Thought for the Day – 22 June – The Memorial of St Thomas More (1478-1535) Martyr
His belief that no lay ruler has jurisdiction over the Church of Christ cost Thomas More his life.
Beheaded on Tower Hill, London, on 6 July 1535, More steadfastly refused to approve King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage and establishment of the Church of England.
Described as “a man for all seasons,” which title is drawn from what Robert Whittington, an English man of letters, in 1520 wrote of More:
“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requires, a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.”
More was a literary scholar, eminent lawyer, gentleman, father of four children and chancellor of England. An intensely spiritual man, he would not support the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Nor would he acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church in England, breaking with Rome, and denying the pope as head.
More was committed to the Tower of London to await trial for treason, not swearing to the Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy. Upon conviction, More declared he had all the councils of Christendom and not just the council of one realm to support him in the decision of his conscience.
Four hundred years later in 1935, Thomas More was Canonised a saint of God. Few saints are more relevant to our time. In the year 2000, in fact, St Pope John Paul II named him patron of political leaders. The supreme diplomat and counsellor, he did not compromise his own moral values in order to please the king, knowing that true allegiance to authority is not blind acceptance of everything that authority wants. King Henry himself realised this and tried desperately to win his chancellor to his side because he knew More was a man whose approval counted, a man whose personal integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas More resigned as chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, the king had to get rid of him. Before being executed he said, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” The question is, would we too?