*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 6th of July 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You’ll be forgiven if you find the situation in England in the early 16th century complicated on account of too many Thomases.
We have Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Howard, and then the two giant Toms: Thomas Cranmer and Thomas More.
If you’re an Anglican you might have an elevated picture of Thomas Cranmer and if you are a Catholic you might be a little biased towards the man called St. Thomas More.
Today, on the anniversary of his execution by the state, on this the 6th of July in 1535 we remember the most interesting of all the Early Modern English Toms, Thomas More.
We’ve discussed him before on the show and today we are giving him a second look like one of those 5 dollar historical characters in the history of the Christian church.
It was a contemporary of More that wrote:
“More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning; I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness, and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and some time of as sad gravity: a man for all seasons.”
Today we will examine
(1) his life in brief
(2)The reason for his execution and
(3) What I will suggest is his most important legacy
Born in 1478 his father was a lawyer on the King’s bench and was later knighted. On account of this Thomas could go to the prestigious St. Anthony’s in Threadneedle and was tutored in the home of the then archbishop of Canterbury (and later Lord Chancellor of England). He then went on to Oxford, so this is no rags to riches story).
He considered the clergy and even lived amongst monks for a few years before deciding that a lay life was his calling. He would get married and live a cosmopolitan life counting Desiderius Erasmus as a friend.
From 1510 he held a number of appointments eventually succeeding Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529.
Called “Henry’s intellectual Courtier” he attempted to keep England and the Church loyal to Rome while still exercising independence and the right to criticize.
Supported Henry’s writing against Luther and played some role in Henry’s Defense of the Seven Sacraments, but we shouldn’t assume More was the ghostwriter.
You know the Hank8 tale: want’s a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon (she had been married to his brother). The Spanish Queen doesn’t deliver a boy and Hank gets eyes for Anne Boleyn. T-More isn’t keen on this (obvs) but might be able to just grit his teeth and bear it. But then the:
Submission of the Clergy (1532) the English church gave up the right to make ecclesiastical laws without the king's approval. More quit the next day.
In 1534 the Crown passed the act of succession. This officially made the marriage to Catherine void and recognized Anne Boleyn as Queen. More refused this act because he believed it to attack the foundations of Papal Supremacy.
He would be imprisoned and refuse to recant. Eventually, he made his way to the tower and he was sentenced to die. Despite treason being punishable by being drawn and quartered he was instead only beheaded (although his decapitated head was placed on a pike for all to see)
He was the English Erasmus. His Utopia is a brilliant satire and treatise on state-building in the vein of Plato’s Republic. His “History of King Richard III” became the primary source for Shakespeares' play. And while in jail awaiting his death he wrote the beautiful A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation.
And it was on this, the 6th of July in 1535 that More declared himself to be the King’s good servant, but God’s first”. The king would not have it in that order and had More killed.
The last word for today comes from the book of Job
“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God"
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of July 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man for most seasons Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man that of all the seasons, dislikes the summer the most (really!) Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.