St. Thomas More’s thorough refutation of the Act of Supremacy

September 2, 2021 • 4 min

From Life of Sir Thomas More, page 90

And incontinent upon their verdict the Lord Chancellor, for that matter Chief Commissioner, beginning to proceed in judgment against him, Sir Thomas More said unto him:

My Lord, when I was toward the law, the manner in such case was to ask the prisoner before judgment what he could say, why judgment should not be given against him.

Whereupon the Lord Chancellor, staying his judgment, wherein he had partly proceeded, demanded of him what he was able to say to the contrary. Who then in this sort most humbly made answer:

Forasmuch, my Lord, (quoth he,) as this indictment is grounded upon an act of parliament directly repugnant to the laws of God and His holy Church, the supreme government of which, or any part thereof, may no temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging to the see of Rome,—a spiritual pre-eminence by the mouth of our Saviour himself, personally present upon the earth, only to Saint Peter and his successors, bishops of the same see, by special prerogative granted; it is therefore in law, amongst Christian men, insufficient to charge any Christian man.

And for proof thereof, like as amongst divers other reasons and authorities, he declared that this realm, being but a member and small part of the church, might not make a particular law disagreeable with the general law of Christ’s universal Catholic Church, no more than the City of London, being but one poor member in respect of the whole realm, might make a law against an act of parliament to bind the whole realm.

So further showed he that it was both contrary to the laws and statutes of this our land yet unrepealed, as they might evidently perceive in Magna Charta, quod Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit, et habeat omnia jura sua integra, et libertates suas illæsas, and also contrary to that sacred oath which the king’s highness himself, and every other Christian prince, always with great solemnity received at their coronations.

Alleging, moreover, that no more might this realm of England refuse obedience to the See of Rome, than might the child refuse obedience to his natural father. For, as St. Paul said to the Corinthians, I have regenerated you, my children in Christ, so might St. Gregory, Pope of Rome (of whom, by St. Augustine his messenger, we first received the Christian faith) of us Englishmen truly say, You are my children, because I have under Christ given to you everlasting salvation (a far higher and better inheritance than any carnal father can leave to his child), and by regeneration have made you spiritual children in Christ.

Then was it by the Lord Chancellor thereunto answered, that, “seeing all the bishops, universities, and best learned men of the realm had to this act agreed, it was much marvelled that he alone against them all would so stiffly stick thereat, and so vehemently argue there-against.”

To that Sir Thomas More replied, saying:

If the number of bishops and universities be so material as your lordship seemeth to take it, then see I little cause, my lord, why that thing in my conscience should make any change.

For I nothing doubt but that, though not in this realm, yet in Christendom about, of these well learned bishops and virtuous men that are yet alive, they be not the fewer part that be of my mind therein.

But if I should speak of those that already be dead, of whom many be now holy saints in heaven, I am very sure it is the far, far greater part of them that all the while they lived thought in this case that way that I now think; and therefore am I not bound, my lord, to conform my conscience to the council of one realm, against the general council of Christendom.

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