The Genius of Sir Thomas More

thomas-moreSir Thomas More (1478-1535)

An argument could be made that the world ended when Henry VIII had Thomas More executed.  Or, perhaps, in less drastic terms, the “modern world” began on July 6, 1535.  What was left of the world of Christendom faded away at that moment.  This argument actually seems more plausible than the claim that some historians have made that the modern world began with Luther and Calvin.  In almost every way, Luther and Calvin–with More, John Fisher, and Erasmus–looked first and foremost to the past for guidance and inspiration.  Luther was a devout Augustinian, and Calvin’s first love was the Stoicism of Seneca.

A few glimpses into More’s personal correspondence reveal much about his innocence and hope.

“For His wisdom better sees what is good for us than we do ourselves.  Therefore, I pray you be of good cheer, and take all the household with you to church, and there thank God both for that He hath given us and for that He hath taken away from us, and for that He hath left us, which, if it please Him, He can increase when He will.  And if it please Him to leave us yet, as His pleasure be it.” (Thomas More to Mistress Alice, September 3, 1529, in Steve Smith, ed., For All Seasons, letter 51)

“The more I realize that this post involves the interests of Christendom, my dearest Erasmus, the more I hope it all turns out successfully.” (Thomas More to Erasmus, October 29, 1529, in Steve Smith, ed., For All Seasons, letter 53)

“Congratulations, then, my dear Erasmus, on your outstanding virtuous qualities; however, if on occasion some good person is unsettled and disturbed by some point, even without a sufficiently serious reason, still do not be chagrined at making accommodations for the pious dispositions of such men.  But as for those snapping, growling, malicious fellows, ignore them and, without faltering, quietly continue to devote your self to the promotion of intellectual things and the advancement of virtue.” (Thomas More to Erasmus, June 14, 1532, in Steve Smith, ed., For All Seasons, letter 54)

Read More

Paul Rahe’s De Tocqueville

rahe softFrom a response, “Republican Virtue, Democratic Spirit,” delivered on April 7, 2009, at Hillsdale College to Paul Rahe’s excellent work on Alexis De Tocqueville.

Thank you, Professor Schlueter for organizing this and for inviting me to speak.  Thank you, Miss Essley, for your kind introduction.

Professor Paul Rahe [professor of history and political science, Hillsdale College] is not a happy man.  Nor should he be.  From almost any perspective, the state of the world appears rather bleak.

Everywhere, we see an economy in tatters, a people uncertain, and a culture corrupted, perhaps beyond redemption.  Perhaps.  Stimulus packages, plans to add untold debt as a burden upon our children and grandchildren, and promises from the Federal Reserve to print money all should give us pause.

More immediate dangers exist.  Across the Pacific, a missile was launched this weekend from a regime we should have eradicated in the early 1950s.  We are now living with our previous errors in judgment.

Read More

bbirzer_dawson_lgTo put it simply (and perhaps a bit “simplistically”—but I prefer to think of it as putting it “with fervor”), Christopher Dawson was one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, certainly one of its greatest men of letters, and perhaps one of the most respected Catholic scholars in the English speaking world.  I’ve have had the opportunity and privilege to argue this elsewhere, including here at the majestic The Imaginative Conservative.  I would even go so far as to claim that Dawson was THE historian of the past 100 years.

Without going deeply into Dawson’s thought—or any aspect of it—in this post, it is worthwhile cataloguing how many of his contemporaries claimed him important and his scholarship and ideas for their own.  This means, consequently, that while most Americans—Catholic or otherwise—no longer remember Christopher Dawson, they do often remember affectionately those he profoundly (one might even state indelibly) influenced.  The list includes well known personalities such as T.S. Eliot, Thomas Merton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis.

Read More

An Important Note to Readers of Stormfields

Dear Stormfields readers,

First, thank you!

Second, for some reason beyond my control, WordPress erased almost 5,000 of you from my subscriber/followers list.  This happened to me about 2 weeks ago at this account and also at my music website, progarchy.

I have no idea why.

Just please know that if you were taken off the subscriber/follower list, it was NOT personal!

Third, if you’d like to sign up again, I’d be more than happy to have you!  Let’s hope it’s permanent this time.

Thank you for understanding,


Frank Miller’s first encounter with Batman:
“If your only memory of Batman is that of Adam West and Burt Ward exchanging camped-out quips while clobbering slumming guest stars Vincent Price and Cesar Romero, I hope this book will come as a surprise.

Read More

St. Augustine’s Two Cities: Then and Now

The City of God“Nature makes nothing in vain,” Aristotle, the great Pagan philosopher of ancient Athens, understood.  Aquinas concluded Aristotle’s argument fourteen centuries later with “only Grace perfects nature.”   Following St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament, St. Augustine, eight centuries before Aquinas and seven centuries after Aristotle, wrote: “All natures, then, inasmuch as they are, and have therefore a rank and species of their own, and a kind of internal harmony, are certainly good.  And when they are in the places assigned to them by the order of their nature, they preserve such being as they have received.”[1]  Nothing could sum up the argument of the Christian Humanists better than the arguments of these three men, one pagan and two Christians: Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Aquinas.  Everything has its place, its role, its purpose, singular to it, known and understood only fully by the Divine Author, who placed each person and thing in His story, what a monk at the Anglo-Saxon monastery at Lindesfarne called “God’s Spell,” or the Gospel, in 950.  The story in which we as human persons participate began with Creation, reached its middle and highest point with the Incarnation, the Death, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and will end with the Apocalypse.  The end will come when it comes.  Even Jesus claimed not to know His Father’s mind and desires on the subject.  Each of us, then, as members of the story, has our role.  Some roles are greater, some are lesser, but each has an intrinsic importance.  We may neglect our role, we may pervert our gifts, or we may freely give up our free will, through Grace, and submit to God’s Will.  St. Augustine challenged his readers:

Choose now what you will pursue, that your praise may be not in yourself, but in the true God, in whom there is no error.  For of popular glory you have had your share; but by the secret providence of God, the true religion was not offered to your choice.  Awake, it is now day; as you have already awaked in the persons of some in whose perfect virtue and sufferings for the true faith we glory: for they, contending on all sides with hostile powers, and conquering them all by bravely dying, have purchased for us this country of ours with their blood; to which country we invite you, and exhort you to add yourselves to the number of citizens of this city.[2]

Read More

Man Will Never Dominate Nature

Saint_Augustine_PortraitIn this world, the possibility of exploitation will become most violent when men not only deny God but attempt to dominate nature.  C.S. Lewis explored the possibilities of men dominating nature during World War in both realistic and fictional media.  “The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself,” Lewis explained in The Abolition of Man.[1]  Ironically, because this means that the generation that discovers this will overturn all previous generations and shape all future generations, this revolutionary generation will be a tyrant and dehumanize all.  “They have stepped into the void,” Lewis argued.  “They are not men at all: they are artefacts.  Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”[2]  Lewis took the argument to its logical conclusion:

From the point of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole history of our Earth had led up to this moment.  There was now at least a real chance for fallen man to shake off that limitation of his powers which mercy had imposed upon him as a protection from the full results of his fall.  If this succeeded, Hell would be at last incarnate.  Bad men, while still in the body, still crawling on this little globe, would enter that state which, heretofore, they had entered only after death, would have the diuturnity and power of evil spirits.  Nature, all over the globe of Tellus, would become their slave; and of that dominion no end, before the end of time itself, could be certainly foreseen.[3]

Though written in fantastic terms, Lewis’s words from That Hideous Strength ring with truth, and Hell is the winner.  Dawson agreed: the machine will become “the blind instrument of a demonic will to power.”[4]  With such a victor, Romano Guardini warned, “unspeakable rape of the individual, of the group, even of the whole nation” will be the result, as the terror regimes of the twentieth-century have well demonstrated.[5]  Indeed, in modernity, Etienne Gilson realized, knowledge itself is synonymous with destruction.[6]

Read More

%d bloggers like this: