Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The king's good servants... but God's first!

On this day, 470 years ago in 1535, the crown of martyrdom was bestowed on a bishop and cardinal of God's Holy Church. John Fisher, the austere and scholarly humanist Bishop of Rochester, who was born in Beverley in 1469, was beheaded on Tower Hill under the orders of the schismatic king, Henry VIII. This man was reputed to be the "most holy and learned prelate in Christendom", a former Chancellor of Cambridge University and the trusted chaplain of the pious Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry's grandmother. His treason against the king was to resist Henry's divorce of Queen Catherine, his first wife, and to refuse to take the 'Oath of Succession' which acknowledged Henry as Supreme Governor of the English Church and thus severed the realm's communion with the Successor of St Peter. The irony is that St John Fisher was Henry's mentor and had helped and influenced him to write his 'Assertio Septem Sacramentorum adversus Martinus Lutherus' in 1521. This defence of the Sacraments against Martin Luther won Henry the Pope's gratitude and the title 'Defender of the Faith'. Strangely, he used it throughout his life and all monarchs of Britain, even though Protestant, continue to employ this papal title: Fidei Defensor. St John Fisher shepherded the See of Rochester for 33 years, was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1535 and when Pope Paul III elevated him to the Sacred College as Cardinal-priest of St Vitalis, an infuriated Henry VIII had him executed. So, he bore witness to the pledge of cardinals to defend the faith even unto death. As he said at the block before his death, he died "for the faith of the Catholic Church and of Christ". Even after his death, a vengeful king Henry exposed his head on London Bridge for two weeks before throwing it into the Thames.

A fortnight after John Fisher's death, on 6 July, Sir Thomas More, England's most famous humanist, dear friend of Desiderius Erasmus and trusted Lord Chancellor of England was led to the scaffold and also beheaded on Tower Hill. He died claiming to be "the king's good servant, but God's first"... His earthly lord, the fickle and greedy Henry VIII was out hunting in Reading as his faithful friend and servant died at his rapacious command. Thomas More was born in London around 1477/8, studied in Oxford and read law in Lincoln's Inn. He was one of the most brilliant classical scholars of the age, being skilled in Latin and Greek and had a distinguished legal career. A married man, he was described as a "laughing philosopher", witty and wise, a man of staunch faith and ascetic, a family man and called the "only genius in England." In 1516 he wrote his book, the satirical 'Utopia'. He could not in conscience accede to the king's demands, preferring Truth above self and for his Catholic principles and steadfast faith, he was martyred. In his words, "No more might this realm of England refuse obedience to the See of Rome than might a child refuse obedience to his natural father." St Thomas More is patron of lawyers and politicians. Incidentally, his home in Chelsea, London now forms part of the seminary of Westminster Archdiocese, Allen Hall.

Two of the realm's most gifted and holy men, faithful sons of the Church, were killed by their king in his vainglorious lust for more power, wealth, influence and that ever illusive son and heir. As a result in 1935 Pope Pius XI canonised them, the most illustrious of a large company of martyrs of England and Wales, and established their feast on this day, 22 June. The English Church rejoices today in these men whose witness to the faith and unity of the Church still gives English Catholics such inspiration and hope. May they always pray for this land, Mary's Dowry. In St Thomas More's words: "Pray for me as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven."

In this Year of the Eucharist, a final quotation from St John Fisher written to the Bishop of Winchester, for your contemplation:

"First, you chide Catholics in general, as if they did not believe in the Eucharist, because they do not prostrate themselves day and night before It; and then when you find some who do this, you chide them too and call them superstitious. Had you but tasted one drop of the sweetness which inebriates the souls of those who are religious in their worship of the Sacrament, you would never have written as you have, nor have apostatised from the faith that you formerly professed."

Today too, Daniel Jeffries begins his mission as a Dominican Volunteer in Dagat-dagatan where I have just served. Please pray for him and his work. May Ss John Fisher and Thomas More be with him.

The photo above of the saints is from a reredos in St Cuthbert's Seminary, Ushaw. The seminary (illustrated below) has roots in the English College, Douai, founded in 1568, the first seminary after Trent and training ground of many of the English Martyrs, who laboured in Protestant England to return her to the Faith of Ss John Fisher & Thomas More.


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