ilR THOMAS MORE, by Leslie Paul(Faber and Faber, 12s. 6d.).
IN a flash of spiritual intuition at Chelsea in 1929, G. K. Chesterton referred to Blessed Thomas More as a hinge of history, and declared that he "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 Englishnan, or at least the greatest his'Meal character in English history."
The canonisation in 1935 went a ang way towards the fulfilment of 'le prophecy. St. Thomas More is ow a centre and focus of study for len and women of Catholic and on-Catholic belief all over the
A distinguished American legal istorian has lately investigated and .stablished his genealogy. Prof. a. W. Reed has indicated the pat i hat young More played in Earls. rudor drama and, with Prof. R. W Chambers and his successors in the English School at University College London, has vindicated for St Thomas More a special place in English literature as the first write of modern English prose.
The three autograph pages (on ex hibition at the British Museum) frora the late Elizabethan play of Sil Thomas More link the name of Shakespeare for ever with that of St. Thomas More.
Prof. R. W. Holdsworth has fauded Sir Thomas More as one ol the great architectsof English Equity; and Sir Arthur McNalty, sometime Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, in a Chadwick Lecture, has established his title as a pioneer of public health reform.
A whole series of students in Scandinavia and in Soviet Russia and in the United States have sought and are seeking to elucidate the meaning of Utopia, and to determine whether and in what sense St. Thomas More may be said to be a pioneer of Communist or Socialist thought, Other fields of study-as for instance the theological controversies which form the bulk of the writings of St. Thomas More-are being explored or invite exploration. In his Acta Thome Mori. Prof. de Vocht, of Louvain, has identified a Latin record of the trial and death of St. Thomas More which calls for a careful reconsideration of the traditional story based on the Paris News-letter and the Expositio Fidelis which we owe (so it is said) to a time-serving Erasmus.
An act of prophetic statesmanship
A LL these special studies natur-C-1 ally lend an added interest to the life of St. Thomas More and call for a measure of re-writing of the biographies which have hitherto been regarded as the standard works.
In this new biography, Mr. Leslie Paul, who is already known to us for his Annihilation of Man and The genius of St. I homes More who "is so many-sided and his life work so significant that his stature continues to grow with the ages."
According to this new volume. Thomas More "foresaw what wars and terrors would result from the loss of that Christian unity of Europe which we are now four centuries later desperately trying to restore. His opposition to the assumption of supremacy over the Church in England by Henry VIII, which cost him his head, arose from a deep religious conviction, but we now see that it can be regarded as an act of prophetic statesmanship."
If this judgment be accepted, the official story of the English Reformation will need to be re-written. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the future of the Faith in England is essentially linked with the restoration of the fame of St. Thomas More among the English people.
Contemplation in the Tower
THE composition of this book has evidently been for the author a profound spiritual experience. With unerring judgment he selects and gives special prominence to the words that Thomas More spoke to his daughter Margaret at different times in the Tower.
Meg) to reckon myself in worse case here than in mine own house. For methinketh God maketh me a wanton and setteth me on his lap and dandleth me"; and those other words he uttered when he saw the monks of the Charterhouse on their way to execution : "Lo, dost thou not see, Meg, that these blessed fathers be now as cheerful going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage?"
These words alone are a sufficient indication of the height and the depth of the contemplative life that Thomas More was leading in his cell in the Tower.
They seem also to have made an impression on the mind of Shakespeare, who was familiar with the English works of Thomas More, and who uses the image of death as a marriage in more than one of his plays.
Four counts in the indictment
THOUGH the story of the trial and execution of St. Thomas More may call for a certain measure of reconstruction since the Ada Thome Mori of Prof. de Vocht (which appears to have escaped the attention of our author) it is reasonably clear from the record in Harpsfield that the indictment of Sir Thomas More con tamed four counts and not three, as Mr. Paul imagines. and that it had no special count for 'malicious opposition to the King's marriage."
The first count in the indictment charged More with treason because, being asked whether he accepted and reputed the King as the Supreme Head on earth of the Ecclesia Anglicana, he is alleged to have remained maliciously silent (malitiose penitus silebat) and refused to make a direct answer.
At the trial he made a memorable protest against this charge : "For this my taciturnitie and silence neither your law nor any law in the world is able justly and rightly to punish me, unless you may besides lay to my charge either some word or some fact in deed": a principle clearly stated by Aquinas in his treatise on law and repeated in The Doctor and Student by Christopher St. Germain. On this matter of the indictment the book before us appears to need correction. One may note also that Thomas More was appealing not to the Common Law of England but to the Civil Law of Imperial Rome when he cited the maxim Qui tacet consentire videtur.
These are minor blemishes in a work which is otherwise exact in statement and unexceptionable in tone and sympathy. It is good to have the judgment of so fair and honest a mind on an issue of such high spiritual and historical importance.