On November 5, just in time for our presidential election, Pope John Paul II is set to propose Thomas More (1477-1535) as the patron saint for politicians, making him "a model and intercessor for all those who consider their political commitment as a choice of life." While exemplary in many respects, More is not quite a model for all seasons.

Aside from being the author of the satire Utopia, More is best known for opposing King Henry VIII's demand to be recognized as head of the English church. But that decision came at the end of a long and brilliant career. In his youth he was a bright student at Oxford, then a promising lawyer at Furnival's Inn, and almost a candidate for the priesthood; his good friend Erasmus wrote that "the one thing that prevented him from giving himself to that kind of life was that he could not shake off the desire of the married state." More did marry (twice; his first wife died), and he pursued his legal career zealously, gaining royal favor along the way. He hit the top in 1529 when Henry named him chancellor, a position no layman had ever held.

The king greatly enjoyed More's company, often inviting himself over for dinner and taking long walks through More's gardens. He also liked More's theology—initially. When Henry was working on his defense of the seven sacraments, a refutation of Martin Luther, More assisted him as "a sorter-out and placer of the principle matters therein." Later More was commissioned to respond to Luther's attack on Henry, publishing what one eighteenth-century divine called "the greatest heap of nasty language that perhaps was ever put together." (The Catholic Encyclopedia notes only "a certain amount that tastes unpleasant to the modern reader.") More called Luther an ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Tags:
Posted: