“I die the King’s good servant, and God’s first.” ~ Thomas More
Thomas More was a lawyer, judge, philosopher, author, and statesman. He also served Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 1532. This was during the time of the Protestant Reformation and concurrent with Henry’s attempts to have his marriage legitimized by the Catholic Church. When that did not happen, Henry proclaimed himself as the head of the Church of England and insisted that all of his officials take the Oath of Supremacy.
The Oath of Supremacy required a person to swear allegiance to the monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Failure to do so was to be treated as an act of treason. More, who did not agree with Henry’s annulment request, with the Protestant Reformation, or with Henry’s establishing himself as the head of the Church of England, refused to take the Oath. In doing so, he pitted himself against the king.
More and Henry VIII had been good friends. Henry VIII trusted More’s wisdom and counsel and desperately wanted him to take the Oath so as to be able to continue to serve him. More’s rejection of the king’s request — and later, demand — was a matter of public record. Thus, More was charged with treason. After many efforts to coerce More to take the Oath, More was sentenced to death.
More had a sense of humor. It showed itself in all of his dealings throughout his career and it remained with him to the end. As More placed his head on the chopping block, he moved his beard to the side and exclaimed, “this hath not offended the king.” More was not going to allow his impending execution to make him into a different person. He remained a faithful servant to the end. When the executioner, moved with emotion, begged More to forgive him for what he was about to do, More got up, embraced the executioner, and told him he forgave him.
More had priorities. His civil priority was to serve the King. His religious priority was to serve the Lord. When the two came into conflict, More had to set his priorities. We are called to remain steadfast in the faith even in the midst of opposition or oppression. We are also called to keep our wits about us and to treat all people with respect and kindness even if they will not do the same.
May St. Thomas More, the patron of the parish at which I serve as pastor, intercede for us to the Lord so that we have the protection and the courage that we need to live our faith completely.
FAITH ACTION: Ask God to give you the grace and the courage necessary to remain steadfast in the faith.