“Religious Freedom”

Burned at the stake by a defender of freedom?

From The New York Times:

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan on Friday helped kick off a national campaign opposing President Obama’s health care mandates and other government policies that Roman Catholic leaders say threaten their religious freedom…

The bishops timed the two-week campaign of prayer, fasting and letter-writing to begin on a feast day commemorating two 16th-century Catholic saints executed for their religious beliefs — SS. John Fisher and Thomas More. The campaign will conclude on the Fourth of July.

Well, so long as Dolan is clear that what he is doing is fighting for the religious freedom of Roman Catholic leaders (to use the NYT‘s probably unintentionally accurate phraseology), fair enough. For neither More nor Fisher were in favor of religious freedom for those with whom they disagreed. Fisher (then the Archbishop of Canterbury) saw to the burning of Thomas Hitton, the man widely seen as England’s first protestant martyr. As for the proto-totalitarian More, he was when England’s Lord Chancellor, as I noted here, a savage ideological enforcer, quite pleased, for example, to support the burning alive (“the short fyre…[prior to] ye fyre eurlasting”, as he so charmingly put it) of heretics.

The following (I’ve linked to it before) is 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.

By linking his current campaign to men like More and Fisher, Dolan reveals more than he perhaps might like about what he understands by the word ‘freedom’.

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3 Responses to “Religious Freedom”

  1. Nate says:

    I see what you are saying about More and the Cardinal Fisher, but they were in fact both put to death because they refused to give up their religious (though it would be accurate to say political) beliefs.

    The fact that they both didn’t have a lot of respect for the religious freedom of others is quite beside the point. Would it not be an example of racism if a white racist kills a black racist? I don’t think the fact that the dead fellow may have hated white people and done horrible things to them undermines the fact that the murder would be a good example of racism.

    I might not move to canonize the guy, but still.

  2. Chris says:

    I see what you are saying about More and the Cardinal Fisher, but they were in fact both put to death because they refused to give up their religious (though it would be accurate to say political) beliefs.

    I don’t think that changes Andrew’s point at all. While you can hold More up as an example of being martyred for Catholicism, using him as an exemplar of religious freedom as does, for example, the Thomas More Law Center, is ludicrous. Incidentally, Francis George recently called out one of his fellow cardinals for using the example of More.

    Frankly, I’d go even further than Andrew and say that the fact that the Roman Catholics hold up this man (who was only canonized last century, when they really should have known better) as an icon says something important, and not good, about the relationship between Catholicism and liberalism properly understood.

  3. obijuan says:

    Not all was peachy with religious liberty. More would have been looking askance at Luther and the results.

    Heresy was indistinguishable from treason.

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