Sketch of St. Thomas More
Born near London into a
wealthy middle-class family, St. Thomas More chose martyrdom rather than betray his
conscience. Famous for being, in his words, "the King's good servant but God's
first," St. Thomas More was executed by the order of Henry VIII when he, as
Lord Chancellor of England, refused to support the King in his break with the
Church. Even without martyrdom, this brilliant statesman and witty writer would be
remembered in secular society as the humanist who authored
It must be noted that St. Thomas More himself had been responsible for the banning of
heretical books and the imprisonment and execution of those accused of heretical beliefs;
however, his Utopia presents religious tolerance as one component necessary for a
just society. During his career St. Thomas More helped bring piety, order, and
justice to civic life.
As a youth, he wrote
bawdy poetry; as a statesman and lawyer, he was brilliant, pragmatic, and shrewd; as a
father, he favored a well-rounded education for his daughters as well as for his
son. He maintained that men and women "both have the same human nature, which
reason differentiates from that of beasts; both therefore are equally suited for those
studies by which reason is perfectioned." [Interestingly, his attitude was in
contrast to that of Henry VIII who, placing restrictions on Bible reading, declared women
as a "lower sort"" who should be denied access to Scripture.] St.
Thomas More was particularly close to his daughter Margaret, whom he called Meg.
Among other things, he knew that she understood and respected his asceticism; from the
Tower of London he wrote to her frankly about his faith.
St. Thomas More loved
Greek literature, philosophy, mathematics, music, and art. He had a keen sense of
humor and is said to have kept a clown in his house and a monkey in his garden. He made it possible for his
children to study seriously and at the same time provided a joyful home environment and
welcomed friends to join his family in songfests and games. A Renaissance man with
progressive views that he did not find in contradiction with his loyalty to the one
Church, he observed regular hours for prayer, praying from the heart. Upon being
sentenced to death, St. Thomas More expressed his prayer that he and the King would meet
in heaven like St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr) and St. Paul (who persecuted
Christians including Stephen before his own conversion).