Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Now HERE'S a bishop!

Today is the Feast day of both St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.

Now, everyone knows the story of Thomas More. A brilliant scholar and author, he rose rapidly under King Henry VIII's favor to become chancellor of England. After Henry developed a lust for the young (and fertile) Anne Boleyn, he attempted to obtain an annulment from his middle-aged and now barren wife, Catherine of Aragon. The Pope refused to grant the annulment; the king therefore decided to break from Rome and declare himself the head of the "Church of England." This new church would divorce him from Catherine, marry him to Anne, and over the years assist him in his many other divorces and remarriages. Thomas More could not, in conscience, agree with this act, and resigned.

Although (as with many of Henry's marriages) his liaison with Anne was destined to end in a beheading, in the heady days of Henry's schism, he wanted to make sure that any children resulting from the union would be considered the "true" heirs to the throne, as opposed to the daughter, Mary, he had with Catherine. He also wanted to make sure all of his subjects would submit to him as head of the new church. Therefore, he ordered that all Englishmen swear an oath accepting the "Act of Succession."

Among those who refused to swear the oath were Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, and Mary. Henry intended to have his eighteen-year-old daughter killed, but was dissuaded; he did in fact have Thomas More and John Fisher executed. What makes John Fisher's case particularly tragic was that he was the lone bishop in all of England who remained faithful to the Church and did not stab the Holy Father in the back.

All the rest showed a horrible tendency to alter their creed depending on what was convenient and caused them the least trouble. Sound familiar? We need more bishops like John Fisher and less like Thomas Cranmer, who was once upon a time the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury; in his pursuit of power, he betrayed the Church and decided to help Henry with his split. In the process, he managed to really gut the Anglican sacramental system. Cranmer hated the sacraments, and so he saw no need to ensure a sacramentally valid priesthood. Unfortunately, we have many cowards in the Catholic episcopate who are often too afraid of getting into trouble or being politically incorrect. Unlike John Fisher, they are not brave enough to stand up for the truth. I guess I should be more charitable and simply say that they are weak men. The way all of us are weak.

Now, any day is a great day to duel with a Cafeteria Catholic, and especially the feast days of martyrs, and even more especially the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher! Thomas More is not the patron saint of politicians for no reason. His story is the perfect antidote to an attack of wish-washy-itis.

Case in point: One of my favorite movies is A Man for All Seasons, which was made in 1966 with Paul Scofield. This is one of the rare times when I and the Academy agree, as that year's Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and others all went to this movie. One of my favorite lines in the film comes when More is talking to Cardinal Wolsey, who is trying to get him to ignore his conscience and apply pressure to Rome to grant the annulment, for the sake of keeping stability for England. St. Thomas replies thus:
I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.
I'd love to tell that to ... Ahem ... John Kerry or any other limp-wristed pol who calls himself a Catholic and says that "I'm personally opposed to abortion/euthanasia/gay marriage/etc, but I can't use my own private conscience to impose laws on people."

My other favorite bit is in the last scene, when the following lines are exchanged:
Sir Thomas More: I am commanded by the king to be brief, and since I am the king's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die His Majesty's good servant, but God's first.

[to executioner, handing him his wages] I forgive you, right readily. Be not afraid of your office: you send me to God.

Archbishop Cranmer: You're very sure of that, Sir Thomas?

Sir Thomas More: He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to Him.

St. Thomas More, ora pro nobis; St. John Fisher, ora pro nobis.


  1. Woah, too much history class. :brain explodes:

    ;) ;)

  2. Much Thomas More-ing going on in your and Betsy's blogs right now... Random observation, lol.