Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thomas More receives a visit from his daughter

Meg! Meg! My darling, beloved daughter, has any father ever loved and admired his child as I love and admire you? My pride in you is boundless. I know that your love for me is every bit as great as mine for you, but can you not see that your words are foolish? I know that they are spoken from the depths of your heart and that all you are doing is to try to save me from the executioner’s axe, but even though I do not want to die, I cannot go against my conscience. It is in my conscience that I am at home with my Lord and, whatever the cost, I cannot deny my God.

I cannot say aloud that the determination of the King to marry Ann Boleyn is wrong because if, in court, you are asked if you ever head me criticise Henry, you can then, with your own clear conscience, say that I have never spoken any criticism of the King in your presence. I must carry my own condemnation of his intentions in the silence of my heart and let the law take its course.

You say that the law is an unjust law, but I cannot allow you to say even that. Without the law, where would we be? It is a protection and a freedom and, even if it cost me my life, I stay within the law. I have said none wrong. I have done none wrong, and if this is not enough to save me from the gallows, then so be it.

But, my darling Meg, you look so worried as you sit there speaking about a possible way out of this cold cell. I could sign the document allowing the King to marry his mistress, but deny my consent in my heart. That is dishonest. What would people say? That Thomas More had finally given way on the very subject that had led to his fall from office and that had led to this cell in the Tower of London? What example would that be? Even if others have signed, I cannot. Neither could Bishop John Fisher. It was just this morning that, as I looked from this tiny window, I saw him being led out on his journey towards Tyburn. I watched him leave through Traitor’s gate, and as the barge disappeared from view, I reflected that never was there a man who was less of a traitor than he. My heart is breaking that, in this country of England, such a saintly old man is put to death for following his conscience.

I, too, will die, but I am far from being a saint. I am afraid of death. I would choose any loophole if it would save me from the executioner’s block whilst not denying my conscience. It is an agony beyond anything that I can bear to see my beloved family reduced to poverty simply because I cannot find that loophole that would allow me to sign the document without denying my God. One man. One wife. That is the way God made us. He did not create us to drop one wife when convenient in order to take up another. That is why I cannot sign.

My dearest Meg, do you remember when you were a child and had committed some misdemeanour, that I would beat you with a feather? I could not bear to cause you hurt. I could not bear to see you denied an education merely because you were a girl. I know of no other woman who can speak and write Latin as fluently as you. You are a highly intelligent, wonderful daughter, so please use a bit of your cleverness now and see that what you are asking is impossible. It is causing me more pain because I must deny you when, God knows, I long to be back with the family.

Leave me, Meg. Go and marry Will Roper. I know that you have given your hearts to each other. He is a fine young man even if he still has some growing-up to do. He is still a bit hot-headed, but with your unwavering love and support, he will make you a good husband and will be a loving father to your children.

Leave me, Meg, even if it breaks my heart to see you go. I appreciate that your words are an attempt to save my life and I know that, deep down, you knew that this would be a vain attempt but one you would make in any case. Deny Him, Meg, I cannot, even though it leaves me faint and afraid.

Go, my beloved daughter, live your life as I must lay down my own.

"Mistrust him, Meg, will I not, though I feel me faint, yea, and though I should feel my fear even at point to overthrow me too, yet shall I remember how Saint Peter, with a blast of wind, began to sink for his faint faith, and shall do as he did, call upon Christ and pray him to help. And then I trust he shall set his holy hand unto me, and in the stormy seas, hold me up from drowning. Yea and if he suffer me to play Saint Peter further, and to fall full to the ground, and swear and forswear too (which our Lord for his tender passion keep me from, and let me lose if it so fall and never win thereby): yet after shall I trust that his goodness will cast upon me his tender piteous eye, as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh, and abide the shame and the harm here of mine own fault.

"And finally, Margaret, this I know 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 suffer me for my faults to perish, yet shall I then serve for a praise of 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 mine own good daughter, never trouble thy mind for anything that ever shall hap me in this world. Nothing can come but that that God will. And I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best.”

God bless,
Sr. Janet

PS The last two paragraphs are taken from St. Thomas More's final letter to Meg