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Franciscan Spirit Blog

The Franciscan Saints: Thomas More

Jul 20, 2018
The Franciscan Saints: Thomas More

Martyr, Third Order Franciscan
(1478–1535)

Thomas More was one of the most highly respected men of his time. A successful barrister, an honest judge, a famous scholar, he rose to the highest status of any commoner in England, appointed by Henry VIII to the office of lord chancellor.

More had little ambition for worldly success. As he later wrote, “Reputation, honor, fame, what is all that but a breath of air from another person’s mouth no sooner spoken but gone? Thus whoever finds his delight in them is feeding on wind.” More was a man of deep and demanding faith. In his youth he had considered a monastic vocation before discerning instead that he was called to serve God in the world. While outwardly he enjoyed a life of comfort, in the privacy of his spiritual life he wore a hair shirt, attended daily Mass, and practiced a strict discipline of prayer. He is believed to have become a Third Order Franciscan (and indeed his name is listed in the calendar of Franciscan saints).

More considered himself a loyal friend and servant of the king. But circumstances were to evolve to the point that Henry required a more absolute loyalty than More could offer. For some years Henry had been moving toward a fateful collision with the authority of the Catholic Church. The issue was his desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. When the pope blocked his way, Henry divorced Catherine, married Anne, and required that all subjects repudiate “any foreign authority, prince or potentate.”

Rather than oppose the king, More resigned his position, but when he refused to take the oath he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The miseries of prison life, including cold, hunger, and vermin, were compounded by pressure from his family. When his wife tried to coax him to alter his course, he responded, “My good woman, you are no good at doing business. Do you really want me to exchange eternity for twenty years?” 

After fifteen months, More was put on trial and convicted on the basis of perjured testimony. Now, with his fate settled, he at last broke his silence. He denied that Parliament had the authority to set up a temporal lord as head of the Church. He prayed, “that though your lordships have now here on earth been judges of my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation.”

On the day of his execution on July 6, 1535, he displayed his characteristic wit, asking for the executioner’s help in ascending the scaffold: “As for my coming down, let me shift for myself.” Addressing the gathered crowd, he spoke: “I die in and for the faith of the holy Catholic Church. Pray for me in this world, and I shall pray for you in that world. Pray for the king that it please God to send him good counselors. I die as the king’s true servant, but God’s first.”

Thomas More was canonized in 1935. In 2000, he was declared “the heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians.”


Little as I meddle in the conscience of others, I am certain that my conscience belongs to me alone. It is the last thing that a man can do for his salvation: to be at one with himself.

Saint Thomas More


Franciscan Saints


Comments

Tue, 06/22/2021 - 04:38 PM
Every Catholic Politician and Lawyer in this country should take time to know and understand and "follow" the example of Saint Thomas More. I pray the current President will.
Tue, 06/22/2021 - 08:06 PM
I pray for the former president does too.
Arlene B. Muller
Wed, 06/22/2022 - 06:35 AM
Arlene B. Muller
Amen. I pray that Catholic politicians of all parties will learn from the example of St. Thomas More & place faith, truth as revealed in Scripture & the teaching of the Catholic Church & conscience above what is politically expedient & "politically correct", especially with regard to the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, religious freedom & conscience rights. It is tragic that politicians who call themselves "devout Catholics" lack the courage of Catholic conviction by doing everything possible to be complicit with abortion on demand throughout pregnancy for any reason & opposing any restrictions on abortion, even those which protect health & safety, the right of informed consent, & the right of health workers to follow their conscience by refusing to participate in abortion. A Catholic politician who in good conscience chooses to belong for the Democratic party because he/she believes that is the party that stands up for workers, the poor, & the marginalized should not be leading the party in complicity with abortion but should activate his/her Catholic conscience to seek to turn the tide of his/her party from the culture of death to the Gospel of life, and if he/she is unable to turn the tide, he/she should at least be willing to swim against it. Likewise, Catholic Republicans should seek ways to promote the Catholic social teaching of SOLIDARITY & SUBSIDIARITY, to divert funding from Planned Parenthood to pregnancy resource centers & pro-life organizations that help women in crisis pregnancies not only before birth but help them become able to support themselves & their children after birth, & to seek creative, compassionate & prudent solutions & workable compromises in complicated issues that are multi-faceted such as welcoming strangers while still protecting our borders & our citizens in the area of immigration, seeking to end gun violence, & developing our resources to achieve energy independence while providing safeguards for our environment.
Patrick Frase
Wed, 06/22/2022 - 04:20 PM
Patrick Frase
Amen!
Tue, 06/22/2021 - 07:18 PM
He was a good man and true to his calling. I hope that most attornies and lawyers are like him.
Dawn Bowie
Sun, 11/07/2021 - 05:23 AM
Dawn Bowie
It is small comfort that my patron saint must also be a martyr for his conviction and commitment to truth. For his refusal to bow to the often unwritten system of order that elevates self-interest, ego and winning above what is right. That’s the guy whose life I’m to model? Well, I can’t say I like it much, but what other choice is there?
Mike Reininger
Wed, 06/22/2022 - 11:20 AM
Mike Reininger
St. Thomas More was a good person first. He had to be true to himself. Can one imagine not being that? To not be true to oneself, what would that say about a person? That they are living a lie? What kind of a life is that? How could a person live with themselves, unless they are worshipping something other than God. Would that be a strange life even if everyone else is worshipping the same thing? Or are they just fooling themselves into believing that everything is ok because everyone else is doing it. What are people putting their trust into? I think St. Thomas More was asking the same thing.
Rebecca Watson Kahn
Wed, 06/22/2022 - 03:02 PM
Rebecca Watson Kahn
St. Thomas More was inspirational to me when I was a teenager, well before I was a Catholic. His unwavering allegiance to God and the Catholic Church were awe-inspiring to this Baptist, and even moreso once I found Holy Mother Church. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the gift of his example.

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