Thomas More's Friendship With John Fisher

By Edward Surtz, S.J.

Par nobile fratrum -- it is thus that More and Fisher at the scaffold stand together in the eyes of their friends (1). Seeing the two martyrs united in death, they cannot picture them as separated in life. They can find substantiation for their opinion in More's statements at his trial on July 1, 1535. One of the letters burnt by Fisher, according to More, contained "but certaine familier talke and recommendacions, such as was seemely and agreable to our longe and olde acquaintance" ("de choses famillieres comme requeroit nostre ancienne amytie"--"de nostris priuatis negotiis, pro vetere nostra amicitia acfamiliaritate") (2). Fisher's and More's common description of the Act of Treasons as "a two edged sworde," More insists, was due, not to collusion, but to "the correspondence and conformitie, of our wittes, learning and studie" ("la conformite de nostre entendement et doctrine"—"ex ingeniorum ac doctrinae similitudine") (3).

Harpsfield early set the fashion in his Treatise on the Pretended Divorce between Henry VIII. and Catharine of Aragon. In summarizing Fisher's unpublished answer to the Latin book (1530) giving and supporting the opinions of the universities against the validity of the royal marriage, he declares : "Now when you hear the said bishop (Fisher) speak, suppose that you hear Sir Thomas Moorealso... for the oneness and conformity of mind that both were in touching this matter." (4).Yet, according to the concession of even Harpsfield, It was not with Bishop Fisher that More held conference on the divorce : "Neither did Sir Thomas Moore commune with any man so much and so often of this matter as with Doctor Wilson... they were in every point of an opinion." (5)

The clues to the precise degree of familiarity between More and Fisher actually lie in More's declaration at his trial. Even though Harpsfield's account is based upon the Paris News Letter and the Expositio fidelis, he significantly uses the single English word acquaintance rather than friendship to translate the French amytie and the Latin amicitia ac familiaritas. The Latin tongue must resort to various circumlocutions to express sharply the English distinction between friend and acquaintance. Harpsfield employs acquaintance because that must have been the nature of More's relationship with Fisher as far as he could determine from their writings and from the persons who had had dealings with them during life. If they had been close friends, their partisans would have capitalized upon the fact after their martyrdoms and made every effort to preserve the evidence of letters and anecdotes.

More and Fisher, in a word, were old acquaintances of long standing. They were perhaps on more than mere speaking terms, but the basis of their relationship was reciprocal respect. Before their imprisonment there is no evidence that they sought opportunities for frequent converse or welcomed each other's company with pleasure because of mutual personal interest and deep affection and love. In fine, More did not treat and trust Fisher as he did Erasmus or Tunstal or Colet or Bonvisi. Signs point also to a greater closeness of Fisher to Erasmus than to More.

More's other statement about Fisher at his trial makes greater precision possible: their mutual esteem sprang from conformity of minds and views. Intellectual and scholarly kinship rather than emotional involvement distinguishes their personal intercourse. What is lacking is a kind of equality (amicitia aequales accipit aut facit), made manifest in perfect freedom of speech, genuine intimacy, shared secrets, multiple visits, and special devotion.

The reasons for the failure of More's acquaintance with Fisher to ripen into friendship cannot be assigned. The disparity between clergy and laity, between bishop and lawyer, is hardly sufficient as an explanation. More was close to Colet, the Dean of St. Paul’s, and to Tunstal, the Bishop of London (later, Durham) -- although one might object that the friendships were formed prior to their promotion to ecclesiastical posts. An appeal to distance, that between London and Rochester, is also weak. The two cities are only about thirty miles apart - which, of course, could be a considerable distance for busy men. Yet London must have seen Fisher rather frequently on diocesan business or on his way to Cambridge. Besides, far greater distances did not dampen More's devotion to Giles in Antwerp or to Erasmus in Basel. The ultimate solution can be only the mystery and the mysteriousness of friendship itself.

The extant evidence cautions us not to assume lightly that Fisher's and More's union in death is but a final testimonial to their close friendship during life. Their writings witness to a certain conformity of mind on such crucial issues as the divorce and the spiritual supremacy of Henry VIII, on such educational problems as Scholasticism and the Greek language and literature, and on such theological questions as the authority of tradition and the Fathers (6). More immediately significant is their common admiration for Reuchlin, the champion of Hebrew, and for Erasmus, the champion of Greek. Most important of all is their relationship to Erasmus, who serves as a catalyst or, better, as a point of contact between them.

The earliest connection between Erasmus and John Fisher is possibly through Robert Fisher, whom Allen identifies as "a kinsman of John Fisher" and whom Erasmus was tutoring in Paris in 1497 (7). There is no evidence for a meeting with John Fisher during Erasmus' first trip to England in 1499-1500. In fact, the oft-quoted letter of December 5, 1499, which extols the civility and learning of Colet, Grocyn, Linacre, and More, does not even mention John Fisher in spite of being addressed to Robert Fisher (8). It is difficult, however, to imagine that the paths of John Fisher and Erasmus did not cross in London or Cambridge during Erasmus' second English sojourn in 1505-1506. It was at Fisher's University of Cambridge that Erasmus had originally intended to take his doctorate in theology. According to Dr. Caius, Erasmus was present at Fisher's richly. rewarded address to Henry VII in late April 1506 (9). When in London he might possibly have lodged at Rochester House (10). At any rate, during his third sojourn in England (1509-1514), Erasmus lectured at Cambridge from l5ll to I514, when his communications with Fisher by letter or in person needed to be many (11).

It is impossible to think that Erasmus did not speak about Fisher to More (and about More to Fisher) during his periods of residence in England or that he did not introduce them to each other in the unlikely possibility that they had not met before. Hence it is not surprising to find the first pertinent extant evidence of their acquaintance in Erasmus' letters and not in official records. After January 25, 1512, that is, at least five years before More's entrance into the royal service, Fisher ceased to attend the royal councils (12). One cannot preclude, of course, encounters between More and Fisher at the royal court whither More's business on behalf of the City took him. On his part, Fisher complains about his inability to look to his episcopal duties because of "attending after tryumphes, receiving of ambassadors, haunting of princes courtes and such lyke." (13) Nevertheless, it is significant that the first indisputable proof for their acquaintance is associated with their common friend Erasmus. When the latter stopped with Fisher in Rochester for about ten days in the latter part ofAugust 1516, More came thither from London for a final farewell to his friend because of his fear that he might not see him again for a long time (14).

One result of More's trip to Rochester was one more job for an already busy man! Erasmus involved More in the business of securing for Fisher a tutor in Greek. Erasmus and More had their eye on William Latimer, who, however, successfully evaded spending a month or two with Fisher. At first, Latimer pleaded a prior comnitment at Oxford, but later he objected that the mastery of Greek took years, not months (15). Stopping at Rochester for a short time at the end of April 1517, Erasmus apparently gave Fisher a few more hints about Greek. Finally, in view of Latimer's intransigence, he sent the Bishop of Rochester in September his Latin translation of the second book of Theodore of Gaza's grammar (16).

Just as Erasmus had enlisted More's aid in the search for a Greek tutor for Fisher, so also he employed More to convey letters and books to Fisher. Under date of March l, 1517, it was in care of More that he sent Fisher a one-volume collection of all the publications issuing from the Reuchlin affair, as well as a Latin translation of Augenspiegel (Specuturn oculare). In June of July 1517, Fisher wrote to Erasmus about the copy of De arte cabalistica (March 1517) with which his "adored" Reuchlin had presented him : "Your friend More has sent the letter, but still detains the book in his old way ; as he did before with the Oculare Speculum." (17)

Erasmus continues to remain at the center in the relations between Fisher and More. For example, on January l, 1519, Erasmus gave More a copy of his letter to Fisher in the great to-do over Edward Lee's annotations to the NewTestament (18). More's own letter to Lee under date of May 1, 1519, alludes twice to Fisher's role as arbiter and conciliator (19). In his Letter to a Monk (1519-20), More places Fisher first on the roll of his countrymen who feel gratitude for Erasmus' New Testament: "In my list the place of honor goes to the Reverend Father in Christ, John, Bishop of Rochester, distinguished for virtue as well as learning, qualities in which he has no superior among living men." (20).

Fortunately for our investigation, evidence appears for a more personal link between More and Fisher just at this time. In a congratulatory epistle, connected by E.F. Rogers and E.E. Reynolds with Fisher's polemic (1519) against Lefevre's position on Mary Magdalene, More comments : "Your lordship writes in a style that might well be that of Erasmus. As for the subject matter, ten Erasmuses could not be more convincing." Yet the conclusion hardly indicates an unmistakable and marked degree of intimacy "Farewell, my lord bishop, most highly esteemedfor virtue and learning. " (21)

More's somewhat earlier reply, however, to what might have been a congratulatory epistle from Fisher is more typically Morean : " Much against my will did I come to Court (as everyone knows, and as the King himself in joke sometimes likes to reproach me). So far I keep my place there as precariously as an unaccustomed rider in his saddle." In proportion to Henry's growth in virtue and learning, to be sure, "the less burdensome do I feel this life of the Court." (22). More denies enjoying the special favor of the king, but the succession of honors and offices conferred upon More must have encouraged Fisher to appeal to the newly knighted More on behalf of, the University of Cambridge in general and of a theological student in particular (23). In his reply (if reply it be to this special request), More graciously states : "Whatever influence I have with the King (it is certainly very little) but such as it is, is as freely available to your Paternity and all your scholars as his own house to any man." His parting is the most friendly that is extant : "Farewell, best and most learned of Bishops and continue your affection for me (me, vt soles, complectere)." Even here, apparently mindful of Fisher’s position as bishop and chancellor, More uses the Latin term, complector ‘embrace.' An embrace, instead of the modern handshake, was the ordinary and correct usage in greeting and farewell in the England of the day (24).

In addition to these letters, there were historical events in which More and Fisher might have met on familiar terms. Such was the Field of the Cloth of Gold (June 1520), where Fisher was in the company of Queen Catherine and of which he left a striking description in the first of his Two fruytfull Sermons (delivered, in 1520, printed in 1532) (25). In attendance as royal councilor, More took the opportunity to meet Erasmus in July at Calais, where his friend held additional interviews--certainly with Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and Bishop Longland (26), and conceivably with Bishop Fisher.

The following year might have seen More among the many dignitaries of church and state present at St. Paul's to hear Fisher's historic sermon against Martin Luther in May 1521 (27). The likelihood of More's assistance at his close friend Tunstal's episcopal consecration by Wolsey, Warham, and Fisher on October 19, 1522, and his installation in St. Paul's on October 22, is even greater (28). In 1523 both More and Fisher made history in a minor way. In Parliament, Thomas More as Speaker delivered an address which Philip Laundy views as "something of a parliamentary milestone." More "did not claim that the privilege of free speech belonged to the Commons as of right, but, he certainly argued that debate could not be properly conducted without it." (29). Noteworthy, too, was his highly diplomatic handling of the situation when Wolsey in all his splendor appeared in person to overawe the Commons into submission to his original demands. As a servant of the Crown, however, More finally succeeded in obtaining for Wolsey the greater part of his request. As for Fisher, in Convocation in 1523 he distinguished himself, with Bishop Foxe of Winchester and Rowland Philips vicar of Croydon, among the many opponents of the high tax on clerical income asked by Wolsey, who mostly had his way here too (30).

Two years earlier, certainly More, and probably Fisher, collaborated in the composition of Assertio septem sacramentorum, a treatise which might best be labeled as fundamentally and substantially Henry VIII's. There exists no record of the precise contribution made by Fisher, conjectured by some persons to be the real author. The editor who placed the Assertio at the beginning of Fisher's Opera (1597) used the cautious heading : "Assertio... ab Henrico VIII Angliae rege, Roffensis tamen nostri hortatu & studio edita".(31) But More's part is manifest: he was, "after it was finished, by his graces apointment and consent of the makers (italics added) of the same, only a sorter out and placer of the principall matters therin contayned." Ironically, Henry's refusal to omit or to soften his pronouncements on papal primacy caused More to study its divine institution more deeply (32).

The two writers who upheld Henry's cause against Luther's counterattack (Contra Henricum regem Angliae, 1522) were, not surprisingly, two of his original cooperators-- More and Fisher. Their separate publications give the impression that the authors had agreed on a division of labor : More as Baravellus or Rosseus was to quote Luther's work verbatim and to return abuse for abuse, whereas Fisher, conformably with an explicit statement in his conclusion, would omit Luther's insults and concentrate on every important theological question, particularly the primacy of the papacy, the interpretation of scripture, the sacramentality of orders and matrimony, and, most thoroughly and extensively, the Eucharist as sacrament and sacrifice. More as Rosseus makes reference to Fisher's Assertionie Lutheranae confutatio. His praise has two significant features: first, his characterization is general and impersonal, for the Bishop of Rochester is "a man illustrious not only by the vastness of his erudition, but much more so by the purity of his life (vir eruditionis vbertate clarus, & vitae puritate clarissimus)" ; and, second, the article singled out is that on the papal primacy, with its proofs from the Gospels, the Acts, the Old Testament, the Fathers, and the Council of Florence (33). When More wrote Cromwell in March 1534 that he had been convinced about the divine institution of the primacy first by the king's book and later by the Fathers and the councils during research conducted "these x yere synnys," (34) we are carried back approximately to Article 25 in Fisher's Confutatio (pub. 1523), which More had commended in superlative terms in his own book against Luther. Consequently Fisher's strong defense was a decisive factor in the crystallization of More's personal convictions on the papacy. An almost amusing aftermath to More's and Fisher's replies to Luther's offensive against Henry VIII is furnished in the Hyperaspistee (1526) of the sensitive Erasmus, who feels hurt because Luther has singled out for attack his own temperate Diatribe rather than such virulent assaults as those by Rosseus and Roffensis (35). As late as 1531, these same two are considered by Cochlaeus to be the polemists most capable of handling Melanchthon according to his deserts : "Vtinam Rosseus vester aut... Roffensis hunc Rhetorem digne pro meritis excipiat." (36)

In 1525 two events, the one temporary and the other permanent could have brought More and Fisher together. The first was the English visit of the redoubtable Johann Eck to consult Henry VIII and the Bishop of Rochester. This visit, recorded by both Eck and Fisher, is commemorated also by Eck's brief letter to More in his Enchiridion (3rd ed, 1526) and by a reference in Eck's commentary on Haggai the Prophet (1538) (37). The second event was More's permanent appointment as High Steward of Fisher's University of Cambridge. According to Chambers, More in this office tried persons accused of crimes, engaged in academic disputations, and on royal visits answered extempore on the king's behalf the orator of the university (38).

Because of Fisher's and More's high offices by the mid twenties, it was inevitable that not only students and scholars but also artists should resort to them for patronage and recommendation. Under date of December 18, 1526, More had promised Erasmus to find work for the visiting Hans Holbein (39). At this time, according to Chambers' conjecture, Holbein executed a lost portrait of Fisher of which three sketches survive (40). The investigator is again frustrated by lack of evidence in Holbein's activity, as to More's precise relationship to Fisher here.

But of their common cause in religion there can be no doubt. Their orthodox offensive against heresy took an open form on January 26-27, 1526, when Sir Thomas More ransacked the Steelyard for heterodox books and took into custody four merchants, who with Robert Barnes abjured their heresy at a public ceremony on February 11, 1526, in St. Paul’s. In his sermon on the occasion, Fisher praises, among other anti-Lutheran writings, "the boke of maister More." (41) More is lauded again in Fisher's volume against Oecolampadius, published in early 1527 : "Thomas Morus, eques auratus, moribus & ingenio candidissimus, neque minori praestans eruditione." This time a slightly more personal note is injected because More is described as having taken up his pen "tametsi negotiis regis & regni grauissimis, occupatissimus sit." (42)

In fact, after a five-year period of literary idleness, More seemed to pick up the pen being laid down by his erstwhile polemical associate, Bishop Fisher, with the publication of De veritate corporis et sanguinis Christi in eucharistia after eight extraordinarily productive years. (Fisher, of course, was soon to start his series of divorce tracts.) More began his most prolific years with Tunstal's permission to read heretical books (March 1528) and with the publication of A dyaloge of... dyuere maters (June 1529). In this work he approves wholeheartedly of the use, if necessary, of force against heretics as had been recommended by Fisher. But, leaving him unnamed, he refers simply and impersonally to "an honorable prelate of thys realme in his moste erudite booke." (43) In The confutacyon of Tyndales~answere (1532), More in his Preface mentions, as one of the examiners of Thomas Hitton, "the reuerende father the bishop of Rochester," (44). He refers twice to Fisher's citation of Origen as a witness to unwritten traditions. In the first reference, More has Origen himself characterize Fisher as "a right honorable manne very cunnyng and yet more vertuous, the good bishop of Rochester." The second allusion is simply to "my lord of Rochester" without describing his personality or his work : "my lord of Rochester hath gathered diuers (undoubted holy menne since Origen) together, and rehersed (them) ... in his boke agaynst Luther." (45) In his Apologye (1533), More arraigns heretics for constant and universal railing : "And some they call nought by name, whose specyall goodnesse, shall haue recorde and wytnesse of all good folke that knowe theym"--among whom would undoubtedly be Bishop Fisher, one object of Tyndale's violent attack (46).

A person perhaps might object with some reason that controversial works are hardly the place to look for expressions of friendship. Yet adversaries are ready to capitalize even upon friendship to gain a point. Such is Tyndale's tactic against More in calling Erasmus his "darling". Compelled to spring to the defense of his friend, More has to explain "I have not contended with ,Erasmus my derling, because I found no suche malicious entente with Erasmus my derling, as I fynde with Tyndall." (47) But no opponent seems to have taken such advantage of a special friendship between More and Fisher, presumably because none existed. For example, John Frith on three different occasions in A disputacion of Purgatorye (1533?) maintains that More and Fisher disagree on three points about purgatory -- and yet he fails to allude to any close bond of affection between the two men. Their discrepancy arises in spite of More's extensive borrowing from Fisher: "How be it the chefest of his scryptures hath master More pervsed & hath in a maner nothinge but that was before wryten by my lord of Rochestre." Even when Frith builds up the reputation of his two adversaries in An other boke against Raetel ("no. ii. lyke myght in all this londe be founde"), he utters no word about any special tie between them (48).

Neither can any close friendship be inferred from their evident unanimity on the validity of Henry and Catherine's marriage. In fact, More was far from being as intimately involved in the divorce, at least if one is to judge from his extant writings, as were Fisher, Cranmer, Pole, and Tyndale. More, it is true, was in Wolsey's entourage when the cardinal broached the king's "great matter" to Fisher in early July 1527, but since Fisher was pledged to secrecy, he could not have conferred with More at this time (49). When first asked for his opinion, More advised Henry to consult the Bishops of Durham (Tunstal) and Bath (Clerk), with no mention of the Bishop of Rochester (the committed Fisher) (50). After later study, of course, he gave Henry an adverse personal judgment, as had Fisher. More and Fisher were the two most important figures who did not sign the petition of prelates and nobles (July 1530), addressed to Clement VII, for a decision favorable to Henry (51). In the whole affair, More seems to have remained cautious, yet, according to Chapuys, his dismissal was almost occasioned in 1531 by his espousal of Catherine's cause (52). After his resignation and especially after the parliamentary statute, More "did keepe his conscience to himselfe, and would not open his opinion in that matter, . . . eyther to the Bisshopp of Rochester demaunding his iudgement, eyther to doctour Wilson requiring it at his hande" : they were advised to settle their own conscience (53).

What had immediately caused More's resignation of the chancellorship was not the question of the divorce but the submission of the clergy on May 15, 1532. Here the same attitude marks Fisher and More. To the bishops sent to persuade him to take the oath, Fisher in prison is reputed to have said : "The fort is betraied even of them that shoulde have defended yt." In his Expositio Passionis, More declares : "Haec similitudo dormientium Apostorum ... valde competit in hos Episcopos, qui dum virtus & fides veniunt in discrimen, dormiunt" ; or, in Mary Basset's translation : "This similitude of Apostles thus sleeping, may aptely be applied vnto those Bishoppes, which lye carelesly and sleepe full sounde, while vertue and true religion are like to ronne to ruine."(54).

The paths of More and Fisher, which had been running roughly parallel for many years, now began to converge -on the Tower. Both were implicated in the affair of the Holy Maid of Kent. More was able to extricate himself, but Fisher was indicted, convicted, and fined a year's revenue. When in April 1534 both were imprisoned for refusing the oath, they were lodged in widely separated rooms in the Tower, almost as if in token of their individuality and their independence. More asserted his freedom of conscience to the extent of telling his daughter Margaret that he would not take the oath -- "not though I shoulde see my Lorde of Rochester say the same, and swere the oth hymselfe before me too." Yet he praises Fisher as sans pareil : "I haue hym in that reuerent estimacion , that I reken in this realme no one man, in wisdome, learning and long approued vertue together, mete to be matched and compared with hym." But More is fixed in his resolution : "I neuer entend... to pynne my soule at a nother mans backe, not euen the best man that I know this day liuing ; for I knowe not whither he may happe to cary it."(55) Consequently, when Fisher by letter inquired after the nature and manner of his answer on the oath, More replied only that Fisher should resolve his own conscience.(56) This answer, which sounds very much like an impertinent rebuff, actually was a measure of safety for both of them : if either decided later to take the oath, he would not need to inform on the other. Fisher himself declared on June 12, 1535, that in their burnt correspondence "ther is nothing else but exhortation either of other to take patience in their adversity, and to call God for grace, and praying for their enemies."(57)

In his examination, More admitted to letters, "containing for the most part nothing but comfortable words and thanks for meat and drink sent by one to the other."(58) Besides, a particularly touching bit of testimony reveals that "More, or his servant, sent him [Fisher] an image of St. John and apples and oranges after the snow that fell last winter. On New Year's Day, More sent a paper with writing, 2,000 in gold, and an image of the Epiphany."(59)

The similarity between the two men persists in the Tower. Both prisoners produce spiritual treatises. Even two titles are similar : A dialoge of comfort against tribulacion by More and A spirituall consolation by Fisher. But there are differences, too. More writes a treatise on Christ's passion, but Fisher concentrates on The wayes to perfect Religion, namely, ten considerations whereby to gain Christ's love.

Ironically, even the immediate causes for their condemnation were different : Thomas More was sentenced because of the perjury of Sir Richard Rich ; but Fisher, because of the trick of the king's messenger who promised him no harm if he stated his true opinion on the supremacy.(6o) Consequently, More denied the royal supremacy after his condemnation ; but Fisher, before his condemnation -- quia hoc conveniebat Personae, quam gerebat, Episcopi, according to Cardinal Pole's declaration. (61)

The intimacy which More and Fisher were apparently unable to effect during life was achieved in death. Their bodies, without their heads, were buried at "the belfry end of the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower."(62) Certainly as far as the memory of man is concerned, their names since their executions have been united indissolubly -- and ever will be -- for both their enemies and their friends. The division began immediately. The two were attacked -- not to mention many others -- by Simon Matthew in his sermon of June 27, I535 ; by Richard Morison in his Apomaxis (1537) ; and by George Joye in his Present consolacion (1544). By November 1535, Christopher of Stadion, Bishop of Augsburg, was predicting martyrs' crowns for Fisher and More. In 1536 and 1538 Cochlaeus published his defense of Fisher and More against Sampson and Morison respectively. (63)

A retrospective survey of their lives creates the impression of two passengers in separate coaches, now slow and now fast, on parallel tracks. They may catch glimpses of each other, they may talk to each other, they may even strain to clasp hands. Yet, though their sentiments are "truly parallel," they "can never meet." They often come close to each other : in their sharing of friends, such as Erasmus and Tunstall ;(64) in their zeal for learning, especially Greek literature, pagan and Christian ; in their defense of orthodoxy against Luther and other Reformers ; in their espousal of Queen Catherine's cause ; and in their denial of royal supremacy in favor of papal primacy. What binds them together, then, is evidently "the conjunction of the mind."

What separates them is the "opposition of the stars." The stars as the symbol of fate -- or providence -- created those accidents of fortune which could have been crucial in preventing any special intimacy. More was nine years younger than Fisher. More was born a Londoner at the center of national life ; Fisher, in Beverley in the far provincial north. They went to different universities :More to Oxford, Fisher to Cambridge. More's permanent residence was always London ; Fisher's, first Beverley, then Cambridge, and lastly Rochester. More was a twice-married lawyer and royal servant ;(65) Fisher, acelibate churchman and educator. But the greatest of fate's ",iron wedges"(66) must have been the strong personality of the two men : each possessed marked individuality and resolute independence. Dissonant elements in their nature, impossible to pinpoint or to enumerate, prevented them from becoming friends in the way that More and Erasmus, or More and Tunstall, were friends. Consequently Fisher simply cannot be said to belong to the More Circle as such.. To maintain otherwise would be falsehood or selfdeception or arrant nonsense. In fact, it is difficult to conceive of Fisher as belonging to or moving in any circle ; and really the same is ultimately true of More, especially at the end of his life : "euery body went for the with all saue onely the blynde Bisshopp and he."(67)

One might perhaps ask the prying and embarrassing question : could and did Fisher show friendship or affection for anyone? There was one woman in his life whom he seems not only to have admired but to have loved -- the Lady Margaret. There were two men to whom he appears more than usually attached : a much older Oxonian, Richard Foxe (1448?-1528), Bishop of Winchester, and an earlier Cantabrigian, Nicholas West (1461-1533), Bishop of Ely. Otherwise Fisher's allegiances look "institutionalized";to his University of Cambridge, to his diocese of Rochester, and to his Church Catholic. But what probing reveals is that he really loves in each of these a person -- Christ. Fisher's statutes make clear that he wishes to bring the fellows and scholars of Christ's College and St. John's College to "the worship of God, the increase of the faith, and probity of morals." (68) He stresses preaching, by himself and others, because he longs to make Christ's gospel clear to the people. He knows, loves, and defends the Church Catholic as the, Spouse of Christ and as the Mystical Body of Christ. This personal devotion to Christ becomes especially evident, first, in his zeal for the Real Presence in the great volume against Oecolampadius and, second, in his emphasis on the love of Christ in what might be his very last writing, The wayes to perfect Religion; for, in essence, perfect religion is nothing else than the love and friendship of Christ and His brethren.

This analysis does not mean to imply that Thomas More loved God less than John Fisher. More, too, made the supreme sacrifice of love and friendship, for, in his own words : "A greater loue no manne hath, than to geue his lyfe for his frendes."(69) One's first impression is that More laid down much more than Fisher : not only his life but also his wife, children, home, and possessions. But upon reflection one realizes that Fisher had sacrificed all these earlier : ."He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please God" (1 Cor. 7:32). Consequently Fisher was "concerned about the things of the Lord," particularly His young ones and His people and His true Church, by special profession -- quia hoc conveniebat Personae, quam gerebat, Episcopi.

To get back to our original problem and to state our reasoned conclusion. More and Fisher can be labeled as friends, but only in a broad sense, even if in a true sense : they were on good, familiar, and respectful terms, but without constantly seeking each other's company out of deep and unreserved affection. In this regard, More's making a special trip of thirty miles to Rochester to say farewell again to Erasmus (August 1516) is at once manifestative and symbolical of their friendship. To define More's relationship to Fisher better, one might need to have recourse to the awkward designation brothers. For such they were and are -- brothers in Christ. And this remark carries us back to our opening characterization of More and Fisher, but now with an addendum : par nobile fratrum in Christo.

N 0 T E S

1) - See G. Constant, The Reformation in England, trans. R.E. Scantlebury, I (London : Sheed & Ward, 1934), 200. Horace applies the phrase ironically to the sons of Quintus Arrius, "nequitia et nugis, pravorum et amore gemellum" (Satires II. iii. 243-244).

2) – N. Harpsfield, Life and death of Sr Thomas Moore..., ed. E.V. Hitchcock (London : E.E.T.S., 1932), pp.186-187; Paris News Letter, ibid., p. 261; and "Expositio fidelis," Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ed. P.S. Allen et al (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906-58), XI, 371.

3) – Harpsfield, Moore, p.188; Paris News Letter, ibid., p. 262 ; and "Expositio fidelis," Erasmus, Ep., XI, 371.

4) - Edited by N. Pocock (London : Camden Society, 1878), p. 28. The "conformity of mind" is evidenced even by the possibility of ascribing a prayer first to More and later to Fisher, as by A. G. Dickens : see "A New Prayer of Sir Tbomas More," Church Quarterly Review, CCXLVII(1937), 231-236, and Tudor Treatises (Wakefield : Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 1959). P. 19.

5) - Harpsfield, Divorce, p. 28.

6) - Theologically significant, for example, is More's reference to the partim-partim source of revelation as allegedly found in Pseudo-Dionysius' Ecclesiastical Hierarchy : "the leaders and maisters of the christen fayth … deliuered vs many thynges to bee kepte, partly by writyng and partly by theyr institucions vnwriten" ("Confutation of Tyndale," Workes [London : Cawood et al., 1557], P. 515). Cf. Fisher, "Assert. Luth. Confut".

prooem., veritas 9, Opera (Wirceburgi: Fleischmann, 1597), col. 294.

7) - Erasmus, Ep., I, 174, 188, introd.

8) - Ibid., I, 273-274.

9) - Ibid., I, 590-593, Appendix VI, "Erasmus at Cambridge in 1506." Fisher's address is printed in J. Lewis, Life of Dr. John Fisher... ed. T.H.Turner (London, 1855), Coll. No. *VIII, II, 263-272.

10) - Erasmus, Ep., I, 415. The other possibilities are the London residences of Fisher's friends: Lambeth Palace of Archbishop Warham or Winchester House of Bishop Foxe.

11) - See the detailed account in D.F.S. Thomson and H.C. Porter, Erasmus and Cambridge (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963), Introd., pp. 1-103.

12) - W.H.Dunham, "The Members of Henry VIII's Whole Council, 1509-1527," English Historical Review, LIX (1944), 198, n. 1; and Table II, p. 208. Thomas More first sat on the council on October 27, 1519 (ibid.,pp. 194, 210).

13) - Speech to Synod, "Jean Fisher," ed. F. van Ortroy, Analecta Bollandiana, X (1891), 258.

14) - Erasmus, Ep., II. 320.

15) - Ibid., II, 347, 371, 485-487; More, Selected Letters, ed. E.F. Rogers (New Haven : Yale University Press, 1961). PP. 77-78. Studying Greek at this same time, Colet was using "the solicited help of my boy Clement" (More, Selected Letters, P. 77, and Erasmus, Ep., II, 347).

16) - Erasmus, Ep., II 553, introd., II, 598, and III, 75, 237. There was no Trojan war at Cambridge as at Oxford, as Erasmus tells Peter Mosellanus in April 1519, "quod eius scholae princeps sit R.P. Ioannes Phischerius, episcopus Roffensis, non eruditione tantum sed et vita theologica" (Ep., III, 546).

17) - Ibid., II, 494. 496, 598, trans. F. M. Nichols, The Epistles of Erasmus... (New York : Russell and Russell, 1962). II, 569. It was actually Colet who held up the delivery of the book, for Erasmus had permitted More to show it to Colet before giving it to Fisher (Ep.,III,75). On September 29, 1516, Erasmus had written to Reuchlin : "Adorat te propemodum Episcopus Roffensis" (ibid.,II,350).

18) - Erasmus, Ep., III, 464.

19) - The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More, ed. E. F. Rogers (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1947)9 PP* 139-140, 148-149.

20)- More, Correspondence, pp. 191-192, trans. Selected Letters, p. 125. This same letter makes reference to Erasmus' long sojourn with Fisher as well as with other Englishmen (Correspondence, p. 169). Fisher's praise of the Novum Instrumentum is to be found in Erasmus, Ep.,II, 268.

21)- More, Correspondence, pp. 136-137, trans. E.E. Reynolds, Saint John Fisher (London : Burns & Oates, 1955), p. 79. In view of More's unexpected reference to his "delight... for the sake of our country," it is likely that he is alluding rather to Fisher's defense of his king (Defensio regie assertionis, wr. 1522-23, pub. 1525).

22)- More, Correspondence, p. 111. trans. Selected Letters, p. 94.

23)- More, Correspondence, p. 253.

24)- Ibid., pp. 253-254, trans. Selected Letters, p.147. At his first visit to England, Erasmus was struck by the universality and frequency of kissing in social intercourse (Ep., I, 239).

25) - Sigg. A3-B4.

26) - Erasmus, Ep., IV, 296, introd.

27) - Reynolds bases the probability upon More's reference in The confutacyon of Tyndales answere (1532) to Fisher's use of Origen in a sermon against Luther and Tyndale (More, pp. 214, 244). But More specifies the date as "about the tyme of the burnyng of Tyndals euill translated testament ... not much aboue vii. yere since" (Workes, p. 410), a designation which more feasibly carries us back to Fisher's sermon at Robert Barnes's abjuration in February 1526 and even later.

28) -G. Marc’hadour, L’Univers de Thomae More (Paris : Vrin, 1963). P. 324.

29) - The Office of Speaker (London : Cassell, [1964])

P. 156. On More as Speaker. see ibid., pp. 156-159 ; R.W. Chambers, Thomas More (London : Jonathan Cape, 1935),pp. 200-208, following J. E. Neale, "Free Speech in Parliament," in Tudor Studies, ed. R.W. Seton Watson and Reynolds, More, pp. 176-18l.

30) - Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia … A.D. 1485-1537, tr. D. Hay (London : Royal Historical Society. 1950), pp. 306-307 ; Reynolds, Fisher, pp.98-100. Naming Fisher with More, Tunstal, Lee, Warham, and others, Vergil had bestowed superlative praise on the Bishop of Rochester in the dedication of his Adagia sacra (1519) to Richard Pace : see D. Hay, "The Life of Polydore Vergil of Urbino," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, XII (1949), 150-151.

31) - Opera, p. 6. `

32) - W. Roper, The Lyfe of Sir Thomas Moore, knighte,ed. E. V. Hitchcock (London : E.E.T.S., 1935), pp. 67-68 ; and Letter to Cromwell, Correspondence, p. 498. In 1536, Cochlaeus declared that all the scholars in England could never refute the arguments for papal primacy erstwhile expounded by Henry VIII, More,, and Fisher ("Defensio… Roffensis & ... Mori, "in Epistola Nicolai... [ Leipzig,1536] sig. Z3) !

33) -_ More , Omnia. . . Latina opera (Louvain, 1565) , fol 68v, trans. T.E. Bridgett, Blessed John Fisher (London : Burns & Oates, 1888), p. 138 ; and Fisher, "Assert. Luth. Confut." art. 25, Opera, cols. 530-580.

34) Correspondence, p. 498.

35) Hyperaspistes diatribae aduersus seruum arbitrium

Martini Lutheri (Basel, 1526), sig. A3.

36) - Cochlaeus to More, June 29, 1531, Neue Briefe ed. H. Schulte Herbruggen (Munster Aschendorff, 1966), p. 104.

37) - Eck, Enchiridion Locorum oommunium (Landesutae, May 1526), sig. A2 ; Eck,, De, sacrificio missae (October 1526), sig. A4v ; Eck, Super Aggaeo Propheta (Salingiaci, 1538), fol. 58, quoted in More, Neue Briefe, ed. Schulte Herbruggen, p. 53, n. 15 ; and Fisher, " Ver. Corp. " l.prooem., Opera, p. 748.

38) - Chambers, More, p. 215.

39) - Erasmus, Ep., VI, 443.

40) - More, p. 222. Reynolds favors Holbein's second sojourn in England (1532-43) rather than the first (1526-28)(Fisher, p. vii).

41) - A sermon... concernynge certayne heretickes / whiche than were abiured... (London, [1526]), sig. El.

42) - "Ver.corp." 1.prooem., Opera, pp. 748-749.

43) - More, Workes, p. 285 ; cf. Fisher, "Assert. Luth. confut." art. 33, Opera, cols. 633-634. There may be an allusion to Fisher and St. John’s College (as well as to Foxe's and Wolsey's colleges) in The supplycacyon of soulys (1529), where More maintains that the only great foundations made in his time are to be seen in the universities : "the substance of [these foundations] be not al founden vpon temporall landes, newe taken out of temporal handes into the church, but of such as the churche hadde long afore, and now the same translated from one place vnto an other" (Workes, p. 333). The revenue for St. John's College came partially from the suppression of hospitals in Cambridge and Ospringe and nunneries at Bromhall and Higham.

44) - Workes, p. 345.

45) - Ibid., pp. 410, 515.

46) - Ibid., p. 866. Cf. Tyndale, " The Obedience of a Christian Man" , Dootrinal Treatises. . . . ed. H. Walter (Cambridge, 1848), pp. 213-215, 220-223.

47) - Workes, p. 422.

48) - A disputacion of Purgatorye (1533?), sigg. A5v-6, G4v-5, K3, L2v-5, and An other boke against Rastel, (1533?), sig. A3v. The reference is to Fisher, "Assert. Luth. confut." art. 18, Opera, cols. 496-502.

49) - Chambers, More, p. 229.

50) - Roper, Moore, pp.32-33. Roper is depending upon his memory, for Tunstal was not transferred from London to Durham until 1530, three years afterward.

51) - T. Rymer, Foedera... (London, 1727-35), XIV,405-407.

52) - Chambers, More, p. 250.

53) - Harpsfield, Moore, P. 151, and Notes, p. 343 ; cf. Harpsfield, Divorce, pp. 222-223.

54) - "Jean Fisher," ed. F. van Ortroy, Analecta Bollandiana, XII (1893), 157-159 ; More, Opera, fol, 124, and Workes, p. 1371. More spoke to his daughter Meg about "a weake Cleargie lackinge grace constantly to stand to their learninge" (Roper, Moore, p. 78 ; cf. Harpsfield, Moore, Notes, p. 359). In his second sermon on Vulg. Ps. 101 , Fisher thirty years before had pictured "almyghty god to be in maner in a deed slepe" because He suffers "many vyces [to] reygne now a dayes in crystes chyrche, as well in the clergy as in the comyn people" (English Works, ed. J. E. B. Mayor [London : E.E.T.S., 1876] , P. 170.

55) - More, Correspondence, pp. 520-521. Chambers surmises that More was "nettled by the suggestion that his obstinacy was due to Fisher's example" (More, p. 309). For his

part, Fisher persisted even when he had been falsely informed that More had taken the oath ("Jean Fisher," ed. Ortroy, Analecta Bollandiana, XII, 152-153).

56) - "Expositio fidelis", Erasmus, Ep., XI, 37O-371.

57) Reynolds, Fisher, p. 270.

58) - Ibid., p. 275.

59) - Reynolds, More, p. 323. Reynolds conjectures : "The L2,000 'in gold' must have 'been one of More's bits of fun ; perhaps the sum in figures, or a drawing of money bags, was on the scrap of paper" (ibid.).

60) - See the elaborate note in Harpsfield, Moore, pp. 363-368. On the whole vexing question, see E.E. Reynolds, "An Unnoticed Document," Moreana, No. 1 (1963), 12-17 ; G. Marc’hadour, Review of The Trial of Saint Thomas More, by E.E. Reynolds (London : Burns Oates, 1964). Moreana , No. 2 (1964), 90-96 ; J.D.M. Derrett, "The 'New" Document on Thomas More's Trial," Moreana No.3 (1964), 5-19, with Note,by E.E. Reynolds, 20-22 ; J.D.M. Derrett, "The Trial of Sir Thomas More," English Historical Review, LXXIX (1964), 449-477 ; and B. Byron, "The Fourth Count of the Indictment of St. Thomas More," Moreana, No. 10 (1966), 33-46.

61) - Venetian Calendar, V, no. 531, p. 224, referring to Epist. Poli, ed. Brescia, 1752, IV, 73-81.

62) - Reynolds, Fisher, p. 286.

63) - Matthew, A sermon made. in the cathedrall churche of saynt Paule... (London, 1535), sig. C7v-8 ; Morison, Apomaxis calumniarum… (London, 1537), foll. 44v, 53, 61v, 76-99 ; Joye, A present consolacion for the sufferers of persecucion for ryghtwysenes (1544), sigg. F8v-Glv ; Stadion, in Erasmus, Ep., XI, 255 ; and Cochlaeus, "Defensio... Roffensis & ... Mori, aduersus Richardum samsonem," in Epistola Nicolai..., sig. Z3, and Scopa... in araneas Ricardi Morysini (Leipzig, 1538), sigg. B3v-Dl. For a more detailed treatment of the fame and significance of Fisher and More, see "Jean Fisher,"ed. Ortroy, Analecta Bollandiana, XII, 215~232 ; Bridgett, Fisher, Chapters XIX-XX ; Reynolds, Fisher, Chapter XXX ; Chambers, More, Epilogue, pp. 351-400 ; and Reynolds, More, Chapter XXIX.

64) - Tunstal, to whom Fisher had submitted the manuscripts, approved heartily of the publication of Fisher's Assertionis Lutheranae confutatio (1523) and Sacri sacerdotii defensio(1525). See the dedicatory epistle to the latter work, ed. H. K. Schmeink (Munster : Aschendorff, 1925), p. 4.

65) - The Carthusian, John Bouge, who had married More to his second wife (1511), was Fisher’s fellow student at Cambridge (Letter to Dame Katherine Man or Manne, English Historical Review, VII (1892]. 713-715).

66) - This and previous quotations are taken from "The Definition of Love" by Andrew Marvell, Poems and Letters, ed. H.M. Margoliouth (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963), I, 37.

67) - Remark of Sir Thomas Audley, in the Letter of Alice Alington to Margaret Roper, Correspondence, p. 512.

68) - Early Statutes, of Christ’s College, Cambridge. . ., ed. H. Rackham ( Cambridge : Fabb & Tyler, 1927), pp. 86-87 ; and Early Statutes of the College of St. John the Evangelist in the University of Cambridge, ed. J.E.B. Mayor (Cambridge, 1859), pp. 88, 309, 373.

69) - Workes, p. 1036 ; cf. ibid., p. 1314, and Fisher, English Works, pp. 138-139, 408. These references to John 15 : 13 are due to the kindness of Father Marc’hadour.


This article, by the late Edward Surtz, S.J. of Loyola University of Chicago, originally appeared in Moreana, No. 15 (1967).


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