A Man for All Seasons? Wait, that’s an OLD movie. It’s about some white male in the 1500s who refused to accept the king as head of the church of England or something. Why not discuss The Dark Knight Rises, our gun laws, the election, this latest outrage, etc?
Besides being one of the greatest movies about faith and individual conscience, A Man For All Seasons is brilliantly written, wonderfully acted, and it won 6 Oscars including Best Picture, 1967.
It is also one of the most prescient movies of our time.
And it’s a personal favorite. My family lived in Tokyo for 3 years (1981-84), at a time when VHS was new, and movies in English, scarce. We recorded all we could find, and A Man For All Seasons was among them.
I wore that VHS down. What struck me was that a humble, intelligent man couldn’t be left to his own silence, even when his opinion didn’t change anything. No, he had to be hounded, shoved out of office, his family pressed into poverty and finally he’s thrown in prison and killed for not going along or towing the popular line.
Starting to sound relevant?
Our current debates are currently child’s play by comparison but the parallels are uncanny. Consider your own Facebook page, as “friends” demand that you support their reality-defying initiative or be branded a clueless, heartless, selfish, ignorant imbecile. Or a bigot.
Why shouldn’t we squash the opposition?
To this state of our discourse, the movie says, “I shall put you a higher case”
Yes, the reason we have RULE OF LAW is to protect ourselves. Because once you twist and subvert the law, reason and civil order to get your whims, the Devil turns, doesn’t he?
But do we have to be civil?
I frequently remark about the Big Government advocates scraping their “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” bumper stickers off their cars once we got rid of Bush. How will the tune change again when we are rid of Obama?
This is why the movie is NOT called “The Curious Case of a Religious Zealot Who Stood in the Way of Progress” but A Man for All Seasons.
Thomas More knew the value of a “civil tongue,” and upbraided his son-in-law Roper for being too easy with his blatherings, without regard for consequence. He also knew that his stature lay in his good name so he refused the bribes that Richard Rich willingly accepted.
Though not in the movie, Thomas More also wrote the book that coined the phrase, Utopia, the “perfect society” which literally means, “No place.”
But the remarkable case of State vs. Sir Thomas More grows even deeper as it hits its climax. More is hounded for his civil tongue and thrown into prison for not going along. The court must try him for treason, and because he spoke none, Rich, the man More refused to appoint because he was easily bought, now comes before the court and perjures himself to condemn More:
But then I said, “l will put you a middle case. Parliament has made our King head of the Church. Why will you not accept him?… And then he said, “Parliament had not the power to do it…. “Parliament had not the competence.” Or words to that effect.
In other words, Rich accused More (rightly, I think) of believing that government lacks the “competence” – the wisdom, foresight and authority – to define and dictate reality for the rest of us.
The arrogance! I mean, what does he have against a few bureaucrats and social scientists to think they can’t orchestrate the lives of millions of otherwise free citizens?! Our modern age has proven otherwise, hasn’t it?
But after More’s condemned to death, he ends his “silence means consent” argument and let’s them have it:
Since the court has determined to condemn me… God knoweth how… I will now discharge my mind… concerning the indictment and the King’s title.
The indictment is grounded in an act of Parliament… which is directly repugnant to the law of God and His Holy Church, the supreme government of which no temperable person may, by any law, presume to take upon him.
This was granted… by the mouth of our Saviour, Christ Himself… to St. Peter and the bishops of Rome whilst He lived… and was personally present… here on earth.
It is, therefore, insufficient in law… to charge any Christian to obey it. And more than this… the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta… and in the King’s own coronation oath.
Now, we plainly see you are malicious!
Not so. I am the King’s true subject… and I pray for him and all the realm. I do none harm. I say none harm. I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive… then in good faith, I long not to live.
Nevertheless… it is not for the supremacy that you have sought my blood… but because I would not bend to the marriage!
The wisdom behind the eloquence
Many exciting things going on here. More declares:
- God’s authority SUPERSEDES government. That there are some decisions naturally outside the government’s purview to determine or define.
Funny, this is also DIRECTLY STATED in our own Declaration of Independence. But how many have forgotten that our Constitution is set out NOT to define individual rights but to CURB GOVERNMENT.
I know. I know. We’ve been educated about the church’s complicity in terrible events in history, which is why we have the “separation of church and state”. Interesting though, considering those two options, why would anyone still choose the state?
- NO CITIZEN is under obligation to obey a law that violates both God’s law and our social contract.
To which, Cromwell, speaking for the mob, calls him “malicious.” Today, he’d be a racist, or bigot or whatever.
Then More makes one more incontrovertible statement. Our test. Try and hold your righteous indignation against this peaceful man, who was unbending, despite the threats of “dockside bullies”, remained civil, NOT actively discriminating (“I do none harm”), nor slandering or spreading rumors (“I say none harm”) , nor holding prejudice (“I think none harm”) while still having the genius to discern that the accusing rabble was wrong.
And of course, the rabble took him out and executed him. Serves him right for having his OWN conscience.
Let he who has ears, hear.