man held with them, all were at their command. Every man was obedient to them, feared them, also honored and praised them, everywhere now? Are they not gone and wasted like smoke? Of them it is written in another place, mox ut honorificati fuerint et exaltati, dificientes quemadmodum fumus deficient (when they were in their utmost prosperity and fame, they soon failed and came to nothing, even as smoke does) (Ps. 36:2). St. James compares the vanity of this life to a vapor, and he says it shall perish and wither away as a flower in the hay season. (James 4:15).
Saint John Fisher
Lent is a grand time to confront evil, both that evil which stains our souls, and the evil external to us. Throughout the history of the Church there have been saints who risked all to bravely confront the popular evils of their time. This Lent on each Sunday we will be looking at some of those saints. We began with Saint Athanasius. Go here to read about him. This week we will look at Saint John Fisher.
When he ascended to the throne of England Henry VIII was popularly known as the Golden Hope of England. His father Henry VII had never been loved by the people of England: a miser and a distinctly unheroic figure no matter what Shakespeare would write in Richard III. He had brought the end of the War of the Roses and peace to England, but that was about as much credit as his subjects would give the grasping, unlovable Henry Tudor. His son by contrast looked like an Adonis when young, strong and athletic. He had a sharp mind and had been well-educated, intended, ironically, for a career in the Church before the death of his elder brother Arthur. He was reputed, correctly, to be pious. He had considerable charisma in his youth and knew how to make himself loved with a well timed laugh or smile, and loved he was, by the nobles, commons, his wife Katherine, and the Church. Few reigns started more auspiciously than that of Henry, eighth of that name.
By the end of his reign he was widely despised by most his subjects. Called a crowned monster behind his back, his reign had brought religious turmoil to England and domestic strife. The best known symbols of his reign were the headman’s axe, the stake and the boiling pot in which he had some of the luckless individuals who roused his fury boiled to death.
It of course is small wonder for a Catholic to have little love for Henry VIII and his reign, but the distaste for Henry extends well beyond members of the Church. Winston Churchill, the great English statesman and historian, in his magisterial History of the English Speaking Peoples, has this to say about the executions of Saint Thomas More and Saint John Fisher:
“The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a heroic stand. They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom. They saw that the break with Rome carried with it the risk of a despotism freed from every fetter. More stood forth as the defender of all that was finest in the medieval outlook. He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values, and its instinctive sense of otherworldliness. Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.”
Churchill himself was not noted for being a churchgoer. When asked if he was a pillar of the Church of England, he quipped that perhaps he could be considered to be a flying butress of the Church, supporting it from outside. Perhaps this helped give him a certain objectivity regarding Henry VIII. Here is part of his summing up of Henry’s reign:
“Henry’s rule saw many advances in the growth and the character of the English state, but it is a hideous blot upon his record that the reign should be widely remembered for its executions. Two Queens, two of the King’s chief Ministers, a saintly bishop, numerous abbots, monks and many ordinary folk who dared to resist the royal will were put to death. Almost every member of the nobility in whom royal blood ran perished on the scaffold at Henry’s command. Roman Catholic and Calvinist alike were burnt for heresy and religious treason. These persecutions, inflicted in solemn manner by officers of the law, perhaps in the presence of the Council or even the King himself, form a brutal seqeul to the bright promise of the Renaissance. The sufferings of devout men and women among the faggots, the use of torture, and the savage penalties imposed for even paltry crimes, stand in repellant contrast to the enlightened principles of humanism.”
Born in 1469, John Fisher was noted for his great learning, the austerity of his life and his piety. He was made Bishop of Rochester, the poorest diocese in England, at the personal insistence of Henry VIII in 1504. Usually this was a stepping stone to ecclesiastical preferment, but Fisher stayed there for 31 years, doubtless because he had the courage to oppose the King whenever he was wrong, and so he did when Henry attempted to divorce Queen Katherine and when he broke with Rome. Fisher made a strange champion to stand against a King. He was noted as a scholar throughout Europe, a man of exceeding mildness and friendliness and someone clearly made for peace and contemplation and not for turmoil and strife in public life. However for truth and the Faith Fisher was willing to stand virtually alone with a handful of others, including Saint Thomas More, against his terrifying Sovereign.
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. Continue reading
In Britain, the Triumph of Pope Benedict XVI And the English Martyrs and the Tragedy of Those Who Would Not Listen To Them
It seemed unfathomable, even a few short years ago; an aging German pope arriving in Britain to the cheers and rapt attention of many, all this while his detractors were dismissed as everything that is wrong with Britain and the modern world. Saint Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and the rest of the English martyrs must be smiling in heaven. The English martyrs, like the well known (like Sir Thomas) and the unsung Saint Margaret Clitherow found their views more often than not supported by the rank and file. However, the same rank and file didn’t have the courage to make the stand as did these courageous men and women who were martyred. Though Catholicism was widely practiced, the fear of blood thirsty king, left many too weak to fight the good fight. (If you don’t believe this, read Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars.)
Yet, the truth will either set you free or convict you of false witness. It was the brutal King Henry VIII, who left Catholicism because Pope Innocent III wouldn’t give him a divorce. The king later had two of his wives beheaded, a rather odd sort of person to start a church, but start a church he did. Starting in 1534 Catholics would be killed and a legal Catholic Mass wasn’t allowed to be celebrated in Britain, or conquered Ireland, for nearly 300 years. The creation of King Henry the Anglican Church would reach the far flung corners of the mighty British Empire. As recent as fifty years ago, the Anglican Church in Britain had one of the highest rates of church attendance in the western world. Her teachings were mirrored by the life of those CS Lewis. Fifty years later, her teachings are mirrored by the likes of Elton John. However, to be fair to Sir Elton, even he is to the right of the Anglican Church on matters like welcoming Islamic Sharia Law to Britain as the spiritual leader of the Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams recently did.
The Catholic Church has been derided and mocked by the mainstream media for some time. One might think that with all of this and the horrible Abuse Scandal within the Church; it would be the Catholic Church that would be withering and not the liberal Anglican Church, who is modeling the whims of the modern world. Yet, the Catholic Church continues to grow and even rapidly so in Africa and Asia (Christ told us this would be so Matthew 16:15-20.) The faithful aren’t as ignorant as the militant secularists would like to believe. The religious faithful of all stripes are beginning to clearly understand what Pope Benedict XVI is saying about the dangers of the Dictatorship of Relativism. It cannot work, as Jesus reminded us; we cannot serve two masters. Sadly that is what modern Anglicanism and liberal Christianity has tried to do. The results have been disastrous.
Many in the mainstream media have failed to see the obvious concerning Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the United Kingdom, the truth of the Catholic Church has won out. The Pope of Christian Unity (as he is often called by the blogging Father Z) is reaching out to serious minded Christians. The Holy Father is asking them to unite as they once were under the leadership of the Successor of Saint Peter. Now I realize Pope John Paul II went to the UK, but the Anglican Church is in a far more dilapidated condition than it was then. In addition, I am aware that many in the United Kingdom, and Western Europe for that matter, have little to do with religious matters, but the same could be said in the early days of the Roman Empire. Against all odds, three centuries later Catholicism would be the dominant faith. It can happen again.
The Holy Father is about to beatify John Cardinal Henry Newman. He was a towering figure in the 19th century state run Anglican Church. He came to the Catholic Church and gave us this memorable quote; To go deep into history is to cease to be Protestant. I am not bringing this up in the spirit of triumphalism but in the spirit of truth. Christ promised us that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, and though it has been through many rough patches (we are currently in one) the truth is winning out. (Matthew 16:15-20.)