[Friends, today is the feast of my patron—St. Thomas More—on the old calendar of the Catholic Church. I mentioned St. Thomas in the opening of my latest article for The American Conservative. It’s on the virtue of obedience, in regards to both secular and religious authorities. Here’s how it begins.]
Known in his own day as the wisest and wittiest man in England, More is now remembered mostly for two somewhat lesser achievements. First is the word “utopia,” which he coined. Second are his pithy last words: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
The first point has been discussed at far too much length. As every tedious high school teacher has pointed out, utopia is a mashup of the Greek for “good place” and “no place.” That didn’t stop Marx and Lenin from hailing More as a proto-communist. But then, they didn’t have the benefit of Miss Grundy’s sophomore English class.
The second point, on the other hand, hasn’t been discussed nearly enough. Why did Thomas More call himself “the King’s good servant” at all? Surely at that point he had nothing to lose. Why not go for something more cathartic, like “Death to King Hank, that fat old pervert”?
It’s not just Sir Thomas, either. Before Elizabeth I condemned him to be hanged, St. Robert Southwell addressed the Queen as “Most mighty and most merciful, most feared and best-beloved Princess…” Why were More and Southwell so courteous towards their respective tyrants?
The answer is, they were Catholics, and Catholics believe that obedience to authority is a virtue. It’s one of the evangelical virtues, as a matter of fact—otherwise known as the counsels of perfection. These great martyrs refused to renounce their faith in the Catholic Church, and so were executed. But they also refused to renounce their duties as subjects of a lawful sovereign, even as the royal hangman marched them to the scaffold.
This might sound like a lot of High Tory LARPing, but it isn’t. Catholics—like all Christians—don’t believe in equality, let alone “equity.” We believe in hierarchy.
[You can read the rest at The American Conservative. I hope you like it.]