Communicantes: August - October 2002

Saint Thomas More, an example for our times
Short summary of his life
Roger Zielke

St. Thomas More lives on, as a wonderful example of one who kept the Catholic faith, during a time of great tribulation; an example for everyone to follow.  He stood up for the truth, that the Pope is the head of the Church and would not agree, that the King was the head of the Church.  We must also stand up for the truth.  We believe that the Pope is the head of the Church, but like St. Thomas, we must not agree to Protestant ideas in the Catholic Church.   

Thomas More was born on Milk Street, in London, England, on February 7th, 1478.  It is related that his mother saw before his birth a sort of vision of her illustrious son, bright with splendor.  Thomas started his education at St. Anthony's School and later, he went as a page of honour to Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Saint Thomas More


In time, Thomas entered Canterbury College, in Oxford.  There he learned Greek and Latin.  In 1494, he entered New Inn, one of the Inns which served as a preparatory school for the Inns of Court.  Two years later he would go to Lincoln's Inn.  The young lad studied hard and as part of the curriculum, entered into many debates and discussions.  He progressed well and was called to the Bar before the usual time.  Thomas then gave lectures at Furnival's Inn and did so well that he was asked to continue for the next three years.

Around this time, St. Thomas seems to have had a spiritual trial, because he thought that perhaps he should give up his profession and become a Franciscan or Carthusian monk.  The trial passed and in 1505, he married Joan Colte, from Essex.  He had four children from this happy marriage, and then in 1511, his wife died.  Thomas soon married again, to a widow, Alice Middleton, who proved to be an excellent wife and a kind stepmother.

In the meantime, More was rapidly rising at the Bar and was soon making a decent salary.  He visited the Universities of Paris and Louvain, and corresponded with European scholars like the Dutchman, Erasmus. 

In 1504, St. Thomas was elected a member of Parliament.  In his new position, he displayed great strength of character when he began to oppose the large and unjust demands of money, which King Henry VII was making from his subjects.  More zealously opposed a grant of 113,000 pounds (English money) demanded by this King for the marriage of his daughter Margaret with the King of Scots, James IV, and won the case.

King Henry VII died in 1509, and his son, Henry VIII ascended the throne.  In 1510, St. Thomas was made Under-Sheriff of London.  Both Cardinal Wolsey and the King were anxious to secure More's services at Court.  In 1516, he was granted a pension of 100 pounds for life, was made a member of the embassy to Calais in 1517, and became a privy councillor about the same time.  In 1519, he resigned his post as Under-Sheriff and became completely attached to the Court.  In June, 1520 he accompanied the Henry VIII to the meeting of the "Field of the Cloth of Gold."  More was knighted in 1521 and made Under-Treasurer to the King.

In 1523, St. Thomas was elected Speaker of the House of Commons, on Cardinal Wolsey's recommendation.  Again, More displayed his courageous spirit.  He influenced the House to reject a demand for more money, for a war with France, even though Cardinal Wolsey had made the demand in person.  It was about this time that Thomas moved from Crosby Hall in the City, to the pleasant rural suburb of Chelsea, where fields and orchards grew along the banks of the Thames River.  King Henry often went to visit More, and walked in without ceremony.  He would stroll through the gardens with Thomas and discuss matters with his close friend.

In the Courts and as Speaker of the House of Commons, More was loaded with work, but he saw the dangers of the day and prepared to wrestle with them.  The religious and civil confusion caused in Germany by the revolt of Martin Luther, and other "Reformers," brought him forth as a defender of the traditional Catholic Faith.  His "Dialogue," which appeared in 1528, rebuked the "Reformers," while his "Confutation," dealt more especially with the various heresies, which were soon to undermine the Catholic Faith of Europe and lay the foundation for much of the present unbelief.

The clergy were grateful to More for his splendid support of Catholic tradition.  After having a convention, they pressed upon him a handsome sum of money, but St. Thomas, though far from rich, was not interested and refused the reward.

The hateful question of royal divorce was first sprung upon Sir Thomas by King Henry, himself.  In September, 1527, when More was at Hampton Court, Henry VIII showed him the Bible passages of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which condemned marriage with a brother's widow.  The King was hoping to receive a favourable answer, but St. Thomas with the prudence that never failed him, refused to make a hasty judgment on such an important matter.

About two years later, Wolsey was dismissed from his position, on October 19, 1529.  Three days later, the Seals were thrust upon Sir Thomas, who then became the new Lord High Chancellor of England.  In November of that same year, he opened Parliament.  A few months later came the royal proclamation, ordering the clergy to acknowledge Henry VIII as "Supreme Head" of the Church, "as far as the law of God will permit."  More at once proffered his resignation of the chancellorship, but it was not accepted. 

Both in Parliament and the Council, St. Thomas zealously opposed the proposed relaxation of the heresy laws, by which measure the King hoped, not to favour Protestants, whom he always burnt without mercy, but to embarrass still further and so weaken the authority of Rome.

More's firm opposition to Henry's designs in regard to the divorce, the papal supremacy, and the laws against the heretics, speedily lost him the favour of the King.  By May 1532, the situation had become intolerable, and More resigned his unwanted position; a position which was now intended to be used as an instrument to further the anti-Catholic policy of the Crown. 

The sudden resignation of such a public figure as Sir Thomas was felt by the King and his flatterers to be a severe and public censure on their whole conduct.  Now every means was taken to discredit St. Thomas who represented integrity, ability, and wisdom, in the highest degree.  Brutal charges were brought against More, the good and upright judge, whose loss of income actually left him face to face with poverty.

But the depths of depravity were reached when Sir Thomas was actually accused of having, "provoked the King" to write the book on the Seven Sacraments!  This was the famous work that had been King Henry's pride and joy till, (like Solomon of the Old Testament), his heart was corrupted by loose women.  And to think that this book had won for him the honourary title of "Defender of the Faith."  Let us all beware of Pride and Impurity, robbers of the soul!

Cranmer, Audley, Norfolk, and Cromwell upbraided More for his so called "offence," but Sir Thomas reminded them that he had only revised the work in question, at the King's desire. He also told them that he had reminded the King that he (Henry) and the Pope might fall out over political considerations, and that even the Law of the Praemunire might be in case. For the next eighteen months, More lived in seclusion and gave much time to controversial writing. 

During this time, on January 25, 1533, King Henry secretly "married" Anne Boleyn, who was already pregnant!  As Anne's hour to give birth drew near, Henry forced through Parliament an act declaring all appeals to Rome illegal.  As soon as this was passed, Cranmer wrote to the King asking to try his case in his own archiepiscopal court.  Henry agreed and on May 23, 1533, even though Katherine, (Henry's real wife), refused to appear in court, Cranmer gave sentence that Henry's marriage to Katherine was invalid.  He followed it up on May 28th, by sentence that Henry's marriage with Anne Boleyn was valid!

June 1, 1533, was set as the date for the crowning of Anne Boleyn as Queen of England.  Three Bishops sent St.Thomas some money to buy a new robe.  Anxious to avoid a public rupture with Henry, Thomas stayed away from Anne Boleyn's coronation.

In March, 1534, the Act of Succession was passed which required all who should be called upon, to take an oath acknowledging the issue of Henry and Anne as legitimate heirs to the throne.  On April 14, 1534, More was summoned to Lambeth to take the oath. On his refusal, he was committed to the custody of Benson, the schismatical Abbot of Westminster.  Four days later he was sent to the Tower.

In prison, though he suffered from his old disease of the chest, gravel, stone and the cramp, he remained joyful and joked with his family and friends whenever they were permitted to see him.  When alone, his time was spent in prayer and penitential exercises. 

In 1535, Richard Rich, the Solicitor General, spoke with Sir Thomas and then turned against the holy man.  He purposely mixed up the words that Thomas had spoken, and caused poor Thomas to be brought to court for high treason!  The words which St. Thomas had said to Richard were, "Suppose the Parliament would make a law that God should not be God, would you then say that God were not God?"  Richard replied, "No Sir, that  would I not, since no Parliament may make any such law!"  "No more," said Sir Thomas, "could the Parliament make the King Supreme Head of the Church!"  St. Thomas, the great English Martyr, was beheaded, July 6, 1535.


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