Friday, July 1, 2011

The Trial of St. Thomas More

Sir Thomas More was tried for treason on July 1, 1535 in Westminster Hall. This site provides a wealth of documentation and analysis of the trial. As More was trained as a lawyer and a judge, only the perjury of Sir Richard Rich, the Worst Briton of the 16th Century (per the BBC) could have--if justice were to be served--led to his condemnation and execution. From the transcript of the trial:

This my Indictment, if I mistake not, consists of four principal Heads, each of which I purpose, God willing, to answer in order. As to the first Crime objected against me, that I have been an Enemy out of stubbornness of Mind to the King's second Marriage; I confess, I always told his Majesty my Opinion of it, according to the Dictates of my Conscience, which I neither ever would, nor ought to have concealed: for which I am so far from thinking my self guilty of High-Treason, that on the contrary, being re­quired to give my Opinion by so great a Prince in an Affair of so much importance, upon which the Peace of the Kingdom depended; I should have basely flatter'd him, and my own Conscience, had not I spoke the Truth as I thought: Then indeed I might justly have been esteemed a molt wicked Subject, and a perfidious Traitor to God. If I have offended the King herein; if it can be an Offence to tell one's Mind freely, when his Sovereign puts the Question to him; I suppose I have been sufficiently punish'd already for the Fault, by the great Afflictions I have en­dured, by the loss of my Estate, and my tedious Imprisonment, which has continued already near fifteen Months.

The second Charge against me is, That I have violated the Act made in the last Parliament: that is, being a Prisoner, and twice examined, I would not, out of a malignant, perfidious, obstinate and traitorous Mind, tell them my Opinion, whether the King was Supreme Head of the Church or not; but confessed then, that I had no­thing to do with that Act, as to the Justice or Injustice of it, because I had no Benefice in the Church: yet then I protested, that I had never said nor done any thing against it; neither can any one Word or Action of mine be alleged, or pro­duced, to make me culpable. Nay, this I own was then my Answer to their Honours, that I would think of nothing else hereafter, but of the bitter Passions of our Blessed Saviour, and of my Exit out of this miserable World. I wish no body any harm, and if this does not keep me alive, I desire not to live; by all which I know, I would not transgress any Law, or become guilty of any treasonable Crime: for this Statute, nor no other Law in the World can punish any Man for his Si­lence, feeing they can do no more than punish Words or Deeds; 'tis God only that is the Judge of the Secrets of our Hearts.

Attorney. Sir Thomas, tho we have not one Word or Deed of yours to object against you, yet we have your Silence, which is an evident sign of the Malice of your Heart: because no dutiful Subject, being law­fully ask'd this Question, will refuse to answer.

Sir Thomas More. Sir, my Silence is no sign of any Malice in my Heart, which the King him­self must Own by my Conduct upon divers Occasions; neither doth it convince any Man of the Breach of the Law: for It is a Maxim amongst the Civilians and Canonists, Qui tacet consentire videtur, he that holds his peace; seems to give his Consent. And as to what you say, that no good Subject will refuse to give a direct Answer; I did really think it to be the Duty of every good Subject, except he be such a Subject as will be a bad Christian, rather to obey God than Man; to be more cautious to offend his Conscience, than of any thing else in the whole World ; especially if his Conscience be not the Occasion of same Sedition and great Injury to his Prince and Country : for I do here sincerely protest, that I never revealed it to any Man alive. . . .

Regarding the evidence provided by Sir Richard Rich's via perjury, More objected strenously:

In good Faith, Mr. Rich, I am more concerned for your Perjury, than my own Danger; and I must tell you, that neither my self nor any body else to my knowledge, ever took you to be a Man of such Reputation, that I or any other would have any thing to do with you in a Matter of Im­portance. You know that I have been acquainted with your manner of Life and Conversation long time, even from your Youth to the present Juncture, for we lived in the same Parish; and you very well know, I am sorry I am forced to speak it, you always lay under the Odium of a very lying Tongue, of a great Gamester, and of no good Name and Character either there or in the Temple, where you was educated. Can it therefore seem likely to your Lordships, that I should in so weighty an Affair as this, act so unadvisedly, as to trust Mr. Rich, a Man I had al­ways so mean an Opinion of, in reference to his Truth and Honesty, so very much before my So­vereign Lord the King, to whom I am so deeply indebted for his manifold Favours, or any of his noble and grave Counselors, that I should only impart to Mr. Rich the Secrets of my Conscience in respect to the King's Supremacy, the particular Secrets, and only Point about which I have been so long pressed to explain my self? which I never did, nor never would reveal; when the Act was once made, either to the King himself, or any of his Privy-Counselors, as is well known to your Honours, who have been sent upon no other ac­count at several times by his Majesty to me in the Tower. I refer it to your Judgments, my Lords, whether this can seem credible to any of your Lordships.

Another sad day for earthly justice (in addition to St. Oliver Plunkett's execution after an unjust trial).

Remember that Pope Benedict XVI spoke of St. Thomas More during his speech in Westminster Hall on September 17, 2010:

As I speak to you in this historic setting, I think of the countless men and women down the centuries who have played their part in the momentous events that have taken place within these walls and have shaped the lives of many generations of Britons, and others besides. In particular, I recall the figure of Saint Thomas More, the great English scholar and statesman, who is admired by believers and non-believers alike for the integrity with which he followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign whose “good servant” he was, because he chose to serve God first. The dilemma which faced More in those difficult times, the perennial question of the relationship between what is owed to Caesar and what is owed to God, allows me the opportunity to reflect with you briefly on the proper place of religious belief within the political process. . . .

And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy.

1 comment:

  1. "for It is a Maxim amongst the Civilians and Canonists, Qui tacet consentire videtur, he that holds his peace; seems to give his Consent."

    Tricky principle - how does that hold with the right to silence? It doesn't.

    Fascinating invocation of More after Benedict's speech - I haven't thought it through, but I confess it forces steam from my ears:

    "‘Thomas More’

    Bini Smaghi, 54, has resisted calls to step aside. In a speech this morning at the Vatican in Rome, he said ECB members must have “personal independence, which ensures the security of tenure of the members of the decision-making bodies for the whole term of office.”

    After declining to comment to reporters on the details of today’s meeting with Berlusconi, Bini Smaghi said, “I have been to the Vatican this morning and I spoke of Thomas More.”

    “It is no coincidence that central bankers have adopted Saint Thomas More as their patron saint,” he had said in the speech. More was a scholar and statesman who was sentenced to death in 1535 for opposing Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic Church.

    Thomas More “followed his conscience, even at the cost of displeasing the sovereign,” Bini Smaghi cited Pope Benedict XVI as saying in a September speech in London. “It may seem bold to compare a central bank to the Church, but that is precisely what Heinrich Mussinghoff, Bishop of Aachen, did two weeks ago in his address on the occasion of the awarding of the Charlemagne Prize to Jean-Claude Trichet.” "

    In my view, the central bank is sovereign because it determines the value of the currency. Elected politicians just trot behind. So a central banker defying his president is the sovereign pretending to defy itself. Not very Moreish.