Famously, St. Thomas lost his head to Henry VIII rather than betray his conscience by refusing to swear allegiance to the King as the head of the Church of England and bless his divorce and re-marriage.
The 6 time Academy award winning drama ‘A Man for All Seasons’ about the life of St. Thomas is a masterpiece. I watched it night before last and at 41 years old it hasn’t lost a thing. In fact, it may be more timely than ever.
There is much debate these days about the role of individual conscience in the public sphere. St. Thomas was thoroughly a public man and principled man of conscience. He is the exact opposite of the type of coward we see today in many ‘catholic’ public figures. One could never imagine St. Thomas uttering the intellectually and morally dishonest tripe “I am personally opposed, but….”
There is a scene in the movie where Cardinal Wolsey is debating with More trying to convince him to bring ‘pressure’ on the Pope to approve the King’s divorce. More refuses. Wolsey threatens More by saying that without an heir there will be dynastic wars again and it will be More’s fault. The sanction of a divorce may be regrettable but:
Wolsey: But necessary to get us an heir. Now, explain how you, as a councillor of England, can obstruct these measures…for the sake of your own private conscience.
More: I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos.
This chaos is all around us today. St. Thomas is the pinnacle of a ‘Catholic’ public man. His caliber is nary to be found these days. Can one imagine a Rudy Giuliani or John Kerry saying in defense of life something akin More’s response to those who condemned him?
The indictment is grounded in an act of parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God and His Holy Church.
It is therefore insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it. And more than this the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and in the King’s own coronation oath.
No they would not even think of risking votes or bad press by taking a principled stand, never mind their heads.
St. Thomas, pray for us.