A Bit More Serious

August 9, 2005 § 2 Comments


Perhaps I can “muse” a bit more seriously today. Yesterday Mommy and I were working on planning the itinerary for the England trip and came across a play running in Stratford-Upon-Avon called “Thomas More”. This reminded me that I hadn’t watched A Man for All Seasons – one of my favorite films – in ages, so I settled down and watched it last night. What a fantastic film; I think it improves upon repeated viewings.

But the most amazing part of the story is, of course, its central character St. Thomas More. His early career, some say, was overshadowed by his father but his intellectual brilliance and sharp wit helped him to rise quickly in the world. Lord Chancellor of the Realm towards the end of his life, he held a position second only in authority and influence to the king. He could have had anything he wanted, but instead resigned because of his decision not to sign the Act of Sucession and declare the king the Supreme Pontiff of the Church in England. As was shown in the film, he very carefully avoided really saying anything on the subject, and eventually a crime had to be invented so that the government could take him down. St. Thomas More was executed on Tower Hill, his head piked on Tower Bridge as a warning to those who would betray their government.

Here, of course, the government was wrong. St. Thomas More was not a traitor, but a patriot and a hero. Not a fool, but a wise man. Not a criminal, but a martyr.

We today have a lot to learn from this great man. In his own words, St. Thomas died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He loved England to the depth of his being, which is why he stood steadfast against the king to the very end. He could not go with a law that would destroy his country. We must examine our hearts – would we do the same for “God and country”?

Another movie that considers this question is One Man’s Hero, worth watching if you can possibly find it. I am partial to St. Thomas More, but this Tom Berenger film is good too.

I will have to say more on this later. I need to think about it a bit more.

§ 2 Responses to A Bit More Serious

  • Robert Bolt, the author of the play, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, was not even a Catholic. He truncated events somewhat as well, with no mention of More’s first marriage. He thought that people of all creeds and persuasions could find inspiration in More as a man of real integrity. When most people bend in the wind, here was one who did not. Paul Scofield is great in the part, although there is a remake with Charlton Heston that follows the play more closely with a narrator, limited props and a theatrical stage setting.

    Peter Ackroyd has written a biography that fills in the many gaps and omissions in the film versions.

    Certain Protestant critics remark that Thomas More was no more sympathetic to them as the Protestant king would be to him. It is true that he did not subscribe to our modern Vatican II notion of religious liberty. He would well have appreciated the older maxim, ERROR HAS NO RIGHTS. Along with others in his time period, the teacher of heresy was counted the same as a murderer. It would be asked, which is more grevious, the one who can kill the body or the one who can kill the soul? Thus, the death penalty for heretics was argued as legitimate and necessary.

    Note this citation from the old 1913 CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: “As chancellor it was his duty to enforce the laws against heretics and, by doing so, he provoked the attacks of Protestant writers both in his own time and since. The subject need not be discussed here, but More’s attitude is patent. He agreed with the principle of the anti-heresy laws and had no hesitation in enforcing them. As he himself wrote in his ‘Apologia’ (cap. 49) it was the vices of heretics that he hated, not their persons; and he never proceeded to extremities until he had made every effort to get those brought before him to recant. How successful he was in this is clear from the fact that only four persons suffered the supreme penalty for heresy during his whole term of office.”

    Only four persons were put to death for teaching heresy and refusing to recant their positions? No matter whether it be four or one or a thousand, would we not view all life as incomensurate today and that one cannot be forced to violate his or her conscience?

    Had these four orders of execution, not to mention the various other “incentives” used against heretics been presented in the movie– I suspect that the average person would have been less impressed by More’s singular sacrifice.

    Other critics contend that he died to protect his family, which largely did take the required oath, and to safeguard his properties. They argue that he was already an old man, as if a man of many years might not want his life as dearly as a young one.

    However, despite the many qualifications, I join you in your admiration for More– a great Catholic, humanist, scholar, and finally a SAINT.

    Did you read his book I gave you, THE SADNESS OF CHRIST – And Final Prayers and Instructions?

  • Peanut says:

    I haven’t read The Sadness of Christ yet, but I did read Ackroyd’s biography (which you also gave me.) It was excellent, and revealed a side of St. Thomas not shown in the film, that’s for sure.

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