By: Joseph D. Crumlish, Esquire
Thomas More, born in medieval London, son of a high court judge, became an
international figure whose intellectual gifts transcended those of his contemporaries. Praised
by his colleagues as “A Man for All Seasons,” he became a man for all ages.
His lifelong devotion to king and country, God and Church started with his
appointment as page in the Lambeth palace of Cardinal Morton, England’s Lord Chancellor (a
post which Thomas became the first layman to hold). Thus began his introduction to royal
intrigue in which he earned the friendship and esteem of his Sovereign, Henry VIII, leading
to fame, fortune and paradoxically, death. It is notable that it was the same Lambeth Palace
from which Thomas later emerged as Henry’s prisoner.
More’s unquestioned skill and integrity had led from one success to another on his
lifelong journey, with each post marked by larger stakes. This man of heart, prayer and will
indeed became a man to see. As speaker of the house of Parliament he dared to defend that
body’s rights against the Crown. His record as judge was unsurpassed. He became Sheriff
of London and served as his King’s Ambassador in resolving skirmishes in France following
the Hundred Years War. He dialogued with Europe’s humanists, establishing himself in the
first ranks with his ingenious UTOPIA. Meanwhile, he home-schooled his family in the
classics, pioneering in the education of women. All the while, he played a leading role in the
great debate of his time, defending the universal church against new doctrines which
threatened the stability of Christendom.
Among the dangerous new doctrines was the divine right of kings which supported
Henry’s assertion of his headship of the Church, ownership of its properties, and
criminalization of those who disagreed. Thomas saw the handwriting on the wall.
As scholar, Thomas was aware of Aristotle’s dictum that government is “oughtness.”
As statesman, he saw that need even to the extent of risking his life in the face of tyranny —
a basic tenet of western civilization.
Thomas is lauded for dissenting in matters of conscience. But conscience, to him had
far greater dimensions than the right to dissent. To him, conscience is based not in
glorious isolation but on an informed relation to God and His Church consisting of the
communion of saints: past, present and future. More was asked to take an oath he did not
believe in and thereby perjure himself; by these standards this he would not do.
For Thomas, his execution became a victory in his lifelong battles against his own
weakness and the forces of evil. As he confided to his son in law, “I rejoiced… that I had
given the devil a foul fall.” Thus spoke a mystic man whose eyes were on a higher prize
than anything any worldly prince could provide.
Ample proof of his joyful state were his words on the way to the scaffold as Thomas
offered to pray for his keeper “…that we may meet in heaven together, where we shall be
merry forever and ever.” Would that we all may join the company of Thomas More, indeed
a man to see.