Parramatta solicitor Steve McAuley is a member of the St Thomas More Society for Catholic lawyers but has had a mixed relationship with St Thomas More, once even shouting in a rage against St Thomas’ writings.
Steve was playing the character of King Henry VIII in a 2006 production of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons at the Genesian Theatre, Sydney.
In the play King Henry threatens More, his Chancellor, that he would not tolerate opposition to his adulterous remarriage and schism with the Catholic Church: “no words, no signs, no letters, no pamphlets – mind that, Thomas – no writings against me!”
“It was good fun,” Steve said with a grin. “Henry VIII is a nasty character.”
When Steve thinks of St Thomas, he is drawn to his breadth of mind and how well rounded his character was.
“He was full of practical wisdom and insight into daily life,” Steve said.
In playing the role, Steve experienced how much St Thomas tried to bring out the good in Henry and learned more about St Thomas’ extraordinary personal virtue.
“He had a great perception of how human beings need to work out what is important and what is less important in their life.”
“He also realised the impact greed has on human beings.”
Steve says St Thomas points to the higher goods of the spiritual life in a quotation from Utopia: “what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”
St Thomas is most famous for being executed after a prolonged refusal to support King Henry VIII’s schism with the Catholic Church. One debate about St Thomas’ life is whether he died for conscience or for the Faith.
Steve considers it key that St Thomas “had a well formed conscience,” one that pointed him towards the truths of the Faith, including papal primacy.
This relationship between reality, the mind and the will is key to having a correct conscience and it made St Thomas socially contrarian in a number of ways.
“He wasn’t afraid to go against the social norms,” Steve said. “Perhaps he did it for his children.”
“He had only one son, three biological daughters and at least two other young girls who he became guardian of including one from his second wife’s previous marriage. He made a point to ensure his daughters were very well educated. He saw that as an important thing.”
The play and Academy Award winning film depict St Thomas’ daughter Margaret’s intellectual gifts when she speaks in Latin with King Henry VIII, in better Latin than the King.
The St Thomas More Society promotes the legacy of St Thomas More as a consummate vision of Catholic devotion, intellectual brilliance and moral fortitude.
Utopia is hugely influential and his most famous work, continuing in the tradition of Plato and St Augustine’s discussion of a perfect society. St Thomas wrote in the context of a Christian view of society under attack from secular Renaissance thinkers. Michael Novak interpreted Utopia as a parody of a Renaissance society without Christ.
Another prominent example of St Thomas’ thought and writing is his possible collaboration with a younger King Henry VIII in writing Defence of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther, and St Thomas directly refuted Luther’s reply, Against Henry, King of the English.
Select Writings of St Thomas More
Theology and Spiritual Writings