A Glance at Sts Thomas More and John Fisher

A Glance at Sts Thomas More and John Fisher

Today marks the feasts of St Thomas More and St John Fisher, two men linked inextricably with each other, education, the Tudors, and the last days of Catholic England.

Full disclosure time. I am fascinated by English history and most particularly by two families: the Plantagenets and Tudors. Leaving the Plantagenets aside (Becket’s feast day isn’t until December you know!), let us take up the Tudors. I imagine that most of you are familiar with the broad brushstrokes: Henry VII comes out of nowhere at the end of the War of the Roses, the edge of a twig on a dead branch of the house of Lancaster and emerges the victor from a battle that left large chunks of the Houses of York and Lancaster dead and buried. He married Elizabeth of York for good measure, was blessed with 2 sons and 2 daughters that made it to adulthood, and was succeeded to the throne by his son, also Henry. Henry VIII reigned for 38 years, succeeded by his son Edward, then daughters Mary and Elizabeth.

The key points for our story are these. Henry was the 2nd son, the spare heir destined for a life in the Church. He was never truly prepared to rule the country, his lessons in kingship crammed into the space between when his brother and father died. His older brother Arthur married Catherine, the Infanta of Spain, and died shortly thereafter. Catherine’s parents Ferdinand and Isabella secure a dispensation that will allow Catherine to marry Henry regardless of whether the marriage was consummated. Henry and Catherine would remain married for 24 years before all manner of hell broke loose. Most are familiar with the players and events at this point: Henry, Catherine, the Bolyens, the break with the Church, and the executions of Fisher and More. I could go on (and on, and on) about what I think of the players, the events, the interplay, the what-ifs and if you all care then I may. For today, lets take a look at a few resources for you.

The story of the ends of their lives are well known, but what of the remaining balance of their lives? The easiest way to become familiar with these men are through their words. The Luminarium has put together free digital copies of the major works of both St John Fisher and St Thomas More.

Beyond that, some considerations:

  • Fisher was of the merchant class, though he earned degrees at Cambridge and became Master of Michaelhouse and personal confessor & chaplain to Margaret Beaufort (you know, Henry VIII’s grandmother)
  • He acted as a tutor to the future Henry VIII
  • Despite the fact that he was close to Henry he stood by the Queen during the trial over her marriage, acting as her chief counselor and speaking on her behalf. He did not allow his history with Henry nor Henry’s considerable rage dissuade him.
  • He did not shy away from calling out the abuses he saw in the Church. Let’s be honest, how difficult must it be to stand there defending the Church while also clearly calling out excesses and errors that you see? Its a fine line.
  • Fisher had a reputation for being straightforward and ascetic, a quiet dignified presence wherever he went. Contrast that to More, who was known for being lively and merry, with something of a wicked sense of humor.
  • Where Fisher was within the Church, More was firmly in the laity, two sides of the same coin.
  • More attended Oxford, becoming a lawyer. He did not spend all his time on the law, however, as his prolific writing attests. Both Fisher and More maintained a friendship with Erasmus. To have been a fly on the wall if all three were in a room!
  • More progressed up the ranks within the court, having been identified as a talent that Wolsey and Henry simply had to have. He would ascend as high as being the Lord Chancellor of England, the first layman to hold the office.
  • More’s position put him in close proximity to Henry VIII on a daily basis. He had to be close to Henry as well. He wrote, he fought, and he ultimately climbed the scaffold as well.

The links above will provide links to a good portion of the works of both of these men, though you should consider reading Utopia first. Along with being More’s most famous work and famously misunderstood, this year is also the 500th anniversary of the publication of Utopia.

For those looking for more biographical information, see the Catholic Encyclopedia’s articles on St John Fisher and St Thomas More.

Treasures from the Library: What’s Wrong with the World.

As I was wrapping up for the day and waiting for my ride on Saturday, I indulged in a little hunting amoung the incoming books. Spoiler alert: lots of Civil War history, lots of Church history. I was on a mission, however, to find interesting books. Heraldry is nice and all, but it doesn’t necessarily merit its own write up, especially when the books are all mass market volumes.

Among the slim encyclicals and the fatter books about long fought battles, I spied the tell tale spine of an early 20th century hardback. I’ve run across so many in the last few weeks that I can spot them on sight. Not the most useful skill in the wider world but quite useful

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Adding some color to spring up the place, alongside our lovely volume

in my line of work. The thing I love about books from 1890 to about 1920 is the fact that they’re so sturdy. These things stand up better than some of the books I’ve run across from the 1960’s and 1970’s. But I digress.

I was not wrong in identifying the hardback in question. The publication year was 1910, making the book in question another 1st edition Chesterton. The work in question is “What’s Wrong with the World” and no, I did not leave off the question mark at the end. The title is quite declarative. The book is said to have spawned from a letter that Chesterton wrote to a newspaper (generally considered to be The Times). The paper posed the question to a good many writers of the day “What’s Wrong with the World?” and Chesterton wrote to them: “I am.”The book spans a variety of topics, including homelessness, imperialism, and education.

The volume we have is in shockingly good condition– there are no obvious marks or dings, no underlining or marginalia, and the smallest among of shelf wear on the corners. The previous owner clearly took care of his books. Because this book was part of the incoming donations, it is not yet processed into the collection or available for checkout. We do have other copies available for checkout in, located in the Newman Room as part of the Collected Works of Chesterton. Additionally, because the book is out of copyright, there is a free eBook copy available through Project Gutenberg.

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Another hallmark of the early 20th century, there’s always a fun little drawing or imprint on the title page

Treasures from the Library: St John’s Bible

This week’s Treasure is a relatively new one, and well suited for Lent.

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In 1998, St John’s University and St John’s Abbey officially commissioned a new illuminated Bible, now known as the St John’s Bible. The Bible is presented in 7 volumes; work was first begun during Lent 2000, and the volumes were completed and released over a period of time, from 2001 to 2007.

The original seven volumes are currently held at St John’s University, but you can explore the volumes digitally through their website. The College holds the standard publicly available copy of the St John’s Bible. There is also an edition referred to as the Heritage Edition, which is a fine art copy of the original including touch ups by hand and gold leaf. Per the St John’s website, there is a Heritage copy as Assumption College in Worcester, MA.

Speaking for myself, I’m a big fan of illuminated manuscripts. I still remember my trip to the Getty Museum and the Huntington Library when I was on the cusp of high school. By far the biggest draws for me were the glorious collections of illuminated Bibles and Books of Hours– the colors were brilliant, even after so much time. The gold was tarnished but there was a distinct sense of history, of use. The Huntington has secular manuscripts as well, notably the Canterbury Tales. I highly recommend both institutions; the collections are wonderful and the surroundings are marvelous. The Huntington has botanical gardens attached and they are always a highlight to my visit. There is something lovely about a library and garden together. The Getty, on the other hand, is located up on the cliffs and glitters in the afternoon sun so fiercely you need sunglasses, though you’ll not notice it when you’re in among their collections.

For those seeking additional digital access to Medieval manuscripts, turn your attention to the Digital Scriptorium and Cambridge’s online Scriptorium.

The nice thing about having a complete copy of the St John’s Bible available for students is to see the contemporary take on a very old form. The illuminations contained in the Bible may not be everyone’s cup of tea– as with digital images, it is difficult to get the full sense of the illumination in a reproduction. The color scheme is somewhat different from what might be seen in medieval manuscripts. There is more information on the principles that shaped the St John’s Bible available on their website.

For our copy of the St John’s Bible, it is available to view within the library. In the foyer, there is an alcove which contains the display stand and all seven volumes. Any of the volumes may be moved to the Helm Room or Scholar’s Lounge for viewing but must be returned to the viewing stand. They are not available for circulation.

Lenten Resources

Lenten Resources

With Ash Wednesday on February 10th, Lent is rapidly approaching. With that in mind, check out the following resources for a fruitful Lent:

In the Library— the number of copies per book may vary

  • The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola are always a popular choice. They are located in the Helm Room, BX 2179 L7 E5.
  • Introduction to the Devout Life by St Francis de Sales comes recommended in this post from Jen Fulwiler. Also located in the Helm Room, call number BX 2179 F85.
  • The Great Divorce by CS Lewis may not be your prototypical Lenten book, but I found it to be very interesting and through provoking. You’ll find it in the Helm Room, BJ 1401 L4.
  • Orthodox Lent, Holy Week and Easter: Liturgical texts with commentary by Hugh Wybrew is a summary introduction to the Orthodox traditions of the season. Located in the Helm Room, BX375.T75.W83
  • The Easter Book by Francis Weiser traces the development of Lenten and Easter traditions through the length and breadth of Christendom through history. You’ll find this volume in the Stacks, GT.4935.W4
  • Easter Vigil and Other Poems, by Karol Wojtyla I have not read the poems written prior to Karol Wojtyla becoming Pope Saint John Paul II but I can’t imagine that there would not be value there. PG7158 J64 A26, located in the Ballroom
  • Resurrection and the Message of Easter by Xavier Leon-Dufour BT481 L4513
  • Journey toward Easter, by Pope Benedict XVI comes recommended by both Jen Fulwiler and Simcha Fisher in the posts linked to elsewhere in the list, and can be found in the Helm Room. BX1912.5 R3813
  • Great Lent: Jouney to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann come recommended in this post from Simcha Fisher and can be found in the Helm Room, BX.376.S36
  • Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. Part of Pope Benedict’s reflection on the Life of Jesus, this volume covers the time from the Baptism of Christ to the Transfiguration. Located in the Helm Room, BT303.2 B4613
  • Reflections on the Psalms by CS Lewis has been recommended to me as a good companion when reading through the Psalms. Call number BS 1433 L4 in the Helm Room.
  • The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. A Lenten classic. Located in the Helm Room, BV 4501 L48.
  • The Bible should go without saying, but our large collection of various translations can be found in the Helm Room. Of particular note, we have several volumes of the St John’s Bible in the foyer of the library by the entrance to the Scholar’s Lounge. The St. John’s Bible is a modern take on the illuminated manuscript, commissioned by St John’s Abbey and St John’s University in Minnesota. Additional information on the Bible and its production can be see at saintjohnsbible.org

Online Resources

  • View Pope Francis’ Lenten Message on the Vatican Website.
  • Our Dioceses, the Dioceses of Manchester, have set up a page chock full of information, meditations, prayers, and considerations for a fruitful Lent.
  • The USCCB has also put together resources for a fruitful Lent, particularly calling attention to the Pope’s call that “the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy”
  • Catholic Apptitude has a page for Lenten apps that is updated yearly. 2016 apps are already being updated and will be through the start of Lent.
  • If you’re looking for articles on how to have a fruitful Lent, a quick search of Catholic Exchange or National Catholic Register will turn up a number of articles.
  • EWTN has a really nice Lent and Easter Portal set up for this year, starting the week of Ash Wednesday and taking you all the way through Easter.