St Thomas More
Patron of Statesmen and Politicians
Fr Pawel Staniszewski
Christian roots of Europe
The idea of united Europe has its roots in Christianity. Its foundation is Christianity with the idea of evangelical solidarity and desire for the truth and justice. The first politicians who put this into practice were: Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Alcide De Gasperi. They experienced their faith in an authentic way and they drew inspiration to act for the common good. They wanted to give soul to Europe. They are commonly called Europe's Fathers, and the French politician Robert Schuman is a candidate for sainthood. His process of beatification is being completed. The Servant of God John Paul II many a time spoke about Schuman as a model of Christian politician.
Today the European idea is at a turning point. The uncertain fate of the constitutional treaty makes us revise the domineering political ideas. It is time to return to Europe of evangelical solidarity and the real hope of the European Union lies only in this.
In Poland the parliamentary and presidential elections were won by the political group that referred directly to that ideal. The voters showed that that ideal was still closest to them. They showed their soul making that choice. This soul is Christian. They also showed that they wanted such a soul in Europe as well.
31 October 2005 marks five years from the moment the Servant of God John Paul II proclaimed Saint Thomas More Patron of Statesmen and Politicians. In the context of this year's parliamentary and presidential elections in our country, in which politicians ran to 'gain power', the person who can be a model for statesmen through his constant fidelity to his convictions, even at the cost of life, is worth mentioning.
Thomas More expressed fully his Christian identity, living in the world as a husband, exemplary father and open-minded statesman. This man of irreproachable moral attitude, in order to be faithful to God and his conscience, renounced everything: honours, family relationships, even his life. Thomas More was known and admired all over Europe. His 'Utopia', the best book of the epoch, made him famous. The most powerful minds did homage to his education, refinement and extremely pleasant personality. No wonder. Anyone who got to know Thomas was under the charm of not only his knowledge but also his sense of humour.
As Lord Chancellor, the highest officer in the state, Thomas More was and still is a perfect model to follow by the world of public officers. 'He had two important features: in his administrative work he was unwaveringly honest and extremely conscientious. He was said that if some day his father and a devil had stood in front of him, he would have agreed with the devil if he were right. He treated all people with kindness. Bribery and old-boyism had no access to him. He dedicated a few hours to prayer every day. He read the Holy Scriptures and ascetic books at the table. He avoided the mortification of old ascetics, knowing that he needed strength to perform his daily duties. The lack of special penance was compensated by bearing patiently daily troubles, by performing diligently his duties, by fulfilling God's commandments and the commandments of the Church. Even as Lord Chancellor he willingly served at Mass and sang in the parish choir'.
But he was not a sourpuss, on the contrary. His house in Chelsea near London was perhaps the most hospitable place in England. It was always full of laughter and fun as well as scientific disputes. The guests opened their eyes wide when they saw his daughters speak fluently Latin and Greek. What? Women? They could not stop marvelling. Thomas loved his family with all his heart and consequently he shared everything with them, especially he shared his passions.
Hour of testimony
When in 1531 Henry VIII passed the Act of Supremacy, after not having been able to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he broke with Rome and made himself the head of the Church in England, all his subjects were called to make an oath of allegiance to the changed king, which meant a change of denomination. Almost all bishops, priests, nobility, not speaking about ordinary people, did so. The only people who opposed the king were some monks, one bishop and one layman - Thomas More. Knowing what would happen to him he resigned and withdrew from public life. He did not want to accept what he could not acknowledge by his clear conscience. 'Despite of pressure that was put on him he did not participate in the wedding and coronation of the king's lover Anne Boleyn. And he opposed the Act of Supremacy, which was regarded as high treason. He was arrested and imprisoned. His trial was on 1 July 1535'. He was condemned to death. His sentence was 'Dragged on a hurdle to the place of execution, hanged by the neck, but removed before death, disembowelled, and the entrails burned, and the body divided into four parts (quartered)'. Because of old friendship the king commuted this to execution by beheading without tortures. On the scaffold he was to say 'Pray that I die being faithful to the Catholic faith and may the king die being faithful to this faith'. The execution took place on 6 July 1535. His head was placed over London Bridge for a month and was rescued by his daughter Margaret before it could be thrown in the River Thames. The skull is believed to rest in the Roper Vault of St. Dunstan's Church, in Canterbury.
Thomas was himself to the end. Neither wealth nor fame nor power changed him. He was not deprived by fright and fear of losing what he had. He did not follow what the majority did. He did not sell his conscience although all people did, he did not believe temptations to sign what all people did. He was faithful although it was very easy to justify one's unfaithfulness.
He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. And he was canonised by Pius XI in 1935.
Model for politicians
St Thomas More, patron of statesmen and politicians, considered the relationship between politics and morality to be one of the elements that conditioned the constructive political activities. When man is separated from God, and politics is separated from morality, there is the danger to realise 'bonum privatum' at the cost of 'bonum publicum'. However, if a politician bases his activities on the foundation of ethical principles his activities will be a success and will multiply the common good. That is why in his apostolic letter motu proprio declaring St Thomas More Patron of statesmen and politicians John Paul II wrote, 'Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good. Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.'
Unwavering in this rigorous, and yet cheerful, moral stance and deeply human attitude Thomas More did not only expose littleness of the politicians being in power but also ordinary citizens who were ready to lie and cheat for their own convenience. Today he appears to many politicians as pricks of conscience, wanting to show them what values they should follow.
Looking at his fate many would say that he lost his life. But Waldemar Lysiak beautifully commented on his attitude, 'A noble politician is doomed to lose, and More lost. More's failure was a wonderful victory, one of the most beautiful victories of humanity in the history of humankind'.
The article is based on the book Swieci na kazdy dzien (Saints for Every Day) by Fr Wincenty Zaleski, SDB, Salesian Publishing House, Warsaw 2002.