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SIR THOMAS MORE: Statesman or Religious Fanatic?

SIR THOMAS MORE: Statesman or Religious Fanatic?

By Chuck Collins
February 7, 2024

SIR THOMAS MORE was either a gentle, celebrated intellectual and benevolent statesman ("A Man for All Seasons"), or he was a religious fanatic pitted against Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, who vehemently sought to squash the growing Protestant influence in England. He was born on this day February 7, 1478 (the two portraits on either side of the fireplace mantel at the Frick Collection in New York below are by artist Hans Holbein: the one on the left is More, and the one on the right is Cromwell).

More worked his way up to become the Lord Chancellor of England, and King Henry's father-figure, secretary, and advisor. He was a celebrated lawyer, philosopher (author of Utopia), statesman, and well respected Renaissance humanist who was personal friends with Erasmus. But the Reformation train was moving too fast to be stopped, and England was changing. More joined arms with Cardinal Wolsey and others in an unsuccessful attempt to end the stream of Lutheran literature finding its way into England. Reformation historian, Diarmaid MacCulloch, points out More's turn from opposing the evangelical movement to actively persecuting the traitors - "More had a positive relish for burning heretics," he wrote. Most famously he wrote a defense for killing the evangelical evangelist Thomas Bilney. Out of loyalty to the pope and because he couldn't support Henry as the Supreme Head of the newly formed Church of England, More was imprisoned, and in 1535 he was beheaded for treason.

Sir Thomas More was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (became Saint Thomas More) in 1935. Today he symbolizes the struggles in 16th century England between Medieval Catholicism, the new learning of humanism that called Christians back to its original sources, and the Protestant Reformation that would become the settled religion of the Church of England.

Canon Chuck Collins is the author of Reformation Anglicanism: Beautiful, Generous, Beautiful. You can purchase it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reformation-Anglicanism-Biblical-Generous-Beautiful/dp/0986044148

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