THE TWO JOHNS
On Saturday we celebrated in England the Feast of St John Fisher and St. Thomas More. Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist. Both Johns are cast into the shade, Fisher by More, and the Baptist by St. John the Evangelist the Beloved Disciple, who superficially is more attractive to modern man. More is every bit the urbane English gentleman that the educated classes can enjoy as being one of their number, and they wish that they might be like him, and those who are Catholic most probably hope that they will never have to testify to their conscience publically and then pay the price with their life. So too most people would like to be like St. John the Apostle who rests his head on the heart of Jesus, and was untouched by the cauldron of boiling oil that was meant to kill him, and they could grumble if they we exiled to Patmos. The spiritual roads of Fisher and the Baptist led straight to martyrdom, and they went to their deaths with their eyes wide open.
Both St. John Fisher and St. John the Baptist upheld the sanctity of marriage, and would not tolerate adultery. Herodias was still married to Philip who was of course Herod Antipas’ brother, which made the whole thing far more squalid than Henry’s desire to marry Anne, unless you except the theory espoused by Cobbett that Anne was the fruit of an adulterous union between her mother and Henry (The other theory is equally odd, namely that Anne’s mother had an incestuous relationship with her brother the Duke of Norfolk, and the result was the ill fated Anne). The Baptist could not remain silent in the face of Herod’s flouting the 6th Commandment. The case was so to speak an open and closed one.
Henry VIII’s marriage presented a slightly different set of problems. The young Henry, was not meant to succeed to the throne, but his older brother, Arthur, died, and so at 18 Henry found himself King. His parents had asked the Pope to grant a dispensation so that he could marry his brother’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, and so two months after becoming king, Henry and Catherine were married. It is one of the great ironies of history that Henry, who was genuinely a devout Catholic, whatever that means (Like such other devout kings, such as Philip II of Spain, and James II of England he and they took mistresses almost as if it was expected of them) would turn on the Church that he loved so much and defended against Luther. In fact there was no real need for a dispensation because Catherine had never consummated the marriage with Arthur. It was a formality. The problem was that Catherine was unable to supply Henry with a son and heir. Henry, like so many charming and talented men was hopelessly narcissistic and sensual. The Tudor dynasty must be insured. Obviously the example of Henry I was lost on him, who made Matilda his successor, and even though it was contested, his grandson, Henry II, most probably the most competent of all post Conquest monarchs, held the throne and dynasty secure.
At one point in the Divorce proceedings, Fisher told Henry that he, Fisher, would end up going the same way as St. John the Baptist for defending the sanctity of Henry and Catherine’s marriage. Fisher like the Baptist was fearless. Both men were greatly esteemed in their time. Henry knew that Fisher was the holiest bishop in Christendom, and what better feather for Henry’s cap. Francis I and Charles V could not compete. Both Fisher and the Baptist were men of penance and asceticism, though Fisher was good company and one wonders what the greatest of the prophets was like in that regard. What was impressive about Fisher was that he, like the Baptist, was a man who never swerved to left or right. His whole life was a straight path to God, and if that meant martyrdom then so be it. He kept his horizons clear, and would not get caught up on the legal arguments for or against the marriage. In Fisher’s view the marriage was absolutely valid, the only change was in Henry. So too with the Baptist there was absolutely no case, as Herod’s brother, unlike Arthur, was not even dead.
What then are the lessons for our time that these great saints have to teach us? You cannot play around with marriage. If Fisher’s fellow bishops had stood with him, then England would still be Catholic. The craven attitude of the bishops enabled present Britain to take its present form. It is not all Thomas Cromwell’s fault. It was precisely because the bishops were not willing to suffer for the Faith, that the Catholic Church almost died in England, and now finds itself in a twilight state, as recently stated by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury. The bench of bishops feared man rather than God, and thus allowed Cromwell and the Reformation to build the Machiavellian Western World of today, and for that matter the Communist totalitarian state as well. Today bishops throughout the Western World, and that includes South America, are faced with the greatest assault on marriage ever with the whole Satanic madness of homosexual marriage. If the bishops, certainly in England, do not act together in the most solemn manner, in condemning homosexual marriage as an abomination, then a vicious persecution will break out again and most of the bishops may well go to the wall. God willing they will not, but sadly Erastianism is so deeply engrained in the English psyche as to affect the Higher clergy of the Catholic Church. What is needed also is courage from the religious and laity, but given the lukewarm faith of so many, not helped by the culture of comfort, we will all have to rely on Grace pure and simple.
St John the Baptist and St. John Fisher pray for us.