Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

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

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

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

Article excerpt

MARIA DOWLING. Fisher of Men: A Life of John Fisher, 1469-1535. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, Pp. xii + 218, bibliography, index. $65.00.

This book plausibly portrays John Fisher as a conservative humanist reformer with a conscience. Fisher was a teacher and administrator at Cambridge when in 1495, on university business, he made the acquaintance of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. He became her confessor and chaplain. In 1504 he was appointed bishop of Rochester, but he continued his connection with Cambridge as chancellor and as Lady Margaret's agent and executor in the founding of Christ's and St. John's Colleges. He promoted the "new learning," wrote estimable theological and devotional works in Latin and English, and earned a reputation for holiness of life. In at least seven or eight treatises, most of them now lost, he opposed Henry VIII's divorce from Katharine of Aragon and defended papal authority. He may have connived with foreign agents and English dissidents. He refused to swear the oath of succession, with its preamble condemning the king's first marriage. In April 1534 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The pope made him a cardinal in May 1535, perhaps hoping to save him. The king was outraged, and had him beheaded as a traitor on June 22.

This diligent but thin book, despite its title, excuses itself from being a biography; it is rather a collection of eight studies of Fisher's various contributions and commitments. The author, Maria Dowling, teaches history at St. Mary's, Strawberry Hill, a Roman Catholic college in west London affiliated with the University of Surrey. She enormously admires her subject. She finds him an assiduous bishop, erudite scholar, serious preacher, committed pastor, and wise devotional writer. Where others have raised questions, Dowling is ready with a defense. …

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