Jun 22, 2010

A Man for All Seasons

Today the Roman Catholic church celebrates Sir Thomas More, the man who died rather than compromise his convictions regarding the authority of the church as against the state.

As a Protestant, I find it hard to embrace-- or sometimes even comprehend-- the religious and political applications of More's theological convictions and his genuine personal piety. Yet I admire his courage, his respect for the duties that came with his calling, and his careful thinking about the relative roles that God grants to various governments-- jurisdictions, if you will. You just have to love a lawyer with a moral compass.

I believe that More was (mostly) wrong about Martin Luther and the gist of the Reformation, that he perhaps envisioned more civil power in the church than is wise or good, and that Utopia has some real problems.

In the end, however, I look up to More as the man who died "the king's good servant, but God's first."

I like the way Judge Robert Bork summarizes the legacy of More:

More’s life reminds us that the struggle between order and disorder, between authority and the urges of self, is a permanent feature of our condition. Liberty of conscience is a concept easily blurred, or indeed born blurry, and, misunderstood, it can be a force for social fragmentation. Liberty of conscience, insofar as it means the freedom of the individual to construct his own norms, moves from religion to morality, from morality to law, and hence to religious, moral, and legal anarchy. As Ackroyd said: “[More] embodied the old order of hierarchy and authority at the very moment when it began to collapse all around him.” He died for the sake of that order.

Not bad legacy.

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