St. Thomas More’s Prison Cell in the Tower of London

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For a pilgrimage earlier this year, I made arrangements to visit the cell in the Tower of London where St. Thomas More was imprisoned as he underwent trial for refusal to take the Oath of Supremacy imposed by King IMG_0560Henry VIII.

St. Thomas is my patron saint in Confirmation, and today (June 22) is his optional memorial.

Although the Tower of London was used to detain the King’s prisoners from time to time, it is not a prison per se. Rather, it was (and is) a secure location belonging to the Monarch, which, in addition to quarters for guards and officers, also provides cells for certain “special” prisoners. Usually, such prisoners would be brought in upon a boat from the Thames through the “Prisoner’s Gate”, and then marched from there to their cell within the Tower complex.

St. Thomas, due to his status and rank, qualified to be imprisoned there, in relative “comfort” compared to the prison of the time for commoners of the realm.

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The ancient (original) door to St. Thomas’ cell

As he first arrived at the Tower in April 1534, he had some privileges which his guards and examiners slowly stripped away. For example, he was permitted a writing table and chair, sufficient light and supplies for writing, books (in particular his breviary), as well as reasonably warm clothing.

Within the cell itself, not atop a “tower” IMG_0548but actually quite close to ground level, which had open windows overlooking a moat ringing the Tower, there was a  cavernous arched roof, and lack of heat and exposure to the elements would have been a tremendous discomfort, particularly in the damp London winter.

The rest of the time, if it were more temperate, the open cistern the served as the cell’s “bathroom” would emit noxious fumes and gases back into the cell from the collecting sewage below.

Over time, as St. IMG_0551Thomas remained obstinate and his handlers grew impatient and frustrated, “privileges” were removed; no more books for reading, no more paper and ink for writing, the spartan furnishings were taken away, food become less frequent and plentiful, and finally, the very clothes warming his body were stripped from him.

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The “privy”

Meanwhile, St. Thomas would sometimes catch a glimpse of his daughter Margaret from outside the window. No doubt, he was aware that he was not the only one of his family sacrificing to defend what was true. Positions for sons and sons-in-law evaporated as St. Thomas had lost the king’s favor, his “friends”, and became a political pariah. No more prestige for anyone connected to the More family, but rather the opposite — infamy. The

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Steps to the cell door, from within

Crown would take possession of his land holdings and turn his wife Alice out of their home. All of St. Thomas’ income was lost as well.

Despite his rhetorical prowess, St. Thomas is most impressive (to me) because he withheld from making any public statements about the situation of the King’s marriage. He avoided the controversy, and deftly navigated — deflected — from taking a position. IMG_0535Ultimately, even his silence caught up with him, until his silence became a source of condemnation.

 

St. Thomas is perhaps too frequently cited as the outspoken herald for religious liberty, when the opposite was really true. He was inchoate prudence and restraint when it came to stating his convictions. How often do we (somewhat impetuously) “jump the gun” in “taking a stand”? Here, in our particularly troubled times where freedom of religion is assailed, St. Thomas serves as a fitting guide and witness. He managed to do more for much longer because he let himself be guided in prayer to the Lord regarding when and how to act and speak.

It was only once the jury (after just fifteenIMG_0564 minutes) found him guilty upon hearsay that he put to rest the question of his “guilt”. Only then did he once for all make known that the king could not become head of any “church of England” and that the king’s marriage to Queen Catherine was true and binding upon him.

Shortly thereafter he was taken from his cell to Tower Hill (nearby) and beheaded. He said to the crowd that he “died the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” Also, retaining his (sometimes ribald) sense of humor to the end, and having become rather hirsute from his time locked up in the Tower, St. Thomas swept his profuse beard away from the path of the ax — saying, “This [my beard] has not offended the king!” — lest it fall the way of his head.

Surprisingly, throughout his imprisonment, and despite his high station, St. Thomas’ enjoyed a popularity among the people. He was respected — perhaps he developed a reputation for fairness over a long and distinguished legal career, or shrewdness, or managed to avoid giving offense unnecessarily, but he was beloved. His bodily remains came to be venerated very shortly after his execution, though he was not canonized until 1935 by Pope Pius XI.

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St. Thomas’ Tomb in the Tower Chapel Crypt

In today’s Office of Readings, we find part of a letter written to St. Thomas’ daughter, Margaret, while he was imprisoned in the Tower (from the English Works of Sir Thomas More, London, 1557, p. 1454):

Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he had taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God. Either he shall keep the king in that gracious frame of mind to continue to do me no harm, or else, if it be his pleasure that for my other sins I suffer in this case as I shall not deserve, then his grace shall give me the strength to bear it patiently, and perhaps even gladly.

By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains  of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.

I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

And if he permits me to play Saint Peter further and to fall to the ground and to swear and forswear, may God our Lord in his tender mercy keep me from this, and let me lose if it so happen, and never win thereby! Still, if this should happen, afterward I trust that in his goodness he will look on me with pity as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh and endure here the shame and harm of my own fault.

And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.

 

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Painting of St. John Fisher arriving at the “Prisoner’s Gate” at the Tower


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Monument on Tower Hill

 

Today’s Collect:

Father, you confirm the true faith
with the crown of martyrdom.
May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More
give us the courage to proclaim our faith
by the witness of our lives.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

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The Age of Euphemism: Claiming Religious Liberty as Latest Victim

Apparently Indiana broke the Interwebs by passing legislation which some are calling an “anti-gay law”. Opponents of the law have taken to Twitter, social media, and banner carried by blimp to declare that anyone who cares about religious liberty is, in fact, a “bigot” and “hater” who has no right drawing oxygen or consuming resources on our planet.

Apparently bigots are not worthy of toleration, but to the extent that bigotry is synonymous with Catholicism, we’ve known that for a while.

Individuals like the reigning CEO of Apple have lambasted the Indiana law, while various politicians and moguls have indicated that they (and the mammon they control) will “boycott” the state for having the temerity to pass a law that mirrors federal legislation and the laws of at least 17 other states.

Nevermind that Apple continues to do business with countries that will execute outed gay people (Nigeria, Uganda, Qatar, Saudi Arabia). No mention of those nations on Mr. Cook’s Twitter feed. So there’s a strong dose of political theater as an admixture to this whole thing, and it’s creating noxious odors.

Lest you think my position can be reduced to talking points, and before you object to my characterization that the Indiana law “mirrors” the federal and other states’ legislation, let me clarify that the big distinction claimed by opponents of the Indiana law is that the Indiana law provides a defense (not an automatic protection from prosecution) to instances where the government is not a party in the claimed violation of religious liberty.

That means that where, for example, the state is not involved in forcing a Christian florist to make floral arrangements for a gay wedding, the Indiana law would provide the business-owner with a defense against private civil liability for any “discrimination” claims brought by the aggrieved “victim”.

However, this argument entirely ignores the fact that the federal law does the very same thing as the Indiana law (provide a defense against private actions) in a number of federal appellate circuits where the issue has been decided by the federal appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to address the split in the appellate circuits on this issue, but it is simply untrue to say that the Indiana law does something novel that is unlike legislation elsewhere.

The more primary issue is that religious liberty (and conscience protections) are no longer closely held rights considered sacred by a majority of American voters, even though religious liberty is enshrined as one of our fundamental constitutional protections. Religious liberty is simply no longer relevant in today’s society.

Far more important — and relevant — to the average American “voter” (now “consumer”) is whether every claimed “public accommodation” must cater to every conceivable type of deviancy. One must not be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed when one tries to check into the Hilton Garden Inn with a bevy of goats for an evening that even satyrs would envy.

Because being precluded from spending money where I wish is the most gross and egregious violation of commercial liberty, and we all know that in today’s Western culture, commercial liberty trumps every other form of liberty, including free speech and religious liberty.

The only barrier to entry for commercial libertines is whether one has money or not. Having money means you play by the All-Important Rule Above All Other Rules: you cannot tell anyone else what to do with their money. Because that’s de facto bigotry.

Have a same-sex partner and want to manufacture a baby in a test tube implanted in the womb of your partner’s mother? If you can write the check it’s not a problem. Suffering from one of the “socially-conscious” diseases and need life-saving experimental treatment derived from stem cells lines from aborted fetuses? As soon as the credit transaction comes back “approved” we are good to go. Writing a “travel” book about the best places in southeast Asia to obtain the “services” of prostitutes (including underage victims of human trafficking)? Sure, here’s a list of interested publishers.

The poor, who lack money for things like “smart watches”, aren’t really people at all. If they were, they’d have commercial liberty. Since they don’t, they aren’t. So we can ignore them and continue as before.

After all, who I love is no one’s business, whereas who I engage in commerce with is everyone’s business, even if it offends the rational sensibility of social conscience held for the last 5,000 years, forces others to sanction the unsanctionable, or leads to offending the decency of the social order.

Anyone who disagrees will be destroyedi.e., separated from their moneyremoved from their property, position, and possessions, and sentenced to poverty, thus becoming non-human and entirely forgotten, where they can rot with the rest of the bigots while the Great Progression marches onward.

Altar Stones Redux: Chinese Edition

From a friend:

2014-09-28 09.19.56-2Reading about altar stones, relics, and patient priests made me think to send you a couple more pictures from China.

I was let into a little locked up room with all sorts of Catholic treasures inculding an old altar stone (relic removed), several old prayer books (from the 1500-1600s!) and crucifixes that were buried (in order to not be destroyed) during the Cultural Revolution.

2014-09-28 09.20.30There was so many little treasures tucked away in this one little hidden away room. It was very cool.

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I like the “Imperial Yellow” fabric!

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And you can be thankful that you don’t have to type using this Chinese typewriter also found in that fantastic little room. The boxes to the right of the typewriter are filled with tiny little characters that one has to dig through to find the correct mirror image of the needed character and then place it in the appropriate slot on the base of the typewriter and then punch away. [Which brings to mind my post today regarding the technological advances of this Information Age!]

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While the West is arguably entering a post-Christian era, the faith is sweeping through China and the rest of Asia, soon to become an unstoppable force that will forever alter the landscape there. (Pun intended). What will China and rest of Asia look like once Christianity is freely permitted, and it flourishes without restraint there? The seeds have been planted (some as early at Seventh Century A.D.!). There are already countless churches, Christian communities, and “boots on the ground” for the New Evangelization. Pray for the Church in China! Our Lady of Sheshan, pray for us!

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A monument detailing some of the history of Nestorian Christianity in China, a branch which (according to the inscription) arrived in China in 635 A.D.

Inside a Chinese Catholic Church; note the large computer screen that partially obscures the crucifix in the sanctuary, and note the interesting various depictions of the overhead

Inside a Chinese Catholic Church; note the large computer screen that partially obscures the crucifix in the sanctuary, and note the interesting various depictions of the overhead

City officials to Christian Pastors: Perform Same-Sex “Wedding” Ceremonies, or Go to Jail

In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: a married couple of 47 years, both Christian ministers who since 1989 have operated the 95-year-old “Hitching Post Wedding Chapel”, are told by city officials “that their refusal to perform a same-sex ceremony at their chapel violates the city’s anti-discrimination policy. For each day they refuse to perform the ceremony, they face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

Because pro-SSM isn’t about tolerance or promoting equality; it’s about crushing dissent.