Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Honor Of My First Otherside Mentor

St. Thomas More: A Man for This Season
“Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity. And even outside the Church, particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples, he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person.”So wrote the late Servant of God John Paul II in a tribute, no much more, an apostolic letter issued “Motuu Propio” (on his own authority) concerning the man whose inspiring life, fidelity to his Catholic Christian faith, unjust persecution and Martyrs death we in the Western Catholic Church commemorate on this date. (I forgot his feast day was Monday, so this is two days late.)

The England of the sixteenth century was in the midst of a serious crisis of politics, culture and faith, not unlike the times in which we now live. In 1534 all citizens who were of age were required to take an oath called “The Act of Succession”. It acknowledged that King Henry VIII was married to Anne Boleyn, even though he was not. His desire to divorce Catherine was not sufficient to make that marriage null and his attempt to use his political power to change the truth was objectively unsuccessful. So, the King went further, he used the power of his office to promulgate an unjust positive Law by which he proclaimed that he and Anne were lawfully married. It went further. He also declared himself to be the Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus abrogating to himself the authority to determine that his lawful marital bond was dissolved and denying the authority of the successor of the Apostle Peter. The Holy Father had refused to collaborate with Henry’s demand that he grant him an annulment from his lawful marriage so that he could pursue a different woman as his wife. He would not affirm Henry’s decision to place his disordered desires over the objective truth. {Henry might have had a randy personality, but the real issue was his percieved need for a male heir, and Catherine was near menopause by this time. The Holy Father was far more interested in placating Spain than he was England and Catherine was a Spanish princess. Thomas was well aware of these issues, and of the politics of the Vatican.}

The King knew Thomas More quite well.He admired his knowledge of the law, his studies and publications, and his demonstrated integrity which was so evident in his warm and faithful family life and accomplished career in public service. In addition to the Law, Thomas had studied literature, history, theology and philosophy at Oxford. He was elected to the Parliament of England in 1504 and held several other elective and appointed offices. They placed him in our equivalent of both legislative and judicial service. In spite of Thomas having made known to the King that he could not agree with the dissolution of his lawful marriage to Catherine, the King appointed this man of law, learning and letters to be the Lord Chancellor of England in 1529.Thomas was the first layman to ever occupy such a high political position in the realm. {Thomas was a very good friend of Henry VIII, and was given the position of Lord Chancellor on the advice of Cardinal Woolsey, who also recognized Thomas's integrity and brilliance.}

His beloved England was in the midst of difficult economic problems and he had deep concerns for his countrymen, especially for the poor, the weak and vulnerable. He pursued justice through his political office and sought to serve the King while remaining faithful to the higher law. He knew the order of truth and he applied a hierarchy of values in both his personal life and his public life.

In 1532, knowing that he could not enforce the declaration of his temporal King to usurp the authority of the Church, he resigned his political position. He tried to do so with the kind of integrity that had characterized his entire life. He withdrew from public life and bore the ridicule and taunts of those who once praised him. He had lost his prestige and his considerable financial resources, but he gained the peace which always comes through fidelity to the Lord. His hopes for a life with his family, lived in simplicity and fidelity to the Church, were short lived. The King, insisted that Thomas take the oath under the “Act of Succession”, thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of his “marriage” to Anne and his authority over the Church. Thomas would not do so because he refused to violate his truly formed conscience. So, the King had his former counselor imprisoned in the Tower of London. There he underwent intense tortures of both body and soul. These came even from some within his own family and circle of friends who failed to understand his actions. {This is not true. Henry never had Thomas tortured because of their friendship. This reluctance on the part of Henry irritated those on the commission who were to 'convince' Thomas to take the oath. The commission did however grant his family permission to see him, but only if they tried to convince him to take the oath. This scene is really well done in the movie A Man For All Seasons.}

At the time, few would have even noticed if Thomas had succumbed to the Royal request. He probably could have even justified the action through the exercise of his well honed rhetorical and logical skills by calling it a merely perfunctory action. He could have had his substantial properties restored if he had just sworn that oath, others would say, in order to provide material safety for his beloved family. Instead, this man who loved life, loved his family, loved his career and properly loved the world and all of its goods, loved the Lord first and would not compromise.He was an ordinary Christian who shows us ordinary Christians the way to living a unity of life in the midst of the creeping darkness and distractions of our own age. {Thomas More had a world wide reputation and it was this reputation which made his refusal to take the oath such a thorn in the side to Henry. Had Thomas been just an ordinary Christian he would never have been imprisoned and beheaded. Henry could not afford to ignore Thomas's refusal to take the oath anymore than GW can afford to ignore the acts of Dick Cheney.}

How did he do it? Quite simply, he prayed. He was a man who loved the Lord in the Heart of the Catholic Church. His very real and sincerely lived piety has filled the books written about him and the writings he left for our own growth and edification. He also practiced regular ascetical disciplines which he always offered in love to the Lord. In fact, even while he suffered in that Tower, awaiting a Martyrs death, he continued the regimen.

During that brief time which he had with his family, after attempting to quietly resign rather than violate his formed conscience and before he was imprisoned, when his wife or children complained about their lack he would tell them that they could not expect to “go to heaven in featherbeds”.

That is the lesson of his life and of his Martyrs death. He became conformed to the Lord Jesus and, as a result, he still beckons millions, across the expanse of time unto today, to follow his example as he followed the example of the Lord. Our readings in the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, offer us a tender letter on his Feast, written by the Saint to his beloved daughter Margaret as he awaited his martyrdom.His only concern was for her to grow in her relationship with the Lord. He had loved her so in life that he wanted that love to continue in the life to come.

This champion of heroic courage in the face of a State which has lost its soul never wavered in his fidelity to the Truth. He would not betray the truth or compromise it on the altar of public opinion or for political opportunism. He knew that to do so would not only have dishonored God and led his family and so many others astray, but that it would have given tacit assent to the emerging despotism of his age.

Thomas used the occasion of the Courtroom, where he had practiced his trade, to defend the Truth and its obligations in the temporal order. In the eloquent words of the Servant of God, John Paul II, who proclaimed him not only the Patron of all lawyers but the Patron of all politicians, “he made an impassioned defense of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State.”He was found “guilty”, this man of truth and he still brings shame upon every unjust tribunal and misuse of governmental power. St. Thomas More was martyred for the Catholic Christian faith. He was beheaded by the minions of a temporal leader who had abused his office and wielded the awful sword, the power of the State. {Technically he was beheaded for treason, not Catholicism. His trial was based on invented charges that he publically denied the validity of the act of succession and his death was a foregone conclusion. The irony of this is that Thomas maintained absolute silence on this issue in order to keep his life, but when faced with the trumped up inevitable he did speak, and he did speak eloquently.}

Thomas faced his executioners with the very same dignity he had shown in life, speaking with humor and affection to them even before they beheaded him. After his death it was found that he had left these words in the margin of his Book of Hours:“Give me your grace, good Lord, to set the world at have my mind well united to you; to not depend on the changing opinions of that I may think joyfully of the things of God and tenderly implore his help. So that I may lean on God’s strength and make an effort to love him... So as to thank Him ceaselessly for his benefits; so as to redeem the time I have wasted...”

On this day, we Catholics, indeed all faithful Christians in the west, face a similar challenge to that which faced St. Thomas More. The attacks on true marriage are well underway. We are being invited to compromise for our own convenience and tempted to accept the rulings of Judicial Oligarchs and Alchemists who think that they can change the nature of this institution by the stroke of a pen. Their collaborators in political office, some of whom are apostate Catholics, are now beginning to wield the figurative sword of temporal power against us. The truths taught by the Church, and revealed within the common patrimony of the Natural Law which is knowable by all men and women, concerning the dignity and inviolability of ever human life at every age and stage, are now being denied by those in control of the power of the State. The blood of the unborn continues to flow.This man named Thomas More has been properly called a “man for all Seasons. On his Feast day I propose he is certainly a man for this season. St. Thomas More, pray for us. {There is not one single Catholic in the West who is facing execution because their consciencence objects to abortion or gay marriage. This ending paragraph is pure hyperbole and an insult to Thomas More.}


I edited out a lot of the above piece in the interests of trying to stick to facts, while at the same time removing a lot of the sentiment expressed in the final paragraph. The reality is that to some extent Thomas More was a conundrum to his family, his friends, his fellow scholars, his King, and himself. Henry never could figure out why Thomas would lose his life over a papacy that Thomas himself considered deeply flawed and corrupt, and badly in need of reform.

I suspect it had a lot to do with Lutheranism. Thomas was not fond of Luther, nor of his movement. Although reform minded himself, Thomas believed reform had to be accomplished with in Church structure and not schizmatically from without. He banned all of Luther's writings and then took him on in a street pamphlet battle as Luther's followers smuggled this material into London. I've read these pamphlets and Thomas was well acquainted with London gutter speak. He published under a pseudonym so as not to offend the Kind and his own office as Lord Chancellor. He also had a six of Luther's followers burned at the stake by his direct order.

I don't know that Thomas was influenced so much by the notion of Truth, as he was the protection of societal order. In his view, the rise of protestantism represented the worst prospects for societal order, as up until this point Catholicism was the cornerstone on which his society had rested. He never signed Henry's oath because of the preamble which placed Henry above the Pope in religious matters in England. In reality he recognized Anne Bolyen as England's queen, sending her a letter of congratulations, but refused to attend her coronation. A slight which irritated Henry no end but was in perfect keeping with Thomas's view of personal loyalty. He was always personally loyal to the previous queen Catherine of Aragon.

Thomas was very pious and some of his best writings were done in prison and focus on the Eucharist. It's interesting because Thomas, as a lay person, was only able to recieve communion on Easter Sunday. Although he originally studied for the priesthood, he did not feel he had a call to celibacy and this too must have caused him some serious angst. He wore a hair shirt his entire adult life and practiced self flagellation. Neither of these practices were known by his family until his death. They were apparently his dirtly little secret.

Thomas More is the only Christian saint who has a statue in the Kremlin. Apparently Stalin saw Thomas's book Utopia as a source of inspiration for communism. It's kind of fascinating how Thomas's life and writings have appealed to so many diverse political persuasions. No doubt John Paul was correct in making him the patron saint of politicians. He's a Man For All Political Points Of View.

He was also interested in the mentally ill and the psychically gifted. I suspect he had a lot of innerdemensional advice that he only alludes too. In utopia the main character Rafael Hythloday has a name and surname that are direct references to the Archangel Rafael. I've often wondered if his interest in both the mentally ill and the psychically gifted weren't his scholarly way to try and figure out what might have been happening to him. It was not unusual for him to take inmates out of Bedlam and host them in his house. His wife Alice should also have been canonnized as she not only had to put up with his house guests, but the zoo he kept which included a monkey free to roam the manor house.

Thomas led an interesting if conflicted life, and he is highly active from the other side. I've had contact with him for 35 years and it's been fruitful and really fun. The sense of humor he was reputed to have had in life comes out in the afterlife as well. But he's typical Socratic teacher. I once asked him what the deal was with reincarnation and he replied that if I really understood what living the love of Christ meant, reincarnation would be a moot topic. It took me awhile to understand he didn't really answer my question. When I went back and questioned him further, he said, if I didn't get my understanding of Christ as the way, the truth, and the light, better than I had currently managed, it would be in my best interests to hope like hell reincarnation was a fact. I actually suspect reincarnation is a fact, and Thomas has opted out, still recuperating from his last lifetime, a no, he still won't give me a direct answer.

One last thought, Thomas has never gone on much about the papacy and obedience, but he has gone on endlessly about the Spiritual energy which is available in the Church's sacramental system. He once said the church could afford to lose everything but it's sacramental system and the Mass itself because that is it's true patrimony. The rest is men being men.

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