I've been thinking. Is there a politician in Canada today, who would be willing to part with his or her head, because of a higher principle?
I've been, you know, cogitating and ruminating, and scratching my own (attached) head and pondering, and staring out the window and waiting for the light bulb to come on. And I can't come up with any names.
I'm not saying there isn't anyone like this, there very well could be. I'm just saying, I don't know of such a person.
And to boot, what if that person was someone who was also a an educated person, a lawyer and chief advsior to one of the most important heads of state in the civilized world?
Well, there was such a man many years ago, and his name was Sir Thomas More. More was born in 1478 and was Lord Chancellor to King Henry the Eighth.
What was More's higher principle? Well, he refused to swear an oath on the Bible, saying that he publicly approved of King Henry's marriage to Ann Boleyn, after the King had divorced his first wife Catherine.
This story is documented in the 1966 movie and play by Robert Bolt, a Man for all Seasons.
Bolt tries to make us understand the reason More couldn't bring himself to take this oath:
“Unfortunately his approval of the marriage was asked for in a form that required him to state that he believed what he didn’t believe, and required him to state it as an oath".
You see, More was a man who deferred to a higher power. King Henry was More's earthly master. But More was a Christian and a Catholic. He knew that ultimately it was God to whom he must answer.
Bolt was intrigued by More's story. He was attracted to More, even though he himself was not a Catholic "nor even in the meaningful sense of the word a Christian."
"So by what right do I appropriate a Christian Saint for my purposes? Or to put it another way, why do I take as my hero a man who brings about his own death because he can’t put his hand on an old black book, and tell an ordinary lie?”
Then Bolt tells us why:
“A man takes an oath only when he wants to commit himself quite exceptionally to the statements, when he wants to make an identity, between the truth of it and his own virtue; he offers himself as a guarantee.”
Bolt is taken by the integrity of this man whose principles are so unshakable that he cannot be coerced into saying something that is against his deeply held principles. More believes that the oath he is asked to swear to, is against what forms the basis of his very being. He is being asked to sanction the marriage of his king, a marriage he cannot condone because it is is not licit in the eyes of his God. And he is being asked to swear that the marriage is licit, so help him, as God is his witness. More cannot do this. He holds this principle so highly that he is prepared to die for it.
Bolt was also attracted to More because of his social context. This was not just some ordinary citizen:
"He was a scholar, a lawyer, he corresponded with the greatest minds of Europe, as the representative and acknowledged champion of the New Learning in England”.
More was a family man and was also a friend of the King. According to Bolt, his "visitor’s book at his home would have been a who’s who of the sixteenth century."
Bolt asks the obvious question:
“But why did a man so utterly absorbed in society, at one particular point disastrously part company from it?” Because, Bolt says “The English Kingdom, his immediate society, was subservient to the larger society of this Church of Christ, founded by Christ, extending over Past and Future, ruled from Heaven.”
The story tells us that More is banished to the Tower of London and that his family pleads with him to take the oath. It details his subsequent trial and execution.
Finally, even when More must take part in his own kangaroo court trial, fully knowing the eventual inevitable outcome, and exhausted from the ordeal, we witness his still sharp mind take on his accusers. At the end of the trial More is asked if he has anything more to say:
"To what purpose? I am a dead man. You have your desire of me. What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts. God help the people whose Statesman walk your road."
Which brings me back to my ruminating about our own politicians, who by the way, More is the patron saint of.
We know in Canada we have a lot of pro-life MPs/MPPs/MLAs. Some are publicly pro-life. Some used to be publicly pro-life but have gone eerily silent on the subject. From the outside looking in, what has happened to their pro-life principles? Have they changed their mind and now believe abortion is okay? Have they abandoned their principles for political reasons? Have they "disclaimed their hearts and presently they will have no heart?"
Who knows the answers to these questions? Well, they know. And God knows.
Interesting story don't you think?