Thomas More was born in 1477. He was educated at Oxford, New Inn, and Lincolns’ Inn, and was called to the English Bar in 1501. In 1510 he was appointed undersheriff of London. In 1529 Henry VIII appointed More Lord Chancellor of England. He held this position until 1532 when he resigned because of his opposition to Henry’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon. More was found guilty of treason on the perjured evidence of Richard Rich, a former student of More. Henry VIII ordered More’s execution when he refused to acknowledge the king as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He died in 1535 and was canonized 400 years later, in 1935.
In addition to his work in the law, More was a noted scholar, statesman, educator and a man of great humour. His wit and irony were used to remarkable rhetorical effect. His piety, virtue and naturalness overflowed into his public life, leading his friend Erasmus to describe him most appropriately as “a man for all seasons.” At a time when the traditional roles of women were within the home and marriage, More educated his four daughters in the classics and gave them responsibilities outside the home. His home became a centre for the scholars of Europe of his time, and was known as a place of learning, industry, edification and mirth.
Much has been written about More over the centuries. Robert Bolt, in the preface to his play, A Man for All Seasons, states that he believes everyone can be bought for the right price, but he sees More as the one apparent exception. More’s friend Erasmus wrote in 1499: “What did nature ever create milder, sweeter or happier, than the genius of Thomas More.”
Jonathan Swift says this of More: “A person of the greatest virtue this kingdom has ever produced.”
R. J. Shoeck saw More as “a great lawyer with humanistic concerns; a great humanist with legal interest.”
Today, societies exist throughout most of the countries of Europe and North America dedicated to studying and emulating Thomas More. St. Thomas More is truly a man for all seasons and, particularly, a man for our season.