TAG | John Fisher
Writing in the (British) Catholic Herald, Francis Phillips claims that she “feels a shiver when I see the parallels between our world and that of St John Fisher”.
The context, inevitably, is of officialdom’s supposed attack on religious freedom in the UK. Fisher (1469-1535) is allegedly relevant because this English cardinal was eventually executed for refusing to go along with Henry VIII’s attempt to ensure that England should determine its own laws.
To Phillips, Fisher is a example to be praised, martyred because he would not go against his conscience. Oddly, she doesn’t mention another aspect of this sinister fanatic’s career, his role in the trial and execution of Thomas Hitton, the man often described as England’s first protestant martyr.
Thanks to Wikipedia (in this case, why not), we learn that George Joye (1495-1553) was not so reticent:
“And [Thomas] More amonge his other blasphemies in his Dialoge sayth that none of vs dare abyde by our fayth vnto deeth: but shortlye therafter/ god to proue More/ that he hath euer bene/ euen a false lyare/ gaue strength vnto his servaunte syr Thomas Hitton/ to confesse and that vnto the deeth the fayth of his holie sonne Iesus/ whiche Tomas the bishopes of Caunterburye & Rochester [Fisher]/ after they had dieted and tormented him secretlye murthered at Maydstone most cruellye.
Fisher was no defender of freedom of conscience. What he was defender of his conscience. And, indeed, enforcer of it on others. As for his fate, well, biter bit.
As I noted the other day, Fisher, and another of those responsible for Hitton’s execution, Thomas More, were recently drafted by New York’s Cardinal Dolan into the fight against the Obamacare contraception mandate in the name of religious freedom.
They were not, perhaps, the best of choices.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on Friday helped kick off a national campaign opposing President Obama’s health care mandates and other government policies that Roman Catholic leaders say threaten their religious freedom…
The bishops timed the two-week campaign of prayer, fasting and letter-writing to begin on a feast day commemorating two 16th-century Catholic saints executed for their religious beliefs — SS. John Fisher and Thomas More. The campaign will conclude on the Fourth of July.
Well, so long as Dolan is clear that what he is doing is fighting for the religious freedom of Roman Catholic leaders (to use the NYT‘s probably unintentionally accurate phraseology), fair enough. For neither More nor Fisher were in favor of religious freedom for those with whom they disagreed. Fisher (then the Archbishop of Canterbury) saw to the burning of Thomas Hitton, the man widely seen as England’s first protestant martyr. As for the proto-totalitarian More, he was when England’s Lord Chancellor, as I noted here, a savage ideological enforcer, quite pleased, for example, to support the burning alive (“the short fyre…[prior to] ye fyre eurlasting”, as he so charmingly put it) of heretics.
The following (I’ve linked to it before) is an extract from the largely sympathetic biography of More by the British writer (and Roman Catholic) Peter Ackroyd:
[More] epitomized, in modern terms, the apparatus of the state using its power to crush those attempting to subvert it. His opponents were genuinely following their consciences, while More considered them the harbinger of the devil’s reign on earth. How could there be moderation in any confrontation between them? He was, in large part, successful; he managed to check the more open expression of heretical opinion and thereby prevented it from being accepted piece by piece or gradually condoned. He also disrupted the community of ‘newe men’ in Antwerp and helped to diminish the flow of banned books into England.
By linking his current campaign to men like More and Fisher, Dolan reveals more than he perhaps might like about what he understands by the word ‘freedom’.