History, as it is served up by Mr. H. H. Trevor Roper
By Fr. H. E. G. ROPE
LATELY, in a volume C alled " Historical Essays," by H. R. Trevor Roper, one on -Sir Thomas More and the English Lay Recusants" (pp. 91-97), showed us upon whom Dean Inge's mantle had fallen.
This is the kind of history 1 found served up for us: "On July 6th, 1535, Sir Thomas More went to the block. He was the first English lay recusant, for he had refused, to a Catholic sovereign, that supremacy over the Church which the Pope had already allowed to the Catholic —but now outraged -Crown of Spain." Henry was no longer a CathOlic sovereign but an apostate. When and where the Spanish Crown had ever claimed supremacy over the Church we are not told. Neither Ferdinand nor Isabella the Catholic nor the Emperor Charles V was at any time a schismatic, and these were the first sovereigns of lately united Spain.
His own words
WHEN and where did the Holy See "allow" the Spanish Crown this alleged (and sacrilegious) supremacy? When did any sovereign of Aragon or Castile or any Spanish kingdom claim it ? In what sense was the Spanish Crown "now outraged"? As for St. Thomas more, whom Mr. Trevor Roper calls "Sir," let his own words, at his trial, be witness: "Forasmuch, my lords, as this indictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and His Holy Church, the supreme government thereof, or any part there of, may no temporal. prince presume by any law to take upon him. as rightfully belonging to the See of Rome, a spiritual pre-eminency by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present upon the earth. only to Peter and his successors, bishops of the same See, by special prerogative granted, it is therefore in law amongst Christian men insufficient to charge any Christian man. "And for proof thereof, he declared that, like as this realm, being but a member and a small part of the Church, might not make a particular law disagreeable to the general law of Christ's universal Catholic Church. no more than the city of London, being but one poor member in respect of the whole realm, might make a law against an Act of Parliament to bind the whole realm: so further showed he that it was also contrary to that sacred oath which the King's Highness himself and every other Christian prince always with great solemnity received at their coronations. "Alleging, moreover, that no more might this realm of England refuse obedience to the See of Rome than might the child refuse obedience to his
own natural father" (Roper, "Life of Sir Thomas More," ed. 1903, pp. 91-2).
ST. THOMAS had always accepted the Papal Supremacy. At one time he had doubted whether it was of divine or ecclesiastical institution. and having studied the question during seven years became convinced it was the former (Stapleton, ed. Hallett, 1928, p. 196).
That he died in its defence no sane person will deny. It was his supreme act and testimony, to which his whole life had been leading up.
Mr. Trevor Roper, however. is pleased to call it an "accident" :" But for the accident or his great refusal and his martyrdom. the posthumous history of More might have been similar to that of his greatest friend," namely Erasmus ! Even so Hitler but for the "accident" of his usurpation might have been very different from the Hitler of history ! More might have been like William Cecil had he not been like Thomas More!
AS for Erasmus, our saint was not a blind disciple of that favourite of the Church's enemies. When Tyndall taunted him about his "darling" (favourite) Erasmus, More answered:
"ad T found with Erasmus, my darling, the cunning intent and purpose that I found with Tyndall, Erasmus, my darling, should be no more 'my darling.' " (Stapleton, ed. Hallett, 1928, p. 40). Erasmus, he affirmed, abhorred such heresy. Was St. Thomas right ? or St. Ignatius? Erasmus and More, we sire told (p. 91), "doubted the value of monasticism." Finding the life too austere for his refined taste, the former left his cioister and thereafter never ceased jibing at the "lax" religious! Many a schoolboy finds lessons distasteful and "doubts the value" of school !
FOR this Erasmus is a hero
to those who hate the Church. However it is not correct to say that More shared his view. Quite the contrary.
As a young man, this ardent humanist went to live with the Carthusians. shared in their devotions. and as far as a layman might. in their rule. When in prison he told his daughter Margaret; "I assure thee on my faith, mine own good daughter, if it had not been for my wife and
. . ye that be my children .
would not have failed, long ere this. to have closed myself In as straight a room. and straighter, too" (Roper, as above, p. 74).
3111. TREVOR ROPER goes -a. further still. On his own authority (he gives no other) we learn that in Rome, alike Newman long afterwards. More WaS suspect as a Liberal catholic, a Catholic who appealed (as he still appeals) to Protestant, and was indeed himself half-Protestant" (p. 911. The only charitable explanation would seem to be that the writer takes the "Utopia" as a profession of the martyr's personal belief. a fallacy often refuted (e.g.. by R. W. Chambers' "Thomas More" p. 352), above all by More's other writings and his life and death. a life spent largely in diligent. scholarly and eager refutation of heresy, and a • death that sealed in blood the faith of his whole lifetime. St. Thomas More was "halfProtestant" sust as much and as little as Drake was halfSpanish and Raleigh halfIrish ! If his Encomium. Morice, as More strongly asserted, made nothing against the orthodoxy of Erasmus,even less does the "Utopia,"which satirises the wordly or politique Catholic through the good pagan. make against that of its author.
A S for Rome's view, one a--11. might think the contemporary Pope a better judge than our critic. Now Paul HI called More "a layman, excelling in the doctrine of sacred letters. who dared to confess the truth" (R. L. Smith "John Fisher and Thomas More." 1935, p. 285). Rome's view was that of Cardinal Pole and of the Continent generally. "Diplomatists like Chapuys and Ortiz and Hannaert openly called them martyrs, Theologians and historians and Scripture scholars like COchlaeus, liosius, Mol
la anus, De Soto, Sanders, Staple ton. ellannine, Baronius, Suarez. and Cornelius a Lapide vied with each other in heaping praises on their names.
"The Humanists exploded in denunciation of the royal murderer and letters went about the continent, extolling their learning equally with their virtues. Even some among the Lutherans. such as loannes Rivius, joined in the chorus" (ibid., p. 287). St. Joan of Arc waited much longer than More for canonisation. To canonise Henry's victims during penal times would have made the lot of the Catholic remnant in England still harder than it was. It was not feasible before the Emancipation.