"We have to really strengthen that thing inside us. We have to make our consciousness, our true self strong enough to stand up against what's wrong and to let come into us what's right. We cannot define what's wrong and what's right. We just can't
It has to be our true self to standup and say no, this is absolutely wrong, or this is absolutely right."
– Guru Maharaj Ji
Sir Thomas More was no Plato. He didn't speak about the nature of the inner eye opening to divine light. But he did have a vision. …
"To mind only the good of my soul, with little regard of my body … For I verily trust in the goodness of God."
Thomas' God expected devotion that did not bend or waver. The only voices telling him how to practice that devotion, however, were the Mother Church and his own conscience … Thomas surrendered to the only God he knew, and used them.
Reading Sir Thomas More's letters, I am struck most by that surrender. It is as if his part had been revealed to him and, refusing to deviate from the script, he played it serenely right through to his beheading. From whence comes that peace, one wonders. But Thomas has explained it himself.
"I thanked God," he wrote, imprisoned in the Tower of London, "that my case was such in this matter through the clearness of mine own conscience that though I might have pain, I could not have harm, for a man may in such a case lose his head and have no harm. For I was very sure that I had no corrupt affection, but I had always from the beginning truly used myself to looking first upon God."
Sir Thomas was caught in a trap. Wanting, as he put it, "neither to study nor meddle with any matter of this world, but that my whole study should be upon the passion of Christ," he was nevertheless pressured throughout his life to join in the world's affairs. Forced by his father to follow the sober and profitable study of law, he managed to conduct his studies housed deep in the cloisters of the Carthusians, a monastic order of hermits who practiced perpetual silence. This was enough to make his father all but disown him. If Thomas could be compelled to turn one eye toward the world, he would never consent to give his full attention there.
A year after leaving the monastic order, Sir Thomas was married. If he could not completely overcome desire, he was determined to restrain it within the bounds set by the Church. He chose, as his lifelong friend Erasmus said, "to be a chaste husband rather than an impure priest."
Having forfeited the priesthood, Sir Thomas devoted himself to the career of his father and became one of the most renowned lawyers in England. Still keeping his mind in God, his sense of j ustice and virtue brought him increasing fame and in 'its wake, prosperity.
At the feverish age of eighteen, Henry VIII became King. One of his first royal acts was to take his brother Arthur's widow as wife, a marriage politically convenient, but forbidden by scrip ture. It took a papal decree to make King Henry's action moral. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas had been appointed Under-sheriff of London, a position equivalent to a large judgeship. A man without ambition in such a high ranking office was unique. And Sir Thomas' famed incorruptibility made him someone King Henry would like to have close in his court.
The summer of 1515 found Sir Thomas in Flanders on a mission of the King. Already he was beginning to feel the weight of King Henry's plans for his future. This was the time in which he wrote Utopia. A good quarter of the book is a gentle debate between two fictional characters, Thomas More and Rafael Hythodaeus. A true servant of God, hypothesizes Thomas More, would not be of the world even though he is in it. Thus, even in the political arena of the royal court, his council would be wise and holy, directing the King along "straightforward and honorable courses" and thereby benefiting all people of the nation. In response, Rafael echoes Christ's warning that "no man can serve two masters". Service to kings is actually "bondage to kings … there is no room for love of wisdom with rulers. Moreover, there is no chance for you to do any good because you are brought among colleagues who would easily corrupt even the best of men before being reformed themselves."
Three years later, More finally yielded to royal insistence, and entered the King's service. (King Henry had promised More that he would not interfere with his desire to "look first upon God and then upon the King.") For the time being, "Rafael" had lost.
One of More's first services was to work closely with the King on a book in defense of the sacraments. Henry VIII liked Sir Thomas, and the two men soon became good friends. But More was not blind. "I believe he doth singularly favor me as any subject within his realm," he wrote. "Yet I have no cause to be proud thereof for if my head could win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go."
And so it was, but not overa castle in France. It was an heir that Henry wanted. As the Bible had warned, the man who married his brother's wife remained childless. King Henry decided he must have his marriage annulled by the Pope, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn. The King expected his friend and subject, Sir Thomas More to give him full support. Thomas, however, had already gone deep enough into the business of the world. Any deeper and he might lose sight of God. It was time to retreat. When questioned about his position in relation to the King's desire, he held tactful silence, saying only that he had "never professed any study of divinity (and) was unfit to meddle with such affairs."
King Henry could not afford to lose the support of a man Erasmus had named "England's only genius," and who was already being called a saint by the people. In an attempt to bring his friend around, the King offered More the Lord Chancellorship. Sir Thomas refused. But the King, after all, was the King, and he assured More that his desire to look first upon God would still be respected. Sir Thomas More took a deep breath and accepted the post.
King Henry moved swiftly. When the Pope would not grant an annulment (he was in an embarrassing position, since it was his own decree that had permitted the marriage), Henry proposed to set up a new church. Parliament passed a series of acts that cut British ties with Rome, and the Church of England was formed, with Henry VIII at its head. Henry then granted his own annulment and married Anne Boleyn. "Rafael" was by now gaining ground inside Lord Chancellor More. Sir Thomas resigned.
At first, the King understood. His friend had always been fanatical about following the dictates of his conscience. But when More was conspicuously absent from the coronation of Queen Boleyn and was seen, instead, lounging by a flower bed in Chelsea, King Henry began to wonder if it was not personal illwill rather than morals that kept Sir Thomas away. More was still a powerful and respected man. The King could not brook his opposition.
Court minions were dispatched to find evidence that could convict More of treason. None could be found. Finally, Sir Thomas was called to the court to take an oath of allegiance to the Church of England, and to acknowledge Anne as his Queen, as the clergy and Parliament had done already. The trap had sprung.
Compromise was no longer possible. In his eyes, Thomas had either to sacrifice his body or his soul. In the play, "A Man For All Seasons", written four centuries after More's death, his nobleman friend, the Duke of Norfolk, asks Thomas to take the oath for fellowship's sake. More replies, "And when we stand before God and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me for fellowship?" With the peace of knowing that God had always and only been his goal, More refused once and for all to get lost in the game. "I shall have finally the grace to do according to my own conscience," he said, and wa thrown into the Tower of London.
More was finally convicted on perjured evidence and sentenced to beheading in the Tower Square on July 6, 1535. From prison, shortly before his execution, he wrote to his daughter Margaret, "Our Lord be thanked, I am in good health of body, and in good quiet of mind; and of worldly things I no more desire than I have. I beseech Him make you all merry in the hope of heaven …"