The Catholic Defender: Saint Thomas More
Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478. His father, Sir John More, was a lawyer and judge who rose to prominence during the reign of Edward IV.
Thomas More was born in London in 1478 and studied to become a lawyer. Recognized for his great intelligence, impartiality, and wisdom, he rose through the ranks of Parliament and earned King Henry VIII's favor until he became Lord Chancellor in 1529.
Thomas was positively influenced from a young age by his mother and siblings. He also attended St. Anthony's School, which was said to be one of the best schools in London at that time. In 1490, he became a household page to John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. Archbishop Morton was a Renaissance man and inspired Thomas to pursue his own education.
Thomas More entered Oxford in 1492, where he would learn Latin, Greek and prepare for his future studies. In 1494, he left Oxford to become a lawyer and he trained in London until 1502 when he was finally approved to begin practice.
His belief that no lay ruler has jurisdiction over the Church of Christ cost Thomas More his life.
St Thomas More's feast day is June 22nd and he is the patron saint of adopted children, lawyers, civil servants, politicians and difficult marriages.
Beheaded on Tower Hill, London, on July 6, 1535, More steadfastly refused to approve King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage and establishment of the Church of England.
Described as “a man for all seasons,” More was a literary scholar, eminent lawyer, gentleman, father of four children, and chancellor of England. An intensely spiritual man, he would not support the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Nor would he acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church in England, breaking with Rome, and denying the pope as head.
More was committed to the Tower of London to await trial for treason: not swearing to the Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy. Upon conviction, More declared he had all the councils of Christendom and not just the council of one realm to support him in the decision of his conscience.
On 1 July 1535, Thomas More stood trial for treason, and he was condemned to death for 'maliciously denying the royal Supremacy'. Five days later, while Henry hunted at Reading, More was beheaded on Tower Hill, proclaiming himself 'the King's good servant but God's first'.
Four hundred years later in 1935, Thomas More was canonized a saint of God. Few saints are more relevant to our time. In the year 2000, in fact, Pope John Paul II named him patron of political leaders.
More is more existential than religious, because he looks inwardly for his motivations and does not rely on any external ideals to guide his speech and actions. In fact, More's morals are continually shifting, and he surprises Chapuys and other characters with his sharp wit and unexpected pragmatism.
The supreme diplomat and counselor, he did not compromise his own moral values in order to please the king, knowing that true allegiance to authority is not blind acceptance of everything that authority wants.
King Henry himself realized this and tried desperately to win his chancellor to his side because he knew More was a man whose approval counted, a man whose personal integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas More resigned as chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, the king had to get rid of him.
More is usually credited with providing input into Henry VIII's Defense of the Seven Sacraments. Henry VIII earned the title of “Defender of the Faith” from Pope Leo X for this response to Martin Luther. More answered Luther's attack on Henry VIII and debated William Tyndale in print, writing six works of apologetics.
In his defense at trial Thomas told the courts that he could not go against his conscience. He was beheaded, becoming a martyr. Because of his stand for conscience St. Thomas More is the patron saint of religious liberties as well as of statesmen and politicians.
More supported the Catholic Church and saw the Protestant Reformation as heresy, a threat to the unity of both church and society. More believed in the theology, argumentation, and ecclesiastical laws of the church, and "heard Luther's call to destroy the Catholic Church as a call to war."