Pope Elevates Sir Thomas More as Patron Saint for all Politicians
‘More a martyr against tyranny, Pope declares’ – The Catholic Herald, 3rd November 2000.
Dr. Ian R.K. Paisley
In its editorial, the Catholic Herald, while admitting that Sir Thomas More, whom the Pope has just made patron saint for politicians, did ‘many nasty things when in power’, justifies his elevatiion because he was faithful to death in his testimony of the unity of the true church – that is, the Pope’s church.
‘The Pope has declared an English saint as the ‘heavenly patron’ of statesmen and politicians.
On Tuesday, the pontiff issued an apostolic letter, motu proprio (on his personal Initiative), decreeing that St. Thomas More be ‘ascribed all the liturgical honours and privileges’ of spiritual patrons.
The Pope was petitioned by 20 presidents, 10 prime ministers, 70 ministers, 10 bishops conferences, and more than 400 politicians to make the announcement ahead of this weekend’s Jubilee of Politicians.
St. Thomas was beheaded at Tower Hill, London, in 1535 after he refused, on Grounds of conscience, to accept Henry VIII as head of the Catholic Church in England, declaring himself ‘always the King’s good servant – but God’s first’. In St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, John Paul II called St. Thomas a ‘great English Statesman’, who died rather than accept an arrangement that paved the way for ‘uncontrolled despotism’.
He said St. Thomas illustrated a basic truth of political ethics. ‘The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the state is at the same time the defence, in the name of primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power’.
‘St. Thomas More distinguished himself in his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. His life teaches us that Government is above all an exercise of virtue’.
The Pope said there was a need for credible role models able to ‘indicate a path of truth at a time in history when difficult challenges and crucial responsibilities are increasing’.
The petition delivered to the Pope last week by former Italian President, Francesco Cossiga and Venezuelan Senator, Hilarion Cardozo, described St. Thomas as an example to those ‘called to expose and eradicate the snares laid by new and hidden tyrannies’.
The Pope’s letter was welcomed by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Archbishop Michael Bowen of Southwark, the president, preached on St. Thomas on the feast of the 40 English and Welsh martyrs last week and also urged people to write to their MPs about human cloning ahead of the attempt by Dr. Evan Harris, MP for Oxford West. to legalise it on Tuesday. He said: ‘MP’s today do not have to decide whether or not to accept the monarch as head of the Church, but they do have to make completely new and very difficult decisions on vital life issues’.
The Harris 10 Minute Rule Bill was defeated by 175 votes to 83, but the Government informed SPUC on the same day that it aimed to ‘introduce regulations to facilitate research on cloned human embryos before the end of the year’.’
More was the paid penman of Tunstal, the Roman Catholic Bishop of London. G. Barnett Smith, in his ‘Life of William Tyndale’, the man responsible for giving us the English Bible, states:
"The printing press was accordingly resorted to, and the pen of More was called into requisition. More was both a man of genius and high character, and a faithful son of the Church. He was learned, ingenious, plausible, and argumentative, and great hopes were therefore built upon him. Incited by Tunstal, and by the example of Henry – who had already entered the arena of controversy – More addressed himself to the task of replying to the Reformers. He speedily discovered that the most formidable of his antagonists was Tyndale – a point sufficiently brought home to him by a perusal of Tyndale’s ‘The Obedience’ and ‘The Wicked Mammon’.
In 1529, More produced the first-fruits of his task, in the shape of ‘A Dialogue’, in which he defended various doctrines of the Romish Church against ‘the pestilent sect of Luther and Tyndale’. The work was subtly and ably written; and all that could possibly be said in defence of such things as the veneration of images and relics, and the institution of pilgrimages, was advanced here with the aid of consummate literary skill. In writing his book, More professed to conduct a dialogue with one who was rather disposed to be friendly towards the Reformers; and the subjects passed in review included the trial and abjuration of Bilney, the public burning of Tyndale’s New Testament, and other prominent events. But, of course, just as Dr. Johnson ‘let the Whig dogs have the worst of it’, so More let Tyndale and his friends have the worst of it. Everything was made to lead up to this conclusion.
In the autumn of 1529, Tyndale received a copy of the Dialogue at Marburg, and after carefully studying it he resolved upon replying to it; and The Practice of Prelates may be taken as one part of his counterblast. But in 1530, he prepared and completed a more detailed and specific reply to More’s treatise. Its publication was delayed for a brief period out of respect to King Henry, who had been greatly exercised by the plain speaking of The Practice of Prelates. About the commencement of 1531 Tyndale finally left Marburg for Antwerp, and a few months later his Answer to More was issued by a printer in Amsterdam working under the superintendence of Fryth.
The Answer was in two parts. First, the author declared what the Church was, and gave a reason for the use of certain words which More had condemned in the translation of the New Testament; and, secondly, he answered particularly the arguments in every chapter of More’s work which had any appearance of truth. Although in point of literary style the reply was not equal to the attack, in argumentative skill it enjoyed the superiority. ‘Tyndale’, remarks Mr. Damaus, ‘grapples in a plain, straightforward manner with the real essence of the controversy between the Church and the Reformers. With clear, hard-headed common sense he sets aside More’s abstract metaphysical subtleties, and goes straight to the practical questions at issue. Sir Thomas, for example, had demonstrated with wonderful subtlety that the Church cannot err, that all that she ordains must be right and profitable, that it was sinful presumption in any individual, most especially in a layman, to presume to judge what so many popes and holy men had praised and practiced. Tyndale with a simple stroke cuts all the intricacies of this Gordian knot; he appeals to every man, in the use of that judgment which God had given him, to decide whether fact and experience confirmed what theory and assumption boasted of demonstrating. More demanded submission and obedience, Tyndale asserted freedom and the right of judgment. ‘The Holy Ghost’, says he, ‘rebuketh the world for lack of judgment; the spiritual judgeth all things, even the very bottom of God’s secrets, how much more ought we to judge our holy father’s secrets! Judge, therefore, reader, whether the pope with his, be the Church, whether their authority be above the Scripture, whether all they teach without Scripture be equal with the Scripture; whether they have erred, and not only whether they can’. Sir Thomas’s arguments, thus brought to the test of experience, fare very badly in Tyndale’s hands; what looked beautiful in theory had been depraved and corrupted by endless abuses in practice; that defence which seemed to strong when it set forth what might be, was completely overthrown when it was confronted with what was and had been’.
In his reply to More’s defence if Romish practices, Tyndale scored an easy victory, his wonderful knowledge of Scripture enabling him completely to overturn the enemy’s positions. The time of mere forms and ceremonies had gone by, as the Reformer showed; they were but borrowed from the Jewish law. Now the simpler rule of Christ was to prevail, which included obedience to the law of God, faith in Christ, love toward our neighbour, and the justification and salvation of man through these means.
More, although now greatly occupied as Lord Chancellor of England, felt the force and pungency of Tyndale’s reply so much, that he was constrained to prolong the controversy. Accordingly, he planned an elaborate Confutation, a portion of which – making no less than five hundred folio pages – appeared in 1532. More continued the work after he resigned office, and he returned to the subject again and again, in his Apology and other compositions. Altogether, his various replies to Tyndale occupied more than a thousand folio pages of his published writings. Notwithstanding all the time and ability spent upon these writings, however, time was on the side of Tyndale, and his contemporaries largely agreed with him and not with More. The learned Chancellor’s treatises are now rarely referred to, even by the learned, and they are still less seldom read. In his Confutation, More used the most virulent and scurrilous language against his opponent, whereas in the Dialogue he had been on the whole sober and restrained in his expressions. As examples of More’s violent diatribes, we may cite the following extracts: ‘Our Saviour will say to Tyndale: Thou art accursed, Tyndale, the son of the Devil; for neither flesh nor blood hath taught thee these heresies, but thine own father, the Devil, that is in hell……There should have been more burned by a great many than there have been within this seven year last past. The lack whereof, I fear me, will make more (be) burned within this seven year next coming, than else should have needed to have been burned in seven score. Ah, blasphemous beast, to whose roaring and lowing no good Christian man can without heaviness of heart give ear!’"
This statement of More shows his lust for the blood of the Protestants. In fact, wise and witty Dr. Fuller, in his Church History of Britain, states:
"But the greatest fault we find justly charged on his memory, is his cruelty in persecuting poor Protestants, to whom he bare an implacable hatred; insomuch that in his lifetime he caused to be inscribed, as parcel of his epitaph on his monument at Chelsea, that he ever was ‘furibus, homicidis, hereticisque molestus: a passing good praise, save, after the way which he there calleth ‘heresy’, pious people worship the God of their fathers. He suffered the next month after Fisher’s execution, in the same place for the same cause, July 6th, and was buried at Chelsea, under his tomb aforesaid; which, being become ruinous, and the epitaph scarce legible, hath few years since been decently repaired at the cost, as I am informed, of one of his near kinsmen."
These words mean that More claimed that he ever was a scourge to thieves, killers, and heretics. Note how he links Protestants with thieves and killers.
"Thomas More’s new status of patron saint of politicians has attracted similar lively debate. Proponents have been advocating his merits in dying for his refusal to accept royal authority over the church. But other scholars, such as the author of the latest book on More, Professor John Guy, have pointed to his ‘dark side’. More is revealed as brutally savage in dealing with Protestants, and his stand was not simply for the freedom of the church from the state, but for the church’s domination of the individual and also of the nation.
"Few can have missed the date of the Pope’s bestowal of this status on More – November 5th ! Guy Fawkes, unfairly totemised as the typical Roman Catholic in English folklore, is replaced by Thomas More. While this event passes off with a wry smile in England, on October 1st China expressed fury at the Vatican’s canonisation of martyrs. The date is that of the founding of the People’s Republic, and the Chinese reading of this piece of history is that the martyrs were in fact traitors and insurrectionists fighting for the colonialist foreigners during the Boxer rising.
"The church may be wiser – and safer in this era of modern historical research – not to exalt list of very contested role models, and rather to glorify alone the Son of Man who died and rose for all." - Editorial, Church of England Newspaper, 10th November 2000.