St. Thomas More Undeserving?


#1

A friend of mine has told me that St. Thomas More is undeserving of sainthood because he personally saw to it that many heretics were burned at the stake. :confused:

There must be extenuating circumstances. Could you please enlighten me as to what they are.

Thank you.


#2

I did a biography on him, and it is said that he executed/tortured many protestants while Lord Chancellor of England. According to his accounts he didn’t, and that there were but a few cases in which he used any form of corporal punishment (e.g. one boy whom he had beaten for teaching profane things about the Most Bl. Sacrament).

Catholig


#3

Thank you for your research. Would you be so kind as to give me the link to the biography to which you refer.

Thank you and God bless.


#4

Well, I don’t know much about St. Thomas More, but St. Paul killed or helped kill plenty of Christians, so murdering people doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t become a saint.


#5

Why would there be “extenuating circumstances”? St. Thomas More, and Catholics of that era generally, didn’t think that this was a bad thing. They didn’t need extenuating circumstances. They would have needed extenuating circumstances not to go after people they thought were heretics.

That being said, the statement is exaggerated. I’m not sure exactly what role More played in specific trials and executions, but as Lord Chancellor he certainly promoted and supported the suppression of heresy.

A notable Catholic patristics scholar once denounced More in my presence (in front of a lot of secular and liberal professors and grad students) as having an “inquisitorial personality.” I stammered out an extremely lame response, because I found this charge off-putting. As a student of the sixteenth century, I take it for granted (perhaps too easily) that the people I study had views about the persecution of heresy that I find repugnant, but that this didn’t mean that they were bad people. If they actually enjoyed persecuting people or did so out of personal malice, that would be a point against them. (Some would make this claim about Calvin’s persecutory activities, though I think that’s unnecessarily harsh.) But I see no reason to think that St. Thomas did anything of the sort. He did what he thought was his duty as a Catholic involved in the civil government. He would no doubt have had me arrested and interrogated, and perhaps have had me whipped or made me do some humiliating penance. (I wouldn’t have been burned, since I have no great commitment to Protestant principles.) That would have been unpleasant. But I wouldn’t have taken it personally (assuming that, anachronistically, you could transport me to the 16th century with my opinions and personality intact!).

Edwin


#6

Point taken. Thank you.


#7

Lots of people in the Old Testament, whom we assume are now in heaven, saw to the killing of lots of other people.

It would be useful to find out from your friend exactly what his objection is. Does he claim that nobody who takes part in government executions can enter heaven? Or only that nobody who took part in such executions for certain (religious) laws can enter heaven? Or what, exactly?


#8

:rolleyes: This is what is wrong with people judging historical figures by present day standards. It wasn’t like present day America where we can politely differ on religion.

In certain times and places (including Post-Reformation Europe) heresy was tantamount to treason since the country often took on the religious preference of the reigning sovereign, and religion as a whole formed the underpinning of society itself. Destablize the religious situation, and you destabilize society. Thus, to be a heretic was to be disloyal to the king and a traitor. This was true of both Protestant and Catholic societies. John Calvin in Geneva burnt many a “heretic” in his day.

Religion aside, I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble with executing convicted traitors.


#9

Only one, and Calvin didn’t burn him. He denounced him to the government and advised that he be beheaded. The government decided to stick with tradition.

As I’ve pointed out over and over again on this forum, heresy and treason were separate crimes with separate definitions and separate punishments. Yes, heresy was seen as destabilizing a Christian society, and thus was deserving of civil punishments. But it wasn’t identical to treason.

Religion aside, I don’t know about you, but I have no trouble with executing convicted traitors.

I do. Governments are not people. The only crime deserving of death is a crime against persons, not a crime against useful social fictions. But that’s not really the issue.

Edwin


#10

Yes, it is my understanding that he did all he could do to encourage them to recant. Also, that only four were executed during his tenure as Lord Chancellor, which could indicate that he was mostly successful.

Based on your reply, I can see why my use of the word “extenuating” does not apply.

Thank you for your fine explanation and comments. They will be very useful to me.


#11

Good idea :thumbsup:

Does he claim that nobody who takes part in government executions can enter heaven? Or only that nobody who took part in such executions for certain (religious) laws can enter heaven? Or what, exactly?

The trouble with the appeal to OT practice is that it is Before Christ - & Christians are called to live by a much more exacting standard: Jesus does not relax the Commandments - He makes them more stringent, not less :slight_smile: (As the Sermon on the Mount shows.)

The trouble with the appeal to the acts of St. Paul in an OP, is that those acts were before his conversion.

It’s not easy to see how canonised Saints can be Saints - especially canonised ones - if they, most of whom are Christians (the OT ones can be left on the side for the moment), put people to death for heresy. If it was OK in 1530, it should be OK now, in 2008. IOW, it is hard to see what Christian principle or principles forbids or forbid the Church to (torture &) execute heretics in 2008, if it was not against Christian ethics to do so in 1530 or 1570 or whenever. It’s not as though the CC were free of heresy: so if Pius V can do it in 1570, why can’t Benedict XVI ?

Leo X defended the Church’s practice in 1520, so it’s not as though there were no magisterial defence of the practice. Is that still magisterial teaching ? If not - how come ? :confused:

Conversely - if it is wrong now, what made it sound Christian morals to (torture and) execute heretics then ? But if it is wrong now: how was it morally right then, &, even more, how was it compatible with Christian holiness, to execute heretics ?

If it was possible for a man in the 16th century to:
[LIST]
*]be a Christian Saint
*]execute heretics
*]be free of blame in faith, morals & conduct, for executing heretics[/LIST]- why can’t that all be equally true now ? And if it’s not - what is the doctrinal basis for its not being true now ? That the CCC condemns torture - which it did not, in the 16th century - is not a solution; it’s part of the problem. The problem is made very acute by the fact that More is a Saint - & not just any old Catholic.

The title of the thread raises many problems, so it’s no wonder the OP’s friend is perplexed.


#12

If it was possible for a man in the 16th century to:

[LIST]
*]be a Christian Saint
*]execute heretics
*]be free of blame in faith, morals & conduct, for executing heretics
[/LIST]

  • why can’t that all be equally true now ?

We’re overlooking an important stop in this man’s journey to Christ. Obviously a man in the 16th centure can be a Saint.

Obviously he executed heretics (some at any rate, it’s been established)

BUT, who said he was free of blaim in faith, morals, and conduct for executing them?

The leftover stain of sin on this man, any culpability or attatchment to this sin, could be burned away in Purgatory. Declaring someone a saint does not mean that every action they did in their life was perfect, it means they are in Heaven.

Just because he’s in Heaven now, doesn’t mean he was instantly taken there after death.


#13

The leftover stain of sin on this man, any culpability or attatchment to this sin, could be burned away in Purgatory. Declaring someone a saint does not mean that every action they did in their life was perfect, it means they are in Heaven.

Wouldn’t his transgression have been the sin of murder, as in the Fifth Commandment? If so, wouldn’t that have been a mortal sin, which would have landed him in hell, not Purgatory?

Further, might he have considered his conscience well-formed with regard to executing heretics? If so, would that be a mitigator, causing him to land in Purgatory?


#14

Wouldn’t his transgression have been the sin of murder, as in the Fifth Commandment? If so, wouldn’t that have been a mortal sin, which would have landed him in hell, not Purgatory?

Only if he was unrepentant for that mortal sin. He may have confessed it, he may have been repentent. We know he’s not in Hell, so he must have done one of these.

Further, might he have considered his conscience well-formed with regard to executing heretics? If so, would that be a mitigator, causing him to land in Purgatory?

I think you’re on to something here. A truly well formed conscience will have made him feel badly about directing the murder. Even if he felt it was truly necessary, and that the person’s poison of heresy must be stopped at all costs, through execution even, he most probably felt guilty for it. I know that if I were in his shoes, and I felt there was no other choice, I would confess this, and feel repentent, even as I knew it was happening.


#15

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