Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Belloc on Cromwell's Sudden Fall; More's Extraordinary Case

Just a reminder that Anna Mitchell and I will be discussing Hilaire Belloc's views of Thomas Cromwell and St. Thomas More this morning on the Son Rise Morning Show--a little after 6:45 a.m. Central; 7:45 a.m. Eastern. Listen live here.

Belloc notes that Cromwell had achieved great stature and wealth--and then it all came crashing down and he lost it all because of Henry's unhappiness with the marriage Cromwell had arranged with Anne of Cleves:

What with Henry's raging bad temper at having been bamboozled into the Anne of Cleves marriage, what with his irritation in feeling that Cromwell acted as though he were supreme in the State, and what with the Howards and the Seymours pushing the King on, the determination was taken to get rid of Cromwell at last, and in the early summer of 1540, when he was a man of well over fifty and at the height of his power and wealth, he was suddenly arrested at the Council board. 

He was condemned to death by attainder without trial and made the few days between the condemnation and his death both pitiable and memorable by the imploring letters which he wrote the King begging and even screaming for life. He ended one of them with the famous cry, "Mercy ! Mercy! Mercy!" He fawned and cringed, using the most extraordinary phrases, comparing Henry to God and saying that the perfume of the royal hand would waft him to Heaven if he were allowed to kiss it again. 

But it was all in vain : he was to die, and die he did on July 28, 1540. 

Then on the scaffold a strange thing happened. Cromwell had the reputation of being perfectly indifferent to religion, an atheist concerned only with this world and therefore utterly without scruple. He had supported the anti-Catholic movement with all his might because it made his loot secure. Now that he was about to die he declared himself, to the astonishment of everybody, a firm adherent of the national and traditional faith. His sincerity has been doubted, but without sufficient grounds. I think the matter is clear enough. He had been horribly afraid of death all his life — a trait, by the way, which you also find in his great-nephew, Oliver. He therefore would never contemplate death, and therefore also put religion out of his mind. But when he was face to face with death and had to deal with it somehow he admitted Catholic truth and confessed his acceptance of it. . . .

Of St. Thomas More, Belloc emphasizes 

In order to understand how extraordinary the case is, and what a marvellous example it is of resolution and vision combined, let us appreciate exactly what it was that St. Thomas More defended at the cost of his life. 

He died for the principle, that ultimately, in spiritual matters, the Pope was the Head of Christendom — a principle which all Christendom was debating, and had been debating for more than a hundred years, and on which all his lay world in England differed from him. 

He did not die for the Real Presence, as did many another after him. He did not die, as many another might have done, out of loyalty to Queen Catherine. He did not die as a protest against a doctrine generally held heretical. Still less did he die rather than give up some old fixed habit of mind, attached to the ancient civilization of his country. He was not a man merely angry against change. On the contrary, he had been all for change. He did not die, even, at the end of a long public protest against the way in which things were drifting. He did not die for the Mass or for the sanctity of the clerical order. 

He died only for that one point of the Papal Supremacy, then universally doubted and one on which it was common-sense to compromise. To us today it seems an obvious thing to say, "Oh, but the Papal Supremacy is the very test of Catholicism! " 

So Sir Thomas More himself saw; but so did not see the mass of his contemporaries, and so had he himself not seen a very short time before. 

Belloc almost seems to admit that More died in vain and that his death was foolhardy--and he seems to ignore the influence of grace in More's martyrdom, positing that it was a supreme act of will:

He had what is called "Heroic Faith." . . . But this much is certain, that of all those, and they were many, who bore witness in the five generations it took to root out their age-long religion from among the English, his would seem to have been the most complete passion; for he had nothing whatever to uphold him except resolve. 

I think that St. Thomas More's long Lenten period--from the day he was brought into the Tower and the day he left it for the block--was a prayerful and grace-filled preparation for his martyrdom. He had more than resolve; he had the Passion of Christ to strengthen him. I think Belloc goes too far.

No comments:

Post a Comment