Category Archives: Catholic

The Beatitudes

1 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
3 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
4 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
5 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
6 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
7 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
8 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:3-12


“Received” or Not, the Beatitudes Point Us to Holiness


Father Jeffrey Kirby, Sunday, June 8, 2018

Beauty is the perfection of order and symmetry, and as such is a primary source of holiness. This basic truth can be seen by any Christian believer or any person of good will. And yet, such a claim is regarded as peculiar in contemporary Western societies because of something Saint Paul unmasked, namely, the “great exchange” of divine glory for the fallen things of this world. (cf. Romans 1:18-24)

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

In its current Western form, this great exchange abandons religion for self-help practices, the objective realities of life for subjective preferences, faith-and-reason for an absolutized reason without conditions, male/female complementarity for sexual disorder. And – sadly – the compromises of the great exchange continue into a rapid downward spiral of confusion and misery.

In such societies, people are fragmented, institutions of belonging are redefined, and essential sources of identity are clouded. This leads to widespread social ills, from an epidemic in pornography, widespread opioid abuse, to an increase in suicide rates.

But weren’t we made for something greater that makes beauty and holiness possible in our souls and in society?

It was to answer such questions that Jesus Christ entered human history. By his life and teachings, culminating in his Paschal Mystery, the Lord points us to a more excellent way. He presents this way of life in what the Christian tradition has come to call “the Beatitudes.” The Lord gives the Beatitudes as an interior autobiography of his own heart. He offers them as a remedy to our ills, and as a path toward internal harmony and social tranquility.

The eight Beatitudes reflect the symmetry of beauty and are, therefore, a sure path to peace and holiness. Rather than a random collection of platitudes, the Beatitudes hold an inner logic and offer us a path to harmony.

It is no surprise that only the first and eighth Beatitude refer to the “kingdom.” The two are seen to form bookends. The first Beatitude calls for a “poverty of spirit,” which is a radical existential declaration of a true need for God. This is the beginning of wisdom, tranquility, and happiness. The eighth Beatitude, by contrast, is a commission to accept persecution for the sake of righteousness.

In between, however, lies the hard work for holiness. As the first Beatitude leads us to an assertion of our need for God, so the second one calls us to a sorrow and repentance for our sins and the evil of the world. This grieving compels us to the meekness of the third Beatitude. The meekness here is not passivity, but an authentic desire to know our place in the world, to discern our vocation, given by God, and to live accordingly.

The movement of the first three Beatitudes – from our need for God, our sorrow over evil, and our drive to know our place – reaches a culmination in the fourth Beatitude, which urges on us hunger and thirst for righteousness. Knowing ourselves better, we now want to be excellent, virtuous, and holy. This hunger and thirst doubles down and re-directs our attention.

The focus shifts, therefore, in the fifth Beatitude. We now look to our neighbor and are moved to mercy. From this state of compassion, we are guided into the “purity of heart” of the sixth Beatitude. Such a summons to purity helps us to see God’s Providence, to see what others cannot, namely, healing in brokenness, goodness in the midst of evil, and the power of light over darkness.

This enables us to be the “peacemakers” of the seventh Beatitude and to desire a tranquility of order in our own lives and in the world around, which makes us strong enough and ready to accept and live the commission of the eighth Beatitude.

This simple walk through the Beatitudes reveals to us the beauty of holiness, but also its challenges.

In our culture, there are Jesuitical attempts to discredit moral truth about marriage, family, and sexuality. By classifying certain moral truths, such as sodomy or contraception, as not having been “received” by the People of God (since a majority of believers may not consent to them), such teachings are argued to have not, therefore, really been given by the Holy Spirit.

But we could say the same about the very Beatitudes given to us by Jesus. Many have tried to live up to them, but then quit because they appeared to be too hard or not rewarding enough. Some only pay the Beatitudes lip service, others try to redefine them, while still others completely reject them.

It might even be argued that a majority of believers do not assent to the full life of the Beatitudes. And yet, could we claim that they have not been “received” and therefore are not from God? And even if they’re not “received,” can they be let go?

Of course not. The Beatitudes are here to stay, as is all moral truth. And any such argument is an abuse of the sensus fidelium, which does not mean “what’s everybody doing,” but is the actual living out of the Church’s declared faith by the People of God. That way of viewing things does not reflect the demands of discipleship born from truth and beauty, but rather manifests a rationalization of the tenets of revealed religion. The argument is an intellectual appeasement of this world and a shameful display of the “great exchange” denounced by Saint Paul.

And so, whether “received” or not, the Beatitudes, and the entire body of moral truth, offer the human family another way, a more excellent way, of love. It’s a way that is difficult and marked by toil and struggles. It’s rejected by many. But it’s one that leads to true peace. And the hearts that receive it – and labor to live it – find holiness and the joy of life in God. And they’re the ones whose righteousness ends up converting and changing the world.

Credo – I Believe

I believe that our Blessed Lady has a special intention for the Credo. Under her influence I always treat it as more than a kind of public profession. It is primarily a prayer because Faith is a theological virtue. “I belief Lord. Help me in my unbelief.” I think it would be better for it to be sung on the special occasions of re-dedication. The English Credo is the Mother’s Milk of sung prayers; babies can sing it. (Latin would be wonderful, but be all things to all people.) Accordingly, I have moved English to the top.
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Panis Angelicus

Eucharist_Fatima_Angel_ChildrenThe Angel appeared to the children at the Loca do Cabeço, in the fall of 1906. He was “holding a chalice in his hands, with a host above it from which some drops of blood were falling into the Sacred vessel.” The Angel left the chalice and host suspended in the air, and prostrated himself upon the ground with the children and prayed the following prayer with them three times:

Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer you the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners. Amen.

The Angel then rose, and taking the host he gave it to Lucy, and to Jacinta and Francisco he gave the contents of the chalice, saying as he did so: “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God.” Then he prostrated himself once more with the children and repeated the prayer to the Most Holy Trinity three times, then disappeared.

My sweet Lord, look with mercy upon your people and especially upon the mystical body of your Church. Greater glory is given to your name for pardoning a multitude of your creatures than if I alone were pardoned for my great sins against your majesty. It would be no consolation for me to enjoy your life if your holy people stood in death. For I see that sin darkens the life of your bride the Church – my sin and the sins of others.

It is a special grace I ask for, this pardon for the creatures you have made in your image and likeness. When you created man, you were moved by love to make him in your own image. Surely only love could so dignify your creatures. But I know very well that man lost the dignity you gave him; he deserved to lose it, since he had committed sin.

Moved by love and wishing to reconcile the human race to yourself, you gave us your only-begotten Son. He became our mediator and our justice by taking on all our injustice and sin out of obedience to your will, eternal Father, just as you willed that he take on our human nature. What an immeasurably profound love! Your Son went down from the heights of his divinity to the depths of our humanity. Can anyone’s heart remain closed and hardened after this?

We image your divinity, but you image our humanity in that union of the two which you have worked in a man. You have veiled the Godhead in a cloud, in the clay of our humanity. Only your love could so dignify the flesh of Adam. And so by reason of this immeasurable love I beg, with all the strength of my soul, that you freely extend your mercy to all your lowly creatures.

1st Thing Unbelievers Can Agree On With Believers – There is a God-Free Zone

Unbelievers call it reality. Believers call it hell.

Trent Horn of the Catholic Answers group is very respectful to people of all persuasions, so much does he respect them that he credits them with fine intelligence by sometimes challenging their presumptions…always respectfully and with affirmation.

But that leaves me out, because Trent only talks to unbelievers and pro-choicers. They always have a jolly time. The Catholic Answers radio callers (3-5 weekdays Pacific Time) nearly always leave with an affirmed feeling of having been heard and listened to, and sometimes also with a new thought or two. It seems it’s only real, dedicated spoil-sports who leave on a bummer.

You pretty much already know what unbelievers think about the God-free reality zone, which to them is everywhere and all times, all 11 dimensions of the multiverse. What they may not know, though, is what believers believe about it—that God so loves everyone, that if they decide they don’t want his friendship forever, he makes a special reserved place where they don’t suffer eternally with his presence.

Unfortunately this also means that he can’t protect them from the eternal consequences of their actions. This life is a trial run, practice, for what we will become forever as we are born into eternal life. Now, belief in the absolute relativity of evil and good is a completely different thing from unbelief in God. Many fine atheists and agnostics would find nothing objectionable about Egyptian or High Plains Native American belief in a crossroads at the Milky Way where hearts are weighed and those heavy with personal evil against other people sink down into a bottomless pit. Usually its some ancient spirit grandmother or a dog-god who does the weighing.

Believers are free to believe that its our own souls that will reproduce every mote and nuance of our moral lives, in a faithful 4-D touch & smellivision rendering of our personal history; on a last day that is as long as all reality; in which every sentient being, corporeal and incorporeal, humans and disembodied spirits, will fully see how just the Weigher of Hearts was, how unreservedly generous, giving us fully every help we could need and use to do right by others.

noGodZoneBelievers have a chief path to that God-free zone: their marriage beds. This should be the gymnasium trampoline in which they exercise their way up to the eternal Olympics of Love in heaven. But if they hold out their hands in STOP!!! to God, he won’t force his way in. Then they are free to enter eternal life permanently in that condition after a lifetime of saying “I DON’T give you all of myself”, including fertility, to their life partners and to the God who wants to afford them the ultimate dignity not even granted to disembodied intelligences, making them co-creators of beings who will never go out of existence.

This is the main route for people who consider themselves believers to enter the God-free zone.

 

Fr. Robert Barron: 7 Deadly Sins, 7 Lively Virtues: 2. Envy

Doesn’t It Hurt Your Eyes to Look at That?

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Pope Francis’ Prayer to Mary, Untier of Knots

MaryUntierOfKnots

Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the days of your life,
you accepted with full humility the Father’s will,
and the Devil was never capable to tie you around with his confusion

Once with your son you interceded for our difficulties,
and, full of kindness and patience you gave us example of how to untie the knots of our life.

And by remaining forever Our Mother,
you put in order, and make more clear the ties that link us to the Lord.

Holy Mother, Mother of God, and our Mother,
to you, who untie with motherly heart the knots of our life,
we pray to you to receive in your hands (the name of person),
and to free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks.

Through your grace, your intercession, and your example,
deliver us from all evil, Our Lady,
and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God,
so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things,
may have our hearts placed in Him,
and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters. Amen

Did Jesus’ Apostles Get What They Expected?

 How Did James & John Envision Jesus’ Kingdom?

 They Asked to Sit at His Right & Left Hand; the Other Ten Were Indignant.

 What Was This Kingdom They Thought They Would Rule?

 What Eventually Became of Them All?

  •  The Apostles Believed that Jesus Would Restore the Kingdom of David, Which Was at Its Greatest Extent and Stability in the Time of his son Solomon.
  •  But Jesus’s Apostles Spread His Kingdom Worldwide, Far Beyond the Greatest Extent of Israel’s Empire.
  •  The Apostles Never Could Have Imagined Their Eventual Fates.

 The Apostles "Get Down to Business", Trying to Establish the Pecking Order

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." 22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." 23 He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." – Matthew 20:20-28
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36 And he said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 39 And they said to him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:35-45

 What Did The Apostles Think They Would Be Getting, Once Jesus’s Kingdom Was Restored?

21 Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life. … 24 For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides round about him. 1 Kings 4:21;24

 These Two Maps Aren’t Perfectly Synchronized – The Larger Map is Perhaps More Accurate about the Extent of David & Solomon’s Kingdom – The Smaller Map Shows David’s Kingdom Superimposed Upon the Map of the Modern Middle-East, Though It May Make the Borders Too Wide.




Ancient Israel and the Modern Middle East

What Happend to Them All?

The Point Is, The Apostles Were All Martryred.
Their Dreams of Empire Never Materialized.


The Trial of (Saint) Sir Thomas More: An Account

“I die the king’s  good servant, and God’s first.”–Thomas More

“Blessed Thomas Moore is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years time.  He may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English history.  For he was above all things historic; he represented at once a type, a turning point and an ultimate destiny.  If there had not happened to be that particular man at that particular moment, the whole of history would have been different.”
–G. K. Chesterson, “A Turning Point in History”

There is much to learn from the story of how the head of one of the most revered men in England, Sir Thomas More, ended up on the chopping block on London’s Tower Hill in 1535.  Few people in history have faced their trials and deaths as squarely, calmly, and with as much integrity as did More.

More’s road from his post as Lord Chancellor of England to the Tower of London owes its course to a Bible passage, a marriage of a long-dead prince, and the consuming desire of lustful and vain-glorious King Henry VIII to marry Anne Boleyn.  Swept along with More, in this fateful confluence of writings, events, and people, was nothing less than the Reformation.

Henry Finds Leviticus

In 1509, when the new eighteen-year-old king, Henry VIII, married a young Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, the marriage came with the blessing of Pope Julius II, in the form of a dispensation from an injunction found in the Bible’s Leviticus.  The dispensation was deemed necessary because Catherine had been briefly married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, raising the question of whether Henry’s marriage violated Leviticus 20:21: “If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing…they shall be childless.”  The fact that Arthur remained ill throughout the six-month-long marriage until his death, and that therefore the marriage–if Catherine is to be believed–was never consummated, doubtless made the case an easier one for Pope Julius than it otherwise might have been.

By early 1526, however, King Henry’s affection had turned from Catherine to the beautiful Anne Boleyn.  Reviewing Leviticus, Henry began to question the lawfulness of his marriage to Catherine.  Even the least skeptical historian, of course, has considered the possibility that lust, together with a desire to father the healthy son that Catherine–now past her child-bearing years–could not, might have influenced his interpretation of the Bible chapter.  Whether out of concern for his soul or for his sex life, Henry set in motion a process that would change the face of Europe.

In early 1527, Henry instructed his Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, to institute proceedings to resolve the issue of the validity of his marriage to Catherine.  Henry’s request came at a tumultuous time in European history.  Emperor Charles V pushed his troops toward Rome and, in May, wreaked havoc in the city.  Troops raped women, killed children, and even disentombed the corpse of Pope Julius II and dragged it through the streets.  (The living pope, Pope Clement VII, fled Rome for a castle in St. Angelo, where he was held prisoner–complicating Wolsey’s task of gaining a dispensation for Henry).  Meanwhile, in an effort to counterbalance Charles’s power, Sir Thomas More, a loyal councilor of Henry’s, working in France, successfully negotiated a treaty between England and its longtime enemy.

By June, Henry had become sufficiently convinced that his 1509 marriage violated the command of Leviticus and he informed his wife that they had been unlawfully married for the past eighteen years.  Faced with having her dignity as a married woman stripped and her surviving daughter labeled illegitimate, Catherine did not take the news well.

When More and Wolsey returned to England in September, after traveling to France to ratify the new treaty, the king raised with More at Hampton Court the issue of his marriage.  According to More, “his Highnes walkying in the galery, brake with me of his great mater.”  More reported that Henry “layed the Bible open byfore me, and ther red the wordis that moved” him to conclude his marriage was unlawful.  When More suggested a different interpretation of Leviticus, the King ordered him to “commune ferther” with royal advisers and read a report–then in preparation–that made the case for annulment.

Later in the fall, Henry took the unusual step of visiting More at his home in Chelsea to take up again his “great matter.”  In a scene memorialized in Robert Bolt’s great play, A Man for All Seasons, the King walked the gardens with his arm around the neck of his trusted councilor.  Henry and More differed, in the end, over the matter of papal supremacy.  The King argued that Leviticus made his marriage a crime in God’s eyes–and that no Pope had the power to waive the Biblical injunction.  More, on the other hand, accepted papal supremacy as a matter of faith, and tended to view Pope Julius’s 1509 dispensation as conclusive.

From Henry’s standpoint, the proceedings to gain the annulment of his marriage to Catherine continued at a frustratingly slow speed and with no tangible results.  In the summer of 1528, as London confronted outbreaks of the plague and sweating sickness, the Pope dispatched Cardinal Campeggio from Rome to convene a legatine court in London that would decide the matter.  For his part, Thomas More occupied himself aggressively pursuing heretics, who he viewed as a much greater threat to England’s well-being than the king’s marriage controversy.

On May 31, 1529, at the Dominican house of Blackfriars in London, an inquest into the King’s “great matter” convened.  Three weeks later, on Midsummer’s Day, a remarkable scene took place–one that is slightly recast in Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII.  In the real event, the proceeding opens with the cry, “King Harry of England, come into the court!”  “Here, my lords,” the king replies.  “Catherine, Queen of England, come into the court!”  Without an answer, Catherine walked over to the King, then knelt and pleaded for “pity and compassion.”  She proclaimed her loyalty to Henry and insisted that she never had relations with her husband’s brother.  Henry, in response, stated that were it not for his love for her, he would have acted sooner on his religious doubts–and pledged to abide by the court’s conclusions concerning the lawfulness of his marriage.  In a speech that followed, Henry made the case for annulment and acknowledged–at Wolsey’s request–that he, and not any member of the clergy, was the “chief mover” of the inquest.  In a moment of drama that portended another date with the executioner’s block, John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester and a main supporter of Catherine, rose to make clear that he had not, as the King had implied, joined with other bishops in signing a document urging the king to take the matter of his marriage to the Pope.  The inquest produced no results; Catherine chose to make no more appearances, nor to recognize its authority to decide the validity of her marriage.  Instead, in July, she appealed the matter directly to Pope Clement–who then announced that the decision would be made in Rome, not England.

While the court at Blackfriars continued in session, Thomas More traveled to Cabrai, where negotiations involving major European powers to take place.  More played England’s cards well, winning separate peace agreements with Francis and Charles V.  The agreements, which would hold the peace in Europe for fifteen years, rank among More’s proudest achievements.  More chose to remember the accomplishment on his tombstone at Chelsea along with just one other: he noted that he had always been “molestus” (troublesome) to heretics.

The failure of Cardinal Wolsey to secure a Church decision annulling his marriage did not sit well with King Henry.  In October 1529, Henry ordered Wolsey arrested for treason and stripped him of the title of Lord Chancellor, the highest appointed office in England and a position he had held for fourteen years.  In his place, Henry chose Thomas More.  The choice was widely acclaimed.  Wolsey called his replacement “the aptest and fittest man in the Realm.” More, despite having sympathies for Catherine and being well aware of the tension that might cause, accepted the post–primarily because it offered him an opportunity to defend his Church against what he saw as a growing plague of heretics.  (During his tenure, More would ban heretical texts, search the home of heretics, and prosecute–and even burn–those persons he believed to be undermining Church authority.)

The King Takes on the Church

Beginning in 1530, King Henry VIII took an increasingly aggressive posture on the matter of his marriage annulment.  Thomas Cranmer, who would become a sort of scholar-in-residence for Henry, wrote a treatise, Collectanea satis copiosa,  that demonstrated the unlawfulness of the marriage between Henry and Catherine.  The King added his own handwritten comments in the margins.  The report circulated to faculties of England’s universities which duly–under some pressure–issued declarations that the king’s scruples were probably justified.

In the middle of June, Henry convened a meeting of lords and prelates, who were persuaded to send a letter to Pope Clement asking that the King’s annulment be granted. More’s signature was conspicuously absent from the letter sent to the Pope.  In the month after the meeting, the King’s attorney general charged fourteen prelates (including Bishop John Fisher) who had sided with Catherine in the dispute with violations of praemunire laws.  Clement’s answer to the king’s letter could not have made Henry happy; the Pope reminded the King that his refusal to send a delegate to Rome was the principal cause of the delay in resolving his “great matter.”

In September, Henry issued a proclamation that prevented enforcement of any papal bull inconsistent with his own view of his marriage’s lawfulness.  Henry’s direct attack on Vatican authority upset Thomas More, who openly expressed his disagreement with the king’s action.

The King’s movement away from Rome continued.  Intellectual support for the move came in the form of an influential argument by a lawyer, Christopher St. German, who wrote that the law of the realm should trump ecclesiastical law.  In November 1530, a man who would become an eager proponent of the St. German’s view, Thomas Cromwell, became a member of the King’s inner council.  In time, Cromwell–cunning, cynical, intelligent, ambitious, resourceful–would prove to be More’s chief nemesis.  (A case could be made for Cromwell.  His efforts prevented mass bloodshed in England and his pragmatic nationalistic politics seem a better fit for the time than More’s campaign to preserve the medieval order.)

Henry’s impatience became obvious in 1531.  The angry King summoned the clergy to Westminster, where he demanded that they reimburse the Crown for the costs of sending a delegation to Rome on a failed mission to secure his annulment.  But his demands did not stop there.  He insisted that the convocation issue a statement recognizing him as “the sole protector and supreme head of the English Church and clergy.”  After a heated debate–and insertion of the phrase “so far as the law of Christ allows”–the bishops agreed to issue the statement of recognition.

While a formal decision on his marriage hung in the balance, Henry took direct action.  In May, at his request, a group of royal councilors met with Catherine and urged her to drop her opposition to the annulment.  The mission failed.  Henry, however, had waited long enough.  On July 11, 1531, Henry and Catherine separated.  By late the following year, Anne Boleyn was pregnant and, in early 1533, Henry and Anne Boleyn secretly married.

While the King and Anne Boleyn shared a bed, Henry’s advisers stepped up pressure on Rome and domestic opponents of his annulment.  In 1532, Thomas Cromwell presented a bill to Parliament that denied payment to Rome (in the form of “annates” by new bishops) and moved to limit the authority of the Church–and Thomas More–to punish heretics.  A bill prepared for the king by Cromwell transferred powers of the Church to Parliament and denied to bishops their longstanding authority to arrest heretics.

Thomas More could not stomach the assault on his authority to continue his pursuit of heretics.  The last straw, for the Lord  Chancellor of the Realm, turned out to be the decision on May 15 of the clergy, submitting to Henry’s demand, and accepting that all ecclesiastical law required royal consent–an action that effectively made Henry the head of the Church of England.  On the next day, More submitted his resignation.  In the garden of Westminster’s York Place, More handed Henry the great seal, concealed in a white leather pouch, and bowed.  Henry accepting the seal, told More, “For your service you have done me, you will find me a good and gracious lord.”  The two men would never meet again.

In April 1533, Parliament officially declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine to have been invalid and Anne Boleyn proclaimed “Queene at Greenewych.”  The coronation was a grand affair at Westminster Abbey.  Thomas More, still serving as a king’s councilor even though no longer Lord Chancellor, did not attend the event, angering Henry.

The Arrest and Imprisonment of Thomas More

In the summer of 1533, Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell began an investigation into the activities of Thomas More.  More’s former position and his wide respect made him easily the most prominent of the opponents to major portions of the King’s agenda.  One aspect of Cromwell’s investigation focused on More’s relationship to Elizabeth Barton, a nun who claimed to have experienced visions about a dire future for England should Henry follow through on his plans to marry Anne Boleyn.  More had met with Barton to discuss her visions, and the King’s men were aware of their association.  A proposed bill of attainder drafted by Cromwell identified More as an accomplice of Barton.  On the scaffold after conviction for treason, Barton confessed that her revelations were fraudulent, providing additional ammunition for those who would like to use her guilt to tar More.

More denied any conspiracy with Barton in an informal meeting with Cromwell in February 1534.  A month later, in letters to both Henry VIII and Cromwell, More reaffirmed his loyalty to the King and his desire to see the king’s interests furthered.  On the matter of Henry’s marriage, More adhered to a policy of silence.  He continued to affirm his belief in papal supremacy, but was careful to do so by suggesting that his belief was based on the persuasive power of an earlier writing on the subject written by the king himself.  More’s caution, however, did not prevent the pressure against him from increasing.  Commissioners of the King summoned More to a meeting in which they threatened him and called him “a villainous servant,” but departed without taking action.

Meanwhile, Parliament, sitting in an extraordinarily long session, enacted numerous bills proposed by Cromwell on the King’s behalf.  The Act of Annates provided that bishops in England would be selected by the king, not Rome.  The Act of Succession declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine void and established a line of succession through the children of Queen Anne.  The Act also specified various new offenses to be treasonous, such as “derogating” the royal family.  Most significantly for Thomas More, the Act required all of the King’s subjects to take an oath promising to maintain “the whole effects and contents of the present Act.”

On April 12, 1534, soon after leaving church at St. Paul’s Cathedral with his son-in-law William Roper, More was handed a summons to appear at Lambeth Palace the next day to take the oath of succession.  More returned to Chelsea to spend with his family what he probably knew would be his last night as free man.

The next morning, More bid farewell to his family at the front gate, and boarded a boat for Lambeth with Roper and four servants.  As they set off down the river, More–at peace with his decision–tells his son-in-law, “Son Roper, I thank our Lord the field is won.”

When asked to take the oath at Lambeth Palace, More asked to see the texts of both the oath and the Act of Succession.  After reading the documents, More told the commissioners that while he would deny nothing contained in the oath, his conscience would not allow him to take it.   Indecisive as to how to handle More’s refusal, the commissioners sent More out to a room adjoining the Palace’s garden to wait while they discussed the matter.  Summoned back, More refused for a second time–even after much cajoling and threats of imprisonment–to take the oath.  He also refused to elaborate further on his reasons.  The frustrated commissioners turned More over to the Abbot of Westminster, who kept him for four days before he was transferred to a cell in the Tower of London.

More spent the remainder of the year in the so-called “Bell Tower.”  He used the time in his dimly lit cell to write a lengthy book called A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation.  He also wrote letters to his beloved daughter, Margaret, comforting her and offering what explanation he could for the decision that led to his imprisonment.

The Trial of Thomas More for Treason

In November 1534, bills were introduced in Parliament that would eventually lead to More’s trial and execution.  The Act of Supremacy, the law enacted in 1535 declared Henry to be the supreme head of the Church of England (formalizing the clergy’s earlier submission to this authority).  The Treason Act made it a capital offense to maliciously wish, will, or desire, by words or writing” to deny to members of the royal family their “dignity, title, or name of their royal estates.”

After enactment of the new laws, Thomas Cromwell and four other advisers to the King interviewed Thomas More in a room at the Tower of London.  The men told More that Henry demanded to know More’s opinion of the Act of Supremacy.  More balked at the request, saying that he refused to “meddle” in such affairs.  Told that the King might yet be merciful if More acknowledged his consent to the Act, the prisoner was unmoved.  My whole concern now, More told the men, was to live the best possible Christian life.

In May 1535, King Henry’s determination to crush his remaining opposition hardened.  Within days after the King learned that the Pope–who had condemned Henry’s marriage to Anne and threatened him with ex-communication if he did not return to Catherine–had made Bishop Fisher, the most outspoken supporter of Catherine in England, a cardinal, the King’s men brought charges of treason against Fisher.  As wryly noted by historians, Fisher’s head was off before his cardinal’s hat was on.

More faced intense questioning in a third interrogation before Cromwell and other councilors.  Asked once again to give an oath–this time an oath to the supremacy of Henry as the head of the Church of England–, More retained his resolute silence.  Stepping up the pressure, authorities sent Solicitor-General Richard Rich to More’s cell with instructions to remove his books and writing materials.  (While Rich and More visited briefly in the Tower, a discussion about the King’s role might–or might not have–taken place.  The question of what really happened would become a focus of More’s later trial.)  Shortly after Rich’s visit, More faced official investigators again in what amounted to a preliminary hearing to determine whether he violated the Treason Act.

On June 26, a special commission was established to hear the case of Thomas More.  Two days later, an indictment charging More with treason was presented to the commission.  More would stand trial for his life.

The trial of Sir Thomas More for treason opened in Westminster Hall on July 1, 1535.  Although a jury of twelve men would have the final say, More had to understand that a verdict of guilty was inevitable.  Were the jury to have declared otherwise, they might well have faced imprisonment themselves.  Reports described More as “weakened by his imprisonment,” but having “a cheerful and composed countenance.”

The attorney general opened the proceedings by reading the indictment, which consisted of four basic charges.  The Duke of Norfolk then offered More a final chance to escape with his life:  “You see now how grievously you have offended his Majesty; yet he is so very merciful that if you will lay aside your obstinacy, and change your opinion, we hope you may obtain pardon and favor in his sight.”  More replied–”stoutly,” according to reports–that he appreciated the offer, “but I beseech Almighty God that I may continue in the mind I am in, through his grace, unto death.”

Seated in a chair because of his weakness, More attempted to answer each of the charges against him.  On the charge of opposing the Henry’s marriage, More freely admitted that he had, “according to the dictates of my conscience,” told the King his true opinion.  To do otherwise, he said, would have “basely flattered” his Majesty and made him “a wicked subject” and “a traitor to God.”  Giving the King an honest answer, when asked for it, can hardly be treasonous, More contended.

On the second charge of not swearing to recognize the King as the supreme head of the Church when asked about the matter during his Tower interview, that “no law in the world can punish any man for his silence.”  When told that his silence was “an evident sign of the malice of his heart,” More quoted a legal maxim that held that “he that holds his peace, gives consent.”

The third charge against More was that, while in the Tower, he wrote letters to Bishop Fisher inciting him to violate the Treason Act.  The letters in question, which authorities claimed Fisher burned, could not be produced.  More insisted that the letters counseled no violations of law.  The letters, he said, merely told Fisher that he had followed his conscience when questioned on the matter of Henry’s supremacy of the Church, and that Fisher should “satisfy his own mind”–whatever position that took him to.

The fourth charge, described by More as “the principal crime objected against me,” concerned his Bell Tower conversation with Richard Rich a few days before.  The indictment alleged that More, responding to a hypothetical question posed by Rich, told his visitor that the Parliament had no more power to enact the Act of Supremacy that it did to pass a law declaring God not to be God.  The court called Rich to testify, and the solicitor-general gave his account of the conversation, confirming the charge laid out in the indictment.  More emphatically rejected Rich’s testimony, saying that if Rich’s version were in fact true “then  I pray I may never see God’s face.”  More’s striking statement, given his intense and sincere religiosity, leaves little room to doubt but that Rich was flat-out lying.  More added that he was “more concerned about Rich’s perjury” than he was about his own “danger.”  He said that he had long regarded Rich as a liar, “a great gamester, and of no good name and character.”  How likely was it, More asked his accusers, that he would choose, among all the people of the Realm, Richard Rich to confide “the secrets of my conscience?”  More’s powerful answer to Rich’s accusation prompted the attorney general to call to other men who were present in More’s cell at the time of the supposed conversation to testify.  Although neither men would likely risk the King’s ire that might come if they supported More’s account, they did him the next best favor and testified that they were too busy stuffing More’s books and carting them away to have paid any attention to the conversation between Rich and the prisoner.

The jury deliberated for “scarcely a quarter of an hour” before returning with its verdict: Guilty.  As the Lord Chancellor began to pronounce sentence, More interrupted to remind him it was customary to allow defendants to speak prior to the imposition of sentence.  More, finally with nothing more to lose and free to speak his mind, told the court his indictment was grounded on a law “repugnant to God.”  Further unburdening himself, More said that the Parliament lacked authority to enact any law inconsistent with the teachings of “Christ’s universal Catholic Church.”  He added that he thought the recently enacted laws also violated the Magna Charta and the King’s Coronation Oath.  The Lord Chancellor broke in to ask More how he reconciled his opinion with the fact that “all the bishops, universities, and most learned men of the Kingdom” found the Act lawful.  More responded that if one were to take account of the views of all of Christendom, and not just England, his view would be favored by “ten to one.”

Finally, sentence was pronounced on the man of unbreakable conscience: More should be “drawn on a hurdle through the City of London to Tyburn, there to be hanged till he should be half dead; then he should be cut down alive, his privy parts cut off, his belly ripped, his bowels burnt, his four quarters sit up over four gates of the City and his head upon London Bridge.”

After the reading of his sentence, the constable escorted More to an awaiting barge, which carried him the short ways down the Thames toward the Tower of London.  The party disembarked the barge at Old Swan Stairs.  An armed guard led More, dressed in a coarse woolen gown, up Old Swan Lane and down Thames Street.  As More and his guards approached the Tower, his daughter Margaret knelt to receive his blessing, then embraced and kissed him.  More then was escorted through the large crowd back to his cell, where he would spend the last six days of his life.

Execution

More spent most of his final days fasting and praying.  His famous wit stayed with him until the end.  More declined an opportunity for a haircut, telling the barber, “The King has taken out a suit on my head and until the matter is resolved I shall spend no further cost upon it.”  On the Monday following his sentence, More received a visit from his wife Alice, to whom he gave a final letter for Margaret composed with charcoal.  At some point, although it is not known when, More learned that the King had commuted his sentence from disembowelment to beheading–in recognition of More’s years of service, it was said.

Sir Thomas Pope, a representative of the King’s council arrived in More’s cell at dawn on Tuesday, July 6, 1535.  The representative told More that he must die at nine o’clock that morning and that the King had requested that he keep his words to a minimum at the execution.   Shortly before nine, dressed in a plain gray robe and carrying on red wooden cross, the bearded More was led out of his cell for the 200-yard journey to the execution site on Tower Hill.  More’s family was not among the crowd; the King had not granted them permission to attend.

An officer steadied More as he climbed to the execution block.  Following the wishes of the King, More spoke only briefly to the large crowd that had gathered to watch the event.  He told the bystanders to pray for him in this world, and that he would pray for them in the next.  He told the crowd, “I die the King’s good servant, and God’s first.”  He knelt down in front of the block and uttered the words of  Psalm 51.  Then he rose and kissed his red-robed executioner.  “Be not afraid to do thine office,” he said.

More knelt down, laid his head upon the block, and stretched his arms out in front of him.  One blow of the execution’s axe took off his head.  The executioner raised the head for the crowd to see: “Behold the head of a traitor!”  More’s head was boiled, impaled on a pole, and positioned on London Bridge.

Epilogue

Thomas More’s heroic efforts to preserve the unity of the Church ultimately failed.  In the year after his death, Henry VIII escalated his attacks on Catholic institutions, draining monasteries of resources necessary for their survival.  Europe became a religiously divided continent in the decades that followed.  Today, Europe’s religiosity continues its long and steady decline–a decline that began in the days of More.

The Catholic Church, however, recognized the More’s contributions to the faith.  On May 19, 1935, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Pope Pius XI presided at a canonization ceremony for Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.  The Pope said of More:

[W]hen he saw the doctrines of the Church were gravely endangered, he knew how to despise resolutely the flattery of human respect, how to resist, in accordance with his duty, the supreme head of the State when there was question of things commanded by God and the Church…It was for these motives that he was imprisoned, nor could the tears of his wife and children make him swerve from the path of truth and virtue.  In that terrible hour of trial, he raised his eyes to heaven, and proved himself a bright example of Christian fortitude.

More biographer Richard Marius reminds us why the life and death of Sir Thomas More remains relevant today.  More, he wrote, is that rare and “magnificent individual whose life summarized an age in a way that few lives have been able to do.”

Trial of Sir Thomas More