Sunday, June 20, 2010

Honoring the Martyrs

Thomas More Defending the Liberty of the House of Commons, painting by Vivian Forbes, St Stephen’s Hall, English Parliament, London, photograph by Jarrold Publishing, Norwich, England. (Source)
On June 22, I'll be on the air with Brian Patrick on the Son Rise Morning Show to discuss St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More at 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern!

In anticipation of St. Thomas More's feast, UK's Catholic Herald has a fine piece by Father Alexander Lucie-Smith reflecting on Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming visit to Westminster Hall, where both Bishop Fisher and More were tried. The title of Father Lucie-Smith's article is "More stood up against the tyranny of ego" and includes this meditation on Tudor "justice":

That trial, back in July 1535, was a disgraceful event. More, being a lawyer, knew that he could not be convicted if he kept silence; however, Richard Rich, an enthusiastic servant of the Crown, testified that More had told him in conversation that he did not believe in the Royal Supremacy, and it was this perjured evidence that led to More's conviction and death. Richard Rich has subsequently suffered the fate of being held up as the epitome of all that is bad in politics. There was certainly something wrong with Tudor justice, and More was not its only victim; very few of those who fell foul of the Tudor monarchy deserved death even according to the laws of the day. More was the victim of arbitrary rule, an example offered to England and the rest of Europe of what happened to those who stood in the way of the royal will.

But the whole point of England, as More certainly believed, was that the King was not all-powerful. The royal will had to take account of Parliament, the rule of law, as well as the highest law of all, the law of God, known to humans through natural law. These were necessary breaks on the tendency to tyranny. And history has proved More right. Henry VIII was the nearest thing we ever had to an absolute monarch, but his reign marked the furthest reach of royal power. No monarch after him was ever able to wield so much power, though several would have loved to have done so. It is thanks to Thomas More, and people like him, that the temper of this land has never been sympathetic to dictatorship.

(Remember that Thomas More is honored on the date of Bishop John Fisher's martyrdom--that's why the article mentions the July trial.)

More stood up for Parliament against the king and confronted Cardinal Wolsey before, as the picture aboves depicts. Father Lucie-Smith relates More's (and Fisher's) opposition to the tyranny of Henry VIII to Pope Benedict XVI's opposition to the tyranny of relativism today:
Thomas More espoused the minority view and was bullied to death by the Tudor state, which denied the absolute value of respect for conscientious objection. In our own day anyone who refuses to accept the dictatorship of relativism - that is, the idea that you can believe anything as long as your belief is not a belief in an absolute truth - is abused, ridiculed, slandered, threatened with arrest, accused of crimes without any serious evidence to back up such accusations, and told to shut up. . . .
I have no idea what the Pope will say when he stands at the spot where St Thomas More was condemned, but I am sure he will stand up for truth with all the fortitude of St Thomas More. The very fact of his presence will be an assertion of the right to freedom of conscience, and freedom of association, both freedoms so very repugnant to this present age.

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