St. Thomas More

Brother John Raymond

June 21, 1998

Saint, knight, Lord Chancellor of England, author and martyr, that was St. Thomas More. Born in London, February 7, 1477 or 78 he was executed at Tower Hill, July 6, 1535. He had a great sense of humor. He joked around just before being executed. St. Thomas More moved his beard aside because, as he jested, he didn't want the executioner to cut it when cutting off his head! He even gave his executioner a coin in payment for his work.

St. Thomas More's friend Erasmus writes about him: "In stature he is not tall, though not remarkably short…It is said that none are so free of vice. His countenance is in harmony with his character, being always expressive of an amiable joyousness and even an incipient laughter…If you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More...In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious…With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter. No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense."

Wouldn't it be nice if we were remembered with such qualities? Was he a born saint? No, he had some help along the way. As a child he did attend St. Anthony's School and when thirteen years old was placed in the household of Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was sent to the famous Oxford where he studied law. He thought he might have a vocation. He went to live near the London Charterhouse of the Carthusians and often joined in the spiritual exercises of the monks there. After some time, Thomas discerned that he was called to marriage. In 1501 he was elected a member of Parliament. He opposed the unjust taxes of King Henry VII. This did not make him popular, but the amount was reduced.

In 1505 he married Jane, the eldest daughter of Maister John Colte. Together they had three daughters, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Cecilia, and a son, John. In 1511, Jane More died, still very young. He married again very soon after his first wife's death, his choice being a widow, Alice Middleton.

Thomas More's fame as a lawyer was very great. In 1529 he succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor of England, a post never before held by a layman. His career as chancellor is best known for his unparalleled success as a judge. As busy as he was, he attended daily Mass.

Thomas' popularity was soon to change. King Henry VIII divorced his wife and wanted to marry Anne Boleyn. He petitioned Rome to get the first marriage annulled but this was not granted. So he declared himself the supreme head of the Church. In March, 1534, an Act of Succession was passed which required all who should be called upon to take an oath acknowledging the legitimacy of Henry and Anne's marriage and to this was added a clause repudiating "any foreign authority, prince or potentate." St. Thomas More would not sign it. He was charged with high treason and sentenced to death.

Thomas More is a great example for us. He had every reason to deny his Faith -- his family pleaded with him to go along with King Henry and multitudes that surrounded him were more then willing to compromise their Faith. As a matter of fact, only one bishop, St. John Fisher, held fast to the Catholic Church. He, too, was martyred. When we are pressured by family, friends and the world to compromise our faith or morals, let us remember St. Thomas More.