Thomas More’s Reputation
“Friendship he seems born and designed for; no one is more open-hearted in making friends or more tenacious in keeping them, nor has he any fear of that plethora of friendships against which Hesiod warns us…. Nobody is less swayed by public opinion, and yet nobody is closer to the feelings of ordinary men.”
–Erasmus, 1519, “Letter to von Hutten,”The Epistles of Erasmus, ed. Francis M. Nichols. 3 vols. (N.Y.: Russell and Russell, 1962).
“More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning. He is a man of many excellent virtues; I know not his fellow. For where is the man (in whom is so many goodly virtues) of that gentleness, lowliness, and affability, and as time requires, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes and sometime of steadfast gravity – a man for all seasons.”
Thomas More: “the best friend the poor ever had”… who embodied a “marriage of wit and wisdom.”
—The Book of Sir Thomas More Act 5, Scene 1, Line 43 and Act 3, Scene 2, Line 64, by Shakespeare et al, 1590
Thomas More: “a man of the most tender and delicate conscience that the world saw since Augustine.”
–John Donne, 1608, Biathanotos, ed. Ernest Sullivan, (U of Delaware P and Toronto Associated P, 1984), 62-63.
“He’s a learned man. May he . . . do justice
For truth’s sake and his conscience.”
–Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, 1613, Act 3, Scene 2.
“He was the person of the greatest virtue these islands ever produced.”
–Jonathan Swift, 1736, Prose Works, v. 13, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959), p. 123.
“Blessed Thomas More 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.”
–G. K. Chesterton, 1929, The Fame of Blessed Thomas More, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1929), p. 63.
Thomas More: “a strong and courageous spirit…[who] knew how to despise resolutely the flattery of human respect, how to resist, in accordance with his duty, the supreme head of the state.”
—Canonization, 1935, with Hitler near the zenith of his power
–The Law Society of Great Britain in December 1999.
“Politics was not, for him, a matter of personal advantage, but rather an often difficult form of service, for which he had prepared himself not only through the study of the history, laws and culture of his own country, but also and especially through the examination of human nature, its grandeur and weaknesses, and of the ever-imperfect conditions of social life….He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience: a perennial temptation, one to which the history of the 20th century bears tragic witness, of political regimes that do not recognize anything superior to themselves….Thomas More offers all statesmen…the lesson of flight from success and easy compromises in the name of fidelity to irrevocable principles, upon which depend the dignity of man and the justice of civil society….
–From the “Petition for Sir Thomas More as Patron of Statesmen,” September 25, 2000, begun by former President of Italy Francesco Cossiga and signed by leaders from around the world
He lived his intense public life with a simple humility marked by good humor, even at the moment of his execution. This was the height to which he was led by his passion for the truth. What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality…. And it was precisely in defense of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly.
—John Paul II’s Proclamation of Thomas More as Patron of Statesmen, October 31, 2000.