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St. Thomas More – June 22

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

Sir Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478 and received martyrdom on July 6, 1535 because he would not recognize Henry VIII as head of the so-called Anglican Church. He refused to give written approval to the Parliamentary Act of Succession by which the English Sovereign pretended to be superior to the See of Rome, that is, to the Pope.

A painting of St. Thomas More

St. Thomas More

In his defense Sir Thomas stated that such an act was not valid because it went against the foundation of Christendom, as well as the law of England itself, the Magna Carta. It also violated the solemn oath of allegiance to the Church and Rome that all Christian Kings pronounced at their coronation. He argued that by refusing obedience to the Pope, the Kingdom of England was like a child refusing obedience to his natural father.

For two years, he remained imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote the book Dialogue of the Comfort against Tribulation. In this book, two Hungarians, an uncle and his nephew, discuss the problem of suffering and death under the threat of an imminent invasion of the country by the Turks. He refers metaphorically to Henry VIII as the Great Turk, and the Turkish invasion as the threat of Protestantism against the unity of the Catholic Faith.

In its last chapter he has the uncle speak these words:
“How many Romans, how many noble hearts of other sundry countries, have willingly given their own lives and suffered great deadly pains and very painful deaths for their countries, to win by their death only the reward of worldly renown and fame! And should we, then, shrink to suffer as much for eternal honor in Heaven and everlasting glory? The Devil also has some heretics so obstinate that they wittingly endure painful death for vain glory. And is it not then more than shameful that Christ shall see His Catholics forsake His faith rather than suffer the same for Heaven and true glory?

"… If we had the fifteenth part of the love for Christ that He both had and has for us, all the pain of this Turk's persecution could not keep us from Him, but there would be at this day as many martyrs here in Hungary as there have been before in other countries of old.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII is the "grand Turk" in St. Thomas' Book on Tribulation
"And I doubt not but that, if the Turk stood even here with his whole army about him; and if every one of them were ready at hand with all the terrible torments that they could imagine, and were setting their torments to us unless we would forsake the faith; and if to the increase of our terror, they fell at us all at once in a shout, with trumpets, tabrets, and timbrels all blown, and all their guns going off making a fearful noise; if then, on the other hand, the ground should suddenly quake and rive atwain, and the Devils should rise out of Hell and show themselves in such ugly shape as damned wretches shall see them; and if, with that hideous howling that those hell-hounds should screech, they should lay Hell open on every side round about our feet, so that as we stood we should look down into that pestilent pit and see the swarm of poor souls in the terrible torments there - we would wax so afraid of the sight that we should scantly remember that we saw the Turk's host.

"And in good faith, for all that, yet think I further this: If there might then appear the great glory of God, the Trinity in His high marvelous majesty, our Savior in His glorious manhood sitting on the throne, with His Immaculate Mother and all that glorious company, calling us there unto them; and if our way should yet lie through a marvelous, painful death before we could come to them - upon the sight, I say, of that glory, I daresay there would be no man who once would shrink at death, but every man would run on toward them in all that ever he could, though there lay by the way, to kill us for malice, both all the Turk's tormentors and all the Devils.

"And therefore, nephew, let us well consider these things, and let us have sure hope in the help of God. … Translated by Monica Stevens
Comments of Prof. Plinio:

These beautiful considerations by St. Thomas More call to mind the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. They have a similar method, the same reasonable tone, and the frequent use of contrast. St. Ignatius draws on contrast a great deal to move souls.

St. Thomas More refusing the Act of Succession

St. Thomas refuses to sign the Act of Succession

For example, St. Thomas More describes the Devil who wants our souls to be lost, and then he shows God in all His glory Who wants to save us. He seeks to move the soul not only by the consideration of perdition, but perdition in contrast with salvation. He touches the soul in its deepest points to incline it toward a good decision. Contrast is an excellent psychological tool to move souls.

He presents the dreadful situation of a man facing persecution and martyrdom. In such situation, he vacillates. To keep him from wavering, St. Thomas More presents an argument that ends with this eminently Ignatian metaphor: There are the armies of the Turk – Henry VIII – that will take his life. But behind the Turk’s armies are the armies of the Devil, filled with demons in their most horrendous forms. Therefore, the man thinks: “If I do not vanquish this fear I have of the Turk, then I will be taken by the Devil, and I will become a devil like those hideous creatures. The human body can die, but the soul will live forever.”

So, to avoid being eternally tormented, the man agrees to a transitory suffering at the hands of the Turk. He is disposed to resist the Turk’s army, and to die doing so.

The exterior of the Tower of London

For two years he was a prisoner in the Tower of London

This is not a theoretical consideration. It is one that St. Thomas More made because it applied to his case. He knew that he would suffer martyrdom, that he would have a violent death, and that he was describing his own agony. He remained two years in prison: it was a long, slow anguish. Then, after he learned the date of his execution, he suffered some days of intense distress. Finally, when he climbed the scaffold on Tower Hill and the executioner lowered the axe to his neck, he had some minutes, hardly more than ten, before his soul separated from his body. It was done. He went to Heaven. What was all that suffering compared to being damned for all eternity?

If he had chosen the Devil’s army, which meant apostasy from the Catholic Faith, he would be like a hideous devil, filled with contradictions, unhappiness and afflictions, tormented by his own conscience and by other dammed souls for all eternity. That is to say, considering only the realm of torments, the ones he chose were much less than the ones he would have had to suffer if he had apostatized. He decided to face the executioner.

Then, as a contrast to these torments, St. Thomas portrays a vision full of charm. Suddenly, above those infernal hosts, Our Lady appears, seated at the right of her Divine Son, accompanied by all the Celestial Court. They look at that man threatened with martyrdom with warmth and tenderness, with that thirst for souls that Our Lord manifested at the height of the Cross, when he said: “I thirst.” Our Lord wants the soul of that martyr to be with Him for all eternity. He wants to share His joy with him. Toward this end, He asks that soul for an act of sublime fidelity. This is the immense recompense awaiting the martyr. An act of pure love added to an act of holy fear leads the soul to choose martyrdom.

This is the argument of St. Thomas More based on contrasts.

Is this consideration only valid for martyrdom? No, it is also valid for similar situations. The life of fidelity of a Catholic is a long martyrdom. For a serious, upright man who seeks to serve Our Lady in everything, life is an extended martyrdom. He must make renunciations and sacrifices; he has to make violence against himself. This is the cross each one of us has to carry and the martyrdom we have to face.

The Site of Execution of Thomas More

The site of the execution of Sir Thomas More on July 6, 1535
Thus, we should apply to this parallel martyrdom the same advice that St. Thomas More offers for the real one.

Sometimes living a life of virtue becomes tedious. In those moments when we can be tempted to abandon our vocation, it is salutary to remember the two armies of St. Thomas. At other times, it is the small pleasure of a forbidden gaze, to look just for a moment at that immoral magazine or that badly dressed person. It is wrong; we should avoid it. The bad gaze often propitiates a bad thought, and then a bad action. Again, we are choosing between the two armies.

At still other times, we can consent to an act of pride, overestimating our qualities, declaring ourselves autonomous when we should obey. A concession in this realm cools the enthusiasm for our vocation, which in turn weakens the strength we need to persevere.

We are called to make a constant fight at all times and in all things against the Revolution and its tendencies even as it presents itself appealingly, inviting us to adhere to it. This is in many senses more than martyrdom. The latter is much harder, but it ends quickly, while the former goes on forever and ever.

Thomas More, by Peter Reubens

Sir Thomas More by Peter Paul Reubens

So, for all such situations, the argument of St. Thomas More must be applied. We are choosing between an eternity of happiness with Our Lady, Our Lord and the Celestial Court or an eternity of torment and blaspheming in Hell.

It is good to note here that to save ourselves, we should be motivated not only by fear, but also by the love of God. It is not enough to be moved by fear. We should also think about the graces we have received in our counter-revolutionary vocation, about the recompense prepared in Heaven. We are called to be completely orthodox, having an acutely clear notion of what is right or wrong and a strong Catholic sense that allows us to understand the Church with a great lucidity and to love the Catholic Religion with a special love. Since God gave us these gifts, He prepares a place for our souls in Heaven where we will have a greater intimacy with Him than other souls to whom He gave less. Therefore, we should expect and love this reward He prepared for us. It will be a particularly clear beatific vision.

Since this Court has a King, it also has a Queen. And we will also have an intimacy with Our Lady, Queen of the Universe, proportionate to the devotion we had for her in this life. We are slaves of Our Lady following the method of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort, that is, we gave everything to her, for her service and glory, therefore, we should expect that in her, with her and through her, we will receive our reward in Heaven.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

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