Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” John 21:15 RSV
To the British public the name of Thomas More is much more familiar than that of John Fisher. But in the calendar of the Catholic Church they are celebrated together on 22nd June.
In 1504 Henry VII, King of England, appointed John Fisher to the vacant bishopric of Rochester. Writing to his mother he said, “I am well minded to promote Master Fisher … for the great and singular virtue that I see in him … and specially for his good and gracious living. And by the promotion of such a man I know well it should encourage many others to live virtuously and to take such ways as he doth.” Fisher’s anonymous 16th century biographer wrote warmly of Bishop Fisher’s diligent care of his diocese. ” Many times it was his chance to come to such persons’ houses as for want of chimneys were very smoky, and thereby so noisome that scant any man could abide in them. Nevertheless himself would there sit by the sick patient many times the space of three or four hours together in the smoke … And in some other poor houses where stairs were wanting, he would never disdain to climb up by a ladder for such good purpose ” (both passages quoted in ‘St John Fisher’ by Archbishop Vincent Nichols p. 91 & 92)
In 1885 The Crown appointed Edward King to the See of Lincoln. He is often remembered by Anglo-Catholics for his prosecution before the Privy Council for using candles on the altar and mixing water with the wine in the chalice when he celebrated the Eucharist. But his real saintliness of character rests on far more than this. One of the most moving stories about Bishop King concerns a young fisherman awaiting execution for murder. The chaplain could do nothing with this fierce and impenitent prisoner, and asked Bishop King if he would visit the convicted man. Nothing is known of what passed between King and the young criminal, but at the end of the visit the fisherman was utterly changed. Before his execution Bishop King heard his confession and gave him Holy Communion, saying, as he gave the Eucharistic Bread to him, “Let us consecrate the hand which did the deed.”
We in the Ordinariate who even now, in our great movement, see the dawning of the reconciliation of the Anglican Communion with the See of Peter, should have a special love for Bishop Fisher who gave his life in witness to the Roman Primacy. But as we do this we are to celebrate the grace of God in the heroic signs of Catholic life, recognisably lived even in those times when we were not in communion with Peter. Men and women of holiness and pastoral zeal – like Bishop Edward King – are the historical patrimony of Anglicans which we bring into the fulness of the Church.
The single Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic “subsists in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside her visible confines. Since these are gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.”
Lumen Gentium, quoted in Anglicanorum Coetibus.