The Saint and the Cardinal

My favorite sequence from one of my favorite movies.  Paul Scofield and Orson Welles were two of the most talented actors of their time, and it is a pure joy to see them duel.

Realpolitik meets conscience.  It is a superb scene and our sympathies are enlisted, as they should be, on the side of Saint Thomas More as opposed to that ultimate player of power politics, Cardinal Wolsey.  As was said about another Cardinal, Richelieu, by Pope Urban VIII upon the death of Richelieu, the same might also have been said about most of the life of Wolsey:    “If God exists, Cardinal Richelieu will have to answer for many things. If not…, then yes, he will have done well in life” (Si Dieu existe, le cardinal de Richelieu devra répondre de beaucoup de choses. Sinon [...] ma foi, il aura bien réussi dans la vie).”

Compared to such an ecclesiastical politician, Saint Thomas More represents the startling clarity of a brilliant mind allied with a warm Catholic faith.   One might wish however, that along with the innocence of doves, defenders of the Church in England during the time of Saint Thomas More  had also possessed a bit more of the cunning of serpents.

13 Responses to The Saint and the Cardinal

  • Cardinal Wolsey’s last words:

    “Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King, He would not have given me over, in my grey hairs. Howbeit, this is my just reward for my pains and diligence, not regarding my service to God, but only my duty to my prince.”

    Contrast that sad lament with the almost triumphant words of Sir Thomas More as he mounted the scaffold to meet his martyr’s death:

    “I die the Kings good servant, and God’s first.”

  • Good for Orson. Spent the last 20 years of his life in coasting mode, for the most part. Taking cheap roles. Yukking it up in Dean Martin roasts. Kind of like Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro at this point in their careers. Heavy lifting does take its toll. At least they have Citizen Kane, Godfather I and II, Raging Bull on their resumes. As for St. Tom- always the patron saint of we who work for Somebody or Something Else, always the anecdote for acute political correctness. Did I see in my travels that current Brit comedian/actor Eddie Izzard saluted Hank 8 for the first invented religion. In glorifying atheism. Maybe he didn’t mean what he said. Or maybe he did.

  • Wolsey, More, Wolsey, More–didn’t anybody notice Rumpole of the Bailey standing outside the door!?

  • Well said Scott. Leo McKern’s classic role. I roar with laughter whenever I put on one of my Rumpole of the Bailey DVDs. Additionally, I have always thought that show gave one of the more realistic portrayals of the life of most attorneys who do trial work.

  • One of Jim Morrison’s posthumous records — there were many of them — consisted of his spoken-word poetry backed by music from the surviving members of The Doors. On a track whose name I forget, he pantomimes a dialogue in which an inquisitor sneers, “You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!” I have no doubt that a boozy Morrison was hazily recalling the Wolsey-More scene in A Man for All Seasons.

  • And Jay, Wolsey’s words, spoken sincerely, may have been enough to say him.

  • The Doors song you are looking for is “The Soft Parade.” Morrison seems to be trying to impersonate a Bible thumping Southern preacher.

  • Well, I had a soft spot for the Doors in my hazy-dazy youth, but think the best comment about Morrison was that his principal inspirations were Jim Beam and Johnny Walker. How else does one come up with screaming butterflies? Of course, that’s true of many poets in general – but if they’re good they usually rewrite. No need for that in the stoned ’60′s.

    I had the great pleasure of seeing Scofield playing Othello in London in 1980. The exchange rate was dreadful ($2.40 to the pound) but it was still possible to get very cheap tickets priced for students and see marvelous theater there. I wonder if it still is.

  • Thanks, DMinor. Perhaps I’m mistaken or thinking of something else. I used to love the Doors; listening that track is rather embarrassing now.

  • Well, Ray what’s-his-name played a mean keyboard, and Jim had a smooth baritone (and was a rather handsome fellow before he ruined his looks with booze and drugs – which took all of 3 years to do). I still turn up the radio when “Light My Fire” or “Riders on the Storm” comes on. But whenever I hear my fellow boomers talking about what a fine poet Morrison was, I have to wonder if they’re ever actually read any poetry.

  • It would seem that thing that keeps the Doors legacy running is that many young people, even today, become intrigued and go through a Doors phase. Just a phase because there isn’t the depth there that one suspected to find. I’ve always considered L.A. Woman to be their greatest work even though it has quite a commercial appeal. In a bar this past summer, the band played a number of Doors covers (even had Jim Morrison look alike – or wannabe – sing those songs). They were well received by the whole crowd (well mixed – ages from 20′s to 60′s), but when they played L.A. Woman it was like the place became electrified. It was like each person was listening to their favorite song ever.

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