The Wit of St. John Fisher

St. John Fisher, 1469-1535, who was executed on this June 22nd date, wrote several documents defending the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon. In one, the Licitum fuisse matrimonium Hen: 8: cum Catharina relicta fratris suj Arthurj, probably written in 1529, Fisher displays particular wit. According to the late scholar Edward Surtz SJ, Fisher employed the Latin adage or proverb “quite effectively”:

In striving to discover a basis for the invalidity of Henry and Catherine’s marriage in the Levitical prohibition (Lev. 18:16, 20:21), his adversaries are engaging in an activity as futile as seeking wool on a donkey (“lanam ab asino quaerunt”), or hunting a hare outside its burrow (“Inanis est venatio leporis extra sedem suam”), or shaking a bush from which the bird has already flown (“frustra dumus excutitur, in qua non residet avis”). By failing to reconcile the prohibition in Leviticus with the leviratic precept in Deuteronomy (25:5), they are keeping the two farther apart than treble and bass (lit. than a double octave: longius quam bis diapason). Nevertheless it is plainer than any sun (omni sole clarius) that the wife whose husband has died childless is exempt from the Levitical prohibition against marriage to one’s brother’s wife. Yet Fisher can apply a proverb to himself also. In trespassing on the territory of canon lawyers, he realizes that he must face the criticism: The cobber should not go beyond his last (Ne ultra crepidam sutor).

From: Surtz, E. L. (1967). The works and days of John Fisher; an introduction to the position of St. John Fisher (1469-1535), Bishop of Rochester, in the English Renaissance and the Reformation. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, pg. 352.

For more on St. John Fisher, and why he should be named a Doctor of the Church, please see my previous posts.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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