My first experience with Sir Thomas was as a kid, rummaging through the book shelves on either side of the fireplace warming any reader during the long and cold Minnesota Winters. I ran across this small volume of Daniel Sargent with its wonderful quotation of Cardinal Pole in 1535, immediately after the decapitation of Thomas. That’s my dad’s signature when he was studying philosophy and law at Saint Thomas (Aquinas) in the Twin Cities, also thinking about being a seminarian. And then I found this gem by Robert Bolt.
That was good, and then, wow, I saw, if once, then a thousand times, the film A Man for All Seasons. I know many priests who could spend an evening cooking a good meal while reciting the script of the film verbatim without missing a beat. Alfred Hitchcock had some great, tightly scripted films, but there is nothing like the tight script of this film, that is, because if plays off the scenes, the previous scenes, the following scenes, utterly brilliant. I guess I’m projecting a bit here, but I’m guessing that everyone knows the entire script of the film off by heart. No? For part of that, see: Being a hero by not being a hero.
Meanwhile, throughout my life as a deacon and then priest, Sir Thomas has very often come back to mind and heart and soul in damned if I do, damned if I don’t circumstances. I’ve asked his intercession quite continuously throughout the decades. I’ve learned in God’s grace simply not to compromise. I don’t congratulate myself for this, and Thomas would not glory in his non-compromise. It’s not about that. That’s idiocy. I’ve learned that if you don’t compromise, the Lord will take care of you one way or another. It’s about what our Lord wants. Love, given by the Lord, makes it reasonable. See, again: Being a hero by not being a hero.
When I got the chance in London, I went on a tour of the Tower of London and the various associated sites around the tower. The military operator guy who was our guide condemned Thomas for not compromising. Sigh.
Anyway, there are those who condemn Robert Bolt for writing a “based on a true story” script, saying that because of that talent in bringing an historical character to life for us, all is false and untrue, boldly stating that Thomas could not speak those words. But that is absurd. How can you say something never happened unless you were there yourself? Ah, I forgot: