Tuesday, June 22, 2010

St. Paulinus, early bishop of Nola - Sts. John Fisher & Thomas More, martyrs

Several dates in the liturgical year have more than one saint whose memorial may be kept. Today there are three men: Paulinus of Nola, Thomas More, John Fisher.

Two of them were married (Paulinus and Thomas), two of whom were bishops (Paulinus and John). Two were martyrs (John and Thomas). Each offers every disciple much to consider in their following of Christ.

Saint PAULINUS of Nola

Anyone who is praised in the letters of six or seven saints undoubtedly must be of extraordinary character. Such a person was Paulinus of Nola (ca. 354 – June 22 431), correspondent and friend of Augustine, Jerome, Melania, Martin, Gregory and Ambrose.

Born near Bordeaux, he was the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul, who had extensive property in both Gaul and Italy. Paulinus became a distinguished lawyer, holding several public offices in the Roman Empire. With his Spanish wife, Therasia, he retired at an early age to a life of cultured leisure.

The two were baptized by the saintly bishop of Bordeaux and moved to Therasia’s estate in Spain. After many childless years, they had a son who died a week after birth. This occasioned their beginning a life of great austerity and charity, giving away most of their Spanish property. Possibly as a result of this great example, Paulinus was rather unexpectedly ordained a priest at Christmas by the bishop of Barcelona.

He and his wife then moved to Nola, near Naples. He had a great love for St. Felix of Nola, and spent much effort in promoting devotion to this saint. Paulinus gave away most of his remaining property (to the consternation of his relatives) and continued his work for the poor. Supporting a host of debtors, the homeless and other needy people, he lived a monastic life in another part of his home. By popular demand he was made bishop of Nola and guided that diocese for 21 years.

His last years were saddened by the invasion of the Huns. Among his few writings is the earliest extant Christian wedding song. Many of us are tempted to "retire" early in life, after an initial burst of energy. Devotion to Christ and his work is waiting to be done all around us. Paulinus's life had scarcely begun when he thought it was over, as he took his ease on that estate in Spain. "Man proposes, but God disposes." [from Saint of the Day, www.americancatholic.org]

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St. JOHN Fisher

St. John Fisher, 1460-1535, born at Beverley, Yorkshire, was the son of a prosperous mercer who died in 1477. About 1482 the boy's mother sent him to Cambridge University where he distinguished himself as a scholar. He was ordained in 1491 on the title of his Fellowship of Michaelhouse (now incorporated in Trinity College). After studying theology for ten years, he took his D.D. in 1501, and was later recognized as one of the leading theologians of Europe.

His university soon discovered his gifts as an administrator; he held in turn the offices of proctor, vice-chancellor and chancellor, and in 1514 he received the unique distinction of being elected chancellor for life. It was in the course of his university duties that, in 1494, he first met the Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. He became her confessor and advised her on the charitable uses of her great wealth. It was at his suggestion that a preachership was endowed at Cambridge and Readerships in Divinity in both universities. He was largely responsible for her decision to refound and endow Godshouse as Christ's College, and, after her death in 1509, he carried out her wishes in founding St. John's College, to which he transferred lands given to him by the Lady Margaret.

He was made bishop of Rochester in 1504, and he ruled that poorest of sees for thirty years; he was a truly pastoral bishop, encouraging his priests by his manner of life and by his interest in their welfare. He was a noted and assiduous preacher, and he did all he could to provide well-instructed priests who could preach to the people.

It was due to his influence that Erasmus was brought to Cambridge as lecturer in Greek. He and Sir Thomas More became close friends of John Fisher, and there is a record of the three being together at Rochester in 1516. Sir Thomas More became High Steward of Cambridge University in 1525. He and John Fisher had been drawn closer together at this period by the call to combat the Lutheran heresy. The bishop wrote his Confutatio (1523) in Latin, a book for theologians by a theologian, which had a wide circulation on the continent; the layman wrote his Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1528) in English for the common reader. It may be noted that in his sermons and writings against heretics, John Fisher never used the abusive language of contemporary controversy; he relied on reason and persuasion to bring back the prodigals.

The year 1527 was fateful to England, for it was then that Henry VIII took the first steps towards seeking the annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. She had married his elder brother Arthur in 1501; he died six months later. Catherine always maintained that the marriage had not been consummated. A papal dispensation allowed Henry VIII to marry his brother's widow in 1509. The lack of a male heir turned his thoughts to the dissolution of his marriage; he argued that the papal dispensation had no validity. Cardinal Wosley was instructed to seek the opinion of John Fisher, whose prestige as a man of holy life and of great learning gave exceptional weight to his views. After studying the problem thoroughly he came to the conclusion that the papal dispensation was valid, and therefore that Henry and Catherine were man and wife in the eyes of the church. From that position he never moved in spite of the pressure brought to bear on him by king and cardinal. He was not content with passive opposition, but in the legatine court set up to try the issue, and from the pulpit, he defended the queen, although he knew that Henry regarded opposition to his will as a form of treason.

An attempt to implicate John Fisher in the fate of the Nun of Kent failed; she had prophesied against the king. A more certain weapon was provided by the Act of Succession of 1534. This declared the king's marriage to Catherine void, and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn to be lawful; the succession was settled on her children. All had to take an oath accepting the whole Act. When the oath was tendered to John Fisher he refused to take it; so did Sir Thomas More. Both were prepared to accept the succession as determined by Parliament, but not that part of the Act which implied a denial of the pope's authority, inasmuch as it declared the papal dispensation invalid.

On April 17th, 1534 Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were committed to the Tower. They were kept apart.

John Fisher was sixty-five years of age when he was imprisoned; he was suffering from a wasting sickness and was clearly nearing his end. Nothing shows the king's vindictiveness more than his relentless persecution of this aged man stricken by a fatal illness. On May 20th, 1535, the pope created John Fisher Cardinal-priest of the title of St. Vitalis. This so infuriated the king that he hurried forward the proceedings against the new cardinal.

The Supremacy Act and a new Statute of Treason were passed while John Fisher and Sir Thomas More were in the Tower. Treason was now made to cover anything said against the king's titles, so that to refuse to recognize him as Supreme Head of the Church of England became treason. Neither of the prisoners would give him that recognition, for to do so was to deny the authority of the pope. Each, however, was careful not to put that refusal in words that could be used against them; they begged to be excused. Many attempts were made to get them to say the fateful words. At length Richard Rich, the solicitor-general, visited John Fisher in the Tower and told him that the king 'for the satisfaction of his own conscience' wished to know the bishop's opinion on the Supremacy; Rich assured the prisoner that whatever he said would not be used against him but would remain private to the king. Thereupon John Fisher declared 'that the King was not, nor could be, by the law of God, Supreme Head of the Church of England.' As a priest he could not refuse to answer a question of conscience, but he had fallen into a trap, and the words he had spoken were used against him at his trial on June 17th, 1535. In spite of his protest at this breach of trust, he was condemned as a traitor.

He was beheaded on Tower Hill on June 22nd, 1535. His naked corpse was left on the scaffold all day until it was hastily buried without ceremony in the nearby churchyard of All Hallows. His head was displayed on London Bridge until July 6th when it was thrown into the Thames to give place to the head of his fellow martyr. Sir Thomas More was buried within the church of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower; at the same time, the remains of John Fisher were removed to the same resting place.

John Fisher and Thomas More were beatified in 1886 and canonized in 1935. Their feast is kept jointly. -- The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, ed. John Coulson

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Saint THOMAS More

Thomas More (February 7, 1478 – July 6, 1535), studied at London and Oxford, England. Page for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Lawyer.

Twice married, and a widower he was the father of one son and three daughters, and a devoted family man. Writer, most famously of the novel which coined the word Utopia. Translated with works of Lucian. Known during his own day for his scholarship and the depth of his knowledge.

Friend of King Henry VIII. Lord Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532, a position of political power second only to the king. Fought any form of heresy, especially the incursion of Protestantism into England. Opposed the king on the matter of royal divorce, and refused to swear the Oath of Supremacy which declared the king the head of the Church in England.

Resigned the Chancellorship, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Martyred for his refusal to bend his religious beliefs to the king’s political needs.

From his prison in the Tower of London, he wrote a touching letter to his daughter Meg (Margaret):

Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.

God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he has taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest.

I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God. By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides. I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear.

I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let you mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.
[from www.saints.sqpn.com]

1 comment:

  1. Today I had a most unusual dream.I dreamed I was lying down with a pile of papers resting on my chest. The writing was beautiful copperplate, but I couldn't see the words. I was 'told' that I had channeled the material from John Fisher.
    In reality I can't write copperplate, and I'd never heard of John Fisher. When I awoke I just 'knew' somehow that he was once a Roman Catholic Bishop.
    The whole event is very clear in my memory so I put his name on a search and got your site. I found it very interesting, thankyou. I wonder if he has tried to contact anyone else in this way?