The Catholic Thing
Statesmen and Women Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Wednesday, 07 October 2009

When he wanted to send a message to politicians worldwide, John Paul II declared Saint Thomas More the Patron of Statesmen and Politicians (October 31, 2000). He listed various reasons for making this choice. Fundamentally he spoke of “the need felt by the world of politics and public administration for credible role models able to indicate the path of truth at a time in history when difficult challenges and crucial responsibilities are increasing.” His key phrase refers to men and women who can “indicate the path of truth.”

The pope went on to say that: “What enlightened [Thomas More’s] conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.” In Church teaching there is a profound sense of truth that even embraces politicians and statesmen — like it or not — and which is both grounded in God and orders the moral behavior of men and women, both the public servants themselves and the people whom they represent. This is to say that faith in God is eminently necessary. In Thomas Aquinas’ words: “the gift of wisdom presupposes faith, because ‘a man judges well what he knows’ (Ethic. i, 3).” (ST II II question 45) This comes from the Summa’s section on human actions.

Both Aquinas and John Paul II do not speak of knowledge in the narrow sense, where someone knows a few isolated facts about something or who forms an opinion and confuses that with a fact. Aquinas and the pope speak instead of the special all encompassing gift of wisdom. The Book of Wisdom explains that wisdom “reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.” (Wisdom 7:1) There is that governing again! Statesmen and politicians merely participate in governance guided by that order. Notice that wisdom takes in the whole complex of reality. She sees the part and its relation to the whole. So when the Second Vatican Council reflected on politics, the Council Fathers brought out the concept of the whole by teaching that: “the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.” (Gaudium et spes, 78)

In his motu proprio on Thomas More, John Paul explained that “whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good.” But of course they can choose the opposite course. The council itself said that: “Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.” (Gaudium et spes, 16)

So with John Paul we can understand that “government is above all an exercise of virtue.” It is being spiritually “clear” enough to learn God’s order. Then “laymen should . . . know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city.” (Gaudium et spes, 43) Statesmen and women are uniquely placed and so have unique demands placed up on them by their role in government.

Further in the discussion of Marriage, the council taught that the spouses “must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel.” (Gaudium et spes, 50) But here there is also the more fundamental point that the Church does in fact authentically interpret the divine law.

Thomas More’s fidelity to the Church’s teaching of the divine law produced some wonderful effects that John Paul listed in his letter: “Throughout his life he was an affectionate and faithful husband and father, deeply involved in his children’s religious, moral and intellectual education. His house offered a welcome to his children’s spouses and his grandchildren, and was always open to his many young friends in search of the truth or of their own calling in life.” More had a good and wholesome effect on those who surrounded him family and non-family alike. Moreover: “Family life also gave him ample opportunity for prayer in common and lectio divina, as well as for happy and wholesome relaxation.” He lived an ordered life.

Interestingly he also did a lot of penance: “Thomas attended daily Mass in the parish church, but the austere penances which he practiced were known only to his immediate family.” This mode of life and his frequent contacts with the Franciscans at Greenwich and the Charterhouse in London meant that as a knight, a member of parliament, Speaker of the House and finally Chancellor of England, he continued to lead an ordered life and became a saint. Could there be another goal for a Catholic politician?

Bevil Bramwell, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

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Comments (6)Add Comment
stesmen and women?
written by dr pence, October 08, 2009
Statesmenship is a deep relationship of shared duties that men enter into with other men. It is very different anthropologically and historically from the bonds we form with women. St Thomas More and all of Catholic tradition till the last forty years has understood this. The title of this article shows a deep confusion that Catholics should clear up not add to.
Eternal Choices
written by Willie, October 08, 2009
Thomas More who died the king's faithful servant, but God's first presents a contrast to Thomas Cromwell who later became chancellor but died the king's servant first and lost his head because of the king's displeasure. Surely if there be an eternity, they cannot both share the same level of happiness. One has to wonder if today's Catholic politicians who seek moral vindication under the decorous mantra of separation of church and state, ever give thought to the eternal consequences.
written by Joseph, October 08, 2009
We ought to obey God and not man, and render unto Caesar that which is his, and render unto God that which is His, presenting the dilemma for the Catholic politician who often finds his or herself bowing to the secular over the Divine for the sake of temporal expediency.

In his last days, Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote desperately to the Pope for a final blessing, which was granted despite the Senator's support of abortion. Perhaps only God can square these extreme differences and grant mercy
Wasted Ambassadorship
written by Steven Barrett, October 09, 2009
Too bad our new Amb. to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz doesn't share the same vision as St. Thomas More. It's also too bad this heel-clicker to his leader, Barack H. Obama, the president most hostile to Catholicism in my memory, decided to put his boss' interests above his Lord's. More than merely, too bad. It's too tragic. What a waste of so much "education" this man's been overly fortunate to have received. (A fellow alum of St. Thomas Univ., Miami, FL)
sep of church/state
written by suzanne, October 09, 2009
As a homeschooling mom for the last 12 years we have studied alot of history. Politicians either do not understand the meaning behind "Seperation of Church and State" or else they do and just throw it around abusing it in order to justify their own agendas. I vote the latter. Seperation of Church and state simply meant that there was no state church. Not that God was to be banished from politics. It was mostly to stop the Puritans from forcing people to pay taxes to the puritan (or other)church.
The world upside down
written by Fabio P.Barbieri, July 25, 2010
I wonder whether it was in response to the late John Paul's proclamation that the well-known English novelist Hilary Mantel took it on herself to write a literally criminal novel which reverses history, making a villain of the great Saint Thomas and a hero out of the monstrous Thomas Cromwell? Certainly there is something internally and infernally consistent about the way that the English establishment has embraced this repulsive pack of lies, which no historian would have endorsed, and actually made it a part of its day-to-day talk. If you talk with an educated Englishman today, you are apt to hear revolting attacks on Saint Thomas made in perfect good faith, on Mantel's authority. This sort of thing makes one believe in the Devil.

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