The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.
It almost seems trite to cite Saint Thomas More as standing for the liberty of the Catholic Church. The tale of his brave stand against Henry VIII is so familiar that we forget how remarkable it was. 57 years old at the time of his death, an old man by the standards of his time, Saint Thomas More was not a cleric or a soldier. He had no special reserves of training to call him to steel him to the sacrifice of his life over a matter of principle. He was a lawyer, a scholar and a writer. A former judge and government official he never sought such positions, preferring a quiet life. He was a man of the study rather than someone who was called upon by his profession to risk his life for what he believed in. He loved life and the family that was so dear to him.
He lived in a time of cowardice and betrayal when almost all his contemporaries in England bowed to Henry and acclaimed him Supreme Head of the Church in England. Fear was the main motive, followed by ambition, and indifference or hatred of Catholicism. Almost everyone was submitting except a few hardy souls like Bishop Fisher. More did not want to die and he was quite willing to be quiet, but he would not swear allegiance to what he knew to be false, and for this stance he died, and his beloved family reduced to poverty. One of the most important attributes of freedom is that it allows us to be true to our consciences, and not to be forced by violence to say what we know to be lies. Saint Thomas More was unwilling to surrender his freedom to follow the dictates of his conscience, even at the cost of his life.
Chancellor. Would you be esteemed wiser, or to have a sincerer Conscience than all the Bishops, learned Doctors, Nobility and Commons of this Realm?
More. I am able to produce against, one Bishop which you can produce on your side, a hundred holy and Catholic Bishops for my Opinion; and against one Realm, the Consent of Christendom for a thousand years.
Norfo!k: Sir Thomas, you shew your obstinate and malicious Mind.
More. Noble Sir, it’s no Malice or Obstinacy that makes me say this, but the just necessity of the Cause obliges me to it for the Discharge of my Conscience ; and call God to witness, that nothing but this has excited me to it.
Truth and freedom are closely intertwined, and we have little hope of retaining either in the absence of either.