Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review: Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation By St. Thomas More

Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation by St. Thomas More

After receiving a smart phone for Christmas, I decided to join the Kindle ranks and downloaded the Android Kindle app. Browsing around for free stuff to start with, I check what was available from Thomas More, a favorite author and saint. For the past two Lents I've read his The Sadness of Christ and have found it greatly edifying. Figuring the Dialogue would be similar, I was excited to start reading it in Lent after re-reading his other work.

The book is written as a dialogue where two or more characters discuss issues or ideas. Here, one person (a nephew) asks pretty basic questions and his uncle expostulates at length on those questions. The nephew says, "You are so right, I don't know why I didn't see the point you are making. Here is my follow up question to continue the dialogue:..." Sometimes I'm not in the mood for that style, because the people really aren't characters or persons in their own right, just one mouthpiece and one sounding board. Plato's dialogues sometimes fall into this, but most have actual characters discussing the issue (thus a true dialogue) rather than one person providing his interlocutor "the truth" (really a monologue). The first third of More's book is written in the more monologue style. The delivery provides a lot of content but it comes off a little dry and academic.

After the first third, the discussion becomes a bit more of a discussion and the uncle begins using stories to illustrate his points. The book becomes much more engaging and enjoyable. The final third of the book deals with the hard issues of imprisonment and death, which clearly were on the author's mind as he awaited his own fate in the Tower of London. He was executed in 1535 by King Henry VIII's government on false evidence of treason. The treasonable act would have been denying that the King was the supreme head of the Church in England.

While many parts of the book are very compelling and great reading, a great portion of it is pretty dry. Sometimes the language is a little convoluted, for example: "Forsooth, uncle, this thing yet seemeth to me a somewhat sore sentence, not because I think otherwise but that there is good cause and great wherefore a man should so sorrow, but because of truth sometimes a man cannot be sorry and heavy for his sin that he hath done, though he never so fain would." This particular edition has "modifications to obsolete language by Monica Stevens," modifying the Everyman Library edition of the book. I can't say she did a good job. More refers to an author named "Austine" that I soon realized meant St. Augustine. I'd recommend someone interested in reading this either stick with Everyman or look for another modernizing of the text.

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