July 6, 1535: Martyrdom of Saint Thomas More

Imagine facing death and being able to escape it by signing your name to a bit of parchment.  By your signature you would also be released from jail, the fortune of your family restored and you restored to your family.  Now imagine that all your friends and family are begging your to sign your name.  Such was the dilemma confronting Saint Thomas More.  It took clearly superhuman courage for him to go to his death in spite of all of this, and in spite of all evidence that his act was simply an act of futility that would not stop Henry from building his new church.

I have always thought that martyrdom, never easy, is simpler when it comes suddenly and one’s blood is hot with adrenaline pounding through your veins.  Then heroism can stand out as the sudden culmination of one’s life, with one passing swiftly to eternal reward.  How much harder is the type of cold martyrdom suffered by Saint Thomas More, a gradual thing spanning over a year, with every second Saint Thomas More having to fight off the temptation to simply sign his name and save his life.

In his Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, written while in the Tower, Saint Thomas explains the source from which he drew his strength:

When we feel us too bold, remember our own feebleness. When we feel us too faint, remember Christ’s strength. In our fear, let us remember Christ’s painful agony that himself would for our comfort suffer before his passion to the intent that no fear should make us despair. And ever call for his help such as himself wills to send us. And then need we never to doubt but that either he shall keep us from the painful death, or shall not fail so to strengthen us in it that he shall joyously bring us to heaven by it. And then doeth he much more for us than if he kept us from it. For as God did more for poor Lazarus in helping him patiently to die of hunger at the rich man’s door than if he had brought to him at the door all the rich glutton’s dinner, so, though he be gracious to a man whom he delivereth out of painful trouble, yet doeth he much more for a man if through right painful death he deliver him from this wretched world into eternal bliss.


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  1. I believe Saint Thomas More possessed more courage than I would ever have. I believe I would have signed the paper and then taken my family and fled for France, Spain or Portugal and subsequently renounced the document I signed.

    I found a documentary on YouTube this morning about the foreigners who escaped to London at the onset of WWII and fought for the Allies in the Battle of Britain. The 303rd Squadron was made up of mostly Polish fighter pilots who wanted to destroy the Germans. They fought hard and well.

    I would have taken their approach if faced with a situation such as Thomas More. I would have done almost anything to escape Henry Tudor, take my family out of England and live where I could be Catholic.

  2. The Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation is excellent reading.
    It is, perhaps, worth noting that, in the 16th century and long afterwards, “comfort” was used in its Latin sense of con-fortare, literally to strengthen together or to fortify. The prefix con- can also have a generally intensive force; rumpere=to break, corrumpere=to destroy; tristare=to crush, contristare (whence contrition)=to pulverise.
    We find the old sense in the phrase, “giving aid and comfort.”

  3. Penguins Fan: It was a polish repatriot who cracked Hitler’s code.
    Thomas More now Saint Thomas More sent his daughter, her husband and his wife, Alice, to another country each by a separate route before he was martyred, all without signing the Act of Supremacy. More exemplified “To thy own self be true.”

  4. And More was a political man. I don’t mean that in any negative sense; he was simply the kind of man who in any society would rise to the top. He was, in every sense, a natural. It’s hard for naturally great men to be supernatural. For More to be willing to become Lazarus, when he was seemingly born to be the rich man, is miraculous.

  5. Who said ehhem one cannot be a good Catholic and a good politician? Of course, there is indeed (always is) a cost. The Catholic-any one of us-needs to be ready and willing for for the cost factor [major point of Saint John Paul’s Encyclical Veritatis Splendor]

  6. Thomas More might have been very pleased when Benedict 16 stood in Westminster Abbey which had been previously dedicated to the first pope, Saint Peter ( by
    Edward the Confessor) and spoke to the question of authority that Thomas died for. that same questions, as b16 said, is of primary importance again, in this generation.

    “Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved?”

  7. St. Thomas Moore is the name of the saint under which I came into the Catholic Church. For those who don’t know me, let me state simply that I have accessed the strength that Sir Thomas Moore called upon on many, many occasions. I am currently calling upon it. Praise be to God and His beloved Son, Jesus Christ who gives us the strength and character of Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

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