At the recommendation of a friend, I have recently been watching The Tudors. It is a fascinating series that tells the story of the history surrounding King Henry VIII. I was particularly interested in how the Church of the time would be portrayed, especially in the case of two men later canonized by the Church, St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. For a series produced by Showtime, I have been pleasantly surprised by how the Church is portrayed. The producers put on display both the heroic virtue present in the Church at the time, as well as the human failures.
Before watching this series I was unaware that St. Thomas More, as Chancellor of England, condoned the burning of heretics. And although these were much fewer during his time of holding the office, it is somewhat disturbing. It is always a luxury to view events in history from a distance, but burning another human being for the sake of their beliefs is hard to see as being a good decision in any circumstance.
As I have reflected upon this, I have come to the conclusion that the same zeal that led St. Thomas More to be willing to give his life rather than betray God, is the zeal that led him to feel rooting out heresy called for extreme solutions. All of us have God given gifts that can be lead to great holiness or great sinfulness depending upon how they are used. I know there are many who would question the Church’s decision in canonizing someone whose history bears flaws, but I do not. Every saint is simply a sinner who has been redeemed. The courage and zeal of St. Thomas More is something to be emulated, especially when we are called upon to do what is right in the face of persecution.
As American Catholics who are undergoing difficult times due to both the sinfulness within our Church as well as persecution from without, we need to be ever mindful of who we are called to be so as to use the gifts God has given us for good, as well as to repent of our sins when we fail to do so.