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Man for All Seasons

posted by awelborn

Matthew Mehan on a new book on Thomas More, over at NRO

And then at the Corner, a couple of posts discussing More re/heretics, Tyndale, etc.



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Liam

posted August 25, 2005 at 1:28 pm


The Corner thus far is a little blinkered in its history of vernacular bibles in the early 16th century.
Whereas Cardinal Ximenes was pioneering the polyglot bible in Castile, in England the earlier history of the Lollard heresy weighed heavily on the enterprise. More was acting with Lollardy in mind. And, truth be told, so was Tyndale. So, they were not entirely mismatched in intention. It is an Whig history anachronism (but popular to this day no less) to view Tyndale and Lollardy as precursors to Englightenment-era concepts of individual liberty; many Lollards and their sympathizers would have been appalled at Englightment-era concepts.



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Todd

posted August 25, 2005 at 1:37 pm


Permit me to add a mention of Garrett Fisher’s fine “chamber opera” The Passion of St Thomas More (which serendipitously I happen to be listening to at this moment). I blogged on this fine work several weeks ago. It contains a spare instrumentation with chant-like vocals: quite reminiscent of medieval music. Google the title and composer, and you’ll find links of reviews and purchase opportunities: I cannot recommend this highly enough.



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Richard

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:00 pm


Tyndale – I think – would have as cheerfully burned More as vice versa.
Religious tolerance is really a conception that dates from Locke. It wasn’t part of the early 16th century zeitgeist.
Either way, More was simply enforcing the law – albeit with a certain zeal at times.



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:07 pm


“Religious tolerance is really a conception that dates from Locke”
Not quite, Richard. Locke gets credit, because no one believed More when he talked about it…but he did talk about it.



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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:17 pm


From a Sixteenth Century perspective the remarkable thing about More is not that he persecuted heretics, virtually every group at that time persecuted to one extent or another those they perceived as heretics, but that More held out hope that Protestants and Catholics could ultimately be reconciled in a Catholic Church cleansed of the accretions and abuses that time had inflicted on Holy Mother Church. If Henry VIII had been something other than a tyrant who cared for little but his appetites, if the spirit of the times had been less against him, if Princess Mary had been Prince Hal, perhaps Saint Thomas would have succeeded in England.



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:21 pm


There is a case, that given the circumstances, he did, Donald.



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Liam

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:28 pm


Actually, religious tolerance has a deeper pedigree, and has waxed and waned in cycles.
While the Usual Suspects are always holding the Emirate/Caliphate of Cordoba as a model of tolerance for its time, they invariably fail to acknowledge that there was a “conviviencia” of toleration under sovereign Christian auspices in Castile in the 13th century.
At the same time, interestingly, central Europe (Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and Polish sub-kingdoms) welcomed Jews being banished from northwestern Europe.
And this was preceded by the conviviencia in Norman Sicily. One of major importance in the development of Western European thought, btw.
The spirit of toleration in central-eastern Europe endured through the 16th century in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, covering all sorts of Christians, Jews and Muslims (since Poland and the Ottoman Empire kept toggling over territory in the western steppes). That commonwealth was the sole western Christian state of substantial size not to experience significant public violence in the wake of the Reformation, due in large part to the culture of toleration that then prevailed in the rulers there.
The advent of the Vasas to the Polish throne, and then the Deluge in the mid-1600s, ended that, sad to say.
All of this was well before Locke.



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Liam

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:35 pm


Btw, I should note that the Polish crown got some significant guff from Rome about its toleration policy, especially from (surprise!) Pope Paul IV (formerly Cdl Caraffa), IIRC; Rome was basically ignored, and Rome basicaly ignored the fact that it was being ignored, in classic Roman fashion.
At least until the Vasas took over things in Poland.



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David

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:48 pm


John Paul II did have this to say:
“And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience which is “the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul” (Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 58), even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time.” (my emphasis)
http://tinyurl.com/7co9m
We can, it seems, praise the man without praising that particular set of actions.



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Cheeky Lawyer

posted August 25, 2005 at 2:57 pm


Matt,
Good and interesting piece. What do you think of the Ackroyd biography? I thought it marvelous. I thought for a lapsed Catholic (or so I’ve heard) he captured More better than one might have expected.



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katherine

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:00 pm


“Reflected the limits of the culture of his time”? Isn’t that rather relativistic?



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john c

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:02 pm


Let us also not confuse religious tolerance with toleration of heresy. The later is certainly not a virtue.



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john c

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:03 pm


latter.



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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:14 pm


Condemning a man for participating in some of the vices of his time, while ignoring the virtues by which he transcended the spirit of his age, is frequently engaged in by those who would not dream of having a thought or performing an act not approved of by the reigning orthodoxies of their own day.



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David

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:21 pm


From the CDF document, Memory and Reconciliation:
“5.3. The Use of Force in the Service of Truth
To the counter-witness of the division between Christians should be added that of the various occasions in the past millennium when doubtful means were employed in the pursuit of good ends, such as the proclamation of the Gospel or the defense of the unity of the faith. “Another sad chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of force in the service of truth.”(78) This refers to forms of evangelization that employed improper means to announce the revealed truth or did not include an evangelical discernment suited to the cultural values of peoples or did not respect the consciences of the persons to whom the faith was presented, as well as all forms of force used in the repression and correction of errors.
Analogous attention should be paid to all the failures, for which the sons and daughters of the Church may have been responsible, to denounce injustice and violence in the great variety of historical situations: “Then there is the lack of discernment by many Christians in situations where basic human rights were violated. The request for forgiveness applies to whatever should have been done or was passed over in silence because of weakness or bad judgement, to what was done or said hesitantly or inappropriately.”(79)
As always, establishing the historical truth by means of historical-critical research is decisive. Once the facts have been established, it will be necessary to evaluate their spiritual and moral value, as well as their objective significance. Only thus will it be possible to avoid every form of mythical memory and reach a fair critical memory capable – in the light of faith – of producing fruits of conversion and renewal. “From these painful moments of the past a lesson can be drawn for the future, leading all Christians to adhere fully to the sublime principle stated by the Council: ‘The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it wins over the mind with both gentleness and power.’”(80)”
http://tinyurl.com/lpea



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:24 pm


Ackroyd does very well with More, only he misses the boat on the religion side. It is precisely his limited and touchy view of Catholicism which causes him to miss the interpretation on More at crucial points, e.g. the heretic burning, the view of mortification and sexuality, etc.
Wegemer wrote A Portrait of Courage, it seems, almost as a helpful corrective to fill in those very gaps in Ackroyd’s biography.



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David

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:36 pm


I like how Cardinal Dulles treated an analogous situation here:
“3. Penitence for offenses committed long ago involves a further difficulty. We are in no position to judge the culpability of persons who lived in past centuries and in cultures foreign to our own. In the words of Paul Johnson, “There is something repellent, as well as profoundly unhistorical, about judging the past by the standards and prejudices of another age.” When we attempt such judgments, he says, we place ourselves in a position of moral superiority, and thus our expression of repentance is really a disguised manifestation of pride.
In responding to this difficulty we may follow the general line taken by the papal theologian, Georges Cottier, O.P. It is true, he says, that we cannot judge the subjective guilt of our predecessors centuries ago. But without pretending that we are morally superior, we can judge that they made certain mistakes. Their moral failures may have been extenuated or excused by their good faith. Nevertheless it is still proper for us, their successors, to express sorrow for the objective wrongness of what they did. Without judging the subjective guilt of our forebears we can say that some of their actions were objectively wrong and deserve to be disavowed.”
http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9812/articles/dulles.html



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 25, 2005 at 3:47 pm


I think people need to study what Thomas More actually did before we concede or not concede anything on the matter of burning heretics. It should be said that reliable translations of what More did and thought regarding these issues were not available until the last few years, so I think people should study the matter further before arguing about it.
More’s reputation has been a mixed bag for so long, perhaps the pope was simply trying to deal with that. Nowhere in the the words in bold above does it necessarily say that More did wrong on the matter. Limits of the times etc could mean that the times limited our understanding of what More really did due to the complete information blackout after the English Reformation regarding any dissenters, most notably Thomas More.
The point is that until people read the source documents it is only so much ecumenical shadow boxing.



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Caroline

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:00 pm


Could More get canonized today?



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:05 pm


More easily now than when he was, is my guess.



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Caroline

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:11 pm


Why?



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Jay Anderson

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:15 pm


“More easily now than when he was, is my guess.”
I agree. The guy seems to be universally recognized as a hero. You almost can’t go a week without hearing or reading someone quoting Thomas More (actually, Robert Bolt’s dramatized version of Thomas More) on giving the Devil due process of law.
(I’ve actually used that quote before on my blog, but I’m all for creating a rule that an argument has officially “jumped the shark” when someone resorts to quoting that passage).



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Cheeky Lawyer

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:20 pm


“Ackroyd does very well with More, only he misses the boat on the religion side. It is precisely his limited and touchy view of Catholicism which causes him to miss the interpretation on More at crucial points, e.g. the heretic burning, the view of mortification and sexuality, etc.”
I’ll have to go back a reread it. I remember being struck by the sympathetic manner in which he presented the heretic burning. And I can’t recall any flights like Marius with regards to sexuality (having only read the introduction of Marius’ book I recognize what lens he writes through, though I do hope to read the whole thing someday soon).



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:33 pm


Cheeky,
He does not smear More, he just gently misses the point a few times. Over all it is a very solid biography.



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Ian

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:43 pm


Amy,
Thanks for the link; I saw the banter at The Corner the other day but didn’t know what had spurred it. Sounds like a good read.



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Richard

posted August 25, 2005 at 4:56 pm


Matthew,
Not quite, Richard. Locke gets credit, because no one believed More when he talked about it…but he did talk about it.
I’ll stand behind my statement just the same because the modern conception of “religious tolerance” dates essentially from the early Enlightenment and most notably from Locke. That does not mean that social behavior which we might consider to have somewhat the same patina might not have had brief spurts (think the Roman Empire at times and places) or that ancient thinkers might here or there have urged something like tolerance.
But in More’s day, it was really not the way men thought. Calvin and Luther and Knox were as eager with the firebrands (if not much more so) than anyone in the Inquisition.
As for Tyndale, I have little sympathy for him. He knowingly broke the law and with a bad translation of Scripture to boot. Had he made it into power he would have suppressed papists as eagerly as More did Protestants.



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Matthew

posted August 25, 2005 at 6:25 pm


Without completely denigrating the importance of Locke’s contribution to the rise of the idea of religious tolerance, it’s important to see Locke in the proper historical context. Locke published his Letter concerning Toleration in 1689, a year after the Glorious Revolution and the overthrow of James II. Locke’s letter is actually substantially less tolerant than the toleration that James urged and attempted to impose on an unwilling Anglican England. Locke’s unwillingness to bring Catholics within the ambit of his argument indicates that his writing was meant to confirm the backlash of anti-catholicism contained in the Glorious Revolution.



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Donna

posted August 25, 2005 at 6:58 pm


Wow. I’m still rubbing my eyes. To see the author of “Utopia” and the subject of “Roper’s Life of More” mentioned in the same line with the loathsome rapist and mass murderer Beria,…,On top of that, John Cleese is selling bits of his diseased colon,…,
Excuse me. I have to go lie down for a while.



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George

posted August 25, 2005 at 10:48 pm


Wow, still arguing about the Reformations, in this case pre-Reformation England. Is there actually something to be learned here?
Not much, other than the alliance of Church and State leads to these kinds of intolerant and evils acts. Talk about a culture of death.
I know the folks here enjoy remembering the English Martyrs like More and Fisher. Anglican friends say there were more Protestant martyrs in “Bloody Mary’s” reign than Catholics during the reigns of Henry and Elizabeth.
For myself, I consider Henry and Elizabeth to be proto-totalitarians, at least in matters of faith. That said, some of the post-Tridentine popes appear to be butchers, at least to my sensitive eyes.



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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 26, 2005 at 5:56 am


“Not much, other than the alliance of Church and State leads to these kinds of intolerant and evils acts.”
Rulers of the Sixteenth Century were pikers compared to the death tolls amassed by the atheist empires of the 20th century. For sheer murderous intolerance those atheist rulers took a back seat to no one.



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Maureen

posted August 26, 2005 at 7:48 am


Your Anglican friends are wrong. The Elizabethan persecutions lasted longer, were far more thorough, and had a higher body count, but her government has more apologists and more effective cover-up. By which I mean that she named all that stuff treason instead of heresy. (And I like Elizabeth. Imagine if I didn’t!) Admittedly, however, all the Tudors liked to kill people off.
*Insert Yorkist commentary here*
But I swear, I’m going to die if I hear one more time how Tyndale was the first person to translate the Bible into English. The Bible got translated into English tons of times by tons of people over the course of a good thousand years, before Tyndale was even a gleam in his parents’ eyes. Granted, this was generally by books rather than by the whole book at once, but it wasn’t as if you couldn’t collect ‘em all if you’d wanted. And we’d have a lot more of those earlier translations, too, if not for that little “stripping the altars” and “destroying the monasteries” thing, not to mention the Lollards. (Not that I’m bitter from a linguistic point of view. Oh, no.)
Now, you could make a case for Tyndale as “first to do the whole thing in Modern English”, but that depends on when you draw the line on when Middle English turned into Modern English.



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 8:28 am


Matt says:
“I think people need to study what Thomas More actually did before we concede or not concede anything on the matter of burning heretics.”
I’m not sure what to make of this. Are you saying that the best current scholarship undermines any involvement of More in torturing or burning heretics? Or that he personally didn’t want to engage in these activities?
Not even such a sympathetic biographer as Peter Ackroyd, to my knowledge, goes that far.
More narrowly, isn’t it true that we have a fairly clear theoretical case for burning heretics from Thomas More’s own pen–A Dialogue Concerning Heresies?



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Der Tommissar

posted August 26, 2005 at 10:10 am


Is it me, or is NRO getting to be all like, “Come on, I /dare/ you not to resusbscribe. Go on, do it. Do it! Wuss.”



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Sandra Miesel

posted August 26, 2005 at 10:23 am


Venerable Bede translated part of the Bible into Anglo-Saxon back in the 8th C. It was Wycliff’s heresy that tainted translation in England. The anti-Lollard campaign even forbade saying or writing the Our Father in English.
Sorry, Mary Tudor’s rate of religious executions was very much higher than Elizabeth’s. And Elizabeth wasn’t a major witch-hunter, either, compared to German Catholic bishops.



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Rich Leonardi

posted August 26, 2005 at 11:39 am


As for Tyndale, I have little sympathy for him. He knowingly broke the law and with a bad translation of Scripture to boot. Had he made it into power he would have suppressed papists as eagerly as More did Protestants.
From an old LTE of mine:
The June 22 Xxxxxx reports that William Tyndale “was killed in 1536 for heresy in part because of his efforts to translate the Bible to English.”
In fact, there were many English translations of the Bible in existence years before Mr. Tyndale’s time. Tyndale got into trouble for insisting that the Church publish his translation, a version so full of inaccuracies that the Bishop of London counted 2000 errors in the New Testament alone.
Henry VIII, the father of the English “Reformation”, called Tyndale’s translation “crafty, false and untrue” and promptly banned it. As to his “martyrdom”, his sentence was carried out by secular, not Church, authorities.



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:28 pm


To interested readers:
chapter six, “Heresy Hunter?” of J.A. Guy’s Thomas More
http://tinyurl.com/99aqk
You can browse through the chapter online at Amazon.com.
Guy says:
“Writing to Erasmus, he [More] glossed the claim in his epitaph that he had been ‘grevious’ to ‘heretics’ by saying: “I wrote that with deep feeling. I find that breed of men absolutely loathsome, so much so that, unless they regain their senses, I want to be as hateful to them as anyone can possibly be.””(page 120)
Troubling statement, that.



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Liam

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:34 pm


true, it is troubling, but it helps to remember the context of the remark that heretics were viewed in most states — regardless of creed — as something akin to terrorists would be viewed today, because they were seen as terrorists of the spirit, and at that time the idea that the state did not have responsbility towards the spirit was not widely embraced.
To understand is not to excuse. But to intentionally fail to understand is itself a form of pride, thus sinful, too.



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:34 pm


Er, typed “grevious” instead of “grievious.”
My apologies!



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:36 pm


Nuts.
That’s “grievous”.
Just shoot me. ;)



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Lee Penn

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:43 pm


A bleg for information ……………..
Is there any evidence that More (in real life) said anything akin to the movie statement in which he (or rather, the actor playing him) suggests that the Devil should get due process of law?
Lee



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:47 pm


Not all Catholics of Mores’ day agreed with him on burning heretics. J.A. Guy reports that “Erasmus welcomed the burning of heretical books, but disapproved of burning people at the stake.” (page 106)
The Church has come down here on Erasmus’ side of the question, not Thomas More’s.
Yes, Liam, all you mention goes towards excusing More subjectively speaking. It doesn’t prove that the acts themselves were correct. Or that Tyndale et al actually were spiritual terrorists. Or that the means society then took towards these men were the correct ones, all things considered.



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:50 pm


David,
What I mean to say about heretics and Thomas More, is that there was more at play than some Salem witch hunt for protestants. More made clear that he would go after heretics per se, but only heretics that dared to raise the sword in violence in order to overthrow Christendom, and the sociopolitical order of the era, i.e. Catholicism. The affair was very much like a Patriot Act affair: Muslims we can tolerate, but if you advocate violence you get the stake, because we must have peace. The only part that can be argued about is the undesirable penalty of death, which was commonplace in England at the time for many, many crimes.



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Liam

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:54 pm


Lee
I’ve long assumed it’s simply great historical fiction (by an agnostic playwright, Robert Bolt). The crucible of the thing, though, is in Paul Scofield’s peerless acting and delivery, at least in the film version for which he rightly earned the laurels.



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:56 pm


Revised…”that he would NOT go after heretics per se, but….”
Mea Culpa



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Liam

posted August 26, 2005 at 12:59 pm


David
Agreed. If I had been around then as I am now, Erasmus would have appealed in many respects to me (despite his enormous ego and self-promotion machine; he was part of a generation of gifted common people who took that to an art form).
PS & Btw, Erasmus always serves as a reminded that people mistakenly equate “reformers” with “protestants” at this time: in point of fact, it would appear that the majority of “reformers” stayed in communion with Rome. When one remembers this, it gives a slightly different coloration to the contextual background than if one unconsciously interpolates conventional Ango-American Whig history.



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 1:10 pm


Thanks for the replies, both Matt and Liam.
but only heretics that dared to raise the sword in violence in order to overthrow Christendom, and the sociopolitical order of the era, i.e. Catholicism.
Were all of those executed while More was Lord Chancellor public advocates of the violent overthrow of Christendom?



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Matthew Mehan

posted August 26, 2005 at 1:48 pm


Yes they were (at the least) public advocates of violence, not necessarily on a Christendom-wide scale, but that is not the point. Violence in the name of religious freedom could not be countenanced by a just regime, which More was trying to uphold.



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Jay Anderson

posted August 26, 2005 at 1:54 pm


“The crucible of the thing, though, is in Paul Scofield’s peerless acting and delivery, at least in the film version for which he rightly earned the laurels.”
If I’m not mistaken, Scofield originated the role on stage before starring in the film.



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 1:59 pm


Matt,
you aren’t saying that More was, all things considered, justified in using force in this way, are you?
It’s one thing that More thought this.
But I simply can’t accept that he was, all things considered, right to use force in this manner.



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Donald R. McClarey

posted August 26, 2005 at 4:58 pm


We of course tolerate diverse religious views, because, in part, for the past few centuries these views have been held in the West to be harmless and only of private concern. The recent problems raised by radical Islam in the West, the demand for use of sharia law among immigrant groups in Europe and Canada for example, gives us a taste of how our ancestors in the 16th Century largely viewed the problem. Freedom of religion to them would have seemed like Freedom of government to us. “This section of town wants to secede and form a monarchy, this section a fascist state, this section a communist state, these sections are setting up feudal enclaves, ah, and the main street mosque has announced a caliphate in these blocks, etc.”



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David

posted August 26, 2005 at 7:31 pm


Yes they were (at the least) public advocates of violence, not necessarily on a Christendom-wide scale, but that is not the point.
I’d like to see the historical evidence for that. Advocates of physical violence against Henry VIII and his government? Each and every one of those killed?
Not that even that would justify, all things considered, the killing of those people.



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James Kabala

posted August 26, 2005 at 8:13 pm


One thing that should be mentioned is that More died in 1535, Tyndale in 1536, which casts doubt on the idea that More was directly responsible for Tyndale’s death.



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