FISHER, John

(1469-1535)
John Fisher, English prelate and humanist, was executed for treason during Henry VIII's* reign. Born at Beverly, Yorkshire, Fisher was educated at Cam­bridge, where he received the bachelor of arts in 1487 and the master of arts in 1491. He was also ordained as a priest in 1491. In 1501 he was awarded the doctorate. Elected chancellor of Cambridge in 1504, he held that office for life. He became chaplain and confessor to Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and encouraged her patronage of Cambridge. In 1504 Fisher became bishop of Rochester.
Determined to incorporate humanistic ideas into the curriculum of Cambridge, Fisher brought Desiderius Erasmus* there to teach Greek, and he supported Erasmus's work on the New Testament. Fisher, an orthodox Catholic loyal to the papacy, preached and wrote against Martin Luther* and won respect as a theologian, both in England and on the Continent.
As confessor and confidant to Catherine of Aragon, Fisher opposed Henry VIII's desire to divorce her and spoke against it in the legate court of 1529. His opposition to Henry's ecclesiastical policies further angered the king. When Henry asked the clergy to recognize him as supreme head of the church in England in 1531, Fisher refused to acknowledge Henry's supremacy under the Act of Succession. Despite his age and failing health, Fisher's goods were for­feited, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where Thomas More* was held on similar charges. Thomas Cromwell urged Fisher to yield, but he refused. In May 1535, when Pope Paul III created Fisher a cardinal, Henry became enraged and demanded Fisher's trial on charges of treason. At the 17 June trial, Fisher was condemned to death; he was beheaded on Tower Hill on 22 June. Pope Leo XIII beatified him in 1886; Pope Pius XI canonized him on 19 May 1935. Although Fisher wrote against Luther and published sermons in English, his main contribution to the Renaissance and the Reformation lies not in his writings but in his influence as a humanist scholar and teacher and as a defender of Catholicism.
Bibliography
R. Rex, The Theology ofJohn Fisher, 1991.
Al Geritz

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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