English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469-1535): Sermons and Other Writings, 1520-1535

By John Fisher; Cecilia A. Hatt | Go to book overview

Preface

This edition was begun in 1973, as a D.Phil. thesis which outgrew the time allotted to it and was eventually laid aside in 1978, after the birth of my first child. During the years that followed, my attempts to resume research were unsuccessful until St Hilda's College awarded me a Senior Member's Studentship for 1991-2 which gave me the encouragement (and money) to continue an absorbing study. The present collection includes all the known English writings of the last fifteen years of John Fisher's life. These works were chosen because they are less well known than Fisher's earlier writings, the treatise on the Penitential Psalms, the funeral sermon for Henry VII, and the 'month's mind' sermon for Lady Margaret Beaufort. These latter have been reprinted, albeit in editions now very old-fashioned, but still available in academic libraries. Of the sermons in the present edition, the two Fruytfull Sermons have never been printed, except in dissertation form, since the sixteenth century, nor has the sermon . . . concernynge certayne heretickes, apart from the transcript of an imperfect copy which appeared in the reprint of Mayor's edition for the Early English Text Society. The English works of John Fisher are of interest to students not only of English literature, but of theology and Reformation history as well, and I have prepared this edition and its commentary mainly with undergraduates in mind. The early part of the sixteenth century has still not received its fair share of the literary attention which has been given to the century as a whole, and one reason for this may be the fact that so much of the output of this period makes close, but not always explicit, reference to a huge body of earlier literature, much of it, but by no means all, religious. The writing of John Fisher exemplifies this trait of his times to a remarkable degree, and in attempting to locate as many as possible of the sources he drew upon, I hope to have cast some light on the literary and devotional England he inhabited, and to have drawn attention, not just to possibly fruitful lines for further research, but to ideas and topics which are interesting in themselves. Much of this material is not easily available in editions of any sort, which is why I have (perhaps) erred on the side of generosity in quoting from it. Bishop Fisher's writings are entirely of his age, as he himself is, a rich and densely woven texture of centuries-old theology, the Latin of the ancients and of the Mass, lyrics, carols and plays, scientific speculations and natural history, stories of Petrarch and of the Golden Legend, and above all a great appetite for more, for the wisdom of the Greeks and the mysteries of the Cabbala. Although Henry VII himself can hardly be described as an alluring monarch, one of the best features of his reign is a quality of austere high-mindedness and a generous love of scholarship for its own sake that was not excelled at the court of his more

-vii-

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