By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The King's Good Servant
posted 26-Dec-2015  ·  
4,586 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

“Instead of inflicting these horrible punishments, it would be far more to the point to provide everyone with some means of livelihood, so that nobody's under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse.”  “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”  “[how can anyone] be silly enough to think himself better than other people, because his clothes are made of finer woolen thread than theirs. After all, those fine clothes were once worn by a sheep, and they never turned it into anything better than a sheep.”  “… (P)ersonal prejudice and financial greed are the two great evils that threaten courts of law, and once they get the upper hand they immediately hamstring society, by destroying all justice.”  “If honor were profitable, everybody would be honorable.”

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These words, and a whole lot more, are Saint Thomas More’s. He is one of two patron saints of lawyers [the other one being Saint Ivo or Ives]. I first came to know St. Thomas More when, as a freshman law student, I saw his name emblazoned on the face of the school building (or was it on the chapel?) in the old Ateneo School of Law campus in Padre Faura, Manila. Thomas More studied law at Oxford and then embarked on a legal career which took him to Parliament. By 1516 he wrote his world-famous book "Utopia" (adopted as the name of our fraternity in law school), which is a fictional island whose natives have a different kind of society, government, and customs. Most scholars see Utopia as some kind of comment or criticism of contemporary European society. In Utopia, there is no private property, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, which are rotated between the citizens every ten years. Agriculture is the most important job on the island, with other essential trades also encouraged: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing  and  masonry. Thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day minimized.  Other significant innovations of Utopia include a welfare state  with free  hospitals,  euthanasia  permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. There are several religions, but each is tolerant of the others. The toleration of all other religious ideas is enshrined in a universal prayer all the Utopians recite. Only few widowed women become priests. Women confess their sins to their husbands once a month. Utopians do not like to engage in war. If they feel countries friendly to them have been wronged, they will send military aid. However they try to capture, rather than kill, enemies. Utopia is thus More's ideal, but an unobtainable one, explaining why there are inconsistencies between the ideas in Utopia and More's practice in the real world.

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Thomas More was born in 15th century London and gained prominence during the reign of Henry VIII, King of England. Henry VIII,  is known for his radical changes to the English Constitution, ushering in the theory of the divine right of kings to England. He greatly expanded royal power. Charges of treason and heresy were commonly used to quash dissent, and those accused were often executed without a formal trial, by means of bills of attainder. [Note: A bill of attainder is a legislative act finding a person guilty of a crime and declaring him “attainted”, meaning, deprived of civil rights resulting from his conviction].  Henry VIII achieved many of his political aims through the work of his chief ministers, some of whom were banished or executed when they fell out of his favor.  But Henry VIII is most remembered for his six marriages and his break with the Pope (who would not allow an annulment of Henry's first marriage). Henry’s disagreements with the Pope led to his separation of the Church of England from papal authority, with himself, as king, as the Supreme Head of the Church of England and to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry VIII appointed Thomas More to a succession of high posts and missions, and finally made him Lord Chancellor in 1529. Thomas More resigned in 1532, at the height of his career and reputation, when Henry persisted in holding his own opinions regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. The rest of his life was spent in writing mostly in defense of the Church. In 1534, with his close friend, St. John Fisher, he refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower. Fifteen months later, and nine days after St. John Fisher's execution, he was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that "we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." And on the scaffold, he told the crowd of spectators that he was dying as "the King's good servant but God's first."

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I was again inspired by St. Thomas More’s remarkable courage, honesty and faith when, a few days ago, I watched for the nth time “A Man for All Seasons”, a 1966 British biographical film about  Thomas More, which won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. The film highlighted the character of the man. In a scene, Thomas More was chastised by Cardinal Wolsey for being the only member of the Privy Council to argue against him. When More states that the Pope will never grant a divorce, Cardinal Wolsey suggests that they apply "pressure" on Church lands to force the issue. To Wolsey's fury, More responds, "No, Your Grace. I am not going to help you." The film also underscored his keen intellect and biting logic when during his trial, in answer to the argument that his silence should be interpreted as opposition to the king (therefore, treason) he answers that the presumption which one can derive from silence is conformity, not opposition. Of course, present-day lawyers in our jurisdiction understand that the accused may remain silent and offer no defense, relying wholly on the presumption of innocence to carry him to a verdict of acquittal if he is confident that the state has failed to meet its burden. There is no duty on his part to take the witness stand in order to explain ambiguous or apparently incriminating circumstances involving him. To be sure, the accused may testify in his own behalf if so inclined, but if he fails to do so, the judge should not draw from that failure any adverse inference of guilt.

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EPILOGUE: There is a joke going the rounds that when St. Thomas More reached heaven, several nuns arrived the same day. St. Peter said that the nuns couldn’t enter just then “because we have many nuns in heaven.” But when Thomas More presented himself, St. Peter said, “you may enter; we don’t have a single lawyer here now.” Maybe it’s really tough to practice law and still hope to become a saint. 

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