Friday, June 22, 2012


On this Memorial of the Martyrs Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More!

The Martyrdom of Saint Thomas More

A Man for All Seasons

The story takes place in 16th century England. But men like Sir Thomas More, who love life yet have the moral fiber to lay down their lives for their principles, are found in every century. Concentrating on the last seven years of English chancellor's life, the struggle between More and his King, Henry VIII, hinges on Henry's determination to break with Rome so he can divorce his current wife and wed again, and good Catholic More's inability to go along with such heresy. More resigns as chancellor, hoping to be able to live out his life as a private citizen. But Henry will settle for nothing less than that the much respected More give public approval to his headstrong course. Written by alfiehitchie

King Henry VIII's desire for a son and heir leads him to seek a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn. He had already received a dispensation from the Pope to marry Catherine - she was his brother's widow - and he seeks the support of Sir Thomas More who is soon named Chancellor. More is a devout Catholic and while he does not agree with the King's desire to divorce, he is completely silent in his opposition. His principles are tested however when he also remains silent after the King is named the head of the Church of England and subsequently when Parliament requires all to take an oath of allegiance. His silence is not sufficient for the King who wishes to have More's public endorsement. He is eventually brought to trial on charges of having accepted a bribe but it is one of his former supporters, Sir Richard Rich, who perjures himself leading to More being found guilty and beheaded.


Robert Kumpel said...

I hope I would have the courage to face death,

Any faith that isn't worth dying for certainly isn't worth living for.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

I'd rather pray for our version of Cromwell...

ytc said...

Abp. Bugnini, Gene?

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

No, ytc, I was just thinking of Cromwell's very practical method of dealing with an autocrat...

Henry Edwards said...

On this (optional) memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, let me recommend

for some real guy stuff. (Supertradmum laments that the majority of her readers are women.)

St. John Fisher was the only English bishop who remained loyal to Rome. In the face of similar martyrdom, would 1 of every 19 today?

rcg said...

I can say almost certainly not.

My Government is not my race nor personified in nay one person. Rather, it stems from me and the rest of the citizens. If it divorces from me and attacks me, or any other citizen, in a presumption of sovereignty, then my allegiance to this nation is finished and it may treat me as it would any other criminal under its laws. And I am free to respond as I would in this world against any violent tyrant.

Templar said...

Let me respond to Father's question in the immortal words of Blessed Miquel Pro (and others):

Viva Cristo Rey!

Anonymous 2 said...

As the hero and patron saint of lawyers, Sir Thomas More is one of my favorite saints.

Given his status as a devout Catholic lawyer, it may be worth reflecting on the role of law, and the legal profession, in preserving the peace and in seeking to achieve Justice.

We are a people governed in our political relations by a supreme legal document – the U.S. Constitution – and by a commitment to the Rule of Law, a central element of which is to ensure proper observance of the Constitution.

The Constitution is supposed to forestall the need for armed revolution by providing a mechanism guaranteeing the regular and permanent possibility of peaceful revolution. That mechanism is called the vote. One of the main reasons I decided to become a U.S. citizen many years ago is that I could then help to “throw the rascals out” and replace them by better rascals =). Humor aside, the vote and the rest of our democratic process, together with our commitment to the Rule of Law, are indeed precious gifts and further essential elements in the “checks and balances” of our system. But yes, to recur to yesterday’s theme, the patient, our Republic, is ailing and needs powerful medicine.

In addition to restoration of a more robust civic virtue focused on the true common good among leaders and ordinary citizens, the law and the lawyers, whom the Roman jurist Ulpian called “the priests of justice,” also have a very important role to play in treatment of the patient. And to this task lawyers must bring their own special virtues. What that role and what those special virtues are precisely, and indeed the state of health of Justice herself, are the subject of many books and articles. Suffice it to say here, however, that there may be no need to lay down our lives for the cause mentioned and in the manner suggested by Father’s post, because the Obama Administration’s regulations are being challenged in the courts and, as Aristotle commended over two millennia ago, they must submit to the Rule of Law rather than the Rule of Men.

So, three cheers today for Saint Thomas More, and two cheers perhaps for the lawyers?

Marc said...

Anon2: As an attorney myself, I'd like to get behind your sentiments. But, generally speaking, I just don't see that attorneys are taking their responsibilities any more seriously than anyone else.

I would also add that there is no guarantee that the Rule of Law provides any special sort of protection for anyone. The Rule of Law is what those in power say it is. The Rule of Law necessitated an opposite result in Roe v. Wade, for example. But, the Rule of Law was not followed.

Perhaps I'm just a bit cynical after representing hundreds (thousands?) of indigent criminal defendants wherein I am privy on a daily basis to the system failing entire populations of people without anyone seeming to care.

Ostro Picta said...

In coming to the Faith, these two holy men (in particular) exemplify the kindness lacking in my own heart. Bishop Fisher’s letter to his sister (a nun) before his execution is moving beyond words. Sir Thomas’ Sadness of Christ should be required reading (in that it does so much of what spiritual books are supposed to do – without wishy-washy, happy-clappy sentiments). I do love these two saints (so it is hard to be purposely objective today).

One great what-if is how history would have perceived Fisher and More if Henry VIII had not forced their conscience at every turn. Fisher and More’s humanism (and Fisher’s pastoral tolerance and ecclesiastical reforms) is so similar to others from their era who are co-opted by not so wonderful people (but, hopefully, well intentioned). Through their martyrdom, both men have escaped this terrible fate of being placed in a peg by intellectuals who “know better.”

Bishop Fisher’s constant stand against Henry’s position (really starting with his defense Catherine of Aragon) is prime example of standing-up to another problem in the Church today: the smoke-screen(s).

One smoke-screen is to tell some Catholics they need a “grown-up faith” in which the Holy Spirit is allowed to move and work. And this “grown-up faith” is, of course, calling into question centuries solved questions about basic Catholic morality because it is the Holy Spirit moving.

Marc said...

After reading my last comment, it came across as a bit more cynical than I intended.

I firmly believe that we all (particularly attorneys) need to follow the example of St. Thomas More - he is an example for all the laity, in fact, of the influence we can have when we sanctify the world with our presence in the world as Catholic Christian's truly living our Faith and exercising our rights and duties.

If every Catholic lay person in America got on board with truly living their Faith, the world would be radically, radically different.

Fr. McDonald gave a great homily on this very topic this morning - it was a rousing call to arms for the laity. A pity more people weren't able to hear it - perhaps it was a foretaste of what we'll hear this Sunday at Mass...

Anonymous 2 said...

Marc, I understand very well what you are saying. I hope I was sufficiently careful to combine my conceded idealism with recognition of a reality that all too frequently falls short of the ideal (reference to the state of health of Justice herself, two cheers not three for lawyers (one-and-a half if you prefer =)).

Let me add two additional quick points in further response:

(1) Let’s see how the legal challenge to the Obama Administration regulations turns out;

(2) Many legal educators are trying to do what we can to help ensure that reality comes closer to the ideal.

Templar said...

Why does Man believe he must "keep the peace"? It is in our nature to seek resolution though conflict. Christ too told us that he came not to bring peace but to bring the sword. And Jefferson too tells us that he hopes we should have revolution every generation, and that the Tree of Liberty is watered with the Blood of Tyrants and Patriots.

If Man is fallen, who are we to debate what must be done. Take the Truth as it has been handed to us, refuse to budge, and defend it with your last breath. Martyred or Victorious are the only possible outcomes and who can not call that win-win?

Anonymous 2 said...


This is a very interesting but also very complicated topic. Again I only have time for a few quick comments:

(1) Pairing Jesus Christ with Thomas Jefferson (who, I seem to recall, was a rather severe editor of the Gospels and also supported the sanguinary French Revolution) is provocative, to say the least;

(2) I agree that conflict is endemic to fallen human nature. The question is: How should it be resolved? One way we seek resolution through conflict is precisely through the legal system. Why spill blood when it is not necessary to do so?

(3) There is good Catholic thought on when armed rebellion is justified. Saint Thomas, I believe, regarded it as a last resort (and indeed the Declaration of Independence is presumably to be seen as in that tradition, with its listing of a “long train of abuses”).

However, I do not have the time right now to pursue these various points further. Anyone?

Templar said...

If one does not constantly inspire ones self and ones children to be willing martyrs for The Faith, who does one expect will fill that role? If all we ever teach ourselves and our children is that we should "discuss and debate" we will all stand by and watch as The Faith is "discussed and debated" out of existence. We are all called to be Saints and Martyrs for The Faith, so why would you ever want to stop teaching that? When the time comes for the moment to choose, who will choose to be that Martyr if they have never ever been introduced to the concept? When Catholicism is being outlawed in the US and it's underground adherents are being drug from their new catacombs and fed to the Lions they will know only how to "discuss and debate" and will go like sheep to the slaughter. No thanks.

Anonymous 2 said...


Do we really disagree all that much?

The legal system is intended to deliver justice. To be sure, it does not work perfectly, and many of us involved with it in various capacities seek its constant improvement as part of trying to improve the delivery of justice in our society (to make the Law come closer to the ideal of what it should be and thus come closer to delivering an ideal Justice, with both Law and Justice capitalized to make the distinction). However, if and to the extent the law promises to deliver justice/Justice, then there can hopefully be peace (no peace without justice as the expression goes). Today’s profound and sobering post and ensuing discussion on the tragic phenomenon of child abuse makes the point well I think.

We humans thirst for Justice but I also believe that in most circumstances we rightly prefer peace over violence, and if we don’t, it is because of sin. In my own view at least, more pacific ways of striving for Justice are to be preferred over more violent ones. It is true that the legal system itself rests ultimately on violence, but it is a tamed, officially administered violence, thank God. We give the state a monopoly on violence because the alternative is far less desirable, as Hobbes and Locke have taught us, and as the sad litany of human destructiveness down the corridors of history from Cain and Abel onwards makes brutally and painfully clear.

All that said, sometimes “Italian style justice” (and martyrdom) may be appropriate and necessary in resisting illegitimate power, whether that illegitimate power is exercised by the school bully in the school playground, the bully state in the international playground, or the bully tyrant who has forfeited his right to rule over us. But, again, it has to be a last resort, or else we consign ourselves to anarchy and lose the benefits of the ordered liberty that has been gifted to us by the blood of our ancestors. And I believe I have a long tradition of Catholic thought in support of these views, including Saints Augustine (on just war), Thomas Aquinas (on the right of rebellion against a tyrannical ruler), and Thomas More (on martyrdom).

More is especially instructive, because he actually lived out his convictions through his martyrdom. But if I understand correctly, he did not give up his life easily, running to the axe eagerly and with joy. He tried every way possible – through the law it should be noted – to avoid that fate in good conscience. Ultimately, the law failed him, because the legal system was corrupt, and he then accepted martyrdom, but only as a last resort. Saint Thomas More should indeed be a model for us – for his martyrdom, but also for his lawyerly practical wisdom.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Anon2, Just bear in mind that, when Amos said, "let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream," he was not talking about the same justice that is administered down at the Bibb County Courthouse or up on the Supreme Court...

Anonymous 2 said...


This is of course a fascinating and vitally important topic. We could have an entire Symposium on it. Indeed, as you know, many, many trees have given their own lives to the human pursuit of answers to these questions.

One quick response would be that:

(a) We Catholics should be guided by the Thomist natural law tradition on these matters, as on others, and

(b) One of the purposes of our legal system is to protect and facilitate the right of the prophetic voice to speak Truth to Power. When it fails to do so for any reason, see point (a).

Anonymous 2 said...

P.S. Amendment to final sentence in point (b):

When it fails to do so for any reason, or when Power is not appropriately responsive to that voice, see point (a).

Anonymous 2 said...

I just wanted to add a further thought for clarification. We should probably distinguish two separate issues, both of which are, I believe, addressed in the Thomist natural law tradition:

(a) The right, or even duty, of civil disobedience to unjust laws, and

(b) Armed resistance to unjust oppression by the political authorities.

I have now consulted the CCC. The first is addressed in section 2242 and the second in section 2243. Both responses are subject to conditions that must be satisfied before the response is regarded as legitimate but the conditions for the second seem, appropriately, to be stricter than for the first. I assume that both could require martyrdom and that Saint Thomas More’s case involved the first.

My hope is that in a liberal democracy subject to the Rule of Law such as ours, the law can play an important role in minimizing, or better yet preventing, the need for either response and thus the possible need for martyrdom.

But, as mentioned earlier, we would need an entire Symposium to explore all the intricacies involved.

Templar said...

I'm going to stick with Hobbes if I have to make a choice, but a Hobbesian Society centered on a Catholic Monarch. I'd much rather place my life i his hands then rely upon the "justice" meted out by the mob. A mob by it's very nature can never be just in the sense that Christ is. At least a Monarch you have a 50% chance that his justice will resemble Christ's.