A Politician for All Seasons
It just happened that my reading of a collection of essays by Miroslav Volf titled, Against the Tide, landed this morning, the day after the 2021 Presidential Inauguration, on his reflection “A Politician for All Seasons.” It was written after the 2000 presidential election, during the first season of political unrest that has only increased with every election cycle since.
No, the politician for all seasons of which Volf wrote was not President Bush or Vice President Al Gore. It was Thomas More. In fact, about a week before that 2000 election, Pope John Paul II had dubbed More as “the patron saint of statesmen and politicians.” It was not for More’s occasional, bombastic verbal assaults that he was so named but for something else.
Volf notes, “A good politician, we are told, will know how to turn any situation to his or her own advantage.” Was this the skill for which More was honored? No, he was honored for something which would do us all well to embrace, both politicians and people of God. Something sorely lacking in our present political discourse as a nation, but worse still, in the church.
Thomas More was honored for something which would do us all well to embrace, both politicians and people of God. Something sorely lacking in our present political discourse as a nation, but worse still, in the church.
To be clear, More was a man of strong convictions. He was strongly Catholic; against the Protestant-Reformation, opposed to the teachings of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Tyndale. He refused to acknowledge the supremacy of the king in the church. He was condemned to die under the charge, “that he was, ‘attempting to deprive the king of his lawful title as supreme head of the Church of England, which is treason.’” But it was not his political convictions nor willingness to die for them that is most impressive with More. It is not those political convictions that make More a necessary example in our time. It is what he said after his conviction.
Drawing on Peter Ackroyd’s Life of Thomas More, Volf notes, “As More saw it, he was not guilty since he had done nothing and said nothing regarding the issue; he had simply kept silent. After he was judged guilty, and when asked whether he had “anything else to allege for your defense; he uttered these astonishing words:”
More have I not to say, my Lords, but that like as the blessed Apostle St. Paul, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, was present, and consented to the death of St Stephen, and kept their clothes that stoned him to death. And where be they now? A pair of holy saints in heaven, and shall continue there friends forever. So I verily trust, and shall therefore heartily pray, that though your Lordships have now here in the earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation…. (Volf quotes in the English of 1535, which I am updating here for ease of reading.)
It takes courage to die for one’s beliefs – more courage than most of us have. But it takes true sainthood to desire to be “friends forever” with one’s enemies. More believed that there was something larger than his outstanding political career – the good of the people, the truth of his convictions, and the love for neighbor that bridges the deepest enmity, all three values rooted in “the absolute priority of God:’
“It takes courage to die for one’s beliefs – more courage than most of us have. But it takes true sainthood to desire to be “friends forever” with one’s enemies.” Miroslav Volf
May the church today be filled such a desire.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,