Wednesday, July 6, 2011

St. Thomas More to His Daughter Meg

St. Thomas More, former Chancellor of England was beheaded on July 6, 1535. The Church of England honors More and St. John Fisher on this date, while the Catholic Church honors both martyrs on the date of Fisher's execution, June 22. I cannot resist highlighting the tender note St. Thomas More wrote to his daughter Margaret after receiving the sentence of death after his trial on July 1 in Westminster Hall.

She had met him on the way from Westminster Hall to the Tower of London and pressed forward to embrace him.

He wrote to her: 'I never liked your manner toward me better than when you kissed me last, for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell my dear child and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost'.

Margaret had been allowed to see him in the Tower only because she took the Oaths her father would not take; he had endured her attempts to persuade him with patience. That last embrace was certainly precious.

As at his trial, Thomas More continued to display his wit and humanity on the scaffold facing execution. In his Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, written while in the Tower, More wrote:

When we feel us too bold, remember our own feebleness. When we feel us too faint, remember Christ's strength. In our fear, let us remember Christ's painful agony that himself would for our comfort suffer before his passion to the intent that no fear should make us despair. And ever call for his help such as himself wills to send us. And then need we never to doubt but that either he shall keep us from the painful death, or shall not fail so to strengthen us in it that he shall joyously bring us to heaven by it. And then doeth he much more for us than if he kept us from it. For as God did more for poor Lazarus in helping him patiently to die of hunger at the rich man's door than if he had brought to him at the door all the rich glutton's dinner, so, though he be gracious to a man whom he delivereth out of painful trouble, yet doeth he much more for a man if through right painful death he deliver him from this wretched world into eternal bliss.

As John Guy describes in A Daughter's Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg, Margaret would retrieve her father's head from its place above Tower Bridge a few days after his execution and would work, while living on the Continent, on publishing his works. When she died, she willed his hair shirt to Margaret Giggs Clement, who died on July 6, 1570, the 35th anniversary of his martyrdom.

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