“Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time. He may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English history. For he was above all things historic; he represented at once a type, a turning point and an ultimate destiny. If there had not happened to be that particular man at the particular moment, the whole of history would have been different.”
— G. K. Chesterton, 1929
Catholics celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More, the great English statesman and martyr, on June 22. But the actual date of his execution was 480 years ago today, July 6, in 1535. Henry VIII had him beheaded two weeks after the judicial murder of his friend and bishop of Rochester, St. John Fisher. Both men died for refusing to accept the king’s debasement of marriage in divorcing his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and adulterously “marrying” Anne Boleyn — who later followed them both to the execution block.
The difference in their deaths, of course, is telling. More and Fisher died for principle and kept their integrity. Boleyn was simply disposed of.
It’s easy to sentimentalize More’s life. Robert Bolt’s great play, A Man for All Seasons — later a wonderful film — captures much of the saint’s humanity, intellect and warmth. But he was also a tough public official in a bitterly conflicted time alien to the modern temperament. More did not die, as Bolt suggests, for the sovereignty of personal conscience. That idea would have been foreign to him.
Rather, More died for the sovereignty of Christian truth as taught by the Catholic Church, which he saw as accessible to all persons and obligating all consciences. In that, he very much remains a saint for our times.
Others have already done a good job of deconstructing the Supreme Court’s June 26 Obergefell v. Hodges decision forcing “gay marriage” onto the nation. Legally incoherent and impressive in its abuse of judicial power, it will have huge implications for the way Americans live their lives.
Anyone who wonders what “marriage equality” really means need only watch the fallout in our laws, courts and public policies over the next decade. Persons innocent enough to imagine that the Church might be allowed to continue her social mission without growing government interference will have an unhappy encounter with reality.
Christians have a privileged calling to respect the God-given dignity of all persons, including those with same-sex attraction. That’s fundamental to Christian love and justice. We are accountable to God for the way we treat others.
But Christians also have a duty to think clearly, and to live, teach and work for the truth about the nature of human sexuality, the purpose of marriage and the integrity of the family. No court ruling can change that. And the last thing we need from religious — including Catholic — leaders in the face of this profoundly flawed Supreme Court decision is weakness or ambiguity.
Half a century ago, during the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII – now St. John XXIII — wrote a powerful text on the nature of peace. In his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), he stressed that “peace on earth — which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after — can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order” (PT, 1; emphasis added).
We need to consider his words carefully. No political power can change the nature of marriage or rework the meaning of family. No lobbying campaign, no president, no lawmakers and no judges can redraw the blueprint laid down by God for the well-being of the children he loves. If men and women want peace, there’s only one way to have it — by seeking and living the truth. And the truth, as Pope John told us more than five decades ago, is this:
“The family, founded upon marriage freely contracted, one and indissoluble, must be regarded as the natural, primary cell of human society. The interests of the family, therefore, must be taken very specially into consideration in social and economic affairs, as well as in the spheres of faith and morals. For all of these have to do with strengthening the family and assisting it in the fulfillment of its mission” (PT, 16).
We cannot care for the family by trying to redefine its meaning. We cannot provide for the family by undercutting the privileged place in our culture of a woman and a man made one flesh in marriage. Nations that ignore these truths — no matter what their intentions — are laying the cornerstone of war and suffering. And this is not what God seeks for anyone.
It’s a good day, this July 6, to remember Thomas More and his witness. In the years ahead, may God give us a portion of his integrity, courage and perseverance. We’ll need it.
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Thank you for reminding us that we cannot take this decision on same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court lying down. Defending traditional marriage will take sacrifice–more than we can probably imagine right now.
Several years ago I wrote to Cardinal Rigali about the contents of a 2007 (?) Report on the budget dioceses spent on Natural Family Planning. Those that replied, I believe there were 45 dioceses, reported an average between $5,000 and $10,000. I found this unacceptable given the incidence of so many Catholic couples using contraception.
This is one of the important issues in renewing traditional marriage.
My point is that we spend vast amounts of money on many worthwhile projects. Given this Supreme Court decision, I believe that such a low budget is simply inadequate. Renewal of marriage and the defense of traditional marriage needs to be placed at the top of the budget list. I believe that will confirm that we are truly ready for action.
I am extremely grateful for your taking on the many problems of the archdiocese. Plus the wonderful problem (!) of hosting Pope Francis. You have said that you are looking forward to a “normal” year after the visit of the Pope doing what bishops usually do. With this Supreme Court Decision, I’m not sure you are going to get your wish. Your leadership in our archdiocese has been a breath of fresh air. You faced squarely the realities that beset our archdiocese I have every confidence, judging from the spirit of your letter, that this same brand of leadership will be employed in this “war.” It will not be an easy battle nor will it be quickly won,but I am thankful that it is you at the head of our diocese at this time. My prayers are with you. I pray that your spirit infect my spirit and enable me to enlist in this historic battle. Rev. James Hutchins
A few comments. First, Henry VIII of England actually had solid grounds for getting an annulment. Catherine of Aragon had first been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur, who died a few months after the wedding. King Henry VII, Arthur and Henry’s father, did not want to have to pay back the Catherine’s dowry (which would have had to come out of his own pocket) so he decided to marry his second son, Henry to Catherine.
There was a problem: Under Church marriage law, one cannot marry a deceased spouse’s sibling. However, this could be gotten round with a dispensation. So King Henry went to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Warham, to get a dispensation. Warham was then in a political fight with the King and refused to grant the dispensation; but Henry twisted his arm, and Warham gave in. Henry then applied to the Vatican for their approval — Pope Julius II rubber stamped the dispensation and the fullness of time Henry and Catherine were married.
Some twenty-plus years later, Henry wanted out of the marriage, so he petitioned for an annulment on the grounds that since his father had pressured Warham into granting the dispensation, it was improperly granted. He expected to get the annulment; after all, his sister Margaret had been granted an annulment on considerably flimsier grounds a few years previously. However, Catherine, who did not want her daughter Mary (Henry’s only legitimate living child) to lose her place as Henry’s heir, objected. She counter-attacked on two fronts: She claimed that she and Arthur had never consummated their marriage, so her marriage to him didn’t count. This claim should have gone nowhere. Church marriage law makes the presumption that a married couple will have intercourse unless it can be proven otherwise, and burden of proof would have been on Catherine The operative word there is “proof”. I’m sure that 16th century divorce lawyers and judges knew just as well as their 21st century counterparts that parties in a divorce probably lie. Catherine’s unsupported word should not have sufficed, and her claim should have been thrown out.
However, she also had a purely political attack through her nephew Charles, who was Holy Roman Emperor, as well as king of Spain and king of Naples. Charles, who disliked Henry, was happy to oblige his aunt. Pope Clement VII did not want to anger Charles, given that a few years before, the Papal States and Naples held a war which the Pope lost, and lost big time.
Pope Clement did not want a rerun of that war, so he took Catherine’s claim of non-consummation seriously. There were papal delegates, special commissions of enquiry and so on. Basically, Clement was stalling.
Finally, when Henry discovered that Anne Boleyn was pregnant, he forced Clement’s hand. He pushed through some laws in Parliament, one saying that marriage questions could be settled locally, another saying that all English clergy owed their first allegiance to the crown and a third saying that the Peter’s Pence collection and the Annates (essentially a tax on Church properties that also went to the Vatican) should go to the Exchequer instead of to Rome. Clement was Not Amused, and decreed against Henry’s annulment. Thus, Clement was motivated by politics and money, not a desire to uphold marriage.
I also want to address the subject of same-sex civil marriage briefly. The Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony. Doesn’t the Archbishop recognize this obvious fact?
You are the best thing that has happened to our diocese. Keep it up. I pray for you and our Pope every day Love & prayers Paul
Thank you, Archbishop Chaput, for this column. I especially liked the last paragraph. Will you be showing this column to Pope Francis in September? I hope you do. I have not heard the and Pope say much, if anything, on the subject, whether it be be by judicial fiat here in the U.s. or Catholics actually voting in favor of it like they did in Ireland.
Your Eminence, thank you for your wise words. It would be great if the members of the SCOTUS would read and give serious thought to its meaning.
In my opinion, there is to much confusion in the minds of SCOTUS members. This might be clouding up their thought processes to the point that the use common sense is lost.
I am grateful to Archbishop Chaput for his public witness to the truth and importance of marriage and family in his article Peace on Earth, 2015.
The sexual immorality of our society has reached a new low with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding that two people of the same sex can be married, a grave lie. Our president, many government officials and many of our citizens, Catholics as well, support this too. Society is required to support this as lawsuits are now pushing. Lustful portrayals of romantic intimacy in the media, specifically television shows and movies, have now further degenerated to those of the same sex.
Archbishop Chaput, please urge your priests, your fellow U.S. bishops, to witness to the truth of our moral goodness as men and women. While supporting religious freedom is important, it is not enough. PLEASE preach and teach chastity, self-less marital love, natural family planning, Humanae Vitae, Theology of the Body. The pulpit at Mass is a key venue for this. It is the only time many Catholics have an opportunity to listen to the Church. In my many decades of attending Mass, I HAVE NEVER HEARD A SERMON ABOUT MARITAL CHASTITY, AGAINST CONTRACEPTION. While the audience needs consideration especially when children are present, the message needs to be clear, unambiguous. Many are succumbing to the lies.
Also, these beautiful moral truths need to be shared with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
I have been shell-shocked by the Supreme Court decision and our culture’s going along with it. I have asked God for guidance as to how to help our country value marriage and family again. What can I/we do? Prayer and penance are key, but is there a way we can witness as a faith community to help others regain their moral compass? Will the message of chastity be clearly said and heard at the World Meeting of Families, most especially by our dearest Pope Francis?
As our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jn 8:31b-32
Our freedom in the United States of America is based upon strong morals. Will we choose the freedom of virtue or the slavery of evil? May we all embrace Truth Incarnate.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place out trust in Thee.
My thanks to Archbishop Chaput for another crisp, insightful and powerful message that gives hope to we who are in the ‘church militant’ and will need to work out the victory of Christ in our very challenging lifetimes. The Lord has given us an extraordinary shepherd in Archbishop Chaput and I hope, with him, that all Catholics will rally around the truth of what marriage is, no matter how human beings or human institutions try to pervert that truth.
Nice to have St. John XXIII quote highlighted. My question for Abp. Chaput: Will you and your fellow bishops ever take action to strengthen marriage? St. John Paul understood this need at the 1980 (1st) Synod on the Family, and presribed action in Familiaris consortio, nos. 65-70. I worked nearly 30 years to implement his vision. But from what I can tell, church leaders have largely ignored his directive. Here we are, 35 years later, having a second Synod on the Family. It is my deepest hope that Pope Francis will direct our chief pastors to take action, and John Paul’s schema, laid out in the USCCB Family Perspective strategy, would be a good place to start. Looks at where couples and parents intersect with the sacramental life of the church, and urges changing what currently happens at those moments (marriage, birth, first reconciliation and Eucharist, and confirmation). This covers about 20 years of a couple’s life cycle, and is faithful to FC nos 65-70. If all we do is continue to repeat what we teach in pronouncements and blogs, but do nothing to help couples appropriate it into their lives, the Synod will have sinfully wasted the faithful’s tithes. For the father of lies continues to daily “evangelize” our families on various screens in hours that far exceed the time they spend in faith formation activity (at home or parish). If we’re so concerned about remarried Catholics wanting to go to communion, let’s reduce the number of divorced Catholics.
TY for an excellent piece. This sums up so well what SCOTUS decision means: “Legally incoherent and impressive in its abuse of judicial power, it will have huge implications for the way Americans live their lives.” How far this falls outside of the “divinely established order” is blindingly clear. That so many Catholics and other Christians can not see this is discouraging.