Printer Friendly

From Thomas More's workshop: De Tristitia Christi and the Catena aurea.

My hole study shulde be vppon the passion of Chryst and myne owne passage owt of thys worlde.

THOMAS MORE (1535). (1)

Imagine Thomas More's cell in the Tower of London, what he calls his "shop," and his books, what he refers to as his "implements." In such a shop and with these tools, More produces his "goods," among which we count his De Tristitia Christi. (2) On June 12, 1535, the King's Council determines More's books shall be taken away from him. According to More's early biographer, Thomas Stapleton, More keeps his blinds drawn down day and night after that. When his jailer asks why, More replies: "Now that the goods and the implements are taken away, the shop must be closed." (3) Less than a month afterwards, More's trial and execution occurs. (4)

What are these "implements" that More values so much? We know he uses both the Catena aurea of Thomas Aquinas and John Gerson's Monotessaron as his "basic tools" for composing De Tristitia. The Catena is a compendium of exegetical comments by Church Fathers, which Aquinas compiles and condenses. His Catena aurea thereby becomes a "golden chain" of linked biblical commentary on specific sections of the gospel. The subtitle of Monotessaron is Unum ex quattuor, or "one from four," which indicates how Gerson integrates four gospels into one "harmony" by combining corresponding verses. More's obvious interest in the passion of Christ and his own imprisoned state leaves him with limited access to books and so he chooses his texts very carefully. Gary Haupt surmises that "nothing could more appropriately express More's intense concern with the unity of Christendom" than his selection of Gerson's harmony and Aquinas's collection of Church Fathers. (5) Unity among evangelists and within the tradition is symbolized in More's selection of texts and in the cause of his imprisonment.

Though Stapleton's account of More's reply to his jailer may not be factual, it raises a complex question about how More understands the relationship between his sources and his own composition. Clarence Miller's commentary on De Tristitia acknowledges Aquinas's Catena as a source upon which More "relies heavily" because it provides "the groundwork" of More's biblical exegesis. (6) Yet Miller's subsequent analyses, like others', have not addressed how the Catena influences More's habits of composition. There are two reasons I would highlight for this vast scholarly gap, which, in turn, raises the question of how or if the Catena may be more important than critics have hitherto conceived. The first appears as chance because Miller intended but never wrote a section of his commentary that would address More's biblical exegesis, a subject still in need of further exploration. The second pertains to how scholars assess Erasmus's influence upon More's text and the degree to which More developed original theological insights. (7) To understand better the problematic question of More's originality, I will review what he inherits from both Erasmus and the Catena in arguing how he developed these materials in a unique fashion.

Before turning to the evidence, I will state my conclusions. I believe Miller's assessment that More writes with the habit of arguing opposing cases in order to present his own position illustrates how the Catena provides much of the matter that comprises two crucial sections of De Tristitia: namely, More's treatment of Christ's ironic rebuke to his apostles to "sleep on" and his defense of fearful martyrs. Indeed, More's selection and exegesis of commentary from the Catena will reveal how he understands his political situation as a person of Roman Catholic faith caught between Henry VIII's agenda and the papacy of 1535, a subject of recent controversy. On the one side, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (2009) depicts More, even in his last days, as a "self-absorbed villain," following popular revisionist scholarship. On the other, historians like Richard Rex and Eamon Duffy have undermined the dominant Whiggish and Protestant interpretations of More. (8) Because of this division, a reevaluation of De Tristitia will not only contribute to a neglected area of source study but also intervene in a crucial yet still contested question.

Style and the "Inner Man"

What are the trademarks of More's treatment of the agony of Christ? Though Miller often pinpoints where More cites from the Catena, he reserves his analytic work for assessing More's prose style and how More's revisions indicate not just authorial intention but also "More's actual habits of composition." (9) Miller finds More employing what Morris Croll calls a "grand baroque style," which disrupts strict isocolon with "asymmetrical extensions, parenthetical interruptions, and sudden shifts in point of view." (10) In this way, More's style illustrates two contrary movements: the first toward balanced constructions for the sake of showing similarity or contrast, and the second toward deliberate imbalance, which indicates a deviation from or play with "Ciceronian" style. In sum, there is a general hypotactic pattern to More's prose, which may include a distortion or enactment of parallelism, all of which indicates a mind seeking equipoise in contrary impulses and designs. Ultimately, such a style comports well with what Joel Altman calls a "Tudor play of mind" or arguing in utramque partem, what Miller regards as a "mind habitually accustomed to debating both sides of an issue." (11)

For what is true on the level of sentence structure remains so thematically. More's text is arranged according to overall binary oppositions between body and soul, passion and reason, literal and figurative language, Christ's divinity and humanity, eager and fearful martyrs. In Miller's final analysis, More reconciles these dichotomies by a "deep awareness of God's providential love in the person of Christ." More's rhetorical practice of arguing both sides of a question reveals the man who had the "patience and skill to avoid ... giving his opinion on the oath of supremacy ... [and] spoke out eloquently and lovingly in defense of Christ's church." (12) More himself, it would appear, holds and plays with opposing views but ultimately reconciles them with sometimes surprising yet always decisive shifts.

Miller's revelation of More's cast of mind subsequently inspires Louis Martz's assertion that De Tristitia represents More's "essential humanism" and discloses what Martz calls More's "inner man." Though unfinished, the text is a paradigm rivaled only by Utopia. (13) De Tristitia, indeed, "is a document of profound humanism, using the letter to hold body and spirit together, using the word to maintain in the mind a vision of Christian unity." Martz's emphasis upon "letter" and "word" ostensibly indicates More's own Erasmian approach, which is replete with "ironic undertones" that undermine "bland assertions of an equable position" and include, all the while, subtle ways of privileging one side of an argument. (14) Thus, Miller's commentary combines with Martz's focus upon Erasmus's influence to signify the rhetorical mode of humanist exegesis. (15) Erasmus could not have read De Tristitia but that does not prevent Martz from imagining how More pens a tribute to Erasmus from his prison cell. The claim seems accurate because Martz recognizes that Erasmus's earlier treatise--the De Taedio Iesu (1505)--is a text More "must have had firmly in his mind" while composing his own De Tristitia. (16) Even so, such influence deserves qualification, for Erasmus's own treatment of the sadness of Christ does not offer original theological teaching but rather affirms previous and widespread Scholastic doctrine. (17)

Humanism and Christ's Fear

Erasmus's short debate on the "distress, alarm, and sorrow of Jesus," testifies to a dispute between him and John Colet at Oxford in October of 1499 over whether or not Christ experiences a truly human fear of death. (18) Colet finds it "inappropriate and inconsistent to suppose that he, who loved the human race with such passion, could have approached death not merely with reluctance but with great trepidation." Christ, as "the very pattern of charity," died for humanity out of love; love of oneself is not love at all. Christ experiences passions because he wills to suffer out of love for humankind. (19) If Christ experiences fear or grief, Colet argues along with St. Jerome before him, it is not in anticipation of his own physical suffering on the cross but for the fate of the Jews or the grief and terror about to befall the apostles.

In reply, Erasmus argues the same position More will hold thirty years later on the identical question, by explaining how Christ's perfect humanity means he truly experiences passion, distress, sorrow, even an intense fear of death. (20) "I do not consider it wicked at all to give Christ these emotions," Erasmus writes, "which certainly do lead to sin--but in us, not in him." Because Christ "put on a human nature that was subject to many of the ills arising from original sin but free from any taint of sin itself, he could not in fact be lured towards evil by the passions natural to us." (21) Erasmus considers the many ways in which Christ might have assuaged his anguish in the garden, but he argues the contrary position: "Jesus allowed himself none of these to help alleviate the miseries that he took on with our nature." Instead, "[he] assumed a soul that was endowed with the most acute sensitivity in every one of its faculties." As a result, "he felt every kind of mental anguish." Christ's death, in fact, "should be more painful than any other, since it alone was to atone for so many other deaths and to wash away the sins of the world." (22)

Yet when Erasmus argues with Colet, he is prosecuting a general Christological point: He reminds Colet of Christ's two natures and corresponding two wills, divine and human, and how "the Church has stamped its authority so firmly on this theory of the two wills that anyone who thinks differently is branded a heretic." By referring to the theory of two wills, Erasmus uncovers the divide between early Church Fathers and later Scholastic theologians, which stems, in part, from the fact that the doctrine that Christ possessed only a single will, or monothelitism, was not formally condemned until the Sixth Council of Constantinople in 685. The earlier problem before the Sixth Council is that Christ's perfect humanity would be sullied by passionate excess if he were allowed to suffer like human beings do. Yet this dilemma, Erasmus urges, could be resolved with the distinction between human and divine natures and wills. Christ, in other words, could experience a human fear of death and pray to his Father to "let this cup pass from me" even as he reaffirms to do what the Father, not he, wills. (23)

Thus, Erasmus's position, in an unusual turn, places him with Scholastic theologians and in opposition to Colet's return to the early Church Fathers. Erasmus's De Taedio, as John W. O'Malley rightly observes, "serves to qualify most generalizations that have been made about Erasmus' relationship to the scholastics." (24) It shows, too, that broad assessments like the kind that Martz makes about Erasmus's influence upon More's humanism and presentation of the question of Christ's passion should not be qualified as opposed to Scholasticism. Scholastic thought, of course, is not monolithic, yet Aquinas teaches that Christ did not allow his higher faculties to affect his experience of even physical suffering and his position appears essentially like that of Erasmus. (25) Because of such connections, Erasmus advertises his alliance with Scholasticism and invites Colet to join them:
   I must ask, along with the modern theologians, why do you refuse to
   allow that death filled Christ with dread, even if it were only an
   emotion Jesus assumed temporarily and not an essential part of the
   nature he assumed? I know that you are generally quite happy to
   disagree with the new breed of theologians, but let us carry out
   the test recommended by Plato in the Parmenides and see whether the
   view I hold with them is in any way unreasonable. (26)

The "modern theologians"--the new breed, as it were, which opposes the earlier Church Fathers--refers to Scholasticism. By invoking Plato, Erasmus suggests that Colet's position is unreasonable. (27) Yet in following Jerome and other Fathers like him, as James D. Tracy writes, "Colet's position on this issue was consistent with his overall aim of purifying theology by pruning it back to its roots in the holier and wiser age of the Fathers." (28) Erasmus attacks this consistency, which he believes prevents Colet from recognizing an important Christological truth. So Erasmus concludes his letter by praising the opinion--which he shares with "modern theologians," who appear better at keeping with "the words of the evangelists"--of those in favor of Christ's truly human experience of suffering. If More agrees with Erasmus on this point, therefore, he follows the "modern theologians" as well. (29)

Ironic Jesus, Ironic More

Let us turn to Martz's main example from De Tristitia, which he suggests is a tribute to Erasmus. More considers Matthew 26:45-46 with Mark 14:41 and, especially, when Christ finds his disciples sleeping after he had instructed them to stay awake and pray. He tells them: "Why are you sleeping? Sleep on now and take your rest. That is enough. Get up and pray" (287/8-9). More's own exegesis essentially agrees with Erasmus's brief note on Matthew 26:45, which, after acknowledging the contrary opinions of Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, and Jerome, claims that Christ's words commanding sleep could be taken as ironic. (30) Erasmus, though, suggests irony in these lines but does not develop a thorough case for it. (31) As we have already seen, De Taedio addresses Christological controversy, eschewing questions of rhetorical nuance and tone. (32) Neither De Taedio nor Erasmus's note seem adequate to explain More's inspiration and subsequent and sustained composition. Yet More used the Catena extensively, especially its glosses upon Matthew 26, a year before in composing his A Treatise upon the Passion, and he returns to it in this section of De Tristitia. (33)

In comparison to Erasmus's note, More claims Christ "undercut" his disciples with irony, which More imagines as serious and weighty. He writes: "Notice how He grants permission to sleep in such a way as clearly means He means to take it away." If More begins with a clear position, he argues for it by raising an objection:
   I am not unaware that some learned and holy men do not allow
   this interpretation, though they admit that others, equally
   learned and holy, have found it agreeable. Not that those who
   do not accept this interpretation are shocked by this sort of
   irony, as some others are--also pious men to be sure, but not
   sufficiently versed in the figures of speech which sacred scripture
   customarily takes over from common speech. For if they
   were, they would have found irony in so many other places
   that they could not have found it offensive here. (293/5-13)

Martz views More's concerns for "forms of speech" as evidence of humanist exegesis, which contrasts with what Erasmus views as the failings of Scholastics. (34) Yet this passage refers to More's assessment of the contrary opinions found among the early Church Fathers and reproduced in Aquinas's compendium. More's point above is about disagreements among plausible alternatives from the Catena, which he will address and debate, but these divergent opinions are not from the Scholastic enemies of Erasmus.

Who are the other learned and holy men? In the Catena, the commentators who address this episode are Hilary, Chrysostom, Origen, Theophylactus, and Augustine; none of them argue for irony in the glosses on Matthew and, thus, are possible targets of More's critique about forms of speech. Hilary writes that after Christ's prayer, he removes the fear from the disciples and restores their confidence in telling them to "sleep on, and take their rest." Origen glosses the sleep that Christ means as taking repose or rest after a time of prayer. (35) From the section on Mark 14:41, however, Theophylactus writes of Christ's words to his disciples: "He is not vehement against them, though after His rebuke they had done worse, but He tells them ironically, Sleep on now, and take your rest." He then makes the same point More does: "And that He spoke ironically is evident by what is added: It is enough." (36) Or, as More puts it in what amounts to a paraphrase of Theophylactus, Christ gives permission, which he then takes away. (37)

When More cites other opinions as equally holy and learned, he means these contrasting views, each of which precede final quotation from Augustine in Aquinas's order of presentation. More, too, concludes with Augustine. In fact, he quotes directly from the Catena in providing Augustine's opinion, which rejects irony:
   It seems ... that the language of Matthew here is
   self-contradictory. For how could He say "Sleep on now and take
   your rest" and then immediately add "Get up, let us go"? Disturbed
   by this seeming inconsistency, some try to set the tone of the
   words "Sleep on now and take your rest" as reproachful rather than
   permissive. And this would be the right thing to do if it were
   necessary. But Mark reports it in such a way that when Christ had
   said "Sleep on now and take your rest," He added "That is enough"
   and then went on to say "The hour has come when the son of man will
   be betrayed." Therefore it is surely at least implied that after He
   had said "Sleep and take your rest" the Lord was silent for a while
   so that they could do what He had allowed them to do, and that He
   then went on to say "Behold, the hour has almost come." That is the
   reason why Mark includes "That is enough," that is, "You have
   rested long enough." (297/6-299/11)

In a line-by-line comparison with Augustine's original wording and Aquinas's version of it, Mary Thecla shows that More's citation above adheres not to Augustine's formulation but to the "skillful condensation" of Aquinas. (38)

More reviews these pages of the Catena, then, as he argues in utramque partem. "At times," observes Katherine Gardiner Rodgers of De Tristitia, "More seems to imagine himself addressing an audience consisting of an overtly analytical (perhaps even scholastic) theologian, rather than a naive congregation, as if he were engaged in a debate on the question of Christ's humanity." (39) More's ethos appears so--independent of whether he writes De Tristitia for a general readership or a scholarly one--because his immediate addressees are those theologians he disputes. In other words, More's objections derive from the Church Fathers with whom he debates and the Catena supplies. Or, to use the terms of Miller's assessment, the Catena itself provides the contrary material out of which More constructs his treatment of both sides. More's position--in effect, the same as Theophylactus--singles out the contradiction in Christ's words and explains it with the figure of irony before More gives Augustine's analysis of the same problem resulting in a different answer. Augustine, too, cites the passage from Mark that More wishes to explicate. If More read the Catena on Matthew first, Augustine's gloss would refer him back to Mark and to Aquinas's citation from Theophylactus. In any reading order, though, the Catena's variegated glosses and correlation of dissonant voices map out More's dialectical treatment of them by illustrating contrary positions on the same question by those who are "equally holy and learned."

Even so, More's voice and opinion remains prominent because of how he deploys his own irony in debate over its ostensible use by Christ. "One may also sense," argues Haupt, "a particularly Morean conception of Christ" because More imagines him to be "perfectly capable" of irony, "one of More's favorites devices." (40) Because More finds Christ ironic, there is precedent for him to write in the same way. So he comments upon Augustine's position from the Catena:
   Subtle indeed [acute quidem] this reasoning of the most blessed
   Augustine, as he always is; but I imagine that those of the
   opposite persuasion do not find it at all likely that, after Christ
   had already reproached them twice for sleeping when His capture was
   imminent, and after He had just rebuked them sternly by saying "Why
   are you sleeping?" He should then have granted them time to sleep,
   especially at the very time when the danger which was the reason
   they ought not to have slept before, was now pounding at the door,
   as they say. (301/1-8)

Martz cites these lines about subtlety as evidence of More's "great admiration" of Augustine. (41) Yet More obviously disagrees with Augustine's "subtle" thinking and thus his use of the Latin word acute does not indicate a sincere assessment. Instead, More finds it overly subtle to imagine an unwritten interpolation within the passion narrative that secretly justifies sleeping disciples. In More's view, sleep represents failure. If anything, More's "great admiration" for Augustine, which is sincere, would be the cause of his own use of irony in this case because a transparent condemnation of an idea he finds ridiculous might seem to treat Augustine irreverently.

More's concern over the sleeping apostles takes on a personal or timely interpretation. He contrasts the alert Judas, who is wide awake and intent upon betraying Christ, with the apostles who are buried in sleep, even after the third time that their Lord returns to them, inciting them to stay awake and pray. More, in turn, expands the gospel episode into an image of his times:
   Does not this contrast between the traitor and the apostles
   present to us a clear and sharp mirror image (as it were),
   a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the
   ages from those times even to our own? Why do not bishops
   contemplate in this scene their own somnolence? Since they
   have succeeded in the place of the apostles, would that they
   would reproduce their virtues just as eagerly as they embrace
   their authority and as faithfully as they display their sloth and
   sleepiness! (259/7-261/1)

The apostles may experience sadness because they grieve for Christ or because they are "numbed and buried in destructive desires" but, whether the causes are laudable or not, sadness must be "checked by the rule and guidance of reason." Otherwise, "sorrow so grips the mind that its strength is sapped and reason gives up." If a bishop falls into such a state, he will neglect to do "what the duty of his office requires for the salvation of his flock" and, returning to a comparison More makes often, he becomes "like a cowardly ship's captain who is so disheartened by the furious din of a storm that he deserts the helm, hides away cowering in some cranny, and abandons the ship to the waves" (263/1-265/5). The solution is to remain awake, a point More iterates often, but especially in regard to Christ's admonition that the apostles "stay awake and pray." We learn in these words, claims More, how prayer is "not only useful but also extremely necessary" for without it "the weakness of the flesh" holds back our mind and will, despite our best desires. Prayer sharpens reason and checks passion, allowing our better selves an opportunity to act or "reason to rule" (167/7-171/5).

In More's association of prayer with alert captains, he expands upon the piloting metaphor for governance that he employs most famously in his Utopia, which urges political engagement and service because "you must not abandon the ship in a storm because you cannot control the winds." (42) In De Tristitia, the Latin term for Miller's "ship's captain" is gubernator or helmsman. In Utopia, More refers to an effective helmsman who must guide the ship of state through tempests of difficulties. (43) But in De Tristitia, More specifies energetic attention to duties of one's own state, which for bishops consist of unflagging attention to the common good of the flock brought about by the practice of constant prayer. According to William Roper's early biographical account, More complains to his daughter about England's "weak clergy," but in De Tristitia we discover the standards by which More judges them. (44) More's contrast between sleeping and wakeful states reveals his ideal: A bishop who should be a vigilant pilot or steersman of his own soul and of Christ's church.

For reasons such as these, it would appear as if More writes ironically in calling Augustine's contrary interpretation of sleep especially "subtle," which provides us an important context for how to read More's conclusion to this controversy. He explains: "But now I have presented both interpretations, everyone is free to choose whichever he likes. My purpose has been merely to recount both of them; it is not for such a nobody as me to render a decision like an official arbitrator" (301/9-303/1). More, then, presents his opinion about Christ's irony as part of his overall teaching on the importance of prayer and staying awake over and against the teaching of Augustine. More putatively leaves his readers free to decide, but he interweaves Augustine's objection to his position with his own refutation. Thus, the conclusion's neutrality emerges as illusory. On the one hand, More's presentation seems unresolved; on the other, he settles the dispute. Readers may choose but they know how they should decide.

In the Valencia manuscript of De Tristitia, More's own autograph of this text (fol.76, 303), More questions in the marginalia, hoc vocabulum aut onerarius? The line More draws from his inquiry in the marginalia to the text in the body of the page indicates how he considers an alteration from arbiter honorarius (appointed judge) to arbiter onorarius (appointed beast of burden). (45) Miller considers why More should use onerarius, which would be the wrong Latin term. "One attractive solution to the problem," he concludes, "is to assume that More intended a self-mocking pun and was simply asking himself if the word-play would not come through better if he wrote the wrong word rather than the right one." (46) In Miller's view, More suggests himself as a burden-bearing judge through a pun while he retains the stated version that he is no arbiter at all. If Miller is correct, More probably did judge his presentation as arranged and deployed against Augustine's opinion, despite the final protestations and presentations to the contrary. He may ironically self-deprecate as a judge because he did judge the passage and its famous interpreter.

Brenda Hosington thinks so. She goes further than Miller in arguing that the pun upon honorarius and onorarius represents a "final ironic twist." The self-mockery "heightens the irony contained in the statement" because "More of course had often been called upon to render decisions in court." More the man and his authorial voice are both judges actually and, in claiming not to be one, More ends his treatment of irony with his own "tongue-in-cheek statement." (47) Both Miller and Hosington, howsoever they diagnose More's pun, provide grounds for understanding how More uses the language of neutrality in an ironic fashion in order to advance his own case.

Yet More's own case about Christ's irony remains a testimony to how the words of the Catena inspire his thought and direct his composition by way of proposing subjects for eristic dialogue. For the question about adjudicators emerges as More himself argues contrary positions to those he finds in the Catena, judging between his views and those of Augustine, even using the occasion to make an appeal for a watchful helmsman of Christ's flock, for he can find few in how the bishops respond to the crown.

Fearful Christ, Brave Martyrs

More's own analysis of the sadness of Christ begins with his consideration of the words, "my soul is sad unto death" from Matthew 26:38 and Mark 14:34 (43/5-45). As Miller observes, the Monotessaron presents More with three points of discussion on this verse--the selection of Peter, John, and James; the sadness and fear of Christ; and Christ's command to pray with him--but More is "primarily interested in the second point, to which he devotes more than fifteen times as much space as to the other two points combined." (48) More's cancelled passages from the Valencia manuscript show how he revises, striking his treatment of points one and three so he may elaborate upon Christ's sadness and fear. Of note, More repeats Christ's complaint in Latin--tristis est anima mea usque ad morte--in his own catena of Scripture verses in the same Valencia manuscript of De Tristitia. (49)

The identical verse, of course, appears only in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, but the Catena iterates it verbatim in its glosses upon the same biblical chapters More reviews in discussing Christ's use of irony. First, from Matthew, by Damascene, who cites it as proof that "in Christ nothing befell of compulsion, but all was voluntary; with His will He hungered, with His will He feared, or was sorrowful. Here His sorrow is declared." And second, by Origen, who after citing the same verse, paraphrases it: "Sorrow is begun in me, but not to endure for ever, but only till the hour of death; that when I shall die to sin, I shall die also to all sorrow, whose beginnings only are in me." The last comes from Theophylactus. What More would have read confirms Erasmus's basic point against Colet: "For since He had taken on Himself the whole of human nature, He took also those natural things which belong to man, amazement, heaviness, and sorrow; for men are naturally unwilling to die. Wherefore it goes on: And he saith unto them, tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem." (50)

Before or after More sharpens his focus upon Gerson's harmony, he may have turned to the Catena and discovered how the iteration of a single verse articulates a Christological controversy in miniature. In Theophylactus and Damascene, More finds the position that he himself holds: That Christ wills to suffer torments in the garden, allowing his human nature to fully experience sadness and fear. In Origin, however, there is only the "beginning of sadness" rather than an utterly complete experience of it. From this same section of the Catena, the partial or initial sense of fear and sadness are explained in Jerome's voice, which maintains that Christ is sorrowful not because of death but unto death, that is, until the completion of his salvific sacrifice. (51) If Erasmus's earlier treatment of this question persuades More, the Catena refreshes the controversy and allows More to reopen the question without rehearsing the positions of his friends, Colet and Erasmus, risking the detriment of one by the other.

Yet the Catena alone best provides context to More's opening on the question of Christ's passion. More begins by imagining the scene. Unlike Erasmus, who announces the points to be disputed, More writes as if he cares little for arguing over how the threat of impending death would impact a nature like Christ's, which could more keenly experience physical and mental sufferings. Instead, More sketches how such an impact would occur. "A huge mass of troubles took possession of the tender and gentle body of our most holy Savior," More writes. "He knew that His ordeal was now imminent and just about to overtake Him: the treacherous betrayer, the bitter enemies, binding ropes, false accusations, slanders, blows, thorns, nails, the cross, and horrible tortures." In a brilliant choice, More adds: "Over and above these, He was tormented by the thought of His disciples terror, the loss of the Jews, even the destruction of the very man who so disloyally betrayed him, and finally the ineffable grief of his mother" (47/1-48/3). In these lines, More incorporates the contrary explanations from the Catena into his own elaboration. As he does so, Colet and Jerome's argument that Christ is sad unto death--sad until he could save those he loves--combines with their emphasis upon Christ's sorrow for the loss of Judah, the terrified disciples, and Judas himself. These latter explanations for the sadness of Christ, of course, are part of an argument that aims to refute More's opinion by providing alternatives. Yet More blends each contrary account with the overall positions of Erasmus, Bede, Theophylactus, Aquinas, and Bonaventure, all of which advocate that Christ fully experiences the passions of sadness and fear. (52) "Since He was no less really a man than he was God," More summarizes, "He had the ordinary feelings of mankind" (51/ 6-7). After imagining the causes of Christ's suffering so, More remarks upon how "someone" might accuse him of a slanted vision. He wryly observes: "Perhaps someone may wonder how it could be that our Savior Christ could feel sadness, sorrow, and grief, since he was truly God, equal to His all-powerful Father" (49/6-8). Though More's doctrinal position agrees with many theologians, he vividly imagines Christ's subjective and emotional state where they would only infer it. In More's initial treatment of this Christological controversy, the Catena, with its rich variation, spurs More's poetic recreation of the agony, even as it allows us to trace the motions of More's dialogical approach.

In fact, it is the objection that Aquinas reproduces from Hilary in the glosses upon Matthew 26, which most captures More's attention. Aquinas's citation of Hilary reads: "I suppose that there are some who offer here no other cause of His fear than His passion and death. I ask those who think thus, whether it stands with reason that He should have feared to die, who banished from the Apostles all fear of death, and exhorted them to the glory of martyrdom?" (53) As Miller observes, "this is a strong argument not considered by Erasmus (or Colet)," (54) yet it is the very one More elaborates upon:
   But here, perhaps, you may object, "I am no longer surprised
   at His capacity for these emotions, but I cannot help being
   surprised at His desire to experience them. For He taught His
   disciples not to be afraid of those who can kill the body only
   and can do nothing beyond that; and how can it be fitting that
   He Himself should now be very much afraid of those same
   persons, especially since even His body could suffer nothing
   from them except what He Himself allowed?" (53/5-10).

Even the last lines of this passage paraphrase the same quotation from the Catena because Hilary also asks: "And what pangs of death could He fear, who came to death of the free choice of his own power?" (55) Though Erasmus considers the relationship between martyrs and Christ's capacity for experiencing human emotion, More's own entrance into the debate comes from objections De Taedio never considers because, in fact, they are from Aquinas's quotations of Hilary.

More next amplifies Hilary's case, exploring the potential harms created by Christ's alleged bad example. More asks: "Shouldn't He rather have been especially careful to set a good example in this matter ... so that others might learn from His own example to undergo death eagerly for truth's sake, and so that those who suffer death for the faith with fear and hesitation might not indulge their slackness by imagining that they are following Christ's precedent?" Those who refuse martyrdom, after all, might cite Christ's own fear when "their reluctance would both detract a great deal from the glory of their cause and discourage others who observe their sadness and fear." Again, this objection does not appear in De Taedio but, writes Miller in an important observation, "it has a special force for More, who was actually facing martyrdom." (56) Indeed, More's intense personal concerns about the threat of martyrdom would draw him to Hilary's objections, which, in turn, provoke More's sustained treatment of the significance of Christ's fear.

More argues against Hilary's reading of Christ's admonition that his disciples should not fear death. For the prohibition against fear of death is not made against feeling a natural aversion to it but given as a warning to all those tempted to "flee from a death which will not last, only to run, by denying the faith, into one which will be everlasting." Christ wishes his followers to be brave yet prudent: the brave bear up under blows, but the senseless simply feel nothing. The prudent do "not allow any fear of suffering" to divert them from a "holy way of life," but a "foolish man does not fear wounds" (55/6-59/10). (57)

The significance of Christ's example, which Hilary develops, More continues to explore, crafting a defense of fearful martyrs in the process. Contrary to "requiring us to do violence to our nature," Christ "even leaves us free to flee from punishment," which is the very "cautious advice of a prudent master" that almost all the apostles follow at one time or another (63/1-7). For God's mercy is such that he "does not command us to climb this steep and lofty peak of bravery, and hence it is not safe for just anyone to go rushing on heedlessly to the point where he cannot retrace his steps" (67/2-5). Thus, the fearful martyr should take solace in God's providence. "If anyone is brought to the point where he must either suffer torment or deny God," More writes, "he need not doubt that it was God's will for him to be brought to this crisis. Therefore, he has very good reason to hope for the best" (69/2-4).

By reasoning so, More transforms the fearful martyr into a brave one, ultimately. Those in danger of death, because of their faith, will find confidence on the day of engagement because God does not allow "you to be tempted beyond what you can stand": "Therefore, when things have come to the point of hand-to-hand combat with the prince of this world, the devil, and his cruel underlings, and there is no way left to withdraw without disgracing the cause, then I would think that man ought to cast away fear and I would direct him to be completely calm, confident, and hopeful" (71/3-8). Before such engagement, fear is natural, not reprehensible, an invitation for struggle and therefore an "immense opportunity for merit" (73/1-4). Take the case of a fearful soldier, who nevertheless fights and achieves victory, More argues, "he ought to receive even more praise" because "he had to overcome not only the enemy but also his own fear, which is often harder to conquer than the enemy himself" (85/5-7, my emphasis). Like a fearful yet dutiful soldier, "our Savior Christ" did not allow his intense feelings to "prevent him from obeying His Father's command" (85/7-10). (58) More elevates the fearful martyr above the brave because the former may merit greater praise. The fearful martyr, too, most closely imitates Christ's own agony in the garden. (59)

On the Fear of More

Developed in this way, the Christological question becomes a consideration of the merits of fearful martyrs. "And yet for everyone who reads with the knowledge of this writer's situations," states Martz, "the defense of the faint-hearted, fearful kind of martyr takes on a poignant personal application that cannot and should not be avoided." (60) In fact, More confesses to Margaret: "I found myself (I cry God mercy) very sensual and my flesh much more shrinking from pain and from death than it seems to me the part of a faithful Christian." (61) So, too, More writes to a priest from his prison cell, Master Leder, what amounts to a paraphrase of the above point from De Tristitia about how the fearful martyr becomes brave: "And I trust both that they will use no violent forcible ways, and also that if they would, God would of his grace and ... a great deal through good folks' prayers give me strength to stand." In another instance, More famously remains "silent" against his accusers. His reason why comes from De Tristitia. More tells Master Cromwell: "I have not been a man of such holy living as I might be bold to offer myself to death, lest God for my presumption might suffer me to fall, and therefore I put not myself forward but draw back. Howbeit, if God draw me to it himself, then trust I in his great mercy, that he shall not fail to give me grace and strength." (62) More's strategy of silence emerges as the design of the prudent yet ultimately brave martyr, who nevertheless lives in fear before the moment of crisis. Like the fearful martyr from De Tristitia, More believes, if God brings him to the brink, he will provide More the "strength to stand."

More identifies Christ's own fear as the source of such strength in De Tristitia. For Christ foresaw how many "would be convulsed with terror at any danger of being tortured" and "He chose to enhearten them by the example of His own sorrow, His own sadness, His own weariness and unequalled fear, lest they should be so disheartened as they compare their own fearful state of mind with the boldness of the bravest martyrs" (101/2-7). More then envisions Christ speaking to such a fearful one:
   O faint of heart, take courage and do not despair. You are
   afraid, you are sad, you are stricken with weariness and dread
   of the torment with which you have been cruelly threatened.
   Trust me. I conquered the world, and yet I suffered immeasurably
   more from fear, I was sadder, more afflicted with weariness,
   more horrified at the prospect of such cruel suffering
   drawing eagerly nearer and nearer. Let the brave man have
   his high-spirited martyrs, let him rejoice in imitating a thousand
   of them. But you, my timorous and feeble little sheep,
   be content to have me alone as your shepherd, follow my
   leadership; if you do not trust yourself, place your trust in
   me. See, I am walking ahead of you along this fearful road.

More, thereby, reverses Hilary's position and provides a counterintuitive conclusion, showing how the temporarily yet overwhelmingly fearful are closer to Christ than the constantly brave. (63) Christ does not set a poor example because he experiences human passion; rather, he acts as a paragon. More triumphs in this dispute by creating a speaking Christ to counter an objecting Hilary, but he also drafts words of consolation for his own plight. The consideration of both sides of the question, as in the case of irony, ends by privileging a single position. In these instances, More develops his analysis not only from the Catena but also in light of his own unique circumstances.

For when More composes words for Christ, he changes interlocutors and genres, oscillating between biblical commentary and prayerful meditation. In what Rastell records as "A devout prayer, made by sir Thomas More, knight, after he was condemned to die, and before he was put to death," More writes: "Good Lord, give me the grace in all my fear and agony to have recourse to that great fear and wonderful agony, that thou my sweet savior had at the mount of Olives before thy most bitter passion, and in the meditation thereof, to conceive spiritual comfort and consolation profitable for my soul." (64) In the last prayer More ever writes, he composes a personal reflection not only upon his fate but also upon his De Tristitia, a debate with Church Fathers that becomes a dialogue with Christ. In passages such as these, More's De Tristitia becomes a singular rather than a derivative work on Christ's sadness, anxiety, and fear. "Indeed," writes Miller, "the De Tristitia gives us the fullest and deepest explanation of why More strove so intently to save himself from death by hiding behind the law, and it tells us better than anything else why More died, the motive of his martyrdom." (65) Miller's assessment contrasts greatly with Mantel's and revisionist scholarship's depiction of More, but it accords with the findings of this essay. More discloses his "motive" in developing materials from the Catena and by using them as inspiration for his defense of fearful martyrs. De Tristitia's originality, ultimately, is due less to its theological teaching and more to what that teaching imparts to its author.

"Whoever is utterly crushed by feelings of anxiety and fear and is tortured by the fear that he may yield to despair," More writes in De Tristitia, "let him consider this agony of Christ, let him meditate on it constantly and turn it over in his mind." In More's final prayer, we see how he follows his own advice from De Tristitia: "And in our agony remembering His," More writes, "let us beg Him with all our strength that He may deign to comfort us in our anguish by an insight into His" (253/3-255/3). From such petitions, More humbly expects and faithfully hopes for profitable "spiritual comfort and consolation" and the "strength to stand." What More tells his jailer, after his books are removed, takes on new meaning as well. More closed his shop because his "implements" had already produced the goods he needed.


(1.) Thomas More, The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More, ed. Elizabeth Frances Rogers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 552/66-8. The punctuation is mine.

(2.) The full title is De tristitia tedio pavore et oratione christi ante passionem eius. All citations from De Tristitia are from The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 14, pt. 1, De Tristitia Christi, ed. and trans. Clarence H. Miller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976). Hereafter abbreviated as CW 14.1 and cited internally by volume, part, page, and line numbers. Miller's introduction, commentary, and index constitute part two of this volume and will be abbreviated as CW 14.2.

(3.) Thomas Stapleton, The Life And Illustrious Martyrdom Of Sir Thomas More, trans. Philip E. Hallett (Kessinger Publishing, 2010), 140.

(4.) For an examination of the circumstances of More's composition of Sadness, see Seymour Baker House, "Endgame: The Genesis of More's The Sadness of Christ," Moreana 45, no. 174 (October 2008): 33-53.

(5.) For More's use of the Catena and the quotes above about his "basic tools," see The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, vol. 13, Treatise on the Passion; Treatise on the Blessed Body; Instructions and Prayers, ed. Garry E Haupt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), xliii-xlviii. Hereafter abbreviated as CW 13. Haupt follows the landmark article, Sr. Mary Thecla, "S. Thomas More and the Catena Aurea," Modern Language Notes 61 (1946): 523-29. On the importance of Gerson's Monotessaron, see Katherine Gardiner Rodgers, "The Lessons of Gethsemane: De Tristitia Christi" in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas More, ed. George M. Logan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 243-45.

(6.) Miller, CW 14.2, 781.

(7.) Clarence H. Miller, "More's Biblical Exegesis in De Tristitia Christi: Original Interpretations and Applications," Moreana 45, no. 175 (October 2008): 18-19.

(8.) On Mantel's relationship to the revisionist school of thought and its representation of More, see my The One Thomas More (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 1-14; 174-200. For the challenge to the Whiggish and Protestant view of More, see Richard Rex, "Thomas More and the heretics: statesman or fanatic?" and Eamon Duffy, "'The comen knowen multytude of crysten men': A Dialogue Concerning Heresies and the defence of Christendom" in The Cambridge Companion.

(9.) CW 14.2, 745.

(10.) Ibid., 771.

(11.) Ibid., 769. Joel Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind: Rhetorical Inquiry and the Development of Elizabethan Drama (Oakland: University of California Press, 1978), 80, writes that More examined the disjunctive between visionary and practical approaches to politics by writing in utramque partem through a "fiction," which constituted the first book of Utopia. Likewise, both Miller and Martz see Utopia as a parallel to De Tristitia, either in terms of Latin style or because of a cast of mind that debates both sides of a question.

(12.) CW 14.2, 774.

(13.) Louis L. Martz, Thomas More: The Search for the Inner Man (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 108m, writes of Miller's stylistic analysis: "I am indebted in this chapter to his illuminating introduction and commentary in this volume of the Complete Works."

(14.) Ibid., 86, 96. Martz lists all the parallels given by Miller between More's De Tristitia and Erasmus's works at 108n3.

(15.) For context on humanism and positive theology, see "Christian Wisdom and Secular Learning" and "Positive Theology and Erasmian Reform" in The Yale Complete Works of Thomas More, vol. 15: In Defense of Humanism, ed. Daniel Kinney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), xlvi--xcii; and One Thomas More, 105-39.

(16.) Martz, Inner Man, 87. De Taedio Iesu is shortened from Desiderius Erasmus, "A Short Debate Concerning the Distress, Alarm, and Sorrow of Jesus" (Disputatiuncula de Taedio, Pavore, Tristicia Jesu) in Spiritualia and Pastoralia, trans. Michael J. Heath, Collected Works of Erasmus, vol. 70 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). Henceforth, I will refer to and cite this text by the short title of De Taedio.

(17.) On Erasmus's recapitulation of representative Scholastic doctrine, see James D. Tracy, "Humanists among the Scholastics: Erasmus, More, and Lefevre d'Etaples on the Humanity of Christ," in Erasmus of Rotterdam Society Yearbook, vol. 5 (Oxon Hill, MD: Erasmus of Rotterdam Society, 1985), 30-42.

(18.) Heath translates Erasmus's original title--Disputatiuncula de tedio, pauore, tristicia Jesu, instante crucis hora, deque verbis quibus visus est morten deprecari: Pater, sifieri potest, transeat a me calix iste--as "A short debate concerning the distress, alarm, and sorrow of Jesus as the crucifixion drew nigh; and concerning the words in which He seemed to pray for deliverance from death: 'Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.'" See the title page of De Taedio.

(19.) Ibid., 15-16.

(20.) On the significance of Christ's human nature, More writes: "it was by His own marvelous arrangement that His divinity moderated its influence on His humanity for such a time and in such a way that He was able to yield to the passions of our frail humanity and to suffer them with such terrible intensity" (CW 14. 1, 87/6-89/1).

(21.) DeTaedio, 39.

(22.) Ibid., 54-56. In contrast with Erasmus, More hypothetically grants that there are those, after Christ, who suffered physical harms and tortures greater than his own. Yet "tortures which to all appearances may be considerably less fierce," More writes, "actually caused Christ to suffer more excruciating pain than someone might feel from tortures that seem much more grievous." As Christ envisions his coming passion, he becomes "overwhelmed by mental anguish more bitter than any other mortal has ever experienced from the thought of coming torments" (233/1-235/2, my emphasis). On Christ's inner torment, More asks: "For who has ever felt such bitter anguish that a bloody sweat broke out all over his body and ran down in drops in blood?" More, therefore, estimates the intensity of "actual pain" by the following standard: "I see that even the presentiment of it before it arrived was more bitter to Christ than such anticipation has ever been to anyone else" (235/3-7). Christ did not just suffer inner torments but the degree of that suffering was such that other forms of physical torture, no matter how severe, cannot compare to how Christ's sensitivity magnifies pain.

(23.) De Taedio, 20 and see 20n30.

(24.) John W. O'Malley, "Introduction" to Spiritualia and Pastoralia, xii.

(25.) For Aquinas's position on the pain of Christ's passion, see any edition of the Summa theologia III, q. 46, a. 6. More may have known Aquinas's teaching. Stapleton reports a story of John Harris, More's secretary, which shows how More had read Aquinas with such care that he could recognize when and where others quoted Aquinas out of context. See Stapleton, Of Sir Thomas More, 38.

(26.) De Taedio, 22.

(27.) In The Correspondence of Erasmus: Letters 1122 to 1251,1520 to 1521, trans. R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 238/467-480, Erasmus writes of another dispute he had with John Colet. His letter of June 13, 1521, reveals much about how differently he and Colet view Aquinas and the Catena. Erasmus writes of Colet:
   But to Thomas [Aquinas] he was for some reason more unfair than to
   Scotus. When I once praised Thomas in his hearing as no negligible
   figure among recent philosophers, because he did seem to have read
   both sacred literature and the old authors (so I had come to
   suspect from what they call the Catena aurea) and showed some
   sensibility in what he wrote, Colet concealed his feelings two or
   three times and said nothing. But on another occasion when I made
   the same remarks with more emphasis, he looked carefully at me, as
   though to see whether I meant it seriously or was pretending; and
   when he saw that I meant what I said, he broke out as though some
   spirit inspired him: "How can you praise that man in front of me?
   Had he not been most arrogant, he could never have been so rash and
   so self-confident as to lay down definitions for everything; and
   had he not been touched by the spirit of this world, he would not
   have mixed up the whole of Christ's teaching with a gentile
   philosophy of his own" (my emphasis).

Erasmus then comments that he treated Aquinas with more skepticism because of Colet's outburst.

(28.) Tracy, "Humanists among the Scholastics," 36.

(29.) DeTaedio, 66.

(30.) Erasmus writes: Verum, salvo aliorum judicio, potest sermo Christi habere nonnullam ironiam. Both this line and the note in context are cited in CW 14.2, commentary on 289/11-291/11. Erasmus also mentions Theophylactus's argument from Mark and, thereby, covers the same ground as the Catena.

(31.) Cf. Martz, Inner Man, 87.

(32.) Though More agrees in doctrine with Erasmus's treatise, his presentation differs from Erasmus's dispute with Colet. Erasmus himself explains the difference in genre, stating how commentaries emphasize the thoughts of others whereas his "battle" against Colet will be by "logic against logic, theory against theory, argument against argument" (De Taedio, 17). More's own "manner" in both The Treatise on the Passion and De Tristitia "is free from scholastic divisions and disquisitions; his whole aim is to draw the spiritual, the moral meaning from the letter" (Martz, Inner Man, 91). Martz accurately describes More's "manner" because De Tristitia avoids Scholastic divisiones or "the technique of dividing the text under discussion into parts and subparts" (Rodgers, "Lessons of Gethsemane," 247) and, instead, argues in utramque partem. Yet Erasmus's approach in De Taedio contradicts his philosophia Christi, "located as it is more truly in the disposition of the mind than in syllogisms," and wherein "life means more than debate, inspiration is preferable to erudition, transformation is a more important matter than intellectual comprehension." See Erasmus's Paraclesis in Christian Humanism and the Reformation: Selected Writings of Erasmus, ed. John C. Olin, 3rd ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1987), 97-108. The lines cited in this note are at 104.

(33.) For More's earlier and extensive use of the Catena on Matthew 26, see Haupt's commentary on Treatise on the Passion in CW 13 at: 126/27-127/2; 127/13-29; 128/25-29; 128/33-129/1; 133/27-134/7; and 136/4-18.

(34.) Martz, Inner Man, 88; cf. De Taedio, 9-10.

(35.) Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, ed. John Newman, vol. 1: St. Matthew (Exeter: Saint Austin Press, 1997), 914.

(36.) Ibid., vol. 2, 296.

(37.) More agrees with Theophylactus, as I address below, on the question of Christ's fear. Even More's alliance with Theophylactus, however, owes a considerable debt to Aquinas. As Jean-Pierre Torrell writes, Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. 1: The Person and His Work, trans. Robert Royal (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 139, in composing the Catena, Aquinas shows an exceptional knowledge of Theophylactus, a Church Father who was "unknown in the West" before Aquinas's use of him.

(38.) Thecla, "More and the Catena," 524.

(39.) Rodgers, "Lessons of Gethsemane," 249.

(40.) Haupt, CW 13, clxxviii.

(41.) Martz, Inner Man, 88.

(42.) The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More, vol. 4, Utopia, ed. Edward Surtz, J. H. Hexter (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 98/27-28.

(43.) On More's frequent use of this metaphor, see Gerard Wegemer, The Young Thomas More and the Arts of Liberty (NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 20.

(44.) More tells Margaret: "And surely, daughter, it is great pity that any Christian prince should by a flexible Council ready to follow his affections, and by a weak clergy lacking grace constantly to stand to their learning, with flattery be so shamefully abused." See Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More, Knight, c. 1556 in A Thomas More Source Book, ed. Gerard B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2004), 53.

(45.) The translations of these terms are from Brenda Hosington, "'Quid dormitis?': More's Use of Sleep As a Motif in De Tristitiaf Moreana, no. 100 (1989): 65.

(46.) CW 14.2, 711. Miller explains his concern about More's lack of decorum: "Onerarius (which means 'burden-bearing,' not 'burdensome') is a word applied to beast of burden ... but not to persons, must less to respected arbitrators" (Miller, CW 14.2, 711).

(47.) Hosington, More's Use of Sleep, 65.

(48.) CW 14.2, commentary on 45/2-47/1.

(49.) See Germain Marc'Hadour, The Bible in the Works of St. Thomas More, part 2: The Four Gospels (Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1969), 70.

(50.) Damascene and Origen are cited from the Catena, vol. 1, 907-08. Theophylactus is from the Catena, vol. 2, 293. For the same passages in Latin, which reproduces biblical verses in bold, see S. Thomae Aquinatis, Catena aurea in quatuor Evangelia, I: Expositio in Matthaeum et Marcum, ed. Angelico Guarienti OP (Rome: Marietti, 1953), 390 and 545.

(51.) See Jerome in the Catena, vol. 1, 908.

(52.) Heath notes that Jerome lists four causes for Christ's sadness: they are "concern for Judas, for the apostles, for the Jews, and for the fate of Jerusalem" (De Taedio, 17n20). None of these causes include the position of More. Erasmus identifies Colet with Jerome at De Taedio, 17. Cf. Miller's comment on 47/3-49/2 in CW 14.2, which notes how More "combines the positions of Colet and Erasmus." Erasmus does not deny Colet's explanation that Christ grieves for the "destruction of the Jews and the desertion of the disciples" but "would go further" in De Taedio, 50.

(53.) Hilary is cited from the Catena, vol. 1, 906. Erasmus, however, cites a general objection from Hilary in De Taedio, 19-20, which argues that it is "impious folly to maintain that it was for himself that Christ dreaded his death."

(54.) CW 14.2, commentary on 53/4-6.

(55.) Hilary is cited from the Catena, vol. 1, 906.

(56.) See Miller's commentary in CW 14.2 on 55/8-57/4.

(57.) More could follow Bede's gloss on Mark 14, which says of Christ that "He here represses the rash, who think that they can compass whatever they are confident about. But in proportion as we are confident from the ardour of our mind, so let us fear from the weakness of our flesh. For this place makes against those, who say that there was but one operation in the Lord and one will. For He shows two wills, one human, which from the weakness of the flesh shrinks from suffering; one divine, which is most ready" (Catena, vol. 2, 295). Erasmus, De Taedio, 27, concurs but in another sense: He argues "to be insensible to things that are dangerous and hostile to nature" is "inhuman" rather than "brave"; instead, "the brave are all the braver since they have had to overcome a natural desire to flee." Erasmus, next, discusses heroes from poets like Virgil and Homer to make his case about how brave men may experience fear. More, however, does not make the "two wills" argument in this instance. For More's own later discussion about Christ's two natures, see CW 14.1, 183/9-187/6. Erasmus's point, finally, is first anthropological and, eventually, analogical with respect to the person of Christ. More explicitly and immediately ties the fearful to Christ's own example.

(58.) Compare More's treatment of the fearful martyr with De Taedio, 46-50. "Is it not true that the more he took on the disabilities of our condition," Erasmus asks, "the more he loved us? And is not the worst of all humanity's woes our dread of death?" (Ibid., 50). Erasmus argues how Christ's fear is "the clearest proof of his love" because "he did not grant himself the same eager joy he bestowed on his members." Yet Christ, Erasmus hastens to add, undergoes death in the manner of both his "more robust members," or brave followers, and his "weaker members," and the latter by "apprehending death in his mind before it was inflicted upon his body" (Ibid., 49).

(59.) "The implied argument of such popular works as the Legenda aurea," Rodgers reminds us, "is that martyrs possess heroic courage and bravery and thus are fearless in the face of death," yet More makes the "opposite argument" ("Lessons of Gethsemane," 255). More's poetic approach, therefore, differs from "the heritage of late medieval devotion" (CW 13, clxxviii).

(60.) Martz, Inner Man, 92.

(61.) Rogers, "Lessons of Gethsemane," 542/94-97, my emphasis. I have modernized More's English from all his letters.

(62.) Ibid., 549/17-20 and 559/136-141.

(63.) The paradox of reluctant martyrs, as Rodgers demonstrates, functions in tandem with More's style. Miller's sense of how More's style breaks from parallel constructions and includes shifting viewpoints, in other words, relates to More's subject of martyrdom. See Rodgers, "Lessons of Gethsemane," 257 and CW 14, 770.

(64.) More's last prayer is cited from CW 13, 229/20-24; on its dating see ibid., cl-cli.

(65.) CW 14.2, 774.
COPYRIGHT 2015 Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Curtright, Travis
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Sep 22, 2015
Previous Article:Pope Benedict XVI: Joseph Ratzinger on politics.
Next Article:Art and allegory: a method to read The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |