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Professor Benjamin Wiker’s new book, Saints versus Scoundrels, introduces readers to some of the “greatest questions” in life and philosophy by imagining what two historical figures might say to each other if they happened to meet up in the professor’s study.
Wiker pairs up two such figures—a saint and a scoundrel—in St. Thomas More and King Henry VIII. Wiker concludes their dialogue with these reflections:
W - E - History - Kind - Force
[W]e are inclined to talk of history as if it were some kind of magic force that has a life of its own and that men of such stature as Henry VIII were merely abstractions who act out a predetermined role. But when you come face-to-face with the actual man, you realize that history doesn’t have a life of its own apart from the lives of men and women. History is what happens when particular human beings freely choose to do one thing or another, the right or wrong thing, the brave or cowardly thing. …. I fear that our own democracy is becoming a different kind of tyranny, one that bids us to remain comfortable amidst growing chaos and moral disorder. In return for our acquiescence we are implicitly promised, as Henry promised Thomas, featherbeds rather than crosses. … What form would a saint like Thomas More take in our day?
Yes, what would a modern day St. Thomas More look like? To answer that question, we need to ask what’s the same about his times and ours, as well as how do they differ.
Conscience - Conviction - Perspective - History - Man
More stood up against his king out of conscience and conviction. From the perspective of history, we think of him as “a man for all seasons.” Maybe the passage of history gives us that perspective. We know how the story turned out.
But in his day, More was probably as much a “sign of...
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