Did Thomas More and John Fisher die for nothing?

This article first appeared at Denver Catholic:

Following the words of Christ himself, the Church has always taught that divorce and remarriage is simply adultery by another name

The Meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death

OCTOBER 19, 2015

The idea that Catholics should be allowed to remarry and receive communion did not begin with the letter signed by Cardinal Kasper and other members of the German episcopate in 1993. Another country’s episcopate – England’s – pioneered this experiment in Christian doctrine nearly 500 years ago. At stake then was not just whether any Catholic could remarry, but whether the king could, since his wife had not borne him a son.As with those who advocate for communion for the civilly remarried, the English bishops were uncomfortable with embracing divorce and remarriage outright. Instead, they chose to bend the law to the individual circumstances of the case with which they were confronted, and King Henry VIII was granted an “annulment” — on a fraudulent basis and without the sanction of Rome.If “heroism is not for the average Christian,” as the German Cardinal Walter Kasper has put it, it certainly wasn’t for the King of England. Instead, issues of personal happiness and the well-being of a country made a strong utilitarian argument for Henry’s divorce. And the King could hardly be bothered to skip communion as the result of an irregular marriage.England’s Cardinal Wolsey and all the country’s bishops, with the exception of Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, supported the king’s attempt to undo his first – and legitimate – marriage. Like Fisher, Thomas More a layman and the king’s chancellor, also withheld his support. Both were martyred – and later canonized.In publicly advocating that the king’s marriage was indissoluble, Fisher argued that “this marriage of the king and queen can be dissolved by no power, human or Divine.” For this principle, he said, he was willing to give his life. He continued by noting that John the Baptist saw no way to “die more gloriously than in the cause of marriage,” despite the fact that marriage then “was not so holy at that time as it has now become by the shedding of Christ’s Blood.”

Like Thomas More and John the Baptist, Fisher was beheaded, and like them, he is called “saint.”

At the Synod on the Family taking place right now in Rome, some of the German bishops and their supporters are pushing for the Church to allow those who are both divorced and remarried to receive communion, while other bishops from around the world are insisting that the Church cannot change Christ’s teaching. And this begs a question: Do the German bishops believe that Sts. Thomas More and John Fischer sacrificed their lives in vain?

Jesus showed us throughout his ministry that heroic sacrifice is required to follow him. When one reads the Gospel with an open heart, a heart that does not place the world and history above the Gospel and Tradition, one sees the cost of discipleship to which every disciple is called. The German bishops would do well to read, “The Cost of Discipleship” by the Lutheran martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For what they promote is “cheap grace” rather than “costly grace,” and they even seem to ignore the words of Jesus that, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” (Mk. 8: 34, Lk. 14: 25-27, Jn. 12: 24-26).

Think, for example, of the adulterous woman whom the Pharisees presented to Jesus to trap him. The first thing he did was to protect her from her accusers, and the second thing he did was to call her to leave her sin. “Go,” he commanded her, “and sin no more.”

Following the words of Christ himself, the Catholic Church has always taught that divorce and remarriage is simply adultery by another name. And since communion is reserved to Catholics in the state of grace, those living in an irregular situation are not able participate in that aspect of the life of the Church, though they should always be welcomed within the parish and at the Mass itself.

Last May, Cardinal Kasper claimed in an interview with Commonweal that we “can’t say whether it is ongoing adultery” when a repentant, divorced Christian nonetheless engages in “sexual relations” in a new union. Rather, he thinks “absolution is possible.”

And yet, Christ clearly called remarriage adultery and said adultery was sinful (Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:12, Lk. 16:18). In the case of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42), Jesus also confirmed that remarriage cannot be valid, even when informed by sincere feeling and fidelity.

When one adds to the equation the high failure rate of remarriages subsequent to a divorce, where Cardinal Kasper’s reasoning would lead, no one can say. For example, should sacramental communion be allowed only for the once-remarried? What about people remarried twice, or three times? And it is obvious that the arguments made for easing Christ’s prohibition on remarriage could also be made for contraceptive use, or any number of other aspects of Catholic theology understood by the modern, self-referential world as “difficult.”

Predicting what this would lead to isn’t a matter of knowing the future, but of simply observing the past. We need only to look at the Anglican Church, which opened the door to – and later embraced – contraception in the 20th century and for more than a decade has allowed for divorce and remarriage in certain cases.

The German bishops’ “Plan B” to do things “their way” in Germany, even if it goes against the grain of Church teaching, has the same flaws. And, it has an eerie ring to it – in an Anglican sort of way. Consider the words of the head of the German Bishops Conference, Cardinal Marx, who was cited in the National Catholic Register as saying that while the German Church may remain in communion with Rome on doctrine, that in terms of pastoral care for individual cases, “the synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany.” Henry VIII would most certainly have agreed.

“We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” Cardinal Marx argued. “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.”

The Anglicans also sought such autonomy – though with increasingly internally divisive results and the emptying of their communities.

It is undeniable that the Church must reach out to those on the margins of the faith with mercy, but mercy always speaks the truth, never condones sin, and recognizes that the Cross is at the heart of the Gospel. One might recall that Pope St. John Paul II – cited by Pope Francis at his canonization as “the pope of the family” – also wrote extensively about mercy, dedicating an entire encyclical to the topic, and establishing the feast of Divine Mercy. For St. John Paul, mercy was a central theme, but one that had to be read in the context of truth and scripture, rather than against it.

On remarriage, and many other issues, no one would say that the Church’s teaching, which is Christ’s, is easy. But Christ himself did not compromise on core teachings to keep his disciples from leaving him – whether it was on the Eucharist or marriage (Jn 6: 60-71; Mt 19: 3-12). Nor did John Fisher compromise to keep the king Catholic.

We need look no further for a model on this matter than words of Christ and St. Peter in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel – a passage that reminds us that the teaching on the Eucharist is often difficult to accept even for believers.

“’It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. … For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”

As disciples we are always called to listen to the voice of Jesus before the voice of the world, culture or history. The voice of Jesus sheds light on the darkness of the world and cultures. Let us pray that all concerned will listen to those words of eternal life, no matter how difficult!

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17 Responses to Did Thomas More and John Fisher die for nothing?

  1. According to recent reports, Pope Francis will simply avoid the whole question of whether unrepentant adulterers and sodomites should be allowed to receive Communion. That question, he has apparently decided, is to be left up to the various bishops’ conferences and even to individual dioceses.

    And if unrepentant adulterers and sodomites are permitted to receive the Eucharist in Germany, why not unrepentant bigamists in France, or pedophiles, liars, murderers, zoophiles, and embezzlers elsewhere?

    The possibilities are practically endless.

    Of course that means the end of “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church,” but Pope Francis doesn’t seem to worry about a detail like that.

    St. Francis of Assisi heard a voice telling him to rebuild the Church. Pope Francis appears to have heard another voice, telling him to tear the Church down. He will say it’s the “voice of the Holy Spirit,” but in fact it can be nothing more than a voice straight from Hell.

  2. Plain old Toad says:

    Must assume that to be rhetorical.
    Do the Isis maniacs die for nothing – in suicide attacks?
    Did the Protestant martyrs?
    Did the foreigners who voluntarily died in Spain, in the International Brigade, for Marxism?
    Did the Spaniards, who died in Russia fighting for Nazism in the Blue Division, die for nothing?
    If I were to die for my dogs, would that be for nothing?

    Does anyone, who dies for a principle, die for nothing? Silly questions, Toad.
    …Depends on where we are standing, I suggest.

    St. Francis of Assisi heard a voice telling him to rebuild the Church. Pope Francis appears to have heard another voice, telling him to tear the Church down.”
    Oh did they now, Bobby Jon? I remember a man whose voices told him to go and kill prostitutes with a big hammer. So he did. I remember a women whose voices (from “God,” she said) told her to lock her three tiny children in her car and drown them all in Lake Superior. So she did.

    Mistrust ALL mysterious and mystical “Voices” and “Visions,” is my humble recommendation. Every single one.

  3. Plain old Toad says:

    (Toad naturally meant the headline must be rhetorical.)

  4. Plain old Toad says:

    “According to recent reports, Pope Francis will simply avoid the whole question of whether unrepentant adulterers and sodomites should be allowed to receive Communion.”

    Is there a suggestion here (however subtly nuanced) that Pope Francis intends leaving our moral guilt to be weighed and judged by God alone?
    What an absurd idea.
    …It would put many thousands of devout, well-fed, and otherwise utterly unemployable, celibates on the breadline

  5. Plain old Toad says:

    “Following the words of Christ himself, the Catholic Church has always taught that divorce and remarriage is simply adultery by another name.”

    Supposing the Church was not “following” the words of Christ, but “interpreting” them?
    Mark 10.12 – says “…whosoever divorces their wife for another commits adultery.” OK. Clear cut. But supposing your husband divorces you for another, against your devout wishes and then you remarry.
    Is your second marriage adulterous? Jesus doesn’t say anything about that – as far as I can see.
    Open to debate, I’d suggest.

  6. Robert says:

    Fudge by any name remains fudge? The correct name is lukewarm.
    Our Lord on Divorce under the Mosaic Law “Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”
    Our Lord gives Us the means to measure the Synod and Rome which is “..by reason of the hardness of your heart..”
    The significance of St Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart in Our Time is precisely because of this Hardness of Heart! Lukewarm.
    However we can now begin to see the Dawn for told by Our Lady at Fatima. That Dawn that will sweep away the clouds of Sin and reveal the Sun in its glory and splendour.

  7. Michael says:

    I now present you with a flurry of links.. First off, two from the ‘Dominus Mihi Adjutor’ blog, which touch on the topic dealt with in the article above, albeit from a slightly different (the pastoral) angle:

    https://hughosb.wordpress.com/2015/10/20/the-sin-nod-clarifying-some-of-the-nonsense/

    https://hughosb.wordpress.com/2015/10/20/sin-and-mercy/

    Also, this interview with the late Polish philosopher Leczek Kolakowski (an agnostic sympathetic to the Catholic Church) discusses the question of how much, if at all, the Church should conform to the ways of the world. Kolakowski’s conclusion, to put it bluntly, is that it should never do this, because otherwise, what would be the point of the Church? True indeed; someone should tell Cupich, Marx, et al…

    http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/1989/jul1989p12_636.html

    Also, here’s a couple of interviews (one a video) with Cardinal Arinze – always one to lift the spirits!

    https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/exclusive-ten-commandments-are-not-subject-to-national-frontiers-says-cardi

    https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/video-cardinal-arinze-rejects-effort-at-synod-to-excuse-objectively-evil-ac

  8. Plain old Toad says:

    “Fudge by any name remains fudge?”
    That’s right, Rogebert, Indeed it does. Fudge by any other name.. etc.
    Same as baloney, no matter which way you slice it – It’s still baloney.
    Lukewarm or not. Same as fudge. Nothing wrong with lukewarm fudge, of course.
    Matter of taste.

  9. Michael says:

    Sorry, one more here that’s worth reading – that’s all, honestly!

    http://ccfather.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/the-desperate-need-for-approval.html

  10. Michael says:

    My previous comment is awaiting moderation for some reason – is it because of the ridiculous number of links I posted…?

  11. Michael says:

    Aha – there it is! I should also add that both Cardinal Arinze interviews contain a video – both very good too.

    Toad @ 17:47:

    Are you serious? Of course the Church is engaged in an act of interpretation – everyone is – but a.) the point is that Our Lord founded a Church to preserve and continue His teaching – He did not Himself write any book; and b.) the Church is also bound by the way in which the words of Christ have always been interpreted.

    Secondly, of course this isn’t ‘open to debate’ – even taking the sola scriptura route you’ve again chosen, the words are pretty darn plain: ‘if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery

    The Church, from the beginning, followed the plain sense of the words of Our Lord, guided by the authoritative apostolic teaching passed on to them, and continues to do so, meeting any new challenges in the same spirit of faithfulness to Scripture and Tradition. His teaching on marriage is also one of the less ambiguous passages – it’s pretty clear.

  12. Robert says:

    Marriage “the two shall become one!”
    Here then are the two paths that open up Heaven and Hell. That is the functional banal earthy arguments over a marriage contract (for a time and which can be set aside (condemned by Our Lord). Marriage of Heaven which is sanctified and blessed by Heaven called Sacrament.

    Our thoughts should follow the saints into the depths of marriage. This lead us to mystical marriage.
    Saint Catherine of Alexandria and also but not exclusive Saint Catherine of Siena “.. these virgin saints went through a mystical marriage wedding ceremony with Christ, in the presence of the Virgin Mary, consecrating themselves and their virginity to him.,,” The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that such a wedding ceremony “is but the accompaniment and symbol of a purely spiritual grace”, and that “as a wife should share in the life of her husband, and as Christ suffered for the redemption of mankind, the mystical spouse enters into a more intimate participation in His sufferings.” [1] Catherine of Alexandria was martyred, while Catherine of Siena received the stigmata.

    Toad the existence of Life after Death (sic the spirit) was commonly known and accepted by the Ancients. Plato, Homer etc.. Especially talks and discussions between the spirits and the living. Visions are at the very root of the Old Testament from Moses burning bush through to the risen Christ.

    Toad scorns visions and words spoken even to St Francis! Well I refer you to Our Lords elevation of St Peter to the Papacy! WHICH WAS AFTER OUR LORDS RESURRECTION. That’s right Toad the Papacy was founded by Our Lords appearance to St Peter after Our Lords Resurrection.
    St Paul on the Road to Damascus similarly had a private vision!

    Then of course there is Fatima 13 Oct 1917. Three children announced a miracle to take place on 13 Oct 1917 months before! Then as seen by 70000 plus The Clouds parted and the SUN danced.

    Did St Thomas More and St John Fisher die in vain? No of course NOT. Depends on whether you judge in worldly terms or Heavenly terms. The folly of the Cross which is the true Triumph. This is why today we should see the coming Dawn of Our Lady’s Triumph. Now we can see this Dawn though the abandonment of Christs Sacraments and the Crucifixion of His mystical Body (the Church) just as happened 2000 years ago.

  13. Michael says:

    Toad @ 16:41:

    I think you are confusing the fact that finally, only God can judge us, and the fact that the Church must, by its calling, put forth principles according to which we are to live. Just because only God knows the state of any human heart (its reasons, intentions, the extent of its ignorance, and the inclinations of the will etc), it does not mean that the Church cannot state objectively what is or isn’t sinful behaviour, and thus what does or does not prevent one from being able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

  14. Pingback: Did Thomas More and John Fisher die for nothing? | Solutio Problematis Omnes (aka "The Catholic Linker")

  15. His Excellency writes: “Cardinal Marx, who was cited in the National Catholic Register as saying that while the German Church may remain in communion with Rome on doctrine, that in terms of pastoral care for individual cases, “the synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany.” Henry VIII would most certainly have agreed.” His Excellency fails to point out that Adolf Hitler would also have agreed. Someone should remind Cardinals Marx and Kasper of that.

  16. Plain old Toad says:

    “…the Church is also bound by the way in which the words of Christ have always been interpreted.”
    But is it possible Christ’s words on, say divorce have always been interpreted wrongly. Like we interpreted the movements of the sun and the earth for a long time?
    No doubt it is impossible by the standards of the Church. But in many divorces there is an “innocent” party, who has done nothing wrong. Why should they suffer on that account? What the Church also fails to grasp, it seems, is that a man and a woman at 25, will be totally different individuals at 50, (quite often anyway.) At 74, I’m vastly different than I was at 25. Not the same person at all. This is a “modern” development I suspect. Medieval peasants were the same when they married at 16 as when they did at 46.

  17. Michael says:

    But is it possible Christ’s words on, say divorce have always been interpreted wrongly.

    This is as theoretically possible as most anything, but for anyone who believes that the Church has been given the gift of divine guidance in teaching on faith and morals (which should be fundamental for any Catholic) then it is not possible no. If the words of Our Lord on divorce (or any other matter pertaining to faith and morals) had turned out to have been interpreted wrongly since the time of the Apostles, then the Church’s claims would be exposed as a sham – she cannot be right (in this respect) some of the time and not others.

    Like we interpreted the movements of the sun and the earth for a long time?

    Completely different kettle of toads – another basic tenet of Catholic belief with respect to the Church’s role in salvation is, as I’ve alluded to several times already, that divine guidance was not vouchsafed for interpreting cosmology, economics, weather reports, etc, etc. Faith and morals – that’s it.

    But in many divorces there is an “innocent” party, who has done nothing wrong. Why should they suffer on that account?

    This is tragic, to be sure. But I don’t see what it has to do with the valid interpretation of the dominical words on marriage – to make allowances of this kind would not be an act of interpretation of the original words, but an addition. There is certainly scope for discussion on what the proper grounds are for establishing the Sacrament of Matrimony in the first place, but the principle that, once a valid marriage is contracted it is forever, is not up for negotiation.

    What the Church also fails to grasp, it seems…

    The Church doesn’t fail to grasp any of the realities of marriage, modern or otherwise, which is why there has been such an amount of debate about what the grounds for annulment might or might not be. She simply states that fundamental truths, about marriage or anything else, cannot be negated, altered, or ‘updated’ just because civil society has decided to disregard the concepts of faithfulness and mutual responsibility.

    This is a “modern” development I suspect. Medieval peasants were the same when they married at 16 as when they did at 46.

    Assuming that this is meant to imply that the Church is ‘behind the times’ or ‘stuck in the Middle Ages’, I must reply that the idea is balderdash (don’t get a chance to use that word often, so thank you!) Many things are different across the variety of times and places, but the essentials are basically the same – people got bored of who they were married to in 500BC and 1300AD as well as today – what’s changed is how they respond to that situation.

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