Sir Thomas More, Man of Conscience and Principle, Rebelled Against King Henry VIII’s Ban on Catholicism

In the 1950s and 1960s, A Man for All Seasons, a play and movie, helped to diminish anti-Catholic bias in American society by telling the story of Sir Thomas More (1478 – 1535), an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist who also served as English King Henry VIII’s chancellor. He is held up as a Catholic saint because he was willing to die for his beliefs, and freedom of conscience.

Wikipedia: “More opposed the Protestant Reformation, directing polemics against the theology of Martin LutherHuldrych ZwingliJohn Calvin and William Tyndale. More also opposed Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason and executed. On his execution, he was reported to have said: “I die the King’s good servant, and God’s first.”

He wrote the book Utopia, a work of fiction and socio-political satire, in 1516.

Excerpts from the movie:

Text: Some memorable quotes and witty remarks from ‘A Man for All Seasons’ – a 1966 film about the life of Sir Thomas More. —–

background chatter: … that in this country every second bastard born is fathered by a priest. But in Utopia that couldn’t be. For there the priests are very holy… therefore very few!

—– Cardinal Wosley: More, you should have been a cleric! Sir Thomas More: Like your self, Your Grace?

—– Sir Thomas More: Now, listen, Will. Two years ago you were a passionate churchman. Now you’re a passionate Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head’s finished turning, your face is to the front again.

—– King Henry VIII: Thomas. I chose the right man for chancellor!

Sir Thomas More: I should in fairness add that my taste in music is reputedly deplorable. King Henry VIII: Your taste in music is excellent. It exactly coincides with my own!

—– The Duke of Norfolk: Why do you insult me with this lawyer’s chatter? Sir Thomas More: Because I am afraid. The Duke of Norfolk: Man, you’re ill. This isn’t Spain, you know. This is England.

—– The Duke of Norfolk: What? Goddammit, he was the only judge since Cato who didn’t accept bribes! When was there last a Chancellor whose possessions after three years in office totaled one hundred pounds and a gold chain?

—– The Duke of Norfolk: Cromwell, are you threatening me? Cromwell: My dear Norfolk… this isn’t Spain. This is England!

—– [Norfolk’s gullible expression] Sir Thomas More: … the law will let you… cut my head off.

The Duke of Norfolk: Oh… yes…

Cromwell: Oh well done, Sir Thomas, I’ve been trying to make that clear to His Grace for some time.

The Duke of Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not, but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!

—– The Duke of Norfolk: Your life lies in your own hands, Thomas, as it always has.

Sir Thomas More: Is that so, My Lord? Then I’ll keep a good grip on it.

—– Sir Thomas More: The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.

—– Sir Thomas More: Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?

—– Narrator: The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the king died of syphilis the night before.

Hunter Richards: “The scene from “A Man for All Seasons” (Fred Zinnemann, 1966) in which Sir Thomas More is finally convicted of high treason and sentenced to death for refusing to swear an oath that King Henry VIII is the supreme head of the Church in England and that Anne Boleyn is now Queen of England.

“I love this scene because More’s statement is a perfect summary of the Medieval mindset, which is so foreign to modern viewers but amazing in its completeness, complexity, and other-ness: a self-consistent worldview that is completely foreign from our modern, scientific, post-Enlightenment cosmology.

“It is also a compelling story to see More’s sacrifices for that belief. In a sense, the movie can be read as a story of the conflict between the Medieval and Modern worldview, with More personifying the former and Cromwell and Rich the latter. Vestiges of that battle continue even today.

Here’s the transcript of More’s statement:

MORE: Since the court has determined to condemn me, God knoweth how, I will now discharge my mind concerning the indictment and the King’s title. The indictment is granted in an act of Parliament, which is directly repugnant to the law of God and his Holy Church, the supreme government of which no temporal person may *by any law* presume to take upon him! This was granted by the mouth of our Savior, Christ Himself, to Saint Peter and the Bishops of Rome *whilst he lived* and was *personally present* here on Earth! It is therefore insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it. And more to this: the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and in the King’s own coronation oath!

CROMWELL: Now, we plainly see you *are* malicious!

MORE: Not so! I am the King’s true subject, and I pray for him and all the realm. I do none harm. I say none harm. I think none harm. If this be not enough to keep a man alive, then in good faith, I long not to live. (pause) Nevertheless! It is not for the Supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the marriage!”

The full movie can be streamed here.

More videos on Sir Thomas More.

2 thoughts on “Sir Thomas More, Man of Conscience and Principle, Rebelled Against King Henry VIII’s Ban on Catholicism

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