June Twenty-second is the Feast of Saints John Fisher, Bishop — the only one of the English Bishops to refuse the acknowledge Henry VIII’s claim to be the head of the Church of England, and the only Cardinal to “earn” his red vestments, which symbolize willingness to shed his blood for the Catholic Faith — and Thomas More — once holder of the highest office in the Realm of England, a man who loved music, art, learning, and — especially — his family; but who gave them all up on a point of conscience, touching the Petrine Ministry and the Sanctity of the Sacrament of Marriage. Their feast is celebrated on the date of John, Cardinal Fisher’s death; More would follow him up the scaffold two weeks later, on July 6th. Between these two dates a slide on our home page allows you to see these men as they looked in life, via the wonderful portraits by Torrigiano (of Bishop Fisher, probably about 1510, in terra-cotta) and Holbein (of More, as a Privy Counsellor in 1527, in oil). In their own day, Fisher was perhaps the more honored; of his great friend, More himself wrote: I reckon in this realm no one man, in wisdom, learning, and long approved virtue together, meet to be matched and compared with him. Over time however — partly because England remained Protestant, perhaps, and while it became possible to honor “the King’s good servant…but God’s first,” as a man of upright morals, it was almost impossible to offer equal praise to the one Bishop who didn’t “go along” (although it should be noted both men, most commendably, are now honored in the Calendar of the Church of England and some other members of the Anglican communion) and, from the mid-20th century assuredly because of the influence of Robert Bolt’s remarkable stage play A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and the film made of it, Thomas More has quite eclipsed John Fisher. Both were eventually imprisoned in the Tower of London and condemned to the same end, the death of a traitor: hanging, drawing, and quartering; but in both cases the King commuted this to execution by beheading.
They spent much of their time in the Tower writing, and much of that writing survives. You can find the corpus of Fisher’s printed works here; among them are two letters of spiritual encouragement written to his sister Elizabeth during his imprisonment in the last year of his life. From the second of these I have taken his final, practical suggestion to her: a series of short prayers which he suggests she memorize so that they can be used by praying silently — therefore useful in any circumstances. Bp Fisher composed seven, one for each day of the week. I have abstracted the final paragraph in which he introduces his idea and gives Elizabeth his directions, and his farewell, modernizing his language slightly and his spelling entirely. The short prayers are then given in their original form, followed by modern versions, treated in the same fashion as the introduction. Click here to see a downloadable, printable copy as a PDF. Copies will be available at Mass on Sundays between the dates of the martyrdom of John Fisher (June 22nd) and Thomas More (July 6th).