ST. THOMAS MORE, MARTYR [A.D 1535]
More's father was Sir John More, barrister and judge, and he was born to his first wife Agnes, daughter of Thomas Grainger, in Milk Street, Cheapside, on 6 February 1478. He was sent as a child to St Anthony's school in Threadneedle Street, and at thirteen was received into the household of Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had sufficient opinion of his promise to send him to Oxford, where he was entered at Canterbury College [afterwards absorbed into Christ Church]. But his father called him home when he had been only two years at the university. In February 1496 he was admitted as a student at Lincoln's Inn; he was called to the bar in 1501, and in 1504 he entered parliament-----a brilliant and successful young man, and popular.
On the other hand he was for a time preoccupied about his vocation in life. For four years he lived with the London Carthusians, but could find no assurance of his calling either to the monastic life or diocesan priesthood. In the early part of 1505 he married Jane, the eldest daughter of John Colt of Netherall in Essex. They had four children: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecilia and John. More's household was a seat of learning, and he was as much concerned to educate his daughters as his son. Grocyn, Linacre, Colet, Lilly, Fisher and Erasmus, the religious and the learned of London and the continent, were ever-welcome visitors. With the accession of Henry VIII in 1509 his fortunes improved, though his family's happiness was shaken a year later by the death of Jane. Yet within a few weeks he had married again. His second wife Alice Middleton, a widow, and some four years older than himself. In1516 he finished writing his most famous book, Utopia.
King Henry and Cardinal Wolsey brought him to court, where he received a rapid preferment until, in October 1529, in succession to the disgraced Wolsey he became Lord Chancellor. When the King imposed on the clergy the acknowledgement of himself as "Protector and Supreme Head of the Church of England" -to which Convocation managed to add "so far as the law of Christ allows"-----More wished to resign his office, but was persuaded to retain it and also to give his attention to Henry's "great matter," what is commonly called in English history the King's "divorce" from Catherine of Aragon. More upheld the validity of the marriage, but was allowed at his own wish to stand aside from the controversy. In 1532 the King proposed to forbid the clergy to prosecute heretics or hold any meeting without his permission, and in May a bill was introduced to withhold from the Holy See the first fruits of bishoprics. Sir Thomas opposed these measures openly, and on 16 May the angry King accepted his Chancellor's resignation.
The loss of his official salary reduced More
little better than poverty; he had drastically to reduce his household.
For eighteen months he lived very quietly, engaging himself in writing
and refusing to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn. But on 30 March
the Act of Succession provided for the taking of an oath by the King's
subjects recognizing succession to the throne
During More's fifteen months imprisonment in the Tower of London two things stand out: his quiet serenity under so unjust a captivity and his tender love for his daugther Margaret. The efforts of his family to induce him to come to terms with the King were fruitless; his custody was made more rigorous and visitors forbidden, so he began to write the Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, the best of his spiritual works. In November 1534 he was attainted of misprision of treason and, but for a small pension from the Order of St John of Jerusalem, rendered penniless by the forfeiture of the lands formerly granted by the Crown; Lady More had to sell her clothes to buy necessaries for him, and twice in vain petitioned the King for his release, pleading his sickness and poverty.
On 1 February 1535 the Acts of Supremacy came into operation, which gave the title of "only supreme head of the Church of England" to the King, and made it treason to deny it. More was asked his opinion of the Act, but refused to give it. On 22 June St John Fisher was beheaded on Tower Hill: nine days later Thomas More was indicted and tried in Westminster Hall. The charge was that he had in divers ways opposed the Act of Supremacy in conversation with the members of the council who had visited him in prison and in an alleged conversation with Rich, the Solicitor General. Thomas maintained that he had always kept silence on the subject and that Rich was swearing falsely. He was found guilty, and condemned to death.
Early on Tuesday 6 J uly, Sir Thomas Pope came to warn him that he was to die that day at nine o'clock [the King had commuted the sentence from hanging and quartering to beheading]; whereupon Thomas thanked him, said he would pray for the King, and comforted his weeping friend. He then put on his best clothes, walked quietly to Tower Hill, mounted the scaffold, with a jest for the lieutenant. He invoked the prayers of the people, protested that he died for the Holy Catholic Church and was "the King's good servant-----but God's first," and said the psalm Miserere; he kissed and encouraged the headsman, covered his own eyes and adjusted his beard, and so was beheaded at one stroke. He was fifty-seven years old.More was canonized, alongside his friend John Fisher, in 1935, and they share the same feast day, the anniversary of Fisher's death. He would have been as a good a candidate for canonization as a confessor, however, as a Martyr. He was first to last a holy man, living in the spirit of his own prayer: "Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with thee: not for the avoiding of the calamities of this wicked world, nor so much for the avoiding of the pains of Purgatory, nor of the pains of Hell neither, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of Heaven in respect of mine one commodity, as even for a very love of thee." And this when his ways were cast, not in the cloister, but in the ordinary places of the world-----home and family, among scholars and lawyers, in tribunals, council chambers, and royal courts.
Litany of St. Thomas More
Published on the web with his kind permission.
Lord, have mercy.
God, the Father of Heaven,
Holy Mary, Queen of Martyrs,
St. Thomas More,
Lamb of God, Who takest away
sins of the world,
Christ, hear us.
Let us pray.
ST. JOHN FISHER, MARTYR [AD.
Litany for the Church in Our Time
Lord, have mercy.
God, the Father of
Holy Mary, Mother of
St. Joseph, Patron of
Universal Church, pray for us.
Lamb of God, Who
takest away the
sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Pray for us, O Holy
Mother of God,
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