Saints John Fisher and Thomas More

I feel a sense of connectedness to these two saints that I don’t feel to many others of the period. First, there is Fisher: a Cambridge man of course, of ascetic mind and temper, but fond of his sister (a nun) and capable of gentle humour. The cane he used on his walk to the scaffold is kept over the way at Hendred House, and when I first held it I was struck by how small he must have been. Somehow, one always expects giants of the faith to be giants physically. Then there is More, with his quicksilver mind and delight in his family, a more complex character than Fisher. His drinking cup is kept at Hendred House as a family relic, but we claim a small association of our own as the community at Cambrai from which we are ultimately descended had among its founders D. Gertrude (Helen) More, his great-great-granddaughter.

Today, many claim Fisher and More as their own, ignoring the inconvenient truth that they died upholding the primacy of Rome over the English Church. It is a sobering thought that these two saints were clear where we are often confused. They challenge us today, not least in their understanding of the universalism of the Church. May Saints John and Thomas pray for us all.

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8 thoughts on “Saints John Fisher and Thomas More”

  1. I struggle with Thomas More. He upheld the primacy of the catholic church by arresting, sometimes torturing and executing people who had done nothing more than encourage the reading of the Bible. Obviously he was a man of his time and we shouldn’t judge him by standards and conventions of the 21st century, but I just can’t see how he provides an example to be admired.

  2. Well, More himself was quite keen that people should read the scriptures and in as authentic a text as possible, but I see your difficulty, Andy. During the Tudor period many, on both sides of the religious divide, took Augustine’s ‘compelle intrare’ notion as justifying the imprisonment, torture and death of those who believed differently because they understood it as being for the good of others. We don’t think like that today, and you need not fear my rushing round the village with a meat cleaver shouting, “Extra ecclesia nulla salus est!’ But I am a Catholic, I am aware of the sacrifices made by my recusant ancestors to hold fast to the faith when it would have been so much easier to conform, and being a complete wimp myself, I do admire the courage of those prepared to die rather than assent to something they do not believe to be right. More in the Tower is more attractive than More the controversialist and, yes, I do find him admirable. To be brave oneself is one thing, but to know one risks also one’s family suggests a conviction and a courage I can only marvel at.

    • No, we cannot judge the Tudors by the standards and mores of today. It is easy to condemn them but they lived by their own lights – the lights of the time.

      My way of thinking about it is that the good Lord loves us so much that he gives us free will to choose how to workship. And thus, who are we to compel others to our own beliefs. Faith is a gift and, as such, should surely not be forced on anyone. But maybe we have come to far in the opposite direction. I do not know and certainly do not claim to know the mind of the Lord. He is surely powerful enough to compel us all to be Catholic but, instead, has allowed us to have free will out of love for us.

  3. Well, you were included in my homily today as I celebrated Mass for these two Saints with whom I have a connection only through Hendred House. To hold the staff and tankard belonging to each of these men really was a Spiritual experience. I do hope I may be able to be reunited with them in August when I will come for a little visit (D.v.).

    I think that we can be inspired by all sorts of people who would have been, well ‘challenging’ to love were we their contemporaries. I am a CofE priest of the Catholic tradition and we have to give great thanks for the influence of these saints and many others over the ages who, though rejected and persecuted by the establishment, left an indelible mark on the CofE.

    Oh that we may be one as soon as possible; may I always work to make it so…

  4. Deborah, Most people who allied themselves with the powerful during this period of history were implicated in torture and barbarism to a greater or lesser extent. More was no exception. I’m not judging, I just find it hard to see people like More as examples because despite his courage in the tower, he was a man of his time.

    I’m a catholic too, but I can’t help being more drawn to the example Tyndale than to More. Tyndale was also a martyr to his faith, and arguably the faith of Tyndale has more in common with modern catholic teaching and practice than that of More. But strangely, More, the person who had Tyndale executed for a controversial translation of the Bible and for condemning the divorce of Henry VIII is the person we venerate today. One of those mysteries of The Faith that I don’t really understand….

    • Hi Andy, I think it might be wise to point out that you are, as far as I know, a member of the Church of England. Otherwise your comments about Tyndale and More are going to risk being misunderstood.

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