Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 12, 2001
Respect for the work of politicians
Making Thomas More the politicans' patron bestowed a dignity on the profession
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
In late 2000, and coincident with a general election in Canada, the Vatican named St. and Sir Thomas More as patron saint of politicians. If the announcement caught the notice of the campaigners in November's general election, none mentioned it.
Knowing the ways of the world, it could disturb some people, but if it did, they contained their annoyance. The event passed by with nary a word from either of those archrivals, the pros or the cons.
Thomas More, 1478-1535 served as chancellor, now we would say, prime minister, to Henry VIII. Determined to have a male heir and driven in ways the modern mind can hardly understand, Henry turned on More at last and had him beheaded.
More had refused to take an oath to the Act of Succession of March 1534. Among other provisions, the act repudiated the supremacy of the pope over the Church in England, nullified Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and declared their daughter Mary, a bastard. Under the act, More had committed treason - never a career enhancing charge, but upon conviction in those days, a deadly one.
The Church added More's name to its roll of the sanctified on May 19, 1935, 400 years after his execution. Like few other persons, More glows in history as a person of charm and intellect. Accounts of his domestic life in the Chelsea area of London read like an idyll.
The reports of his conduct in the face of his execution in the grim Tower of London describe a person of surpassing serenity, though he bemoaned the stresses his imprisonment and condemnation had brought upon his wife and children. His wife made a spirited, but in the end ineffectual, plea to have him make the compromise most of us, alas, would have taken, and so obtain his freedom.
The process of canonization, "saint making," we might say, demands that the nominee meet the test of heroic virtue as proved by "common repute for sanctity and conclusive argument."
Apparently More met the test convincingly, inasmuch as his canonization set aside the usual requirement of miracles attributable to his intercession. Cynical wags quickly demur: "Not so! That some guys ever get elected at all has to be a miracle of some sort."
In creating its saints, the Catholic Church recognizes its heroes, and illuminates them as models for the faithful, and specifically for those of their patronage.
In this respect, More offered convincing testimony, and made the politicians the beneficiaries of a patronage with a difference. He stood for, and ultimately gave his life for principle. For the faithful, it adds a plus: they may seek their intercession on their behalf: "St Thomas More," they say, "pray for us."
The Church has another purpose in its patron saints. Its nominations, though by no means necessarily politically neutral, bestow a dignity on the activity so specified. In naming More as patron saint of politicians, it declares its respect for the work of politicians.
In common usage, the word "politician," like the word "bureaucrat," has a faint pejorative scent. Politicians seeking election woo the electors by promises of better things should they have the wisdom to put them into office. Often, when elected, the would-be reformers find complicating factors and pressures unknown to them before.
By then they may realize the impetuous or impossible nature of the promises, and know chagrin. The disenchanted electorate sees only irresponsibility.
Perhaps the pope's advisers told him of this malaise weakening the body politic, or just as likely, he saw it himself. He named the sublime More as the patron saint of politicians, to proclaim the esteem he had for those who would brave the hazards of service in elected office.
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