Archive for the ‘St. Thomas More’ Tag

Feast of Desiderius Erasmus, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More (June 22)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of England

Image in the Public Domain

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DESIDERIUS ERASMUS ROTERDAMUS (OCTOBER 1466-JULY 12, 1536)

Dutch Roman Catholic Priest, Biblical and Classical Scholar, and Controversialist

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SAINT JOHN FISHER (1469-JUNE 22, 1535)

English Roman Catholic Classical Scholar, Bishop of Rochester, Cardinal, and Martyr

Alternative feast day = July 6 (The Church of England)

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SAINT THOMAS MORE (FEBRUARY 7, 1487-JULY 6, 1535)

English Roman Catholic Classical Scholar, Jurist, Theologian, Controversialist, and Martyr

Alternative feast day = December 1 (as one of the Martyrs of Oxford University)

Alternative feast day = July 6 (The Church of England)

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A TRIPLE BIOGRAPHY OF THREE GREAT MEN

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On the Roman Catholic calendar the feasts of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More fall on June 22.  They also share a feast day (July 6) in The Church of England.  To their commemoration at this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I add their friend and colleague, Desiderius Erasmus.

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THE EARLY LIFE OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS

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Above:  Portrait of Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam with Renaissance Pilaster, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

Desiderius Erasmus, a great scholar and historically influential man, was a native of Rotterdam, The Netherlands.  He, born in 1466, was a son of a priest and the brother of Peter.  After Gerard, the father, died, guardians directed the educations of Desiderius and Peter.  After Peter became a monk at a monastery near Delft our saint joined the Augustinian order.  Erasmus, ordained to the priesthood on April 25, 1492, left the monastery in 1494 and pursued his scholarly work in the world.

Erasmus was a Christian Humanist in the style of the Northern Renaissance.  As such he objected to the dogmatic theology he encountered at the University of Paris.  In Paris our saint became a teacher and began writing.  Apparently Erasmus had a distinctive speaking style, for William Tyndale (1494-1536) described our saint as one

whose tongue maketh of little gnats great elephants, and laudeth up above the skies, whosoever giveth him a little exhibition.

Erasmus, whose English patrons included St. John Fisher and disciples included St. Thomas More (whom he met in 1497), visited England periodically, starting in 1499-1500.  Erasmus thought, despite the cumulative time he spent in England, that the weather and beer there were bad, and that More was the only genius in the realm.

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THE EARLY LIFE OF SAINT THOMAS MORE

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Above:  Sir Thomas More, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

St. Thomas More was a jurist and a classical scholar.  He, born in London on February 7, 1487, was a son of Sir John More, a judge.  Our saint, educated at St. Anthony’s School, Threadneedle Street, London, then in the household of Archbishop of Canterbury John Morton, continued his studies at Oxford University before studying law at New Inn (1494-1496) then Lincoln’s Inn (1496f).  More was a reader at Furnival’s Inn then butler at Lincoln’s Inn (as his father had been) in 1507.  Our saint was also reader at Lincoln’s Inn in 1511 and 1515.

Meanwhile More was studying theology and Latin and Greek literature.  He met Erasmus, his longtime friend, in 1497.  More also translated classical works into English and composed English poetry.

More was a devout man.  For about four years he had lived at the London Charterhouse.  Although he never took monastic vows, he learned certain lifelong austere habits.  More did make wedding vows, however.  In 1505 he married Jane Colt (d. 1511).  The couple had four children.  His second wife was Alice Middleton, a widow.  Her daughter became part of the blended family.  More was a pioneer in the education of women in England, for his daughters were well-educated people.

More was a longtime Member of Parliament and a negotiator.  He, the Undersheriff of London (1510-1518), was also an officer in various companies.  In various capacities he settled disputes in England and France through 1529.

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THE EARLY LIFE OF SAINT JOHN FISHER

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Above:  John Fisher, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

St. John Fisher was a scholar and a priest.  He, born in Beverley, Yorkshire, England, in 1469, graduated from Cambridge University in 1487 and 1491.  He, ordained a priest in 1491, served as a parish priest in Northallerton from 1491 to 1494.  Fisher, a tutor to the young Henry VIII (born in 1491; reigned from 1509 to 1547), was, from 1497, the confessor to Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), mother of King Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509).  At Fisher’s urging she founded readerships in divinity at Oxford and Cambridge (1503) then at Christ’s College, Cambridge (1505).  Fisher, the Vice-Chancellor (1501-1504) then Chancellor (1504-1534) of Cambridge University and Bishop of Rochester (1504-1534), for all intents and purposes founded St. John’s College, Cambridge, for which he hired Erasmus as Lecturer in Greek in 1511.  As a bishop Fisher was also devoted to his diocese–unusually so, by the standards of the period.

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ERASMUS THE BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Erasmus was a classical scholar and a man of letters. His volumes (1516-1536) on various Church Fathers were masterpieces of scholarship.  Or saint spent much time on St. Jerome (347-419) and his works in particular.  In 1504 Erasmus commenced his work on the Greek New Testament.  The influential volume, published in 1516, was epoch-making.  Our saint, who prioritized Patristic sources and the best Greek texts available to him, was more reliable than St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.  Erasmus dedicated the work to Pope Leo X.  The Holy Father accepted the dedication, but some powerful factions in the Church opposed the scholarly work.  Martin Luther, however, admired it.

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SAINT THOMAS MORE, 1514-1532

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St. Thomas More, a devout man and a gentle father, was also an influential writer, a statesman, and a controversialist.  The author of Utopia (1515-1516) produced many other works, including The History of Richard III (1514), which influenced William Shakespeare’s treatment of the monarch.  More held a series of positions in the 1520s.  He was, for example, the Speaker of the House of Commons and a Justice of the Peace from 1523.  The following year he became a High Steward of Oxford University.  In 1525 he became a High Steward of Cambridge University and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.  Then, from 1529 to 1532, he served as the Lord Chancellor.

The position of Lord Chancellor, although of high rank, was still one of a royal servant.  The position increased More’s wealth.  He gave more to charity.  The duties of the job also required More to present the royal position to the House of Lords, even when this left him with an uneasy conscience, as in the “King’s great matter” involving Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.  Our saint, citing health concerns, resigned in 1532.

More was a devout Roman Catholic who considered Protestantism heretical.  In 1525 and 1526 he wrote German Lutheran theologian Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558) in defense of papal authority.  More abhorred both Protestantism and violence.  As much as More argued with and prayed for the conversion of his Lutheran son-in-law, William Roper, Roper recalled never seeing his father-in-law “in a fume.”

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SAINT JOHN FISHER, 1511-1533

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St. John Fisher, a devout Roman Catholic, honored God in various ways.  A devout and simple life was a moral imperative, he preached, to the consternation of some powerful men.  Fisher also honored God with his intellect.  The great man, who undertook the study of Greek at the age of 50 years, encouraged the study of Hebrew at Cambridge University.  Like More, Fisher considered Protestantism heretical, and argued vigorously against it and for Roman Catholicism.

Fisher also opposed the interference of the state in ecclesiastical affairs.  He, a consistent defender of Queen Catherine of Aragon, starting in 1527, opposed the annulment of that marriage as well as the granting to Henry VIII the title of Supreme Head of the Church and Clergy of England.

Fisher’s conscience was about to lead him to his martyrdom.

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THE MARTYRDOM OF SAINTS JOHN FISHER AND THOMAS MORE

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More and Fisher opposed the Act of Supremacy (1534).  Thus, on April 13, 1534, when summoned, both men refused to swear an oath accepting the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, recognizing the succession of their issue, and repudiating papal authority.  Their refusal was officially treasonous.  From April 17, 1534, to the end of their lives they were prisoners in the Tower of London.  The circumstances of their incarceration were inhumane.

Pope Paul III created Fisher a Cardinal on May 20, 1535.  The infuriated Henry VIII, referring to a Cardinal’s red hat, said,

Mother of God!  He shall wear it on his shoulders, for I will leave him never ahead to set it on.

Fisher, tried and sentenced to death on June 17, 1535, died via beheading at Tower Hill, London, five days later.

More wrote in prison.  He began and completed A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulacyon (1534), in which he also argued against the idea that any head of state can dictate religious belief.  More also began a treatise on the Passion of Jesus, but his jailers did not permit him to famish it.  Our saint, tried on July 1, 1535, died via beheading at Tower Hill five days later.

The Roman Catholic Church has recognized these saints.  Pope Leo XIII beatified them in 1886.  Pope Pius XI canonized them in 1935.

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ERASMUS AND THE CHURCH

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Erasmus was a devout Roman Catholic from his cradle to his grave.  Nevertheless, he had both admirers and detractors in Protestant and Roman Catholic circles.  Furthermore, Erasmus was openly critical of some aspects of an powerful people in Holy Mother Church.  For example, he wrote anonymously then denied having written Julius Exclusus (1514), a satire about the late Pope Julius II (in office 1503-1513) attempting to gain entry into Heaven.  Julius II deserved strong criticism, for he was, in the words of scholar J. N. D. Kelly,

a forceful ruler, ruthless and violent.

The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986), page 255

Erasmus criticized certain Popes, but not the Papacy.  He condemned abuses in the Church, but not the Church itself.  He avoided committing schism, although some especially defensive Catholics accused him of being worse than Martin Luther, who did commit schism, albeit only after the Church forced the matter.  In fact, Luther and Erasmus, who never met, carried on a literary debate.  Furthermore, Erasmus was critical of more than one Protestant Reformer.

Erasmus, more at home at Basel, Switzerland, than anywhere else, lived there in 1514-1517, 1521-1529, and 1536.  At the end of his life Erasmus really became a Cardinal, but he died at Basel on July 12, 1536, instead.  His heir, Boniface Amerbach, wrote of the great man’s passing:

As was his life, so was the death of this most upright of men.  Most holy was his living, most holy was his dying.

The last words of Erasmus, in Dutch, were:

Dear God.

After his death the Church added his writings to the Index of Forbidden Books.

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CONCLUSION

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These three saints of God were scholars, friends, and colleagues.  They left the world better than they found it and entrusted it with their intellects and piety.  Two of these men died rather than betray their consciences and, they believed, God.  Erasmus also remained faithful to God, as he understood God.  All of these men did this nonviolently.

As I have prepared this post, I have arrived at another conclusion:  I like Erasmus most of all.  The punchiness of his personality has appealed to part of my personality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 28, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT AND HIS PUPIL, SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIANS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES KINGSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST, NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARNBY, ANGLICAN CHURCH MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD FREDERICK LITTLEDALE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of Desiderius Erasmus, Saint John Fisher, and Saint Thomas More,

and all others who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHRODEGANG OF METZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDMUND KING, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

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Feast of John Donne (March 31)   1 comment

john-donne

Above:  John Donne

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN DONNE (JANUARY 21, 1572-MARCH 31, 1631)

Anglican Priest and Poet

John Donne–Anglican priest, popular preacher, and metaphysical poet–was a complicated character who sought after God and struggled with ambition.

Our saint, born in London, England, on January 21, 1572, was a son of John Donne and Elizabeth Heywood.  (Aside:  The English tradition of naming sons after fathers without using suffixes can prove quite confusing.)  John Donne the Elder, a wealthy merchant, died in 1576.  Elizabeth Heywood Donne was a daughter of John Heywood, a playwright.  John Heywood’s wife was a daughter of the sister of St. Thomas More.  Both of our saint’s parents were devout Roman Catholics.  Furthermore, two of his maternal uncles were Jesuits who died in exile and Henry, his younger brother, died of fever in prison at the age of 19 years in 1593.  Henry’s crime was to shelter a Roman Catholic priest.

Our saint, young “Jack” Donne, was also a Roman Catholic.  In 1584 he began his studies at Hart Hall, Oxford.  He never formally graduated because a requirement for doing so was to take the oath of supremacy.  Donne, as a Roman Catholic, could not do that.  Next he studied at Cambridge.  In 1591-1592 he was a law student at Thavies Inn, L0ndon.  From 1592 too 1596 he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn, London.  By the 1590s Donne had begun to compose poetry.  He was also undecided about whether to remain a Roman Catholic or to convert to The Church of England.

Donne nurtured political connections.  In 1596 and 1597 he participated in the Earl of Essex’s expeditions to Cadiz and to the Azore Islands.  By 1597, when our saint had become an Anglican, he was the secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, soon to become Lord Chancellor Ellesmere.  Love interfered with Donne’s career, though.  In December 1601 he married Ann More, the niece of Egerton, without her guardians’ consent.  This led to a term of incarceration, the loss of employment, and the denial of Ann’s dowry.  This reality led Donne to become more spiritual.

The couple struggled for years.  From 1602 to 1615 they had twelve children, seven of whom survived their mother.  Eventually Donne found work writing criticisms of Roman Catholicism; he worked with Thomas Morton (later the Bishop of Durham) in this regard.  In 1607 Morton, the new Dean of Gloucester, encouraged Donne to take Holy Orders.  Our saint declined, citing a sense of worthiness.  Or perhaps he still had secular ambitions.  Eventually Sir George More, his father-in-law, paid Ann’s dowry.  Next Donne became the lawyer of Lucy, Countess of Bedford, through whom he came into contact with influential people.

Donne’s fortunes improved in 1610.  That year he published Pseudo-Martyr, a work designed to persuade Roman Catholics to take the oath of allegiance.  For this work he received an honorary M.A. from Oxford as well as favorable notice from King James VI/I.  Additional works in the field of religious controversy flowed from his pen during the next few years.  Also in 1610, Donne found a new patron, Sir Robert Drury, with whom he traveled from November 1611 to August 1612.  Afterward Donne courted Viscount Rochester (later the Earl of Somerset), a favorite of King James.  Our saint won election to the House of Commons in 1614.  The following year royal pressure ended his refusal to take Holy Orders.  His ordination occurred on January 23; he was 43 years old.

Donne became, according to reputation, the greatest preacher in England.  Like other prominent clergymen of the time, he frequently received income from two livings and was resident in only one of them.  In 1621 he became the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.  Four years later Donne preached the first sermon of the reign of King Charles I.  Our saint would have become a bishop in 1630, except for reasons of health.  He died, aged 59 years, on March 31, 1631.

Donne earned his place in the canon of literature with his metaphysical poetry, which remains in print.  Many of his sermons have also remained in print, for people to read.  His published works expressed, among other things, am awareness of his sins and of God’s mercy.

1.  Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun

which is my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run,

and do run still, though still I do deplore?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

2.  Wilt thou forgive that sin, by which I won

others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt thou forgive that sin I did shun

a year or two, but wallowed in a score?

When thou hast done, thou hast not done, for I have more.

3.  I have a sin of fear that when I’ve spun

my last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son

shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore.

And having done that, thou hast done, I fear no more.

That is a theme worth pondering, is it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN SCHMOLCK, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE ANNE PROCTER, ENGLISH POET AND FEMINIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTO OF ALTOMUNSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORFIRIO, MARTYR

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Almighty God, the root and fountain of all being:

Open our eyes to see, with your servant John Donne,

that whatever has any being is a mirror in which we may behold you;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:24-8:1

Psalm 27:5-11

1 Corinthians 15:20-28

John 5:19-24

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 299

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