Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Sep/10

19

More is Less

Here’s the Pope (speaking in London’s Westminster Hall last week) on Thomas More:

I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose ”good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process.

And here’s an extract from the largely sympathetic biography of More by the British writer (and Roman Catholic) Peter Ackroyd:

[More] epitomized, in modern terms, the apparatus of the state using its power to crush those attempting to subvert it. His opponents were genuinely following their consciences, while More considered them the harbinger of the devil’s reign on earth. How could there be moderation in any confrontation between them? He was, in large part, successful; he managed to check the more open expression of heretical opinion and thereby prevented it from being accepted piece by piece or gradually condoned. He also disrupted the community of ‘newe men’ in Antwerp and helped to diminish the flow of banned books into England.

In assessing More, we should, of course be careful to see him within the context of the times in which he lived. That said, for the pope to praise him to a modern audience as some sort of fighter for freedom of conscience is, once again, to reveal Benedict XVI as a man with a very selective view of history.

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5 comments

  • Polichinello · September 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    When most people think of More, they think more of the Robert Bolt character (usually in the form of Paul Scofield’s excellent performance) instead of the actual historical person.

  • Foose · September 20, 2010 at 1:28 am

    The Vatican made More the patron saint of politicians some years ago. Which is rather hard on More, I think.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 20, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    “That said, for the pope to praise him to a modern audience as some sort of fighter for freedom of conscience is, once again, to reveal Benedict XVI as a man with a very selective view of history.”

    Mr. Stuttaford, care to unpack your implications about More? I think I get your point, but just to make sure…

  • Author comment by David Hume · September 21, 2010 at 2:35 am

    i think andrew is alluding to the fact that more did not believe in generalized freedom of conscience, he had implemented the persecution of protestants when henry was in his “defender of the faith” phase. in that way he was a man of his time, a general acceptance of the possibility of freedom of conscience in regards to religion only began to spread after the thirty years war. and in some parts of europe (e.g., spain) it really took until the 20th century to establish itself.

  • CONSVLTVS · September 23, 2010 at 1:25 am

    What do you think? Did Thomas More believe in freedom of conscience at the very, very end of his life?

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