A Man of Conscience
St. Thomas More (1478-1535), “was the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. Today he is honored as the patron of lawyers, and a “Man for All Seasons”.
St. Thomas More was born in London, England, in 1478. He went to Oxford, studies law, and received his doctorate in 1501. He entered the English Parliament in 1504. A year later, Sir Thomas married and had four children.
The More household was a model of spiritual and intellectual life. Sir Thomas saw that his daughters were well educated-something unusual in those days- and led his family in prayer, reading of the Scriptures, and discussion on the important matters of his day. He welcomed into his home not only famous scholars like St. John Fischer and Erasmus, but also his poorer neighbors, whom he treated warmly and respectfully.
When Henry V111 became king, he sought out Sir Thomas as a friend and advisor. In 1529, Sir Thomas became Lord Chancellor of England and functioned wisely and justly in that office. His friend Erasmus wrote: “In serious matters, no man is more prized. While if the king wishes to relax, no one’s conversation is more cheerful. Happy the nation where kings appoint such officials”.
Shortly after Sir Thomas took office, Henry V111 began proceedings to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Because he could not agree with the king, Thomas kept silent and eventually, in 1532, he resigned his office. Without income and in disfavor, Thomas spent the next few years writing and reflecting, living quietly with his family, “living merry together”, as he said.
But in 1534, Thomas was asked, with Bishop John Fischer, to take an oath to the king that he could not accept. Thomas refused and was placed in prison.
In prison he wrote to his daughter; “I trust only in God’s merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me till now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than swear against my conscience. I will not mistrust him, though I shall feel myself weakening and being overcome with fear. I shall remember how St. Peter, at a blast of wind, began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do the same: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust, he shall place his holy hand on me and, in the stormy seas, hold me up from drowning”.
After fifteen months in prison, in the year 1535, St. Thomas met death with a smile and a humorous remark on his lips.
Pope Pius X1 described St. Thomas as a “truly complete man”.
The last paragraph of the letter of St. Thomas More to his daughter is well worth pondering: “Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best”.
“Father, may the life of St. Thomas More give us the courage to live and proclaim our faith”.
Fr. Theodore Walsh, C.P.