Thomas More put common good above his personal desires

St. Thomas More

St. Thomas More

September 8, 2014

Cardinal Thomas Collins wants Catholics to follow the example of St. Thomas More and take note of what More can teach us about religion's role in civil society.

There are two ways to live one's life, Collins said. The more popular path is the way of the individual ego in service of the self. Then there is the way of Thomas More, the way of sacrificial virtue in the service of the common good.

Collins was the final speaker at the Aug. 5-7 Faith in the Public Square event, sponsored by the Toronto Archdiocese and St. Augustine's Seminary, that invited Catholics, the public, media and the legal community to a series of talks that examined the role of religion in civic life.

Thomas More was an Englishman, family man, lawyer, author, social philosopher and advisor to King Henry VIII, but was imprisoned and eventually executed after public disagreements with the king who put his desires before duty.

"Thomas dealt with a society in which the supremacy of the will of the sovereign threatened the existence, or at least the liberty, of the Church, because the Church . . . with its Gospel teachings, was a check upon the royal ego. It is a check upon the overweening pretentions of the state.

"It reminds the tyrant that he is wrong to establish a system in which there are only two entities: the all-powerful state, and the isolated and powerless individual," said Collins.

"A healthy society has many groups flourishing between the state and the individual."


Speaking earlier on Aug. 7, legal scholar Iain Benson rejected new atheism's teaching that religion leads to division and violence.

Benson's argument hinged on pluralism, the common good and the rule of law as he spoke about the challenges to diversity.

"Pluralism is simply the recognition that we live in different ways and that we shouldn't be afraid of that," he said.

"What we need to be afraid of are moves in law or politics that diminish the ability to live differently amongst our neighbours," said Benson, a member of the executive committee of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa.

Benson advocated for peace based on pluralism, not uniformity.

He referred to the South African government's allowing additional charters to be created by civil society, which made way for a variety of religious groups, academics, Afrikaners, etc., to create a combined religious charter.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput told his audience Aug. 6 that natural law – that which reflects the sense of order God inscribed on humanity at creation – needs to be recognized by contemporary society as the underpinning of our civil laws.

"Creation begins in chaos (but) on each day of creation God brings new things into being, and he orders them according to a plan. God makes things for a purpose," said Chaput.


"The world is better when it follows God's design. Too often we think of rules as things that keep us from being happy, but rules, understood as God's order, are good for us because they show us how to live."

Chaput said that civil, human or earthly laws, those which have been passed by governments and enforced by a judicial system, are not separated entirely from natural laws both in moral grounding and purpose.

"Earthly laws should lead us towards our earthly end which should also ready us for our heavenly end," he said.