In 1535 Bishop John Fisher and Chancellor Thomas More were put to death for their belief that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. They died because they believed that no secular or royal power on earth can replace the authority given by God to the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, over all national and local Churches, over each and every single one of the faithful.
Down the ages, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth century, various dreamers and theoreticians have fantasized that the Catholic Church should accommodate itself to the secular world, by embracing and even marrying the spirit of the age. It has led many Christians into a dangerous complicity with the ideologies of current political correctness. The spiritual bankruptcy resulting from that delusion is all too evident today. One current example is the new lunacy being spouted in the crazy world of gender theory. Why are many Christians so slow to denounce this insult to our Maker?
For John Fisher and Thomas More, the clash between Church and State was not over the sort of political correctness we struggle with today. In their situation the persecution of the Church by King Henry VIII was a sharply defined and specific item of parliamentary legislation. They either had to submit to the new law, the new politics, or be branded as traitors. They chose to be traitors to the new politics, and thus they remained loyal to Christ. In the gospels our Lord clearly warned us of irreducible contradictions between this world and His Kingdom. This permanent inbuilt disjunction is an inconvenient truth which many 20th century pastors and theologians did their best to brush under the carpet.
Towards the end of the 20th century an English Catholic bishop (R.I.P) spoke with admirable enthusiasm about ‘the conversion of England’. He meant, the conversion of England to Catholicism. He was loudly criticized by a strident horde of the chatterati. The liberal establishment (secular and Christian) jumped up and down in protest. The buzz-word ‘divisive’ was bandied around with shrill indignation, and the bishop unjustly maligned.
St John Fisher and St Thomas More understood ‘divisive’ rather more accurately. They would also understand what many today have still not caught on to, or will not admit: that if Catholic Christianity is to survive in this country it will more and more mean swimming against the tide, in our attempt to preserve the faith and help others to find salvation. Look at what the closed minds of rigid and intolerant secularists are trying to do to our faith schools.
In spite of the debilitating religious and ideological legacy we have inherited from the ghastly 20th century, our perennial task is always the same: to assist God in helping all His sons and daughters to find truth and holiness in the one fold of the Redeemer, the Catholic Church. In every generation our job is to help that number to grow. Numbers matter. Souls matter. Salvation matters.