Listers, St. Thomas More is known as the “Man for All Seasons” - but he is also a man claimed by all ages. Exactly why Sir Thomas More became a saint is a question that seems to draw out competing philosophies. In the petition to have More declared a saint, the petitioners wrote, “He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience.” The modern St. Thomas More is often praised for his unconquerable conscience. This coloring of St. Thomas More is not a surprise given the aim of modernity. The grand project of modernity is to emancipate the human will from God, nature, history, and even reason. All that remains is the unbridled human will. The modern praise of More seems to have a modern hue. Consequently, he becomes a saint of autonomy - a man who had a “adamantine sense of self” that refused to break.
The unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church.
It is not that the modern notion is necessarily wrong in what is asserts, but rather its assertion is incomplete. What is missing from these considerations is the ancient notion of a well-formed conscience. The modern sentiments deemphasize whether or not More’s conscience was actually correct and focus primarily on him standing up for what he believes. The traditional praises of More focus on his well-formed conscience. In the modern notion it does not matter if More was Catholic or not. He could be a saint for any individual who stands up for what they believe. In modernity’s project of autonomy, staying true to one’s conscience is admirable, but the contents of one’s conscience are far less important. In contrast, the traditional More - and arguably the authentically Catholic one - begs students of his life to examine his conscience. Unpacking More’s well-formed conscience brings up topics of natural law, the virtues, political engagement, the Church’s role in civil life, and the Catholic Church as Christ’s only Church. Under the traditional view, the unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church. He had formed his conscience according to the Church, and when the world asked him to betray her, he knew exactly who he was in Christ Jesus. There is little doubt the authentically Catholic Thomas More makes the modern world uncomfortable; thus, there is a push - both inside and outside the Church - to refashion More as a modern hero of autonomy.
PETITION SENT TO JOHN PAUL II FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF SAINT THOMAS MORE AS PATRON OF STATESMEN
1. Christian Steadfastness The Christian steadfastness which Thomas More demonstrated in martyrdom has made his name famous down through the centuries. In his own lifetime, he was already known throughout Europe for his scholarship and his innovative views, which led him, for example, to give his daughters the same education his son received - a revolutionary development in those times.1
2. Utopia - The Intellectual Puzzle His work as a writer — especially his translations of the Greek satirist Lucian, his collection of original poems, and his great classic Utopia — lent his name incomparable prestige. Utopia continues to be Thomas More’s best-known work. Modeled on Plato’s Republic, this intellectual puzzle is one of the finest case studies ever devised for the political philosopher and the student of human nature. Like the Republic, Utopia is filled with internal contradictions that invite the attentive reader to think deeply about the perennial ethical values which give meaning to personal and social life.
3. Famous Last Words His last words, “I die the King’s good servant and God’s first,” remain an inspiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of the common good.
4. Holiness as the Fullness of Humanity It reflects, moreover, an admiration which transcends the specific contributions that Saint Thomas More made in the various fields in which he worked — as humanist, apologist, judge, legislator, diplomat and statesman — and focuses on the man himself: the idea that holiness is the fulness of humanity appears, in this case, quite tangibly true.
5. Model of Moral Integrity Your Holiness’s predecessor in the Chair of Peter, Pope Pius XI, in the Bull of Canonization, presented Saint Thomas More as a model of proven moral integrity for all Christians and defined him as laicorum hominum decus et ornamentum.
6. Faith & Culture In Saint Thomas More, there was no sign of that split between faith and culture, between timeless principles and daily life, which the Second Vatican Council laments as “among of the gravest errors of our time” (Gaudium et spes, n. 43).
7. Founder of Common Law As a lawyer and judge, he established the interpretation and formulation of laws (he is rightly considered one of the founders of the study of the English common law) which safeguard true social justice and build peace between individuals and nations.
8. The Patron of the Poor More eager to eliminate the causes of injustice than to repress it, he did not separate his passionate but prudent advocacy of the common good from the constant practice of charity: his fellow citizens called him the “patron of the poor.” An unconditional and benevolent dedication to justice with regard to the human person and liberty was the guiding rule of his conduct as a magistrate. While serving all men, Saint Thomas More knew well how to serve his king, that is the state, but wanted above all to serve God.
9. World’s Public Servants Call for a Patron The timeliness of this convergence of political commitment and moral conviction, this harmony between the supernatural and the human, and this seamless unity of life have caused many public servants from various countries to join the Committee for the Proclamation of Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, as Patron of Politicians.
10. Politics - A Difficult Form of Service Politics was not, for him, a matter of personal advantage, but rather an often difficult form of service, for which he had prepared himself not only through the study of the history, laws and culture of his own country, but also and especially through the examination of human nature, its grandeur and weaknesses, and of the ever-imperfect conditions of social life.
11. A Modern Martyr of Freedom He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience: a perennial temptation — one to which the history of the 20th century bears tragic witness — of political regimes that do not recognize anything superior to themselves.
12. Martyr for Primacy of Conscience A martyr for freedom, then, precisely because he was a martyr for the primacy of conscience which, firmly grounded in the search for the truth, renders us responsible for our decisions, that is to say, masters of ourselves and thus free from all bonds except that bond — proper to a creature — which binds us to God.
13. We Ask Sir Thomas More to Become a Saint Therefore, certain that we act for the good of future society and trusting that our petition will find a benevolent welcome with Your Holiness, we ask that Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, faithful servant of the King, but God’s first, be proclaimed “Patron of Statesmen.”
APOSTOLIC LETTER ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO PROCLAIMING SAINT THOMAS MORE PATRON OF STATESMEN AND POLITICIANS
POPE JOHN PAUL II FOR PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE
14. Imperishable Example of Moral Integrity 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.2
15. Well Ordered House & Life Throughout his life he was an affectionate and faithful husband and father, deeply involved in his children’s religious, moral and intellectual education. His house offered a welcome to his children’s spouses and his grandchildren, and was always open to his many young friends in search of the truth or of their own calling in life. Family life also gave him ample opportunity for prayer in common and lectio divina, as well as for happy and wholesome relaxation. Thomas attended daily Mass in the parish church, but the austere penances which he practised were known only to his immediate family.
16. Appointed as Lord Chancellor Highly esteemed by everyone for his unfailing moral integrity, sharpness of mind, his open and humorous character, and his extraordinary learning, in 1529 at a time of political and economic crisis in the country he was appointed by the King to the post of Lord Chancellor. The first layman to occupy this position, Thomas faced an extremely difficult period, as he sought to serve King and country.
17. Resigned & Reduced to Poverty In 1532, not wishing to support Henry VIII’s intention to take control of the Church in England, he resigned. He withdrew from public life, resigning himself to suffering poverty with his family and being deserted by many people who, in the moment of trial, proved to be false friends.
18. The Trial At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded.
19. Beatified in 1886 In 1850 the English Catholic Hierarchy was re-established. This made it possible to initiate the causes of many martyrs. Thomas More, together with 53 other martyrs, including Bishop John Fisher, was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. And with John Fisher, he was canonized by Pius XI in 1935, on the fourth centenary of his martyrdom.
20. Government as an Exercise in Virtue His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue. Unwavering in this rigorous moral stance, this English statesman placed his own public activity at the service of the person, especially if that person was weak or poor; he dealt with social controversies with a superb sense of fairness; he was vigorously committed to favouring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young.
21. Politics & Morality What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.
22. Rights of Conscience 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.
23. Freedom from the State The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power. Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature.
24. St. Thomas More Therefore, after due consideration and willingly acceding to the petitions addressed to me, I establish and declare Saint Thomas More the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, and I decree that he be ascribed all the liturgical honours and privileges which, according to law, belong to the Patrons of categories of people.