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A man for all seasons

"... through the law we become conscious of our sin..." Romans 3.20

Thomas More does not come across as having been much fun at parties, yet he was ever the go-to man for legal advice and the epitome of dutiful public service. According to American legal expert Robert Bork, the era More inhabited (turn of the 16th century) was not unlike our own. Moral corruption was threatening the stability of society. For More the two - morality and law - constituted the bedrock of a stable society. So, when either began to wobble, it undermined the whole. And in late medieval Europe a spirit of individualism veiled more sinister threats to the established order.

More's strict - some might say, rigid - moral impulse rendered him loyal to King Henry the VIII to a degree that many would find obsequious. That did not bother More because he knew, within himself, that it was on account of the firmness of his character rather than any weakness of personality that he supported his monarch, even when he disagreed with him. Anything less would undermine that precious social order, to the detriment of everyone. Why, then, did he lose his head and at the behest of the king he served so faithfully?

More refused to sign the oath confirming Henry as supreme head of the Church in England. Was this out of loyalty to a yet higher authority? And, if so, which? And what does More's example offer by way of lesson - or cautionary tale - about our navigating of the "moral maze", in order to live faithfully in an age apparently so like his own?



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