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About St. Thomas More

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St. Thomas More

A man who held strong in his personal convictions, St. Thomas More is remembered for the tenacity to his Catholic beliefs which ultimately cost him his life. Unwilling to acknowledge King Henry VIII as the head of the Church, St. Thomas More was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Centuries later, both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church honor him as a saint and martyr of faith.

St. Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478 in London, England. He was born to his mother, Agnes, and father, Sir John More, an accomplished lawyer and judge. A very intelligent child, St. Thomas More was educated at the finest schools. He began his education at Oxford University in 1492, and received a classical education, becoming proficient in Greek and Latin. After two years at Oxford, St. Thomas More left his schooling at his father’s prompting to begin legal training. In 1502 he was officially accepted as a lawyer and began practicing in London.

Shortly after being accepted to the Bar, St. Thomas More considered the possibility that he may have a vocation to the priesthood. He lived near a Carthusian monastery from 1503-1504 and regularly attended spiritual exercises with the monks who lived there. During this time he discerned that he was called to remain a layman, and married his first wife the following year.

St. Thomas More wed Jane Colt in 1505. She was described as having a gentle spirit, and was quiet and good-natured. Ten years younger than he, Jane bore him four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily, and John. A proponent of education for women at a time when this view was uncommon, St. Thomas More taught his wife about music and literature. He also saw to it that his daughters were given the same classical education provided to young boys. St. Thomas More’s wife, Jane, died in 1511, leaving him a widower with four small children. Disregarding the custom of the time, St. Thomas More remarried within thirty days of Jane’s death.

St. Thomas More’s second wife was named Alice, and she was the wealthy widow of a merchant. She had one daughter from her previous marriage, whom St. Thomas More accepted into the family as if she were his own. St. Thomas More’s love for children was evident in his relationship with his own children, as well as those whom he fostered and adopted through the years. Additionally, the education provided to his children helped them to win the admiration of others and began to set a trend among the nobility once they took note of the benefit of educating young women as well as young men.

In 1504 St. Thomas More was elected to Parliament as a representative of Yarmouth. By 1510 he was the representative for London. He proved himself as a reliable and honest statesman, and after undertaking a task given to him by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, he was knighted in 1521. He became the secretary and personal adviser to King Henry VIII, and later served as the High Chancellor of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Later, in 1523, the House of Commons elected St. Thomas More as its Speaker. In 1525 he became the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, which gave him executive and judicial responsibilities over most of Northern England.

When King Henry VIII divorced his wife, Catherine of Aragon, then-Chancellor Thomas Wolsey refused to grant an annulment, and was subsequently stripped of his government posts. St. Thomas More initially supported King Henry VIII in Parliament, joining in the opinion of the theologians of Oxford and Cambridge that the marriage had been unlawful. St. Thomas More was given the position of Chancellor in 1529.

As the Protestant Reformation was underway, St. Thomas More rejected the ideas being circulated by those in favor of the teachings of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. St. Thomas More saw the Protestant Reformation as a threat to the unity of society and the church. His belief in the primacy of the papacy led to problems between him and King Henry VIII when the king asked Pope Clement VII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. St. Thomas More’s allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, and consequently, the pope, caused him to refuse to sign the letter petitioning the pope for the annulment. By 1531, King Henry VIII had removed most of the pope-supporting clergy from senior positions within the church in England.

King Henry VIII, isolating England from the pope and church in Rome, drew up the Statute of Praemunire, which forbid those in England to appeal to the Roman Curia. In 1534, the Act of Supremacy required that St. Thomas More take an oath that declared King Henry VIII as the Supreme Head of the English Church. As a Roman Catholic faithful to the pope, St. Thomas More refused. Initially, St. Thomas More’s friendship with the King prevented him from having charges brought before him for treason. However, when St. Thomas More did not attend the coronation of King Henry VIII’s new wife, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII took action against him.

On April 13, 1534, St. Thomas More appeared before the court. He acknowledged before them that Parliament had the right to declare Anne Boleyn as the new Queen; however, he still refused to take the oath of supremacy to the Crown, in which King Henry VIII was declared the Head of the English Church. St. Thomas More stated the the pope was the head of the Church, and that King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine had never been annulled. King Henry VIII had St. Thomas More imprisoned in the Tower of London for treason. On July 1, 1535, before a panel of judges that included Anne Boleyn’s father, brother, and uncle, St. Thomas More was condemned to death for his crime of treason. Originally sentenced to die by being hanged, drawn, and quartered (the standard for treason at the time), the King commuted his sentence to death by decapitation. He was executed on July 6, 1535, his last words that he was “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Patronage of St. Thomas More

St. Thomas More is the patron saint of adopted children, civil servants, court clerks, lawyers, politicians, stepparents, and widowers. These patronages reflect his dedication to both family and the service of the government.

St. Thomas More in Art

Artwork of St. Thomas More shows him dressed in the clothing typical of the Renaissance, the time period in which he lived. He wears a hat, robes, and a type of chain around his neck called a “livery collar,” which marks his position in King Henry VIII’s courts. He also holds paper (sometimes in a scroll) in his hands, symbolic of his education and writings.

St. Thomas More Prayers

Prayer to Saint Thomas More for Lawyers

Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints:

Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul.

Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen.

 

A Prayer Written by St. Thomas More while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London

Give me the grace, Good Lord

To set the world at naught. To set the mind firmly on You and not to hang upon the words of men's mouths.

To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly pleasures. Little by little utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of all its business.

Not to long to hear of earthly things, but that the hearing of worldly fancies may be displeasing to me.

Gladly to be thinking of God, piteously to call for His help. To lean into the comfort of God. Busily to labor to love Him.

To know my own vileness and wretchedness. To humble myself under the mighty hand of God. To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity.

Gladly to bear my purgatory here. To be joyful in tribulations. To walk the narrow way that leads to life.

To have the last thing in remembrance. To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand. To make death no stranger to me. To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell. To pray for pardon before the judge comes.

To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me. For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks.

To buy the time again that I have lost. To abstain from vain conversations. To shun foolish mirth and gladness. To cut off unnecessary recreations.

Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at naught, for the winning of Christ.

To think my worst enemies my best friends, for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasures of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all in one heap.

Amen.

 

Litany of St. Thomas More,

Martyr and Patron Saint of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers

 

V. Lord, have mercy

R. Lord have mercy

V. Christ, have mercy

R. Christ have mercy

V. Lord, have mercy

R. Lord have mercy

V. Christ hear us

R. Christ, graciously hear us

 

V. St. Thomas More, Saint and Martyr,

R. Pray for us (Repeat after each invocation)

St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers

St. Thomas More, Patron of Justices, Judges and Magistrates

St. Thomas More, Model of Integrity and Virtue in Public and Private Life

St. Thomas More, Servant of the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ

St. Thomas More, Model of Holiness in the Sacrament of Marriage

St. Thomas More, Teacher of his Children in the Catholic Faith

St. Thomas More, Defender of the Weak and the Poor

St. Thomas More, Promoter of Human Life and Dignity

 

V.Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world

R.Spare us O Lord

V.Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world

R.Graciously hear us O Lord

V.Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world

R.Have mercy on us

 

Let us pray:

 

O Glorious St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, your life of prayer and penance and your zeal for justice, integrity and firm principle in public and family life led you to the path of martyrdom and sainthood.  Intercede for our Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, that they may be courageous and effective in their defense and promotion of the sanctity of human life - the foundation of all other human rights. We ask this through Christ our Lord.  

 

R. Amen.