SAINT THOMAS MORE (1478-1535), martyr – Patron saint of widowers, step-parents, adopted children, lawyers and civil servants
Today, the universal Church honors the life and martyrdom of Saint Thomas More, a lawyer, author and statesman who lost his life opposing King Henry VIII’s plan to subordinate the Church of Rome to the English monarchy.
Thomas was born in 1478 in London, England, and received a classical education from the age of six; and, at the age of thirteen, he became the protégé of Archbishop John Morton, who also served an important civic role as the Lord Chancellor. Although Thomas never joined the clergy, he would eventually assume the position of Lord Chancellor himself.
Receiving a well-rounded college education at Oxford, Thomas becoming a “renaissance man”, learning several ancient and modern languages and being well-versed in mathematics, music and literature. His father, however, determined that Thomas should become a lawyer, so he withdrew his son from Oxford in order to focus him on his new career.
Despite his legal and political orientation, Thomas was confused in regard to his vocation as a young man. He seriously considered joining either the Carthusian monastic Order or the Franciscans, and he followed a number of ascetic and spiritual practices throughout his life – such as fasting, corporal mortification, and a regular rule of prayer – as a means of growing in personal holiness.
In 1504, however, Thomas was elected to Parliament. He gave up his monastic ambitions, though not his disciplined spiritual life, and married Jane Colt of Essex. They were happily married for several years and had four children together, though Jane tragically died while giving birth to their last child in 1511. Shortly after her death, Thomas married a widow named Alice Middleton, who proved to be a devoted wife and mother.
When King Henry VIII ascended to the throne, the king showed great fondness for Thomas, and Thomas became a part of the king’s inner circle, eventually overseeing the English court system as Lord Chancellor. He even authored a book published in Henry’s name, defending Catholic doctrine against Martin Luther.
Thomas’ eventual martyrdom would come as a consequence of Henry VIII’s own tragic downfall from grace. The king wanted an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a marriage that Pope Clement VII declared to be valid and indissoluble. Angry, Henry decided to sever all relationship with the pope in order to control the Church in England. By 1532, Thomas had resigned as Lord Chancellor, refusing to support the king’s efforts in defying the Bishop of Rome.
In 1534, Henry VIII declared that every subject of the British crown would have to swear an oath affirming the validity of his new marriage to Anne Boleyn. Refusal of these demands would be regarded as treason against the state. Thomas refused to swear to Henry’s Act of Succession from the Church of Rome and the Oath of Supremacy, which stated that King Henry was the head of the Church of England.
Thomas explained that “no temporal prince” could take away that which belonged to Saint Peter and his successors according to the teachings of Christ. When he was told that most of the English bishops had accepted the king’s order, Thomas replied that the saints in Heaven did not accept it.
On July 7, 1535, Thomas, at the age of fifty-seven, came before the executioner and was beheaded. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and canonized a saint in 1935 by Pope Pius XI.
We commemorate his feastday on June 22.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Thomas More)
“Father, you confirm the true faith with the crown of martyrdom. May the prayers of Saint Thomas More give us the courage to proclaim our faith by the witness of our lives.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”