The World St. Thomas More Society: A Catholic Apostolate for Human Life, True Marriage, Family and Chastity

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St. Thomas More  1478-1535
Feast day June 22
Martyr, Patron of lawyers, judges, politicians and statesmen

Our patron, St.Thomas More

St. Thomas More was born at London in 1478. After a thorough grounding in religion and the classics, he entered Oxford to study law. Upon leaving the university he embarked on a legal career which took him to Parliament. In 1505, he married his beloved Jane Colt who bore him four children, and when she died at a young age, he married a widow, Alice Middleton, to be a mother for his young children.

A wit and a reformer, this learned man numbered bishops and scholars among his friends, and by 1516 wrote his world-famous book Utopia. He attracted the attention of Henry VIII who appointed him to a succession of high posts and missions, and finally made him Lord Chancellor in 1529. However, he resigned in 1532, at the height of his career and reputation, when Henry persisted in holding his own opinions regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. The rest of his life was spent in writing, mostly in defense of the Church. In 1534, with his close friend, St. John Fisher, he refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower. Fifteen months later, and nine days after St. John Fisher's execution, he was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that "we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." And on the scaffold, he told the crowd of spectators that he was dying as "the King's good servant-but God's first." He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. His feast day is June 22nd.

Quotations of St. Thomas More

"It can only be disgraceful for some Christians to snore while other Christians are in peril." (Christians in peril. - Sir Thomas was writing about Catholics; all Christians were Catholic as there were no protestants as yet in England.) - More's correspondence from the Tower

"My whole study shall be upon the passion of Chryst." - More's correspondence from the Tower

"I do nobody harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish ever your good. And yet this be not enough to keep a man alive,in good faith I long not to live." - More's correspondence from the Tower

"Good Master Kingston, trouble not yourself but be of good cheer; for I will pray for you, and my good Lady your wife, that we may meet in heaven together, where we shall be merry forever and ever." - More comforts the constable of the Tower (Roper Ed. Sylvester and Harding 251)

"And yet more bound am I to his grace for putting me into this place, where I have had convenient time and space to have remembrance of my end... and therefore will I not fail earnestly to pray for his grace, both here and also in another world." - To Sir Thomas Pope, the King's representative

"I pray you... see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself." - More's words to officers helping him up the scaffold (Roper 101-102)

"I die - the King's good servant but God's first." - More's last words on the scaffold (Chambers 350)

"Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years' time. He may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English history. For he wasabove all things historic; he represented at once a type, a turning point and an ultimate destiny. If there had not happened to be that particular man at the particular moment, the whole of history would have been different." (from G.K.Chesterton, during a visit to More's home in Chelsea in 1929)

*N.B. The acronym following, -CWM-, refers to The Complete Works of St. Thomas More (1963-1997), published by Yale University Press. Most of these quotations have been modernized in syntax and diction, and therefore often differ from the original given in CWM.

§ "a man for all seasons"
   --Whittington and Erasmus about Thomas More, 1520 and 1521

§ "I die the king's good servant, but God's first."
   --On the scaffold, July 6, 1535 (from the Paris Newsletter account)

On Truth

§ "time trieth truth."
   --Thomas More's Supplication of Souls,CWM*, v. 7, p. 135

On Public Service

§ "You must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds....What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can."
   -Utopia CWM, v. 4, pp. 99, 101

§ "[If a leader allows weariness to so grip] the mind that its strength is sapped and reason gives up the reins, if a [leader] is so overcome by heavy-hearted sleep that he neglects to do what the duty of his office requires...--like the cowardly ship's captain who is so disheartened by the furious din of the storm that he deserts the helm, hides away cowering in some cranny, and abandons the ship to the waves..." if a [leader] does this, I would certainly not hesitate to juxtapose and compare his sadness with the sadness that leads as [Paul] says, to hell...."
   --On the Sadness of Christ-CWM, v. 14, pp. 263, 265

On Law

§ "Were it my father on the one side and the devil on the other, his cause being good, the devil should have his right."
   --Life of Thomas Moreby William Roper

On Conscience

§ "The clearness of my conscience has made my heart hop for joy."
   --Letter to Margaret Roper, from the Tower, 1534,Selected Letters#60, p. 235.

§ "My case was such in this matter through the clearness of my own conscience that though I might have pain I could not have harm, for a man may in such a case lose his head and not have harm."
   --Letter to Margaret Roper, from the Tower, June 3, 1535

§ "Thus being so well and quietly settled in conscience, the security and uprightness of the same so eased and diminished all the griefs and pains of his imprisonment and all his other adversity, that no token or signification of lamenting or sorrow appeared in him, but that in his communication with his daughter, with the Lieutenant and others, he held on his old merry, pleasant talk whosoever occasion served."
   --Life of Thomas More by William Roper

§ "I never intend, God being my good Lord, to pin my soul to another man's back, not even the best man that I know this day living: for I know not where he may hap to carry it."
   --Dialogue on Conscience to his daughter, in prison, August 1534

On Education

§ "The whole fruit of their [educational] endeavors should consist in the testimony of God and a good conscience. Thus they will be inwardly calm and at peace and neither stirred by praise of flatterers nor stung by the follies of unlearned mockers of learning."
   --Letter to Wm. Gonnell, his children's tutor, May 22, 1518

§ "Reason is by study, labor, and exercise of logic, philosophy, and other liberal arts corroborate [i.e., strengthened] and quickened; and the judgment both in them and also in orators, laws, and stories [is] much ripened. And although poets are with many men taken but for painted words, yet do they much help the judgment, and make a man among other things well furnished in one special thing, without which all learning is half lame... a good mother wit."
   --A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CWM, v.6, p. 132

On Self-Government

§ "I would have people in time of silence take good heed that their minds be occupied with good thoughts, for unoccupied they will never be."
   --The Four Last Things, CWM, v.1, p. 138

§ "I think that if any good thing shall go forward, something must be adventured."
   --A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CWM, v. 6, p. 339

§ "In the things of the soul, knowledge without remembrance profits little."
   --The Four Last Things CWM, v.1, p. 138

On Suffering

§ "We cannot go to heaven in feather beds."
   --Life of Thomas More by William Roper; More to his children, c. 1510

§ "Every tribulation which ever comes our way either is sent to be medicinal, if we will take it as such, or may become medicinal, if we will make it such, or is better than medicinal, unless we forsake it."
   --Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v. 12, p. 23

On Pride

§ "But no matter how high in the clouds this arrow of pride may fly, and no matter how exuberant one may feel while being carried up so high, let us remember that the lightest of these arrows still has a heavy iron head. High as it may fly, therefore, it inevitably has to come down and hit the ground. And sometimes it lands in a not very clean place."
   --Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v.12, pp. 157-8

§ "I will simply counsel every man and woman to beware of even the very least speck of [pride], which seems to me to be the mere delight and liking of ourselves for anything whatsoever that either is in us or outwardly belongs to us."
   --The Treatise Upon the Passion, CWM, v.13, p. 9

§ "Aesop says in a fable that everyone carries a double wallet on his shoulders, and into the one that hangs at his breast he puts other folk's faults and he looks and pores over it often. In the other he puts all his own and swings it at his back, which he never likes to look in, although others that come behind him cast an eye into it sometimes."
   --A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, CWM, v.6, pp. 295-6

§ "As Boethius says: For one man to be proud that he has rule over other men is much like one mouse being proud to have rule over other mice in a barn."
   --Dialogue on Conscience, pp. 519-20

On glory

§ "He who sets his delight on the blast of another man's mouth feeds himself but with wind, wherein, be he never so full, he has little substance therein."
   --Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v.12, p. 212

§ "I never saw fool yet who thought himself other than wise...If a fool perceives himself a fool, that point is not folly, but a little spark of wit."
   --Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, CWM, v.12, p. 287


rev. 2013.07.09