Listers, St. Thomas More is known as the “Man for All Seasons” – but he is also a man claimed by all ages. Exactly why Sir Thomas More became a saint is a question that seems to draw out competing philosophies. In the petition to have More declared a saint, the petitioners wrote, “He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience.” The modern St. Thomas More is often praised for his unconquerable conscience. This coloring of St. Thomas More is not a surprise given the aim of modernity. The grand project of modernity is to emancipate the human will from God, nature, history, and even reason. All that remains is the unbridled human will. The modern praise of More seems to have a modern hue. Consequently, he becomes a saint of autonomy – a man who had a “adamantine sense of self” that refused to break.
The unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church.
It is not that the modern notion is necessarily wrong in what is asserts, but rather its assertion is incomplete. What is missing from these considerations is the ancient notion of a well-formed conscience. The modern sentiments deemphasize whether or not More’s conscience was actually correct and focus primarily on him standing up for what he believes. The traditional praises of More focus on his well-formed conscience. In the modern notion it does not matter if More was Catholic or not. He could be a saint for any individual who stands up for what they believe. In modernity’s project of autonomy, staying true to one’s conscience is admirable, but the contents of one’s conscience are far less important. In contrast, the traditional More – and arguably the authentically Catholic one – begs students of his life to examine his conscience. Unpacking More’s well-formed conscience brings up topics of natural law, the virtues, political engagement, the Church’s role in civil life, and the Catholic Church as Christ’s only Church. Under the traditional view, the unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church. He had formed his conscience according to the Church, and when the world asked him to betray her, he knew exactly who he was in Christ Jesus. There is little doubt the authentically Catholic Thomas More makes the modern world uncomfortable; thus, there is a push – both inside and outside the Church – to refashion More as a modern hero of autonomy.
PETITION SENT TO JOHN PAUL II
FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF SAINT THOMAS MORE
AS PATRON OF STATESMEN
1. Christian Steadfastness
The Christian steadfastness which Thomas More demonstrated in martyrdom has made his name famous down through the centuries. In his own lifetime, he was already known throughout Europe for his scholarship and his innovative views, which led him, for example, to give his daughters the same education his son received – a revolutionary development in those times.1
2. Utopia – The Intellectual Puzzle
His work as a writer — especially his translations of the Greek satirist Lucian, his collection of original poems, and his great classic Utopia — lent his name incomparable prestige. Utopia continues to be Thomas More’s best-known work. Modeled on Plato’s Republic, this intellectual puzzle is one of the finest case studies ever devised for the political philosopher and the student of human nature. Like the Republic, Utopia is filled with internal contradictions that invite the attentive reader to think deeply about the perennial ethical values which give meaning to personal and social life.
3. Famous Last Words
His last words, “I die the King’s good servant and God’s first,” remain an inspiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of the common good.
4. Holiness as the Fullness of Humanity
It reflects, moreover, an admiration which transcends the specific contributions that Saint Thomas More made in the various fields in which he worked — as humanist, apologist, judge, legislator, diplomat and statesman — and focuses on the man himself: the idea that holiness is the fulness of humanity appears, in this case, quite tangibly true.
5. Model of Moral Integrity
Your Holiness’s predecessor in the Chair of Peter, Pope Pius XI, in the Bull of Canonization, presented Saint Thomas More as a model of proven moral integrity for all Christians and defined him as laicorum hominum decus et ornamentum.
6. Faith & Culture
In Saint Thomas More, there was no sign of that split between faith and culture, between timeless principles and daily life, which the Second Vatican Council laments as “among of the gravest errors of our time” (Gaudium et spes, n. 43).
7. Founder of Common Law
As a lawyer and judge, he established the interpretation and formulation of laws (he is rightly considered one of the founders of the study of the English common law) which safeguard true social justice and build peace between individuals and nations.
8. The Patron of the Poor
More eager to eliminate the causes of injustice than to repress it, he did not separate his passionate but prudent advocacy of the common good from the constant practice of charity: his fellow citizens called him the “patron of the poor.” An unconditional and benevolent dedication to justice with regard to the human person and liberty was the guiding rule of his conduct as a magistrate. While serving all men, Saint Thomas More knew well how to serve his king, that is the state, but wanted above all to serve God.
9. World’s Public Servants Call for a Patron
The timeliness of this convergence of political commitment and moral conviction, this harmony between the supernatural and the human, and this seamless unity of life have caused many public servants from various countries to join the Committee for the Proclamation of Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, as Patron of Politicians.
10. Politics – A Difficult Form of Service
Politics was not, for him, a matter of personal advantage, but rather an often difficult form of service, for which he had prepared himself not only through the study of the history, laws and culture of his own country, but also and especially through the examination of human nature, its grandeur and weaknesses, and of the ever-imperfect conditions of social life.
11. A Modern Martyr of Freedom
He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience: a perennial temptation — one to which the history of the 20th century bears tragic witness — of political regimes that do not recognize anything superior to themselves.
12. Martyr for Primacy of Conscience
A martyr for freedom, then, precisely because he was a martyr for the primacy of conscience which, firmly grounded in the search for the truth, renders us responsible for our decisions, that is to say, masters of ourselves and thus free from all bonds except that bond — proper to a creature — which binds us to God.
13. We Ask Sir Thomas More to Become a Saint
Therefore, certain that we act for the good of future society and trusting that our petition will find a benevolent welcome with Your Holiness, we ask that Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, faithful servant of the King, but God’s first, be proclaimed “Patron of Statesmen.”
ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO
PROCLAIMING SAINT THOMAS MORE
PATRON OF STATESMEN AND POLITICIANS
POPE JOHN PAUL II
FOR PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE
14. Imperishable Example of Moral Integrity
Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.2
15. Well Ordered House & Life
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. Family life also gave him ample opportunity for prayer in common and lectio divina, as well as for happy and wholesome relaxation. Thomas attended daily Mass in the parish church, but the austere penances which he practised were known only to his immediate family.
16. Appointed as Lord Chancellor
Highly esteemed by everyone for his unfailing moral integrity, sharpness of mind, his open and humorous character, and his extraordinary learning, in 1529 at a time of political and economic crisis in the country he was appointed by the King to the post of Lord Chancellor. The first layman to occupy this position, Thomas faced an extremely difficult period, as he sought to serve King and country.
17. Resigned & Reduced to Poverty
In 1532, not wishing to support Henry VIII’s intention to take control of the Church in England, he resigned. He withdrew from public life, resigning himself to suffering poverty with his family and being deserted by many people who, in the moment of trial, proved to be false friends.
18. The Trial
At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded.
19. Beatified in 1886
In 1850 the English Catholic Hierarchy was re-established. This made it possible to initiate the causes of many martyrs. Thomas More, together with 53 other martyrs, including Bishop John Fisher, was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. And with John Fisher, he was canonized by Pius XI in 1935, on the fourth centenary of his martyrdom.
20. Government as an Exercise in Virtue
His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue. Unwavering in this rigorous moral stance, this English statesman placed his own public activity at the service of the person, especially if that person was weak or poor; he dealt with social controversies with a superb sense of fairness; he was vigorously committed to favouring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young.
21. Politics & Morality
What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.
22. Rights of Conscience
And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience which is “the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul” (Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 58), even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time.
23. Freedom from the State
The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power. Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature.
24. St. Thomas More
Therefore, after due consideration and willingly acceding to the petitions addressed to me, I establish and declare Saint Thomas More the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, and I decree that he be ascribed all the liturgical honours and privileges which, according to law, belong to the Patrons of categories of people.
“Intelligent design isn’t science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.”
Listers, what does the Catholic Church actually teach about the Theory of Evolution? The following quotes are a sampling of how the Church has discussed and ruled on the divisive theory. They are presented in chronological order and most include a link to their primary source. If there are any notable quotes you think should be added, please feel free to submit them in the comment box.
1. Evolution is Accidental to Us, not to God
“As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvelous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr. Darwin’s theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill. Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that ‘the accidental evolution of organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design—It is accidental to us, not to God.”
“Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.”
– Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 4, #9 – 24 April 1870
3. Faith & Reason: Mutually Supportive
“Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.”
– Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 4, #10 – 24 April 1870
4. God may be Known Through Natural Reason
“The same Holy mother Church holds and teaches that God, the source and end of all things, can be known with certainty from the consideration of created things, by the natural power of human reason : ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”
– Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 2, #10 – 24 April 1870
5. Vatican I on Creation, Faith, & Reason
1. If anyone denies the one true God, creator and lord of things visible and invisible: let him be anathema.
2. If anyone is so bold as to assert that there exists nothing besides matter: let him be anathema.
3. If anyone says that the substance or essence of God and that of all things are one and the same: let him be anathema.
4. If anyone says that finite things, both corporal and spiritual, or at any rate, spiritual, emanated from the divine substance; or that the divine essence, by the manifestation and evolution of itself becomes all things or, finally, that God is a universal or indefinite being which by self determination establishes the totality of things distinct in genera, species and individuals: let him be anathema.
5. If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.
– Vatican I, On God the Creator of All Things, Canons, 1869-70
6. Cannot be Doubted by Any
“We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep.”
– Arcanum, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Christian Marriage – February 10, 1880
7. Materialism supported by Evolution
“Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution, which has not been fully proved even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all things, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution. Communists gladly subscribe to this opinion so that, when the souls of men have been deprived of every idea of a personal God, they may the more efficaciously defend and propagate their dialectical materialism.”
“Whatever new truth the sincere human mind is able to find, certainly cannot be opposed to truth already acquired, since God, the highest Truth, has created and guides the human intellect, not that it may daily oppose new truths to rightly established ones, but rather that, having eliminated errors which may have crept in, it may build truth upon truth in the same order and structure that exist in reality, the source of truth.”
“For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”
“When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”
“Therefore, whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things, which are more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth and simplicity which in the Sacred Books, also of the Old Testament, is so apparent that our ancient sacred writers must be admitted to be clearly superior to the ancient profane writers.”
“You know that some scientists affirm man’s dependence on the evolution of nature and place him in the changeable becoming of the various species. These affirmations, to the extent to which they are really proved, are very important, because they tell us that we must respect the natural world of which we are part. But if we go down into the depths of man, we see that he is more different from nature than he resembles it. Man possesses a spirit, intelligence, freedom, conscience therefore he resembles God more than the created world.”
159. Faith and science: “… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (Vatican II GS 36:1)
283. The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers….
284. The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin….
14. Scripture Focused on Who Man is, not How Man Came to Be
“We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the ‘project’ of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary—rather than mutually exclusive—realities.”
“In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation, provided that we do not lose sight of certain fixed points.”
“Pius XII added two methodological conditions for this study: one could not adopt this opinion as if it were a certain and demonstrable doctrine, and one could not totally set aside the teaching Revelation on the relevant questions… Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis.”
“The magisterium of the Church takes a direct interest in the question of evolution, because it touches on the conception of man, whom Revelation tells us is created in the image and likeness of God… The Council recalled that ‘man is the only creature on earth that God wanted for its own sake.’ In other words, the human person cannot be subordinated as a means to an end, or as an instrument of either the species or the society; he has a value of his own.”
“Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God (“animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides non retimere iubet”). (Humani Generis)”
“As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”
“According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5-4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.”
“While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution.”
“With respect to the evolution of conditions favorable to the emergence of life, Catholic tradition affirms that, as universal transcendent cause, God is the cause not only of existence but also the cause of causes. God’s action does not displace or supplant the activity of creaturely causes, but enables them to act according to their natures and, nonetheless, to bring about the ends he intends. In freely willing to create and conserve the universe, God wills to activate and to sustain in act all those secondary causes whose activity contributes to the unfolding of the natural order which he intends to produce. Through the activity of natural causes, God causes to arise those conditions required for the emergence and support of living organisms, and, furthermore, for their reproduction and differentiation. Although there is scientific debate about the degree of purposiveness or design operative and empirically observable in these developments, they have de facto favored the emergence and flourishing of life. Catholic theologians can see in such reasoning support for the affirmation entailed by faith in divine creation and divine providence. In the providential design of creation, the triune God intended not only to make a place for human beings in the universe but also, and ultimately, to make room for them in his own trinitarian life. Furthermore, operating as real, though secondary causes, human beings contribute to the reshaping and transformation of the universe.”
“Intelligent design isn’t science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science.”
– Fr. George Coyne, Vatican’s chief astronomer – 18 November 2005
24. Not a Mere Cog in Evolution
“But the big problem is that were God not to exist and were he not also the Creator of my life, life would actually be a mere cog in evolution, nothing more; it would have no meaning in itself. Instead, I must seek to give meaning to this component of being. Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.”
“It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person.”
– Pope Benedict XVI, Spes Salvi – 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007
26. The Rubicon of Anthropogenesis
“The clay became man at the moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought of ‘God’. The first Thou that—however stammeringly—was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which the spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed. For it is not the use of weapons or fire, not new methods of cruelty or of useful activity, that constitute man, but rather his ability to be immediately in relation to God. This holds fast to the doctrine of the special creation of man … herein … lies the reason why the moment of anthropogenesis cannot possibly be determined by paleontology: anthropogenesis is the rise of the spirit, which cannot be excavated with a shovel. The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it. But it does challenge the faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is: the being who is supposed to say Thou to God in eternity.
“Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).”
“To ‘evolve’ literally means ‘to unroll a scroll,’ that is, to read a book. The imagery of nature as a book has its roots in Christianity and has been held dear by many scientists. Galileo saw nature as a book whose author is God in the same way that Scripture has God as its author. It is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein. This image also helps us to understand that the world, far from originating out of chaos, resembles an ordered book; it is a cosmos.”
“The distinction between a simple living being and a spiritual being that is capax Dei, points to the existence of the intellective soul of a free transcendent subject. Thus the Magisterium of the Church has constantly affirmed that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not ‘produced’ by the parents – and also that it is immortal” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 366). This points to the distinctiveness of anthropology, and invites exploration of it by modern thought.”
“Many think that in light of the history of evolution, there is no longer room for the doctrine of a first sin that then would have permeated the whole of human history. And, as a result, the matter of Redemption and of the Redeemer would also lose its foundation. Therefore, does original sin exist or not? In order to respond, we must distinguish between two aspects of the doctrine on original sin. There exists an empirical aspect, that is, a reality that is concrete, visible, I would say tangible to all. And an aspect of mystery concerning the ontological foundation of this event. The empirical fact is that a contradiction exists in our being. On the one hand every person knows that he must do good and intimately wants to do it. Yet at the same time he also feels the other impulse to do the contrary, to follow the path of selfishness and violence, to do only what pleases him, while also knowing that in this way he is acting against the good, against God and against his neighbour. In his Letter to the Romans St Paul expressed this contradiction in our being in this way: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (7: 18-19). This inner contradiction of our being is not a theory. Each one of us experiences it every day. And above all we always see around us the prevalence of this second will. It is enough to think of the daily news of injustice, violence, falsehood and lust. We see it every day. It is a fact.”
Thinking of a quote we should have included? Submit it in the comment box and we’ll review it.
Theological Commission: “As the text developed, it was discussed at numerous meetings of the subcommission and several plenary sessions of the International Theological Commission held at Rome during the period 2000-2002. The present text was approved in forma specifica, by the written ballots of the International Theological Commission. It was then submitted to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the President of the Commission, who has give his permission for its publication.” [↩]
Poetry is an excellent tool of praise and acknowledgement of all that God has given us. Perhaps not as simple nor as easily entertaining as prose would be, poetry has an added facet that is not as evident in prose.
Listers, the Catholic Church has a vast reservoir of beautiful poetry that testifies to God’s love for Creation and us. Poetry is an excellent tool of praise and acknowledgement of all that God has given us. Perhaps not as simple nor as easily entertaining as prose would be, poetry has an added facet that is not as evident in prose.
The beautiful aspect of poetry that sets it apart from prose is the added rhythm creating another layer of description that goes beyond words. For example, in the poem “The Hound of Heaven” I can almost hear the pounding of footfalls against the pavement. It as if with each step a word from the poem is pounded out against the ground. This rhythm creates a sense of urgency that one would feel in a footrace against God. I would argue that if Francis Thompson’s vision of “The Hound of Heaven” was depicted in prose, it would not have given the readers as much of an emotional impact at the prospect of being pursued by God and finally succumbing to His liberating love.
I have selected six poems by Catholic poets and writers who speak and write about God’s gracious gift of his love for His people. My advice is to read them purposefully and aloud to get the full effect. There are far more poems that are probably greater than these, but I selected some of my favorites (“A Child My Choice” is my particular favorite). Some are just excerpts because some of the poems are very long. For those you want to read the poems in total, you can click on the titles which are linked to the a page with the completed poem. If you are interested in more poems by Catholic or at least “Christ-haunted” poets, I would recommend the book Flowers of Heaven compiled by Joseph Pearce.
Now on to the poems (be prepared to be pursued by love and captured by God’s glory):
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days:
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine way
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I him from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet–
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.” –Francis Thompson
2. “A Child My Choice”¹
Let folly praise what fancy loves, I praise and loves that Child
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand
no deed defiled.
I praise him most, I love him best, all praise and love is his,
While him I love, in him I live, and cannot live amiss.
Love’s sweetest mark, laud’s highest theme, man’s most desired light,
To love him life, to leave him death, to live in him delight.
He mine by gift, I his by debt, thus each to other due,
First friend he was, best friend he is, all times will try him true.
Though young, yet wise; though small, yet strong; though man,
yet God he is:
As wise he knows; as strong he can; as God he loves to bliss.
His knowledge rules; his strength defends; his love doth cherish all;
His birth our Joy; his life out light; his death our end of thrall.
Alas, he weeps, he sighs, he pants, yet do his Angels sing;
Out of his tears, his sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.
Almighty babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die. –St. Robert Southwell
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that swat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free! –G.K. Chesterton
4. “The Golden Prison”
Weep not for me, when I am gone,
Nor spend thy faithful breath
In grieving o’er the spot or hour
Of all-enshrouding death;
Nor waste in idle praise thy love
On deeds of head or hand,
Which live within the living Book,
Or else are writ in sand;
But let it be thy best of prayers,
That I may find the grace
To reach the holy house of toll,
The frontier penance-place, —
To reach that golden palace bright,
Where souls elect abide,
Waiting their certain call to Heaven,
With Angels at their side;
Where hate, not pride, not fear torments
The transitory guest,
But in the willing agony
He plunges, and is blest.
And as the fainting patriarch gain’d
His needful halt mid-way,
And then refresh’d pursued his path,
Where up the mount it lay,
So pray, that, rescued from the storm
of heaven’s eternal ire,
I may lie down, then rise again,
Safe, and yet saved by fire. –Blessed John Henry Newman
5. “Pied Beauty”
Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
for rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him. –Gerard Manley Hopkins
6. An Excerpt from “The Quarry”²
He wasn’t alone. His muscles grew into the flesh of the crowd,
energy their pulse, as long as they held a hammer,
as long as his feet felt the ground.
And a stone smashed his temples
and cut through his heart’s chamber.
They took his body, and walked in a silent line.
Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.
They wore gray blouses, boots ankle deep in mud.
In this they showed the end.
How violently his time halted: the points on the
low voltage dials
jerked, then dropped to zero again.
White stone now within him, eating into his being,
taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.
Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again
under cracked temples? So plaster cracks on the wall.
They laid him down, his back on a sheet of gravel.
His wife came, worn out with worry; his son returned
Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?
It was maturing in him through his own truth and love.
Should he be used by those who come after,
deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?
The stones on the move again, a wagon bruising the flowers.
Again the electric current cuts deep into the walls.
But the man has taken with him the world’s inner structure,
where greater the anger, the higher the explosion of love. –Blessed John Paul II
St. Robert of Southwell, Pray for us!
¹This particular poem I dedicate to all of God’s children who left this world too soon.
²I couldn’t find of the full text of this poem in total, so there is no link to the entire poem.