St. Thomas More, Statesman and Martyr: Patron of Lawyers and Politicians

"Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his
life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as
an imperishable example of moral integrity. And even outside the Church,
particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples,
he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which
has as its supreme goal the service of the human person." So wrote Pope John
Paul II concerning the man whose inspiring life, fidelity to his Catholic
Christian faith, unjust persecution and Martyrs death we commemorate in the
western Church on June 22.

The England of the sixteenth century was in the midst of a serious crisis of
politics, culture and faith, not unlike the times in which we now live.  In
1534 all citizens who were of age were required to take an oath called "The
Act of Succession" which  acknowledged that King Henry VIII was married to
Anne Boleyn, even though he was not. His desire to divorce Catherine was not
sufficient to make that marriage null and his attempt to use his political
power to change the truth was objectively unsuccessful.

The King went further, he used the power of his office to promulgate an
unjust positive (man-made) Law by which he proclaimed that he and Anne were
lawfully married. It went further. He also declared himself to be the
Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus abrogating to himself the
authority to determine that his lawful marital bond was dissolved and
denying the authority of the successor of the Apostle Peter. The Holy Father
had refused to succumb to Henry's demand that he grant him an annulment from
his lawful marriage. He would not affirm Henry's decision to place his
disordered desires over the objective truth.

The King knew Thomas More and admired his knowledge and his demonstrated
integrity which was so evident in his family life and accomplished career in
public service. In addition to the Law which he had studied with excellence
at New Inn, Thomas had studied literature, history, theology and philosophy
at Oxford. He was elected to the Parliament of England in 1504 and held
several other elective and appointed offices. They placed him in our
equivalent of both legislative and judicial service.

In spite of Thomas having made known to the King that he could not agree
with the dissolution of his lawful marriage to Catherine, the King appointed
this man of law, learning and letters to be the Lord Chancellor of England
in 1529. Thomas was the first layman to ever occupy such a high political
position in the realm. His beloved England was in the midst of difficult
economic problems and he had deep concerns for his countrymen, especially
for the poor, the weak and vulnerable. He pursued justice through his
political office and sought to serve the King while remaining faithful to
the higher law.

He knew the order of truth and he applied a hierarchy of values in both his
personal life and his public life. In short, he lived as a faithful Catholic
Christian, demonstrating a unity of life. He always stayed faithful to the
Truth. In 1532, knowing that he could not enforce the declaration of his
temporal King to usurp the authority of the Church which had been granted to
it by the King of Kings, he resigned his political position. He tried to do
so with the kind of integrity that had characterized his entire life. He
withdrew from public life and bore the ridicule and taunts of those who once
praised him.

He offered the suffering to the Lord by joining it to the Cross of the
Savior. He then tried to continue to care for his beloved family, the
domestic church of the home, by teaching them how to live lives of virtue
and simplicity. He had lost his prestige and his considerable financial
resources, but he gained the peace which always comes through fidelity to
the Lord. His hopes for a life with his family, lived in simplicity and
fidelity to the Church, were short lived. The King, by now drunk on his own
power, insisted that Thomas take the oath under the "Act of Succession",
thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of his "marriage" to Anne and his
authority over the Church.

Thomas would not do so because he refused to violate his truly formed
conscience. So, the King had his former counselor imprisoned in the Tower of
London. There he underwent intense tortures of both body and soul. These
came not only from the henchmen of the State but even from some within his
own family and circle of friends who failed to understand his minds had been
dulled by compromise. At the time, few would have even noticed if Thomas had
succumbed to the Royal request. He probably could have even justified the
action through the exercise of his well honed rhetorical and logical skills
by calling it a merely perfunctory action. He could have thereby restored
his political position, some would have argued, in order to try to influence
the King for the good over the long haul.