Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Fisher of Men: A Life of John Fisher, 1469-1535

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Fisher of Men: A Life of John Fisher, 1469-1535

Article excerpt

Fisher of Men: A Life ofJohn Fisher, 1469-1535. By Maria bowling. (New York: St. Martin's Press. 1999. Pp. xii, 218. $65.00.)

John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, cardinal, martyr, and saint has long been overshadowed in both the popular and the scholarly consciousness by his fellow-- martyr Sir Thomas More. But recent scholarship has done much to establish a proper evaluation of Fisher's place in the ecclesiastical, intellectual, and political life of early Tudor England. The names of Edward Surtz and Richard Rex, the principal students of Fisher's theology, stand out in this regard.

Maria Dowling's Fisher of Men is the latest attempt to produce a comprehensive life of John Fisher. Dr. Dowling's abrupt and somewhat unfair dismissal of previous attempts as "hagiographies" (p. 1) might lead the reader to suppose that her own attitude to Fisher is hostile. Not so: the tone throughout is one of admiration rather than denigration. Indeed, bowling states that she hopes that her work will "do right" to the bishop (p. 6). In this aim she is largely successful. Her biography is arranged thematically, with chapters on Fisher as a humanist, as a bishop, as a preacher, as a devotional writer, and as a political dissident. She eschews a chapter on Fisher's theology, unwilling to duplicate the work of Richard Rex (handsome tribute is paid in her book not only to the work of Rex but also to that of Stephen Thompson on Fisher's episcopate and Malcolm Underwood on Fisher as a benefactor of Cambridge University), although she does deal with Fisher's polemical works in her chapter on his approach to heresy.

Most of Dowling's arguments and judgments are convincing. She sees Fisher as a humanist, observing, quite correctly that "humanism had little originally to do with dogma" (p. 30) and that for Fisher and other contemporaries there was not an insuperable divide between scholasticism and humanism" (p. 40). She also argues cogently that (pace H. C. Porter) Erasmus and Fisher were not divided by controversy in their later years, and that the Dutch scholar's last letters to the bishop "are no cooler in tone than his earlier ones" (p. …

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