Sunday, June 17, 2012

Saint Thomas More: the Saint for all times

John Rogers Herbert (1810 – 17 March 1890)
Sir Thomas More and his Daughter 1844
Oil on canvas
851 x 1105 mm
Tate Britain, London

While in the Tower, More was visited by his daughter Margaret Roper. 

Looking out of his window, More saw a group of monks being led away for execution for refusing to take the oath of supremacy. 

In all humility, More instantly drew a comparison between their situation, going to their deaths happily following a life of religious devotion, and his own: for his life had been spent in 'pleasure and ease'.

Herbert was a precursor of the pre-Raphaelites

He was a painter of portraits, historical genre and landscapes

During the 1830s he made contact with the Nazarenes. They apper to have had an effect on his thought as well as painting technique

A close friend of Pugin, Herbert converted to Catholicism about 1840

His frescoes in the Westminster Houses of Parliament are renowned.

In the ensuing decades after his conversion  Herbert concentrated on religious subjects

This subject matter would have appealed to a public artist who had carried out public commissions for Parliament. The same Parliament in which More had presided as Lord Chancellor.

Blessed Pope John Paul II summed it up in his Apostolic Letter for the Motu Proprio establishing St Thomas More the Patron of Statesmen and Politicians of 1st October 2000:
"The life of Saint Thomas More clearly illustrates a fundamental truth of political ethics. 
The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power.  
Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature."

Recently Benedict XVI addressed that same Parliament and asked:
"And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge.  
Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved?  
These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy."