The Feminine Mystique: Catherine of Aragon

Feminist studies tell us that until the last century women were down-trodden, abused things without much will or choice in life.

This seems to be the basis for the argument that now is our chance to shine, to take control, to find our true strength. Only, the strength that we see in the successful career women looks like a pale copy of men’s strength, rather than a rejoicing in the gifts particular to femininity.

The late Pope John Paul II, in one of his many writing on women, (with their authentic beauty and strength,) says ,

“The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that god entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and ever other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way – precisely because of their femininity – and this particular way determine their vocation . . . .

“A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God entrusts the human being to her, always and in ever way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself. This awareness and this fundamental vocation speak to women of the dignity which they receive from God himself, and this makes strong”

As everyone knows, even a berzerking soldier is afraid of the angry mother who can lift two-ton trucks to save her child. Women are terrifying.

And this was true even in those dark days of female oppression.

Catherine of Aragon
(Queen Katherine, wife of Henry VIII)

When the wives of Henry VIII are discussed, it is Anne Boleyn who steals the limelight. Sadly, Henry’s first wife, the courageous and intelligent Catherine, is often brushed aside.

But Catherine was not just the Woman Who Got Pushed Out. She was strong,  beautiful, cunning when she had to be, faithful, loving, inspiring, artistic, and she was willing to fight for her love and her belief.

Anne Boleyn admitted that in every argument, Catherine would have the upper hand. Even over Henry himself.

Her greatest enemy, Thomas Cromwell, said, “But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.”

She was the daughter of Isabelle and Ferdinand of Spain, was married to the crown prince of England at the age of sixteen. The prince, Arthur, seemed delighted with his princess and intending to make a good husband. This despite the fact that as neither spoke the other’s language and they had learned different pronunciations of Latin their communication was restricted  to the French and Greek tongues.

When Arthur died a few months after the wedding, Catherine was kept in England as the nominal betrothed of the next prince in line for the throne: the thirteen year old child who would become King Henry the Eighth. This was mainly because the king did not want to give Catherine’s dowry back to Spain. So she stayed in London, ignored by the court and people alike. She was allowed little money or consideration, and while struggling to maintain the household she was required to keep, she also learned to keep quiet and listen.

Her political skills were put to the test when her father appointed her the Spanish Ambassador to England.  She was the first female ambassador in European history, and Henry the Seventh and his court thought that they could easily manipulate her.

They were wrong.

She was about 21 years old, had been given the classical education that was then denied to English women, and she could hold her own.

When, a few years later, she did marry Henry VII, they seemed well matched despite the difference in age. Except, even at the tender age of 18, Henry was putting his personal desires before his political duties. Wanting play at being the hero Henry the Fifth, Henry the Sixth left for France to win some battles.

Catherine was appointed regent of England while the king was away. Which was fortunate, because with the young king out of the picture, courtiers and countries tried to attack. Catherine kept  the court in line. And when Scotland declared war, she rode North, rallied the troops, gave an awe-inspiring speech is is still quoted today, and won the war.

Henry conquered a puny castle in a forgotten corner of France.

Catherine kept civil order, smoothed political unrest, and defended the country in a major battle with the ruthless aplomb of a queen.  All while being eight months pregnant.

Unfortunately for Catherine, her political career probably interfered with her family life. Of her six children, only one survived infancy. The child she carried at the Battle of Flodden was stillborn.

When Henry later offered her the chance to retire quietly to country while he remarried Anne Boleyn, Catherine refused. It was not just her dignity and position at stake; she believed that the divorce was morally wrong and it put Henry’s spiritual life in danger. She fought it in the law courts, where she was her own lawyer. And it was only through the very tricky machination of Cromwell that she lost her suit.

But until the end her days she insisted that she remained “the King’s true wife”.

When her lady-in-waiting began to curse Anne Boleyn, Catherine stopped her and told her to pray for Anne instead, as “someday you will pity her more than anyone else”.

In Shakespeare’s play “Henry VIII”, Catherine is portrayed as a strong, passionate, wise, virtuous, and vibrant character. In fact, she is one of the strongest and most virtuous of Shakespeare’s female characters in general. (Interestingly, Shakespeare’s “Ann Bullen” character is completely ambiguous. She could be played either as conniving or naive.)

Exiled to a cold, drafty castle, Catherine left her room only to attend church, and spent much her time in prayer and study. Henry offered her better quarters and treatment is she would acknowledge Anne as the rightful queen, but like Sir Thomas More, Catherine refused to trade her conscience for comfort.

Upon her death, Henry and Anne held a day of celebration.

Henry had sacrificed the political stability of his country for the sake of his lust, but one of his worst sins was that of refusing to see or value the incredible beauty and strength and virtue of his wife.

I disagree with Cromwell that Catherine’s strength was limited by her sex.  Hers was the type of strength that is particular to women. She was “limited” by her own morals and values. Henry admits in a letter to Anne that if Catherine chose to champion her daughter’s right to the throne, she could have swept the country.

She had learned of the martial strengths from her warring parents, and she put that to good use in the field. But her real strength of character came not from her power or skills, but from her dedication and love. Her ability to rally troops is impressive, but her passionate concern for the souls of the human beings around her – the human beings who wronged her – is the highest mark her character.

She led the country and she fought for her faith  like a true queen. She was a strong woman.

And in her this courage and strength of “caring for human beings” can be easily identified as Love. Her strength was not of this earth.

Which, really, makes her even more terrifying.

Why Educate?

A few weeks ago, I had to write a “Philosophy of Teaching”.

So I tried to sum up my philosophy;

“I believe that the purpose of education is to teach a person how to think. Students should not parrot back the ideas of the teacher, but should learn to comprehend, analyze and judge for themselves. As a teacher, I want my students to learn not just the facts and material with which we work, but the ways in which they can apply this knowledge to their lives. Education is not a thing which is left at school, but it affects what it means to be a person.

I want to relate to each student and reach them where ever they are in terms of education, experience and interest. I want to give my students the tools with which they can seek  answers on their own.”

I was trying to apply for a teaching position at a local community college.

The impact of teachers on my life has been great. I know that teaching is incredibly important. My soon-to-be degree supposedly qualifies me to be a teacher. But I do not know if I am of the material to be a good teacher; speaking in class still unnerves me, and the thought of being in the front is slightly terrifying.

However, I want to try.

Unfortunately, my said philosophy does not seem to have impressed the board at this college.

I wonder what sort of answer would have been acceptable. What are they looking for? What does a community college see as the purpose and drive of education?

A few days ago, an article from the Washington Post began to make the round of Facebook. This article shared the results of “When an Adult Took Standardized Tests Forced on Kids“.

Leaving aside the dubious grammar of the title – is it just me, or is there supposed to be an article before “standardized tests”? Perhaps, “the standardized tests”? – the article makes a fairly salient point:

STANDARDIZED TESTS DO NOT TEST WHAT MATTERS!

I have thought this ever since I had to take these tests. But when a person with two master degrees fails the test that determines the futures of all our high schoolers, it seems that something is wrong. Not only that, but apparently now principals are revolting over being judged on how high their students score.  This person who took the test then concluded that

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?

I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

He makes an interesting argument. Benjamin Franklin would agree with him.

Education is not preparing students for life. It is not imparting the knowledge that enable a person to “be successful”.

Here again we have the idea that an education something that teaches children how to live in the adult world. As Franklin said,

 “As to their STUDIES, it would be well if they could be taught every Thing that is useful, and every Thing that is ornamental: But Art is long, and their Time is short. It is therefore propos’d that they learn those Things that are likely to be most useful and most ornamental. Regard being had to the several Professions for which they are intended.”

Put simply, an education is to prepare one for a profession.

But, here we just have another perspective on “success”. If holding a good job and owning a condo in the Caribbean is a marker of a successful person, then how is that different from being in the top of the “testing percentile”? And this without even the slight concession to “ornament” and “art”.

There is something wrong with the current education system. But the issue is not just in the flawed practical applications that are being fought on the testing “standards”.

It is in the approach to education. It is the present “Philosophy of Education” that considers learning to be simply an accruement of facts or skills to be used in ‘real life’.

But this is limiting education, making it not only boring, but impotent.

Education is for the good the soul, forming not only skills, but habits  and loves that last a lifetime.

The purpose of education is not to get a degree, which then helps to get a job, but to learn to love. Love life, life others, love God. It should give a person the ability to think, to analyze,  to understand, to communicate, to figure out what it mean to live a good life and then to do so.

Teachers can provide a start to a good education, but a student should be able to follow through own their own. We are all responsible for our own education.

I say all this without having the practical experience of its application. I never went to high school formally. I have never taught a class. I have not seen first hand the difficulties that public school teachers face. I am not sure how to practically apply this.

But the philosophy holds. We can see the trouble that is facing the school system in America. I would rather die than send my own kids to public school. And this will not change until there is a shift on how we see and value education.

One of the best educators of all time, the man who flouted convention to teach his daughters Greek and Latin, Sir Thomas More, said that

“Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities – that is training or instruction – but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed. . . To be educated, a person doesn’t have to know much or be informed, but he or she does have to have been exposed vulnerably to the transformative events of an engaged human life.”

Yet even in those days, Sir Thomas recognized that

“One of the greatest problems of our time is that so many are schooled, but so few are educated.”

 

More: On Education

Happy Easter Friday!!!

This is the one Friday of the year that has required feasting, which means . . . . we can eat meat on a Friday! Hip hip hurrah!

Do you know how odd this feels? Fridays are for me normally a day of fast and abstinence, for the sake of self-discipline and in remembrance of a Great Sacrifice.

Which means that for one day a week I am vegetarian. Fun times.

But this is a week of great joy and feasting, and fasting is not permitted under this time of glory! Laude, laude!

Sadly, academic time does not follow liturgical time.

This week is the stress before the storm: two essays are due next week, and I am starting to prepare for final exams.

And so I have been asking myself, “Self, WHY ARE YOU GOING TO GRAD SCHOOL?”

I have not answered this query yet. As much as I love reading and thinking about literature, I am glad that only going for an MA and not a PhD. Five more years of this might turn me into a repugnant, rapacious wreck.

My heaviest cross this semester was without a doubt my Thomas More class. As much as I respect the man himself, what I am taking away from his writing is a deep loathing for lawyers and their convoluted rhetoric.

Dear Reader, I thought that I should inflict more of More on you. Isn’t that so nice and sharing of me?

After all, the man was a genius! And despite my objections to his type of renaissance rhetoric, Thomas More had some great things to say about education. Particularly education for all regardless of sex or class. His daughters all received the same education and studies in Greek and Latin that his son did. In fact, his daughters were considered among – if not the – most educated women in Europe. His eldest, Margaret, was a famous translator in her own right.

So, I though that considering some of his letters touching upon education might help to rekindle my enthusiasm of learning. Or at least give the impetus to get through the next two weeks!

Because if More saw me wilting after only four months of study on one subject, he would despise me even more than I am sure he already does.

From “Letter to the Teacher of More’s Children”


“Since erudition in women is a new thing and a reproach to the sloth of men, many will gladly assail it, and impute to learning what is really the fault of nature, thinking from the vices of the learned to get their own ignorance esteemed a virtue. On the other hand, if a woman (and this I desire and hope with you as their teacher for all my daughters) to eminent virtue of mind should add even moderate skill in learning, I think she will gain more real good than if she obtain the riches of Croesus and the beauty of Helen. Not because that learning will be a glory to her, though learning will accompany virtue as a shadow does a body, but because  the reward of wisdom is too solid to be lost with riches or to perish with beauty, since it depends on the inner knowledge of what is right, not on the talk of men, than which nothing is more foolish or mischievous.”

. . .

“Therefore, my dear [teacher], since we must walk by this road, I have often begged not you only, who, out of your affection for my children, would do it of your own accord, nor my wife, who is sufficiently urged by her maternal love for them, which has been proved to me in so many ways, but all my friends, to warn my children to avoid the precipices of pride and haughtiness, and to walk in the pleasant meadows of modesty; not to be dazzled at the sight of gold; not to lament that they do not possess what they erroneously admire in others; not to think more of themselves for gaudy trappings, nor less for the want of them; neither to deform the beauty that nature has given them by neglect, nor to try to heighten it by artifice; to put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and modesty and Christian humility in themselves. By such means they will receive from God the reward of an innocent life, and in the assured expectation of it, will view death without horror, and meanwhile possessing solid joy, will neither be puffed up by the empty praise of men, nor dejected by evil tongues.

These I consider the genuine fruits of learning, and, though I admit that all literary men do not possess them, I would maintain that those who give themselves to study with such views, will easily attain their end and become perfect.

Meanwhile, I am planning my own University, where finals coincide with Good Friday and Easter week is a series of rejoicing and partying and feasting. Required, of course.

More in Lent: Prayer Before Death

On May 4, 1535, the very first execution of monks in religious garb took place in London. This was a test of wills between King Henry VIII, the English people. and Sir Thomas More. Normally any religious would be defrocked before execution, as the illegality was acknowledged as a sin, but Henry realized that he needed to threaten the church itself and set out to offer the most fear-inspiring, gruesome sight that he could.

Three Carthusian Monks, (including More’s ‘spiritual father’ John Houghton,) were dragged from their prisons to the Tower of London. There, they were given pallets on which they were dragged through the streets three miles to Tyburn Tree, a triangular gallows-tree designed to hang nine people at once. They were dealt the sentence for treason: hung, drawn, and quartered. Traditionally the organs – including heart – were removed and held in from of the traitors face before he finally expired so that he could contemplate his own mortality. Unfortunately, the rough wool of the Carthusian habit made the ‘quartering’ very difficult and long, and most of the men died before their hearts could be extracted.

It can be no coincidence that Cromwell had the Carthusians brought to the Tower to begin the official ordeal right outside of Thomas More’s window.

Shortly there after More was himself was found guilty of treason, as they had changed the law while he was in prison just so that they condemn him. More fully expected to be hung, drawn and quartered as well, and was rightly afraid of this. In facing his fears, he wrote “The Sadness of Christ,” and composed this prayer.

A few days before his execution, More was given permission to be  beheaded instead of hung, drawn, and quartered. He died on July 6, 1535.

Prayer Before Death

O Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, three equal and coeternal Persons and one Almighty God, have mercy on me, vile, abject, abominable, sinful wretch, meekly knowledging before Thine High Majesty my long-continued sinful life, even from my very childhood hitherto.
In my childhood (in this point and that point). After my childhood (in this point and that point, and so forth by every age).

Now, good gracious Lord, as Thou givest me Thy grace to knowledge them, so give me Thy grace not only in word but in heart also, with very sorrowful contrition to repent them and utterly to forsake them. And forgive me those sins also in which, by mine own default, through evil affections and evil custom, my reason is with sensuality so blinded that I cannot discern them for sin. And illumine, good Lord, mine heart, and give me Thy grace to know them and to knowledge them, and forgive me my sins negligently forgotten, and bring them to my mind with grace to be purely confessed of them.
Glorious God, give me from henceforth Thy grace, with little respect unto the world, so to set and fix firmly mine heart upon Thee, that I may say with Thy blessed apostle St. Paul: “Mundus mihi crucifixus est et ego mundo.  Mihi vivere Christus est et mori lucrum. Cupio dissolvi et esse cum Christo.”
Give me Thy grace to amend my life and to have an eye to mine end without grudge of death, which to them that die in Thee, good Lord, in the gate of a wealthy life.
Almighty God, Doce me facere voluntatem Tuam. Fac me currere in odore unguentorum tuorum. Apprehende manum meam dexteram et deduc me in via recta propter inimicos meos.  Trahe me post te. In chamo et freno maxillas meas constringe, quum non approximo ad te.
O glorious God, all sinful fear, all sinful sorrow and pensiveness, all sinful hope, all sinful mirth and gladness take from me. And on the other side, concerning such fear, such sorrow, such heaviness, such comfort, consolation, and gladness as shall be profitable for my soul: Fac mecum secundum magnam bonitatem tuam Domine.
Good Lord, give me the grace, in all my fear and agony, to have recourse to that great fear and wonderful agony that Thou, my sweet Saviour, hadst at the Mount of Olivet before Thy most bitter passion, and in the meditation thereof to conceive ghostly comfort and consolation profitable for my soul.
Almighty God, take from me all vain-glorious minds, all appetites of mine own praise, all envy, covetise, gluttony, sloth, and lechery, all wrathful affections, all appetite of revenging, all desire or delight of other folk’s harm, all pleasure in provoking any person to wrath and anger, all delight of exprobation or insultation against any person in their affliction and calamity.
And give me, good Lord, an humble, lowly, quiet, peaceable, patient, charitable, kind, tender, and pitiful mind with all my works, and all my words, and all my thoughts, to have a taste of Thy holy, blessed Spirit.
Give me, good Lord, a full faith, a firm hope, and a fervent charity, a love to the good Lord incomparable above the love to myself; and that I love nothing to Thy displeasure, but everything in an order to Thee.
Give me, good Lord, a longing to be with Thee, not for the avoiding of the calamities of this wretched world, nor so much for the avoiding of the pains of purgatory, nor of the pains of hell neither, nor so much for the attaining of the joys of heaven in respect of mine own commodity, as even, for a very love to Thee.
And bear me, good Lord, Thy love and favour, which thing my love to Thee-ward, were it never so great, could not, but of Thy great goodness deserve.
And pardon me, good Lord, that I am so bold to ask so high petitions, being so vile a sinful wretch, and so unworthy to attain the lowest. But yet, good Lord, such they be as I am bounden to wish, and should be nearer the effectual desire of them if my manifold sins were not the let. From which, O glorious Trinity, vouchsafe, of Thy goodness to wash me with that blessed blood that issued out of Thy tender body, O sweet Saviour Christ, in the divers torments of Thy most bitter passion.
Take from me, good Lord, this lukewarm fashion, or rather key-cold manner of meditation, and this dulness in praying unto Thee. And give me warmth, delight, and quickness in thinking upon Thee. And give me Thy grace to long for Thine holy sacraments, and specially to rejoice in the presence of Thy very blessed body, sweet Saviour Christ, in the holy sacrament of the altar, and duly to thank Thee for Thy gracious visitation therewith, and at that high memorial with tender compassion to remember and consider Thy most bitter passion.
Make us all, good Lord, virtually participant of that holy sacrament this day, and every day. Make us all lively members, sweet Saviour Christ, of Thine holy mystical body, Thy Catholic Church.
Dignare, Domine, die isto sine peccato nos custodire. Miserere nostri, Domine, miserere nostri.
Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in te.
In te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in æternum.
Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei genitrix.
Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Accomplished!

I am an egotist.

Therefore, I am compelled to share enforce my accomplishments on the world at large, basking in the glory humility that comes with being recognized for who I really am.

Ahem.

Hey, there is only so much that a person can accomplish in a week! Sometimes even managing to remember to water my plants is an accomplishment.

Wait, I mean every time I remember to water my plants is an accomplishment! And while I have not completed all the tasks on my to-do list for the week, there are a few things that I have managed well enough to give a “DONE!” stamp to and send off to the Land of Past Tense.

To begin, I have compiled a list:

ACCOMPLISHED!

This week:

  • I romped through Elysian Fields. (Otherwise known as a large University Library.)
  • I avoided my Utopia essay (due this week) by starting my Allen Tate essay (due in two weeks).
  • I planted tomatoes!
  • I went swimming.
  • I re-aggravated my poor baby broken toe by trying to genuflect during Mass.
  • I avoided my Utopia essay by dusting the house.
  • I reworked an old story that I wrote about a Troll. And Humanity.
  • I avoided my Utopia essay by considering what I could write here.
  • I did crunches in the pool and now my stomach is sore.
  • I thought seriously about getting a pet hedgehog and naming it “Mrs. Tiddlywinkle,” or “Hephelump,” or “Vesper Holly”. (Quick! Name the books from which come all those names!)
  • I discussed hedgehog names with my brother, who insisted upon “Rafeke”.
  • I avoided an old man who tried to chat with me while I was swimming by diving under water when his attention was distracted.
  • I watered my tomatoes.
  • I avoided my Utopia essay by doing laundry.
  • I flirted with a lizard. It was that expanding adams-apple.
  • I restrained my vicious and blood-thirsty desire to burn Utopia to the ground.
  • I contemplated painting my room black and grey, to reflect my mood.
  • I reflected on how much better “grey” sounds than “gray”.
  • I buried one sad, dead, tomato plant, and wept. The rest are living just fine. Why did he have to despair?
  • I avoided folding my laundry by working on that Utopia essay.
  • I realized that Utopia cannot be physically razed, and I gnashed my teeth.
  • I remembered what an awesome word “gnash” is. It’s the silent ‘g’.
  • I perused through a dictionary in search of more awesome words: found “lentingenuous” and “radicarian”.
  • I created an account at  Save-The-Words and adopted “radicarian”.
  • I spent a great deal of time trying to think of how to use “lentingenuous” or “radicarian” in an essay about Utopia.
  • I decided not to get a hedgehog right now.
  • I gave up trying to be clever in the Utopia essay, and fell back on being rather snarky.
  • I discovered that when there is 82% humidity, my hair actually becomes curly.
  • I finished a draft of the UTOPIA ESSAY!!!!!!
  • I drank a glass of wine and wrote this post to celebrate.

The End!

More in Lent: Psalm of Detatchment

Sir Thomas More studied the psalms as part of his daily prayer, but did not find one that helped him form a detatchment from the earthly world. Instead, More – a man of the world with many temporal goods and comforts – wrote this prayer across the top of several pages of his devotional manuscript. Perhaps that is why this prayer sounds similar in form to a psalm, or a litany.

Despite his wealth and position of power, More always wore a hair-shirt under his clothes and was horrible embarrassed for this to be discovered. He also spent only four hours a day sleeping: eight were for work, six for family, and six for study and prayer. In fact, he had a building to be used chapel and study built separate for the house, and there he spent every day from 2:00am until 8:00am.

Give me Thy grace, good Lord

to set the world at nought;

To set my mind fast upon Thee,

and not to hang upon the blast of men’s mouths;

To be content to be solitary,

not to long for worldly company;

Little by little utterly to cast off the world,

and rid my mind of all the business thereof;

Not to long to hear of any worldly things,

but that the hearing of worldly phantasies may be to me unpleasant;

Gladly to be thinking of God,

piteously to call for His help;

To lean unto the comfort of God,

busily to labor to love Him;

To know my own vileness and wretchedness,

to be humble and meeken myself under the mighty hand of God;

To bewail my sins passed,

for the purging of them patiently to suffer adversity;

Gladly to bear my purgatory here,

to be joyful of tribulations;

To walk the narrow way that leads to life,

to bear the cross with Christ;

To have the last thing in remembrance,

to have ever before my eye my death that is ever at hand;

To make death no stranger to me,

to foresee and consider the everlasting fire of hell;

To pray for pardon before the Judge come,

to have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me;

For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks,

to buy the time again that I before have lost;

To abstain from vain conversations,

to eschew light foolish mirth and gladness;

Recreations not necessary to cut off,

of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss as nothing

for the winning of Christ;

To think my greatest enemies my best friends,

for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good

with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These attitudes are more to be desired of every man

than all the treasure of all the princes and kings Christian and heathen,

were it gathered and laid together all upon one heap.

More in Lent: The Sadness of Christ

Catholics make a big deal out of Fridays, particularly Fridays in Lent: no meat, extra sacrifices, and special prayers.

Friday is not so much the ‘start of the weekend,’ as it is the memorial of the day that Christ died. It is a day that deserves special remembrance and ritual.

With this in mind, I would like to introduce a Lenten Friday Special : a selection of readings from St. Thomas More.

Sir Thomas More – whom Erasmus designated the “Finest Mind in Europe” – was appointed Lord Chancellor of England  under Henry VIII, and he is one of the few Lord Chancellors in history to willingly resign this position. Not only willingly, but he begged for over year to be allowed to resign. He could foresee the coming turbulence that Henry’s greed and pride would bring about, and knowing that there was no longer any good he could do in the situation More tried to disentangle himself from the court and tricky politics.

Unfortunately, this was not entirely possible for someone as popular as More. Eventually, he went from being the king’s dear friend and trusted advisor to being imprisoned for treason on refusing to sign the Act of Succession that would have declared Henry as Head of the Church.

While in the Tower, More was terrified of both the pain of execution, and of giving in to his fears. As part of his discipline against this ‘weakness,’ he wrote a meditation on Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, entitled “The Sadness of Christ: Of the Sorrow, Weariness, Fear, and Prayer of Christ Before His Taking“. The book was written a month before his execution, and was supposedly smuggled out of the Tower by his daughter Margaret. In this book he combats his own fears and sorrows with deep consideration of Christ’s suffering and example.

“Thus among other causes for which our saviour vouchsafed to take upon him these afflictions of our frail nature, one was this which I have here before rehearsed, and that as it seemeth very reasonable, that is to wit, he became weak for their sakes that were weak, by his weakness to cure theirs, whom he so entirely tendered, that in all that ever he did in this his bitter agony, it appeareth he meant nothing more, than to teach the faint-hearted soldier how to behave himself in his troublous travail, when he shall be violently drawn to martyrdom. For to the intent he would instruct him that is in fear of danger, both to desire other folk to watch and pray for him, and therewith nevertheless in his own person to recommend himself wholly unto God, and again for that he would have it known that none but himself alone as then should taste the painful pangs of death, when he had commanded those three apostles, whom he took forth with him from the other eight almost to the foot of the hill, to stay still there and to abide and watch with him, then got he himself from them a stone’s cast further (17).”

. . .

“But for those that care for their soul’s health, as each one of us ought to do, unless it be such a man as the mighty hand of God encourageth to martyrdom, which thing must either by some secret means be perceived, or else by some other reasonable ways be well tried and known, otherwise I say is it meet for these folk every man to stand in fear of himself, that he be not over-charged with his burden, that he fall therewith down-right; and therefore lest he, like as Peter did, trust over-much to himself, heartily must he beseech almighty God that he will of his goodness mercifully deliver his silly soul from so great danger. Nevertheless this one point must we keep still in remembrance, that we never so precisely pray to be preserved from peril, but that we commit the whole matter unto God, ready for our parts with all obedience patiently to accept whatsoever his pleasure shall be to appoint us (37).”

In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti. Amen.