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Saint John Fisher

Feast Day June 22

Saint John Fisher was a Renaissance scholar and bishop of England committed to defending the truth and primacy of the Church. He was renowned for his character and brilliance in opposing Luther and other Protestant reformers, and was martyred for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as head of the English Catholic Church.

Appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1504, John focused on improving the quality of preaching in England. An eloquent preacher and writer, he became one of the strongest voices in opposition to Lutheranism, and an ally of Henry VIII, whom he had tutored at Cambridge. With the king’s encouragement, John preached against Luther in a famous sermon at St. Paul’s Cross in 1526.

His favor with the king ended, however, when Henry asked to divorce Catherine of Aragon. John defended the queen, vowing that he would die before approving the divorce. When he deferred the decision to the pope, Henry never forgave him.

John warned parliament about the danger Henry posed to the Church, and in 1530, joined other bishops in appealing to the pope to halt Henry’s infringement on Church authority. Declaring himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England in February of 1531, Henry demanded that the bishops acknowledge his authority.

In 1532, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn. John Fisher was arrested, presumably to keep him from publicly criticizing the divorce decree and Anne Boleyn’s coronation. John refused to take the oath of succession, recognizing children of Henry and Anne as heirs to the throne, and joined Sir Thomas More in the Tower of London. Tried as a commoner and found guilty by a jury, Fisher was executed in 1535.

He is remembered for eloquently stating: “God can no more withhold his grace from a soul prepared to receive it than the sun can fail to shine through an open window.”