Store up treasure for yourselves in heaven
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and woodworms destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworms destroy them and thieves cannot break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
‘The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!’
The New American Bible
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Tenth Commandment
You shall not covet . . . anything that is your neighbor’s. . . . You shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
2534 The tenth commandment unfolds and completes the ninth, which is concerned with concupiscence of the flesh. It forbids coveting the goods of another, as the root of theft, robbery, and fraud, which the seventh commandment forbids. “Lust of the eyes” leads to the violence and injustice forbidden by the fifth commandment. Avarice, like fornication, originates in the idolatry prohibited by the first three prescriptions of the Law. The tenth commandment concerns the intentions of the heart; with the ninth, it summarizes all the precepts of the Law.
The Disorder Of Covetous Desires
2535 The sensitive appetite leads us to desire pleasant things we do not have, e.g., the desire to eat when we are hungry or to warm ourselves when we are cold. These desires are good in themselves; but often they exceed the limits of reason and drive us to covet unjustly what is not ours and belongs to another or is owed to him.
2536 The tenth commandment forbids greed and the desire to amass earthly goods without limit. It forbids avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power. It also forbids the desire to commit injustice by harming our neighbor in his temporal goods:
When the Law says, “You shall not covet,” these words mean that we should banish our desires for whatever does not belong to us. Our thirst for another’s goods is immense, infinite, never quenched. Thus it is written: “He who loves money never has money enough.”
2537 It is not a violation of this commandment to desire to obtain things that belong to one’s neighbor, provided this is done by just means. Traditional catechesis realistically mentions “those who have a harder struggle against their criminal desires” and so who “must be urged the more to keep this commandment”:
. . . merchants who desire scarcity and rising prices, who cannot bear not to be the only ones buying and selling so that they themselves can sell more dearly and buy more cheaply; those who hope that their peers will be impoverished, in order to realize a profit either by selling to them or buying from them . . . physicians who wish disease to spread; lawyers who are eager for many important cases and trials.
2538 The tenth commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart. When the prophet Nathan wanted to spur King David to repentance, he told him the story about the poor man who had only one ewe lamb that he treated like his own daughter and the rich man who, despite the great number of his flocks, envied the poor man and ended by stealing his lamb. Envy can lead to the worst crimes. “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world”:
We fight one another, and envy arms us against one another. . . . If everyone strives to unsettle the Body of Christ, where shall we end up? We are engaged in making Christ’s Body a corpse. . . . We declare ourselves members of one and the same organism, yet we devour one another like beasts.
2539 Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin:
St. Augustine saw envy as “the diabolical sin.” “From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.”
2540 Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility:
Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised.
The Desires Of The Spirit
2541 The economy of law and grace turns men’s hearts away from avarice and envy. It initiates them into desire for the Sovereign Good; it instructs them in the desires of the Holy Spirit who satisfies man’s heart.
The God of the promises always warned man against seduction by what from the beginning has seemed “good for food . . . a delight to the eyes . . . to be desired to make one wise.”
2542 The Law entrusted to Israel never sufficed to justify those subject to it; it even became the instrument of “lust.” The gap between wanting and doing points to the conflict between God’s Law which is the “law of my mind,” and another law “making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.”
2543 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Henceforth, Christ’s faithful “have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires”; they are led by the Spirit and follow the desires of the Spirit.
Poverty Of Heart
2544 Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them “renounce all that [they have]” for his sake and that of the Gospel. Shortly before his passion he gave them the example of the poor widow of Jerusalem who, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on. The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.
2545 All Christ’s faithful are to “direct their affections rightly, lest they be hindered in their pursuit of perfect charity by the use of worldly things and by an adherence to riches which is contrary to the spirit of evangelical poverty.”
2546 “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, to whom the Kingdom already belongs:
The Word speaks of voluntary humility as “poverty in spirit”; the Apostle gives an example of God’s poverty when he says: “For your sakes he became poor.”
2547 The Lord grieves over the rich, because they find their consolation in the abundance of goods. “Let the proud seek and love earthly kingdoms, but blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Abandonment to the providence of the Father in heaven frees us from anxiety about tomorrow. Trust in God is a preparation for the blessedness of the poor. They shall see God.
“I Want To See God”
2548 Desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the goods of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. “The promise [of seeing God] surpasses all beatitude. . . . In Scripture, to see is to possess. . . . Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive.”
2549 It remains for the holy people to struggle, with grace from on high, to obtain the good things God promises. In order to possess and contemplate God, Christ’s faithful mortify their cravings and, with the grace of God, prevail over the seductions of pleasure and power.
2550 On this way of perfection, the Spirit and the Bride call whoever hears them to perfect communion with God:
There will true glory be, where no one will be praised by mistake or flattery; true honor will not be refused to the worthy, nor granted to the unworthy; likewise, no one unworthy will pretend to be worthy, where only those who are worthy will be admitted. There true peace will reign, where no one will experience opposition either from self or others. God himself will be virtue’s reward; he gives virtue and has promised to give himself as the best and greatest reward that could exist. . . . “I shall be their God and they will be my people. . . . ” This is also the meaning of the Apostle’s words: “So that God may be all in all.” God himself will be the goal of our desires; we shall contemplate him without end, love him without surfeit, praise him without weariness. This gift, this state, this act, like eternal life itself, will assuredly be common to all.
Go up, Lord, to the place of your rest!
At Ephrata we heard of the ark;
we found it in the plains of Yearim.
‘Let us go to the place of his dwelling;
let us go to kneel at his footstool.’
Go up, Lord, to the place of your rest!
Go up, Lord, to the place of your rest,
you and the ark of your strength.
Your priests shall be clothed with holiness;
your faithful shall ring out their joy.
For the sake of David your servant
do not reject your anointed.
Go up, Lord, to the place of your rest!
Source: Jerusalem Bible
Paulinus of Nola (Italian: Paolino di Nola; c. 354 – June 22, ad 431), born Pontius Meropius Anicius Paulinus, was a Roman poet, writer, and senator who attained the ranks of suffect consul (c. 377) and governor of Campania (c. 380–1) but—following the assassination of the emperor Gratian and under the influence of his Spanish wife Therasia—abandoned his career, was baptized as a Christian, and (after Therasia’s death) became bishop of Nola in Campania. While there, he wrote poems in honor of his predecessor St Felix and corresponded with other Christian leaders throughout the empire. He is traditionally credited with the introduction of bells to Christian worship and helped resolve the disputed election of Pope Boniface I.
His renunciation of his wealth and station in favor of an ascetic and philanthropic life was held up as an example by many of his contemporaries—including SS Augustine, Jerome, Martin, and Ambrose—and he was subsequently venerated as a saint. His relics became a focus of pilgrimage, but were removed from Nola between the 11th and 20th centuries. His feast day is observed on June 22 in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. In Nola, the entire week around his feast day is celebrated as the Festival of the Lilies.
Pontius Meropius Paulinus was born c. 352 at Bordeaux, in southwestern France. He was from a notable senatorial family with estates in the Aquitaine province of France, northern Spain, and southern Italy. Paulinus was a kinsman of Melania the Elder. He was educated in Bordeaux, where his teacher, the poet Ausonius, also became his friend. At some time during his boyhood he made a visit to the shrine of St Felix at Nola near Naples.
His normal career as a young member of the senatorial class did not last long. In 375, the Emperor Gratian succeeded his father Valentinian. Gratian made Paulinus suffect consul at Rome c. 377, and appointed him governor of the southern Italian province of Campania c. 380. Paulinus noted the Campanians’ devotion to Saint Felix of Nola and build a road for pilgrims, as well as a hospice for the poor near the local shrine.
In 383 Gratian was assassinated at Lyon, France, and Paulinus went to Milan to attend the school of Ambrose. Around 384 he returned to Bordeaux. There he married Therasia, a Christian noblewoman from Barcelona. Paulinus was threatened with the charge of having murdered his brother. It is possible that an attempt was made to accuse him in order to confiscate his property. He was baptized by Bishop Delphinus of Bordeaux. He and his wife traveled to Spain about 390. When they lost their only child eight days after birth they decided to withdraw from the world, and live a secluded religious life.
In 393 or 394, after some resistance from Paulinus, he was ordained a presbyter on Christmas day by Lampius, Bishop of Barcelona. (This was similar to what had happened with St. Augustine of Hippo, who had been ordained against his protestations in the year 391 at the behest of a crowd cooperating with Bishop Valerius in the north African city of Hippo Regius.) However, there is some debate as to whether the ordination was canonical, since Paulinus received ordination “at a leap” (per saltum), without receiving minor orders first.
Paulinus refused to remain in Barcelona, and in late spring of 395 he and his wife moved from Spain to Nola in Campania where he remained until his death. Paulinus credited his conversion to St. Felix, who was buried in Nola, and each year would write a poem in honor of the saint. He and Therasia also rebuilt a church commemorating St. Felix. During these years Paulinus engaged in considerable epistolary dialogue with St. Jerome among others about monastic topics. Therasia died some time between 408 and 410, and shortly afterwards Paulinus received episcopal ordination. Around 410, Paulinus was chosen Bishop of Nola, where he served for twenty years. Like a growing number of aristocrats in the late 4th and early 5th centuries who were entering the clergy rather than taking up the more usual administrative careers in the imperial service, Paulinus spent a great deal of his money on his chosen church, city and ritual.
Paulinus died at Nola on 22 June 431. The following year the presbyter Uranus wrote his “On the Death of Paulinus” (De Obitu Paulini), an account of the death and character of the saint.
As bishop of Nola, Paulinus is traditionally credited with the introduction of the use of bells in church services. One form of medieval handbell was known as the nola and medieval steeple bells were known as campanas from this supposed origin.
Already during his governorship Paulinus had developed a fondness for the 3rd-century martyr, St. Felix of Nola. Felix was a minor saint of local importance and patronage whose tomb had been built within the local necropolis at Cimitile, just outside the town of Nola. As governor, Paulinus had widened the road to Cimitile and built a residence for travelers; it was at this site that Paulinus and Therasia took up residence. Nearby were a number of small chapels and at least one old basilica. Paulinus rebuilt the complex, constructing a brand new basilica to Felix and gathering to him a small monastic community. Paulinus wrote an annual hymn (natalicium) in honor of St. Felix for the feast day when processions of pilgrims were at their peak. In these hymns we can understand the personal relationship Paulinus felt between himself and Felix, his advocate in heaven. His poetry shares with much of the work of the early 5th century an ornateness of style that classicists of the 18th and 19th centuries found cloying and dismissed as decadent, though Paulinus’ poems were highly regarded at the time and used as educational models.
Many of Paulinus’s letters to his contemporaries, including Ausonius and Sulpicius Severus in southern Gaul, Victricius of Rouen in northern Gaul, and Augustine in Africa, are preserved.
Paulinus may have been indirectly responsible for Augustine’s Confessions: Paulinus wrote to Alypius, Bishop of Thagaste and a close friend of St. Augustine, asking about his conversion and taking up of the ascetic life. Alypius’s autobiographical response does not survive; St. Augustine’s ostensible answer to that query is the “Confessions.”
We know about his buildings in honor of St. Felix from literary and archaeological evidence, especially from his long letter to Sulpicius Severus describing the arrangement of the building and its decoration. He includes a detailed description of the apse mosaic over the main altar and gives the text for a long inscription he had written to be put on the wall under the image. By explaining how he intended the visitors to understand the image over the altar, Paulinus provided rare insight into the intentions of a patron of art in the later Empire. He explained his project in a Poem dedicated to another great catechist, St Nicetas of Remesiana, as he accompanied him on a visit to his basilicas: “I now want you to contemplate the paintings that unfold in a long series on the walls of the painted porticos…. It seemed to us useful to portray sacred themes in painting throughout the house of Felix, in the hope that when the peasants see the painted figure, these images will awaken interest in their astonished minds.”
In later life Paulinus, by then a highly respected church authority, participated in multiple church synods investigating various ecclesiastical controversies of the time, including Pelagianism.
Gregory the Great recounts a popular story that alleges that when the Vandals raided Campania, a poor widow came to Paulinus for help when her only son had been carried off by the son-in-law of the Vandal king. Having exhausted his resources in ransoming other captives, Paulinus said, “Such as I have I give thee”, and went to Africa to exchange places with the widow’s son. There Paulinus was accepted in place of the widow’s son, and employed as gardener. After a time the king found out that his son-in-law’s slave was the great Bishop of Nola. He at once set him free, granting him also the freedom of all the captive townsmen of Nola. According to Pope Benedict XVI, “…the historical truth of this episode is disputed, but the figure of a Bishop with a great heart who knew how to make himself close to his people in the sorrowful trials of the barbarian invasions lives on.”
John Fisher (c. 19 October 1469 – 22 June 1535), venerated by Roman Catholics as Saint John Fisher, was an English Catholic bishop and theologian. Fisher was also an academic, and eventually served as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.
Fisher was executed by order of Henry VIII during the English Reformation for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the Church of England and for upholding the Catholic Church’s doctrine of papal primacy. He was named a cardinal shortly before his death. He is honoured as a martyr and saint by the Catholic Church. He shares his feast day with St Thomas More on 22 June in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints and on 6 July in that of the Church of England.
John Fisher was born in Beverley, Yorkshire, in 1469, the eldest son of Robert Fisher, a modestly prosperous merchant of Beverley, and Agnes, his wife. He was one of four children. His father died when John was eight. His mother remarried and had five more children by her second husband, William White. Fisher seems to have had close contacts with his extended family all his life. Fisher’s early education was probably received in the school attached to the collegiate church in his home town. He attended Beverley Grammar School, an old foundation claiming to date from the year 700. In the present day, one of the houses at the school is named in Fisher’s honour.
Fisher studied at the University of Cambridge from 1484, where at Michaelhouse he came under the influence of William Melton, a pastorally-minded theologian open to the new current of reform in studies arising from the Renaissance. Fisher earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1487 and in 1491, proceeded to a Master of Arts degree. Also in 1491 Fisher received a papal dispensation to enter the priesthood despite being under canonical age. Fisher was ordained into the Catholic priesthood on 17 December 1491 – the same year that he was elected a fellow of his college. He was also made Vicar of Northallerton, Yorkshire. In 1494 he resigned his benefice to become proctor of the university and three years later was appointed master debator, about which date he also became chaplain and confessor to Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of King Henry VII. On 5 July 1501, he became a doctor of sacred theology and 10 days later was elected Vice-Chancellor of the University. Under Fisher’s guidance, his patroness Lady Margaret founded St John’s and Christ’s Colleges at Cambridge, and a Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity at each of the two universities at Oxford and Cambridge, Fisher himself becoming the first occupant of the Cambridge chair. From 1505 to 1508 he was also the President of Queens’ College. At the end of July 1516 he was at Cambridge for the opening of St John’s College and consecrated the chapel.
Fisher’s strategy was to assemble funds and attract to Cambridge leading scholars from Europe, promoting the study not only of Classical Latin and Greek authors, but of Hebrew. He placed great weight upon pastoral commitment, above all popular preaching by the endowed staff. Fisher’s foundations were also dedicated to prayer for the dead, especially through chantry foundations. Fisher had a vision to which he dedicated all his personal resources and energies. A scholar and a priest, humble and conscientious, he managed despite occasional opposition to administer a whole university, one of only two in England. He conceived and saw through long-term projects.
A stern and austere man, Fisher was known to place a human skull on the altar during Mass and on the table during meals.
Erasmus said of John Fisher: “He is the one man at this time who is incomparable for uprightness of life, for learning and for greatness of soul.”
By Papal Bull dated 14 October 1504, Fisher was appointed the Bishop of Rochester at the personal insistence of Henry VII. Rochester was then the poorest diocese in England and usually seen as a first step on an ecclesiastical career. Nonetheless, Fisher stayed there, presumably by his own choice, for the remaining 31 years of his life. At the same time, like any English bishop of his day, Fisher had certain state duties. In particular, he maintained a passionate interest in the University of Cambridge. In 1504 he was elected the university’s chancellor. Re-elected annually for 10 years, Fisher ultimately received a lifetime appointment. At this date he is also said to have acted as tutor to Prince Henry, afterwards King Henry VIII. As a preacher his reputation was so great that Fisher was appointed to preach the funeral oration for King Henry VII and the Lady Margaret, both of whom died in 1509, the texts being extant. Besides his share in the Lady Margaret’s foundations, Fisher gave further proof of his zeal for learning by inducing Erasmus to visit Cambridge. The latter attributes it (“Epistulae” 6:2) to Fisher’s protection that the study of Greek was allowed to proceed at Cambridge without the active molestation that it encountered at Oxford.
Despite his fame and eloquence, it was not long before Fisher came into conflict with the new King, his former pupil. The dispute arose over funds left by the Lady Margaret, the King’s grandmother, for financing foundations at Cambridge.
In 1512 Fisher was nominated as one of the English representatives at the Fifth Council of the Lateran, then sitting, but his journey to Rome was postponed, and finally abandoned.
Fisher has also been named, though without any real proof, as the true author of the royal treatise against Martin Luther entitled “Assertio septem sacramentorum” (Defence of the Seven Sacraments), published in 1521, which won for King Henry VIII the title “Fidei Defensor” (Defender of the Faith). Prior to this date Fisher had denounced various abuses in the church, urging the need for disciplinary reforms. On about 11 February 1526, at the King’s command, he preached a famous sermon against Luther at St Paul’s Cross, the open-air pulpit outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. This was in the wake of numerous other controversial writings; the battle against heterodox teachings increasingly occupied Fisher’s later years. In 1529 Fisher ordered the arrest of Thomas Hitton, a follower of William Tyndale, and subsequently interrogated him. Hitton was tortured and executed at the stake for heresy.
Defence of Catherine of Aragon
When Henry tried to divorce Queen Catherine of Aragon, Fisher became the Queen’s chief supporter. As such, he appeared on the Queen’s behalf in the legates’ court, where he startled the audience by the directness of his language and by declaring that, like St John the Baptist, he was ready to die on behalf of the indissolubility of marriage. Henry VIII, upon hearing this, grew so enraged by it that he composed a long Latin address to the legates in answer to the bishop’s speech. Fisher’s copy of this still exists, with his manuscript annotations in the margin which show how little he feared the royal anger. The removal of the cause to Rome brought Fisher’s personal involvement to an end, but the King never forgave him for what he had done.
Henry’s attack on the Church
In November 1529, the “Long Parliament” of Henry’s reign began encroaching on the Catholic Church’s prerogatives. Fisher, as a member of the upper house, the House of Lords, at once warned Parliament that such acts could only end in the utter destruction of the Catholic Church in England. The Commons, through their speaker, complained to the King that Fisher had disparaged Parliament, presumably with Henry prompting them behind the scenes. The opportunity was not lost. Henry summoned Fisher before him, demanding an explanation. This being given, Henry declared himself satisfied, leaving it to the Commons to declare that the explanation was inadequate, so that he appeared as a magnanimous sovereign, instead of Fisher’s enemy.
A year later, in 1530, the continued encroachments on the Church moved Fisher, as Bishop of Rochester, along with the Bishops of Bath and Ely, to appeal to the Holy See. This gave the King his opportunity and an edict forbidding such appeals was immediately issued, and the three bishops were arrested. Their imprisonment, however, must have lasted only a few months for in February 1531, Convocation met, and Fisher was present. This was the occasion when the clergy were forced, at a cost of 100,000 pounds, to purchase the King’s pardon for having recognized Cardinal Wolsey’s authority as legate of the pope; and at the same time to acknowledge Henry as Supreme Head of the Church in England, to which phrase the addition of the clause “so far as God’s law permits” was made through Fisher’s efforts.
A few days later, several of Fisher’s servants were taken ill after eating some porridge served to the household and two died. A cook, Richard Roose, was executed by boiling alive for attempted poisoning.
Intrigues with the Holy Roman Emperor
Fisher also engaged in secret activities to overthrow Henry. As early as 1531 he began secretly communicating with foreign diplomats. In September 1533 communicating secretly through the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys he encouraged Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to invade England and depose Henry in combination with a domestic uprising.
“The King’s Great Matter”
Matters now moved rapidly. In May 1532, Sir Thomas More resigned the chancellorship and, in June, Fisher preached publicly against the divorce. In August, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, died and Thomas Cranmer was at once proposed by Henry to the Pope as his successor. In January of the next year, Henry secretly went through a form of marriage with Anne Boleyn. Cranmer’s consecration as a bishop took place in March 1533, and, a week later, Fisher was arrested. It seems that the purpose of this arrest was to prevent him from opposing the sentence of divorce which Cranmer pronounced in May, or the coronation of Anne Boleyn which followed on 1 June, for Fisher was set at liberty again within a fortnight of the latter event, no charge being made against him. In the autumn of 1533, various arrests were made in connection with the so-called revelations of the Holy Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, but as Fisher was taken seriously ill in December, proceedings against him were postponed for a time. However, in March 1534, a special Bill of Attainder against Fisher and others for complicity in the matter of the Maid of Kent was introduced in Parliament and passed. By this, Fisher was condemned to forfeit all his personal estate and to be imprisoned during the King’s pleasure. Subsequently a pardon was granted him on payment of a fine of 300 pounds.
The same session of Parliament passed the First Succession Act, by which all who should be called upon to do so were compelled to take an oath of succession, acknowledging the issue of Henry and Anne as legitimate heirs to the throne, under pain of being guilty of misprision of treason. Fisher refused the oath and was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 26 April 1534. Several efforts were made to induce him to submit, but without effect, and in November he was attained of misprision of treason a second time, his goods being forfeited as from the previous 1 March, and the See of Rochester being declared vacant as of 2 June following. He was to remain in the Tower for over a year, and while he was allowed food and drink sent by friends, and a servant, he was not allowed a priest, even to the very end. A long letter exists, written from the Tower by Fisher to Thomas Cromwell, speaking of the severity of his conditions of imprisonment.
Like Thomas More, Bishop Fisher believed that because the statute condemned only those speaking maliciously against the King’s new title, there was safety in silence. However, on 7 May he fell into a trap laid for him by Richard Rich, who was to perjure himself to obtain Thomas More’s conviction. Rich told Fisher that for his own conscience’s sake the King wished to know, in strict secrecy, Fisher’s real opinion. Fisher, once again, declared that the King was not Supreme Head of the Church of England.
Cardinalate and execution
In May 1535, the newly elected Pope Paul III created Fisher Cardinal Priest of San Vitale, apparently in the hope of inducing Henry to ease Fisher’s treatment. The effect was precisely the reverse: Henry forbade the cardinal’s hat to be brought into England, declaring that he would send the head to Rome instead. In June a special commission for Fisher’s trial was issued, and on Thursday, 17 June, he was arraigned in Westminster Hall before a court of seventeen, including Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn’s father, and ten justices. The charge was treason, in that he denied that the King was the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Since he had been deprived of his position of Bishop of Rochester by the Act of Attainder, he was treated as a commoner, and tried by jury. The only testimony was that of Richard Rich. John Fisher was found guilty and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn.
However, a public outcry was brewing among the London populace who saw a sinister irony in the parallels between the conviction of Fisher and that of his patronal namesake, Saint John the Baptist, who was executed by King Herod Antipas for challenging the validity of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s divorcée Herodias. For fear of John Fisher’s living through his patronal feast day, that of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on 24 June, and of attracting too much public sympathy, 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. He was executed on Tower Hill on 22 June 1535. The execution had the opposite effect from that which King Henry VIII intended, as it created yet another parallel with that of the martyrdom of 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’s last moments were in keeping with his life. He met death with a calm dignified courage which profoundly impressed those present. His body was treated with particular rancour, apparently on Henry’s orders, being 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, also known as All Hallows-by-the-Tower. There was no funeral prayer. A fortnight later, his body was laid 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 ruddy and lifelike appearance excited so much attention that, after a fortnight, it was thrown into the Thames, its place being taken by that of Sir Thomas More, whose execution, also at Tower Hill, occurred on 6 July.
Fisher was a figure universally esteemed throughout Europe and notwithstanding the subsequent efforts of the English government, was to remain so. In the Decree of Beatification issued on 29 December 1886 by Pope Leo XIII, when 54 English martyrs were beatified, the greatest place was given to Fisher. He was later canonised, on 19 May 1935, by Pope Pius XI along with Thomas More, after the presentation of a petition by English Catholics.
Fisher was beatified by Pope Leo XIII with Thomas More and 52 other English Martyrs on 29 December 1886 and canonised, with Thomas More, on 19 May 1935 by Pope Pius XI. His feast day, for celebration jointly with St Thomas More, is on 22 June (the date of Fisher’s execution). In 1980, despite being an opponent of the English Reformation, Fisher was added to the Church of England’s calendar of Saints and Heroes of the Christian Church, jointly with Thomas More, to be commemorated every 6 July (the date of More’s execution) as “Thomas More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs, 1535”.
Sir Thomas More (/mɔər/; 7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), venerated by Roman Catholics as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted Renaissance humanist. He was also a councillor to Henry VIII, and Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532. He also wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an imaginary ideal island nation.
More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. More also opposed the King’s separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to acknowledge Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason and beheaded. Of his execution, he was reported to have said: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Pope Pius XI canonised More in 1935 as a martyr. Pope John Paul II in 2000 declared him the “heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians.” Since 1980, the Church of England has remembered More liturgically as a Reformation martyr. The Soviet Union honoured him for the Communist attitude toward property rights expressed in Utopia.