01 July 2010

All Seasons

I just finished watching A Man for All Seasons, about the conflict between St. Thomas More and Henry VIII. It was a good movie to watch while sick in bed. The kids even sat and watched it with me.

As you know, Sir Thomas More refused to swear an oath to King Henry’s supremacy in England over the Church and to the validity of his divorce and remarriage.

Some of the lines from the movie stuck with me...

Speaking to his beloved daughter, Meg, as she pleads with him to take the oath to save his life:
Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it's God's part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will.

And, to his biographer and son-in-law-to-be:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

St. Thomas More is a saint I really like but then don't totally understand. I recently read More's Utopia, which wobbles back and forth between communistic ideas and a criticism of the same. I'd like to think I knew where More stood, but the questions will have to remain until I can reread the book or my kids get old enough to explain it to me.


ArchAngel's Advocate said...

It is part of the Scholastic Method to argue both sides of a question, and More was very much a scholastic (one of the reasons Henry liked him. He was one of the few who could give Henry a run for his money intellectually. Elizabet was a smart cookie too). Of course, the penultimate scholastic work was the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. You can see the structure of scholastic argumentation with greater clarity in it. (The trick is to read the "Pro" half first, the matching "Response" 2nd, then the explanation last. However, the way the Summa is printed is all the "Pro"s 1st, the explanation followed by all the "Response"s for a given topic.

Anonymous said...

I never got to the end of Utopia the first time and was thinking it's about time to try again; I wondered what it had to say to a Distributist soul like mine. I think there is always the worry that distributism is forced redistrubition- ie Socialism or Communism but it isn't. And I know Utopia gets the same response.
I wondered if St Thomas More was perhaps a proto-distributist.

swissmiss said...

Thanks for the insight, AA. For some reason your comment didn't show up at first and was in my spam.

I do think More was very much left-leaning for his day. According to Belloc in his Characters of the Reformation, "Sir Thomas More was just the kind who would, according to the mere order of nature, have drifted from step to step, beginning with indignation against abuses, and ending with the full heretical position into which nearly all such men later fell.

He was indignant against the social order of his time as well as against the abuses of the Church. What is more, his indignation inspired him to wit, and to very high literary efforts; and men who discover such talents in themselves while they are still young nearly always fall into the temptation of becoming increasingly revolutionary as time proceeds. Sir Thomas More should, therefore, according to the order of nature, have become ultimately a violent opponent not only of the social order but of that Divine unity in the Church for which he laid down his life. All his character seemed to point that way.

Again, he was a man of profound worldy ambition. He fully recognized his own talents, and he gloried in them. They had led him to the highest political position in the State. Such a temper should naturally have made him in the long run acquiesce in all official action."

I think St. Thomas More had an incredible intellect. Not an Aquinas, but I do get your point about him being scholastic. I just don't know if I think he is wholly in the camp one would assume him to be in. That's my problem with him. He argues both sides, like Aquinas, but Aquinas lets you know with complete clarity where he stands. More holds his cards close (at least IMHO in his Utopia). However, I do think those very reasons are what make him a great saint...chucking it all, all that he had worked for and esteemed, to defend the Pope as the head of Christendom at the expense of everything, even his life.

swissmiss said...

I like the distributionist ideas, just don't see how they could be brought about in a society that is rushing in the other direction.