The Intriguing Saint Thomas More
The figure of Saint Thomas More intrigues Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and has ever since his death. Why is that?
1. A Man for All Seasons-Saint Thomas More was all of these things: a saint, a politician, historian, a lawyer, a judge, one of the leading intellectuals of his day, a witty jokester, a good family man, Chancellor of England, one of the most gifted writers of Latin or English, political theorist, inventor of a literary genre (utopias), dissident, martyr. He crammed many lives into one life, and we continue to marvel at this.
2. Nice guy-So many great figures in history are completely unapproachable, evil or downright weird. More on the other hand is the type of boon companion we would wish for, and a dinner guest to be dreamed of.
3. Drama-More’s life, and his death, are full of endless drama, and would have made a great Shakespeare play. Shakespeare may actually have had a hand in the play Thomas More, which, mirabile dictu considering it was written under Bad Queen Bess, treats Saint Thomas More with great respect.
4. Contrast-King Henry VIII has come down in English history as a crowned monster, which is unusual since he initiated the Reformation in England which ultimately triumphed. As a result of the negative attitude towards Henry, his victims have been generally treated generously by English historians and chief among these is Saint Thomas More. Here are the words of Sir Winston Churchill on More:
“The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a heroic stand. They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom. They saw that the break with Rome carried with it the risk of a despotism freed from every fetter. More stood forth as the defender of all that was finest in the medieval outlook. He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values, and its instinctive sense of otherworldliness. Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.”
5. Decency-More had a deep sympathy for all his fellow men, perhaps especially for those who violently disagreed with him. We see this on full display in his closing in his address to the Judges who had just sentenced him to death:
More have I not to say, my lords, but that like as the blessed apostle Saint Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present and consented to the death of Saint Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death, and yet be they now twain holy saints in heaven, and shall continue there friends forever: so I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have now in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to our everlasting salvation.
6. Family man-While living in a vortex of great events, and ever concerned with scholarship, and an ardent devotee of the Faith, More’s life was his family. We see this clearly in the last thing he ever wrote: a letter to his daughter Margaret the night before his execution:
Our Lord bless you, good daughter, and your good husband, and your little boy, and all yours, and all my children, and all my god-children and all our friends. Recommend me when ye may to my good daughter Cecily, whom I beseech Our Lord to comfort; and I send her my blessing and to all her children, and pray her to pray for me. I send her a handkercher, and God comfort my good son, her husband. My good daughter Daunce hath the picture in parchment that you delivered me from my Lady Coniers, her name on the back. Show her that I heartily pray her that you may send it in my name to her again, for a token from me to pray for me.
I like special well Dorothy Colly. I pray you be good unto her. I would wot whether this be she that you wrote me of. If not, yet I pray you be good to the other as you may in her affliction, and to my good daughter Jane Aleyn too. Give her, I pray you, some kind answer, for she sued hitherto me this day to pray you be good to her.
I cumber you, good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry if it should be any longer than to-morrow, for it is St. Thomas’s even, and the utas of St. Peter; and therefore, to-morrow long I to go to God. It were a day very meet and convenient for me.
I never liked your manner towards me better than when you kissed me last; for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost. I send now my good daughter Clement her algorism stone, and I send her and my godson and all hers God’s blessing and mine. I pray you at time convenient recommend me to my good son John More. I liked well his natural fashion. Our Lord bless him and his good wife, my loving daughter, to whom I pray him to be good, as he hath great cause; and that, if the land of mine come to his hands, he break not my will concerning his sister Daunce. And the Lord bless Thomas and Austin, and all that they shall have.
7. Courage-All More had to do to save his life was sign a piece of paper, and he would have been restored to his loved ones. The courage it took not to do this is captured vividly in this scene from A Man For All Seasons:
8. Wisdom-Here are a few More quotes to indicate just how wise he was:
One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated.
Disguise our bondage as we will, ‘Tis woman, woman, rules us still.
What though youth gave love and roses, Age still leaves us friends and wine.
Whoever loveth me, loveth my hound.
An absolutely new idea is one of the rarest things known to man.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.
For men use, if they have an evil turn, to write it in marble: and whoso doth us a good turn we write it in dust.
9. Faith-Saint Thomas More took a heroic stand for the faith of his fathers and defended it with an eloquence that other attorneys can only envy:
10. Death-Almost all men fear death. More did not. He knew he was going to God and his joy, even making a joke as he walked up the scaffold, at that knowledge shined through even in the grim circumstances of his execution.
Men like More remind us of why God took the bother of creating us in the first place.