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Thomas More, Modernistic?

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Autor:  anton  05 May 2011
Tags:  Thomas,  Modernistic
Words: 1043   |   Pages: 5
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Thomas More, Modernistic?

Thomas More was an ordinary person whom decided to become a lawyer, perhaps England’s most notorious lawyer during that generation. He was also an accomplished writer, devoted family member, a close friend, and counselor. Later on in life he was promoted to serve as Lord Chancellor to the King of Henry VIII. Sadly, for Thomas this was not a good time to be Chancellor. During this period, despite More’s efforts, England had decided to move away from Rome. An oath was sent out through England, requiring everyone to acknowledge and accept the “whole contents of the Act”. Thomas More a man with a center, unyielding principles, faith, and conscience refused to sign the oath sent out by the King. More’s existentialistic beliefs assure that he will not sign an oath for something that he does not believe in… neither for his family, friends, nor the King.

In Bolt’s playwright, A Man for All Seasons creates several instances to show that More has a sense of some part of himself about which he can never give in. More is a man of faith and conscience, and he will not submit himself to swear unto an oath that he does not believe in- not even for his family, his close friends, nor the King. His daughter Meg says to him, “’God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth.’ Or so you’ve always told me.” Based on this belief, Meg insists (rather pleads) that her father “say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.” More responds to Meg, “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then-he needn’t hope to find himself again.”(140) In Bolt’s preface he provides some assistance. He states that he is neither a Catholic nor a Christian but he is intrigued by More’s intransigent principles and conscience. Because More “became for me a man with an adamantine sense of his own self.” (xii) Through his conversation(s) with Norfolk and Cromwell, More conveys his obstinate principles and the reason he refuses to take a false oath. At one point, Bolt has More exclaim “what matters to me is not whether [the Apostolic Succession of the Pope is] true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it.”(91)

Later on in the play, in the Hall of Westminster where Thomas More is being charged of High Treason, declares to Cromwell that he should “be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing.” Cromwell responds by saying that conscience is “a noble motive for frivolous self conceit!”

MORE (Earnestly) It is not so, Master Cromwell-very and pure necessity for respect of my own soul.

CROMWELL Your own self, you mean!

MORE Yes, man’s soul is his self!

So More, a man who believes that as long as he does not make an opinion or takes a side on the issue, the law will protect him. Thus he remains silent and remains steadfast upon his beliefs not because he is confident that they are true, but because the beliefs are his. John Guy states that “More’s beliefs are very constitutive of his very self.” In contrast, More surely would not have declared that it did “not matter” to him whether his beliefs were true, nor would he have committed the typically modern incoherence of imagining that he could believe an idea without thereby committing himself to the truth of the idea.1 More’s conversation with Roper further proves how much faith More has in the law. When discussing arresting Richard Rich, hereto after referred as “the devil”, Roper argues with More.

MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?

ROPER: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

MORE: Oh? . . . And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? . . . This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down . . . d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? . . . Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Robert H. Bork then declares,

To understand More, then, it is equally important to realize his absolute commitment to law and his recognition of the fallibility of human moral reasoning. To be ruled by each individual’s moral beliefs is to invite, indeed to guarantee, social tumult and disorder. The law alone is uniform, a composite or compromise of varying moral assessments, to be applied to all alike, regardless of personal attitudes about the persons involved: father or devil, it makes no difference.

In the 16th century, dying for something you believed in had a certain value to it; Thomas More’s death was significant to others. But to himself, “death was something less important to him than what he wanted to obtain.”2

Thomas More unlike the other characters had something to center his life around. Though this is not something most of us crave, it is hard to deny that there have been a few people in history who have seen the martyr’s death as something to be sought-after.3 So does More’s understanding of conscience have any sentimental value in our modern world today? Well, whatever the case is, dying for something you believe in today does not have an effect as dramatic as Thomas More, but hopefully there are more people like More.


1 Stanley Fish observes that “modern theorists try in every way possible to avoid” the fact that “[if] you believe something you believe it to be true, and perforce, you regard those who believe contrary things to be in error.” Stanley Fish, Mission Impossible: Settling the Just Bounds between Church and State, 97 Colum. L. Rev. 2255, 2256 (1997).

2 Robert H. Bork, A Man for Our Season

3 Brad S. Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe 8-15, 99-105 (1999). (“Certain devout Christians, particularly within post-Tridentine Catholicism, actively yearned for martyrdom.”). P. 104

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