Wednesday, August 20, 2014
St. Thomas More: A Man For All Seasons
Thomas More was born in London, England on February 7, 1477, the only son of Sir John More, barrister and judge and his wife, Agnes. When he was thirteen years old, More went to live in the household of Cardinal Morton, who was then the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop noticed his young protégée's superior intellect and sent him to study at Oxford. In 1494 he began to study law.
More considered entering the priesthood but discerned he was not called to the priesthood when he realized that he desired married life. At the age of 28 he married Jane Colte with whom he had three daughters and one son. In 1511, when the children were still very young, Jane died. Soon after More married a widow, Alice Middleton, who was seven years older than him. It was said that she was 'without beauty or education' but she was devoted to the children and More and the marriage seemed to have been a happy one.
More's fame as a lawyer grew and he was chosen by Cardinal Wolsey to go to Flanders to protect the interests of the English merchants there. It was during this time that he began to write his most famous book, Utopia, which was published in 1516.
In October, 1529, More succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor of England, a post never before held by a layman. King Henry VIII considered More his friend and would often visit him at his home in Chelsea. He enjoyed More's conversation and admired his character.
Shortly after his first speech as chancellor in 1529, a royal proclamation ordered the clergy to acknowledge Henry as 'Supreme Head of the Church' in England. More resigned his post and firmly opposed Henry's divorce (which had been prohibited by the Pope) and as well as his usurping the role of the Pope as Head of the Church.
Shortly after Henry's marriage to Ann Boleyn in 1533, the Act of Succession was passed and persons of the court and parliament were required to take an oath that the children of Henry and Anne would be the legitimate heirs to the throne. This ignored Mary, the daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, who had remained a faithful Catholic, as a legitimate heir to the English throne. More refused to take the oath and to acknowledge the King as the head of the Church and was consequently sent to the Tower of London. While there he continued to joke with his family and friends when they were allowed to visit but when he was alone he spent his time in prayer.
On July 1, 1535, More was indicted for high treason and perjury at Westminster Hall. Although he denied the charges, he was found guilty and was beheaded on Tower Hill July 6, 1535.
His last words were, "I die the King's servant, but God's first." He is one of several Patron Saints of lawyers and politicians.
Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn, was raised a Protestant and eventually became Queen Elizabeth and head of the Church of England. Although she is remembered as ‘Good Queen Bess’ she had many Catholic priests hunted down and killed for celebrating the forbidden Catholic Mass. Mary for a short time was also Queen and because she had Protestant noblemen killed is known as ‘Bloody Mary’.
The story of Thomas More's life has been excellently told in the movie, A Man for all Seasons (1966), starring Paul Scofield as More. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann. The film won six Academy Awards.