Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
Scholar - Statesman - Saint
by Germain Marc'hadour
In 1509, Erasmus called his friend Thomas More, who was then 32 years old, omnium horarum hominem, "A man for every hour". In 1521, a textbook intended for the young Londoners quoted the humanist's formula and proposed the translation: 'A Man for All Seasons'. This was also the title given to the play performed in London in1960. Its author, Robert Bolt, an agnostic of Anglican origin, thus suggests that Sir Thomas More is not only a figure of the national past, but a hero who addresses "all the seasons" of history.
A model of charity and loyalty in conscience, More is more famous still for the Utopia, a fictitious travel account at the same time as a reflection on society organization. What More paid with his life was his loyalty to "the faith of the Holy Catholic Church". That is why he was canonized, with John Fisher (another friend of Erasmus'), beheaded two weeks before More. The bishop and the chancellor are jointly celebrated on June 22nd. Each year, on that very day, the Amici Thomae Mori gather in London and Chelsea, Paris and Washington, Buenos Aires and Tokyo, and elsewhere, for a solemn liturgy, followed by a banquet in remembrance of a man "born for friendship".
When the Church, which More defended in writing and with the gift of his very life, raised him to the rank of the Blessed ( 1886 ) then to that of a Saint in the calendar ( 1935 ), "Thomas More" became a favourite first name in English-speaking countries, and was frequently chosen by the novices during their religious professions. Under St. Thomas More's dedication, a number of parishes, schools, university chaplaincies, students' residences were set up. All in all, more than one thousand institutions chose him as their patron saint, including two cathedrals in the United States (Tallahassee and Arlington), and around thirty churches in the Rhineland alone. Lawyers, judges and politicians honor through him the exemplary elder brother, the perfect flagship of their corporation.
Having preferred to die rather than to approve the schism of 1534, More is an obvious defender of Church unity: the Anglicans worship him as such; they celebrate his feast on July 6th with sermons delivered alternately at Chelsea and Canterbury by Catholics and Protestants. Since before the Reformation, Christendom, whose fragmentation More refused, became almost identified with Western Europe, this very patriotic Londoner is also greeted as a prophet of European unity.
If England where he was born, and Utopia, born from his imagination, are islands, More's thought, on the contrary, is anything but insular: its roots are in Greek philosophy, its branches in Judeo-Christianity via the Bible, the Church Fathers, Rhineland Mysticism, and the liturgy - itself the quintessence of Catholic tradition. Although an heir of this vast heritage, More is by no means chained to it, as can be proved by the society sui generis he created, and whose citizens, although cultivated, know nothing of Moses, Socrates, Cicero, or St. Paul; a world at the antipodes of England, where private property does not exist.
It is for the love of this communal regime that Marx and Lenin saw in More a "Father of the Revolution"; on the "Stammbaum des modernem Sozialismus" in Trier, his name adjoins that of Plato, and he appears on a public column in Moscow. Thanks to introductions to Utopia translated in their languages, Russians, Croats, Slovenes, Chinese, etc. learn that this brilliant pioneer was the opposite of an atheist, and thus do better understand that the last and longest chapter is dedicated to the "Utopian religions". This is food for thought, and has more than once made a dent in the system presenting modern science as an emancipator of the human mind enslaved by superstition.