Wednesday, February 10, 2016

John Farrow, St. Damien the Leper and St. Thomas More

Today is, of course, Ash Wednesday.

February 10 is also the birthday, in 1904, of John Farrow, the Australian screenwriter, director, and author. He wrote a great biography of Damien the Leper priest of Molokai, now Saint Damien de Veuster--and also a biography of St. Thomas More. EWTN has it in their library.

As I'm preparing for my presentation this Saturday, February 13 on "St. Thomas More and the Defense of Christendom" at the First Annual History and Heretics Symposium in Fort Scott, Kansas, hosted by The Prairie Troubadour, I scrolled down to see what Farrow said about More's apologetic works against the Lutheran reformers:

In the long literary controversy, four men led the lists against More: William Tyndale, John Frith, Simon Fish, and Christopher Saint-German. The first two were priests, influenced by the new heresy; the second two were lawyers. All four were able men and put their cases well, but their opponent was abler still. After completing the Dialogue, More answered Fish's Supplication of Beggars with Supplication of Souls. Again he showed his characteristic wit in the story of "a lewd gallant and a good friar. Whom, when the gallant saw going barefoot in a great frost and snow, he asked him why he did take such pain. And he answered that it was very little pain if a man would remember hell. 'Yea, Friar,' quod the gallant, 'but what and there be no hell? Then art thou a great fool?' 'Yea, Master,' quod the friar, 'but what and there be hell? Then is your mastership a much more fool.'"

Even when he became Lord Chancellor, More somehow found time to wield his pen in defence of the Church, nor after his fall from the high office was the labour diminished. The pen continued to move; book after book answered the arguments and charges of the enemy. He deemed the great task he had undertaken to be both a duty and a work of love, and to keep his moral independence he avoided subsidy. (Chapter 10).

After his resignation from the Chancellorship, Farrow notes how much Thomas More wrote to defend Catholic teaching:

The speed with which he moved his pen was amazing. Unhampered by public duties, he completed his Confutation of Tyndale's Answer, a letter against Frith, the Apology, a work in defence of the clergy, The Debellation of Salem and Bizance, and his Answer to the book which a nameless heretic hath named The Supper of the Lord.

These works, nearly a half million words, constituted a bulwark of orthodoxy, and the clergy, recognizing More as their champion, thought to reward him. They collected a great sum of money, which he refused, giving as his reason that if he were in their pay, he would no longer be a disinterested and unbiased defender. Some of his friends pointed out that he was now a poor man and that it would be well for him to accept so that his wife and children would profit. But he was obdurate. When they offered him the purse he said: "I had liefer see it all cast into the Thames, than I, or any of mine, should have thereof the worth of one penny. For though your offer, my Lords, be indeed very friendly and honourable, yet set I so much by my pleasure and so little by my profit, that I would not, in good faith, for so much, and much more too, have lost the rest of so many nights sleep that was spent upon the same. And yet wish would I, for all that, upon condition that all heresies were suppressed, that all my books were burned and my labour utterly lost." (Chapter 15).

As Farrow notes in his foreword, he is not writing a critical biography, but he does write with a filmmaker's eye, noting the great drama of the events at Henry VIII's court:

The reader will soon discover that my aim was not to write an exhaustive biography in the conventional sense, but to tell a story in general terms of a man and his friends and his enemies; his time and circumstance; a story of tenderness and violence and tragedy, and, above all, a story of courage and example. I am indebted to Fr. Joseph Donovan, S.J., Dean of Law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, who encouraged me to write the book and who, at the planning stage, took me to the Huntington Library. There, thanks to the graciousness of the Library officials, my appetite was stimulated by the famous Holbein collection and the treasure of papers and books of the period. The Assistant to the Librarian, Miss Gertrude Ruhnka, consented to aid me in the compilation of the considerable research. This she did most ably and I thank her deeply. Upon completion of the writing, I sent the manuscript to a More scholar and fellow devotee then in London, Dr. Frank Sullivan. He interrupted his busy literary labours at the British Museum to make valuable suggestions and criticism. I thank him also.

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