St. Thomas More was an English lawyer, philosopher, author and statesman. As a practicing corporate attorney, More is the patron saint of my profession. Many Catholic diocese’s have a local St. Thomas More Society, that is dedicated to better integrate the ideals of the legal profession and the Christian faith.
During More’s lifetime he earned a reputation as a leading humanist scholar and occupied many public offices, including that of Lord Chancellor from 1529 to 1532. He is recognized as having a major influence on developing equity as an additional legal system in English law. He was fluent in Greek and Latin, authored Utopia, his most famous writing, followed by History of King Richard III, Defense of the Seven Sacraments, and many more scholarly and literary works.
St. Thomas More was involved in the very early stages of the Reformation in England. He opposed the King Henry VIII separation from the Roman Catholic Church and refused to accept him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, a title which had been given by parliament through the Act of Supremacy of 1534. He was imprisoned in 1534 for his refusal to take the oath required by the First Succession Act, because the act disparaged Papal Authority and Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In 1535, he was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony, and beheaded. Intellectuals and statesmen across Europe were stunned by More’s execution. Desiderius Erasmus saluted him as one “whose soul was more pure than any snow, whose genius was such that England never had and never again will have its like”.
There was a more controversial side to More’s life, because he advocated the persecution and execution of Protestants who refused to recant their faith. However, the judgement of history has been largely willing to forgive this in light of the times he lived in and his martyrdom in the Roman Catholic cause. Two centuries later Jonathan Swift said More was “the person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced”, a sentiment with which Samuel Johnson agreed. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper said in 1977 that More was “the first great Englishman whom we feel that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our cool northern renaissance.”
As a very positive sign that the intra-Christian rivalries of the Reformation era are largely over, St. Thomas More is also recognized as a Saint by the Anglican Church.