Saint Thomas More

Thomas More by Hans Holbein

On June 22, we celebrate two men of conscience, Thomas More and John Fisher.  More was born in London in 1478. He studied law at Oxford, received his doctorate and in 1504 became a member of the English Parliament. He married Jane Holt in 1505 and had four children, three girls and one boy– Margaret, Cecilia, Elizabeth and John.

The More household was a model of spiritual and intellectual life. More saw that his daughters were well educated, something unusual in those days, and led his family in prayer, study of scripture and discussion on the important matters of the day.  He welcomed into his home distinguished scholars like Erasmus and John Fisher, but also poorer neighbors whom he treated warmly and respectfully. His wife died, and More married a widow, Alice Middleton, in 1511. 

When Henry VIII became king he sought out More as a friend and advisor, making him Lord Chancellor in  1529. More functioned wisely and justly in that office. His friend Erasmus wrote: “In serious matters no one is more prized, while if the king wishes to relax no man is more cheerful…Happy the nations where kings appoint such officials.”

Shortly after More took office, Henry VIII began proceedings to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Because he could not agree with the king, More kept silent and eventually, in 1532, resigned from office. 

Without income and in disfavor, he spent the next few years writing and reflecting, living quietly with his family, “being merry together” he said. But in 1534 he was asked, with John Fisher, to take an oath to the king that he could not accept. He refused, and after 15 months in prison, he was beheaded on July 6, 1545, “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” 

He is the patron of lawyers and politicians.

In prison More wrote to his daughter, “ I trust only in God’s merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me till now and made me content to lose goods, land and life as well, rather than swear against my conscience.  I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and being overcome with fear. I shall remember how St. Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray for his help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. “

St. Thomas More’s life was portrayed in a celebrated movie, “Man for All Seasons.”

“Lord, give us faith like Thomas More to do what is right and trust in you.”

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