Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Book Review: Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage by Gerard B. Wegemer

Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage by Gerard B. Wegemer

This birth-to-death biography of Saint Thomas More has an interesting twist. As it goes through the personal history of More, it stops to review his various writings when he wrote them. Thomas More was the first great Christian humanist to write in English. He was close friends with Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutchman who was also a scholar and committed Christian. They studied and translated the Greek classics and both agreed that humor was a more persuasive weapon in the literary arsenal than dry logic or harsh rhetoric. More wrote poetic and literary works (the most famous being Utopia) as well as theological reflections (like his commentary on the Christ's Passion). As author Wegemer describes More's family life and career, he throws in chapters reviewing the contents and significance of works written by More. Having the literary output interwoven with the biographical history gives the reader a deeper understanding of More's character.

The book is a little bit repetitive. Sometimes the life story gets ahead of itself and is repeated later on. Favorite little anecdotes show up multiple times, such as More's desire "to think my greatest enemies my best friends: For the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred." [p. 192, also p. 219] This is a reference the Book of Genesis. Jacob's son Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and taken off to Egypt where he eventually became a high official and was able to save his family from famine. The repetition is only a minor distraction and makes me wonder if some chapters were written as separate essays before the whole book was written.

Reading this after seeing A Man For All Seasons (the 1966 movie) is also fascinating. Many of the speeches in the movie are taken verbatim from the actual recorded words of Thomas. Some details in the movie are left out (like More's other children besides Meg or other charges More had to answer in his final trial), which is both typical and to be expected in a theatrical presentation of More's life. The book gives a fuller, even more inspiring portrait of this saint of great integrity, intelligence, and humor.

Highly recommended!

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