Today is the feast day of St. Thomas More, patron of lawyers. Many of us of a certain age obtained our first knowledge of Thomas More by reading or watching the film version of A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt’s play that deals with More’s refusal to endorse Henry VIII’s decision to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (which divorce split England permanently from the Catholic Church).
Thus, when we think of More, what we see is a model of a person of principle, someone courageous enough to stand up to the king, even at the cost of his death. And that is a worthy model. But in how he dealt with others, More is also a man worthy of imitation. Erasmus wrote this about More in a letter written in 1519:
It is said that none are so free of vice. His countenance is in harmony with his character, being always expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even an incipient laughter and, to speak candidly, it is better framed for gladness than for gravity or dignity, though without any approach to folly or buffoonery. …He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend . . .When he finds any sincere and according to his heart, he so delights in their society and conversation as to place in it the principal charm of life . . .In a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More . . .In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious. If he converses with the learned and judicious, he delights in their talent, if with the ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their stupidity…. With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. …No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense.
A worthy model, not only for lawyers, but for all of us.
St. Thomas More, pray for us.