Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The One Thomas More

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The One Thomas More

Article excerpt

Early Modern European The One Thomas More. By Travis Curtright. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2012. Pp. ix, 231. $64.95. ISBN 978-0-8132-1995-0.)

Travis Curtright does a fine job fusing St.Thomas More's "humanist credo" and "his later polemical theology" (p. 107). Eamon Duffy and Brendan Bradshaw, nesting in Curtright's bibliography, have been on that job, but The One Thomas More usefully supplements their luminous article-length efforts. For example, Curtright's "close reading" of More's 1518 letter to Oxford has it propose a "harmony of faith and liberal learning," soldering the former to the latter in ways that Alistair Fox famously overlooked (105-11). Fox subscribed to the "two Mores" thesis, which exaggerated the distance between the Lord Chancellor who terrorized heretics and the younger, kinder, gentler More who was at home with humanists. The latter pointed out the insufficiency of envious, arrogant, ignorant Oxford scholars' pieties; the former railed against self-sufficiency (against reformers who thought they could tease meaning from sacred texts without consulting a tradition of interpretation otherwise honored always and everywhere in Christendom) as well as against the early Protestants' impiety. Bradshaw brilliantly sabotaged Fox's distinctions in the 1980s. Curtright cinches the case.

As Curtright acknowledges, however, popular perception is now shaped by two images of More's obstinacy. Robert Bolt's often restaged and replayed A Man for All Seasons has heroic More stubbornly-conscientiously-defend his right to withhold consent when official policy runs counter to his faith. Hilary Mantel's acclaimed novel, Wolf Hall, portrays More as unfeeling and fanatical. Bolt conjures up his one Thomas More, and Mantel introduces her one Thomas More. Neither gets close to the right one-"the real Thomas More," Curtright claims, preferring the persistently prudent Christian humanist whose formidable resolve to defend a life of virtue and the Roman Catholic Church made him appear ruthless to contemporaries and to some historians. …

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