This is the first of three posts having their origin in a phrase used by Saint Thomas More during his trial.
|SAINT THOMAS MORE|
The portrait by Holbein in his robes as Lord Chancellor of England
But two obstacles stood before my proceeding immediately with what I had planned. Firstly, my abounding admiration of the Saint, and secondly and a lower plane my admiration for the Paul Schofield film of Robert Bolt's play "A Man for All Seasons".
St. Thomas More was surely the most brilliant and truly noble Englishman to have lived. Quite apart from, his sanctity, which is his highest achievement - we remember Our Lord's exhortation to "Be Holy as your Heavenly Father Is Holy"(Matt 5 : 48).Holiness or perfection is the essential character of God, in man it came to also be called Godliness. It was a quality that St. Thomas More had long possessed, but grew in by leaps and bounds , even as the difficulties and trials in his life grew to appalling heights.
But he was remarkable for so much more than even that great achievement. He was a brilliant intellect, a writer, poet, lawyer, Judge,Ambassador, Parliamentarian, and as Chancellor effectively Prime Minister of England.His wide experience, his scholarship and his humanistic approach matched by his awesome integrity and realistic appreciation of the affairs of men obviously attracted many of the world's leading scholars to him, including controversial scholars like Erasmus. But St. Thomas was able to keep his balance and personal stability, even whilst moving in these exalted circles. His humility preserved his filial deference toward his Judge Father and when he would meet his Father in the Inns of Court, Thomas the faithful son, would kneel for his Father's Blessing.
We know a vast amount about St.Thomas More from his own writings and from the records of his interrogation and trial. So great are his writings that the Harvard Library which owns his papers , has published 14,000 Pages of his writings. Further the bureaucracy of Henry VIII's early Police State had become very efficient and its files are preserved. Even the personal papers of the wretched Thomas Cromwell the avaricious and heretic successor to St. Thomas as Lord Chancellor are preserved, this, largely because when he fell from Henry's favour, he fell far and fast - arrested without warning one day and executed on the second day afterward.He had no time to sanitise his papers.
|Study for a Portrait of the More Family by Hans Holbein.|
St.Thomas is clearly seen beneath the Clock, His Father on his right and son John on his left
The sharpness of St. Thomas' intellect could have made him a very uncomfortable person to have around, especially when combined with his absolute integrity. However, both were kept rightly in balance by his generosity of spirit and highly developed sense of Christian charity. All of his qualities made him the ideal Paterfamilias. One would logically tend to look a t his son John to see the Father in the son, but there seems to have been some unusual and obscured factor there. Some have speculated that the young man was in some way deficient - but we cannot know , and it is useless and intrusive to speculate. We do know that St.Thomas' daughter Margaret "Meg" was the apple of her Father's eye. Yet in the end, she was to disappoint him,not only imploring him to swear the King's Oath denying the Truth , but swearing it herself to save her life.
It must be a bitter scourge to have one's deeply loved child betray the Catholic Faith for which so many have been enslaved and died at the hands of persecutors.
St.Thomas was very much a Saint for us to emulate. For we are inclined to regard ourselves as uniquely "with it" immersed in, and taken up with,the affairs of our times.But he was equally so in his times. Though they may not have moved with electronic speed, they were, to those then living, marvellous indeed with the very recent advent of the printing press , ideas began to circulate far more widely and at a greater rate than ever before. There was a consequent hunger for novelty and an immense letting off of a head of intellectual steam built up over centuries.
The situation was itself a very great novelty and one could hardly blame the authorities, principally the Church, for being so inept in responding. No-one had ever experienced or even imagined the phenomenon then infecting their society.Their response was to formally rebut error , expect compliance and punish non-compliance. Everyone knew that error had no rights. And those in error held the same view when they gained power in parts of Europe. St. Thomas More was in the thick of it, in fact the Champion, enlisted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to rebut the heretics. Publication and counter-publication was the order of the day.But the heretics enjoyed the advantage of the guerilla fighter. They were subversive and could mould any situation to their advantage siding with any group of locals who found troubles with Church authority, which in those days ran very far into popular life,and from there leaping into the controversies about doctrine. Any resentment against any cleric or situation, found its excuse with the deformers.
(The whole situation bears some eerie parallels with the post- Conciliar period. The Council met, issued its documents and the Bishops and Curia expected the Church to move into broad sunlit uplands of a new golden age. But a coterie of North European Prelates and "Theologians"with another agenda, had been meeting daily and daily holding Press Conferences. They told the World "what the Council said ,and thought and meant and did". Of course it was not true, this "spirit of the Council"they invented was false and so plastic it could be moulded into any shape you wanted- it could subvert monasteries in Europe, subvert the Church in Holland, destroy Religious Orders in the USA with quack Psychology, undermine the Sacred Liturgy and Sacred Scripture TOTALLY ignoring Conciliar documents . The Council Fathers all 1,500 plus of them, were effectively gagged by a diabolically media savvy group of miscreants.)
The Truth seemed paralysed whilst lies bounded about athletically.
Yes, St.Thomas More had seen it all - he knows what we have lived through, and are struggling out of!
He was a man of great humanity, he had considered a vocation to the Priesthood as a young man, but in his discernment found he was called in other directions.His youthful ardour is remembered in the poem"REUNION" in which he writes of a mature man, meeting after decades the grown woman he had known and chastely loved when they were sixteen. Denied by her parents the right to develop their relationship, they lost contact. But now the sight of her re-kindles in him the flame of youth. It is a marvellous piece of writing and shows us how very endearing a man he was.
Very human and a loving Father, he writes these lines for his children :
"I've given you kisses a-plenty,
A few smacks, lest duty fail
But if I flogged you ever,
It was with a peacock's tail. "
When so many have written books about the great Saint , and Holy Church has raised him to those Honours of the Altar, my lowly post can add nothing to his lustre or dignity. I only wish to record my homage to so great a man.