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Posted November 2, 2004

Book: Saints and their Symbols: Recognizing Saint in Art and in Popular Images
Authors: Fernando and Gioia Lanzi
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp. 237

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

Our churches, as well as our museums and art collections, and not least the streets of our cities and the countryside, are filled with two-and-three dimensional images. Today, as in the past, not everyone understands these images.

The images in question are illustrations that tell the story of Christian salvation, which began at the creation; they depict the divine and human persons who played, and play, a part in the first and former covenant as well as in the second, new, and definitive covenant between humanity and its Creator.

But while people today see these images, not all of them are able now to recognize the characteristic features of the actors in that history. Some, of course, are well known and clear to all: Our Lady, Jesus, and the eternal Father are still recognizable, one reason being that their names appear clearly in the titles and captions of works representing them. But the other actors are not only no longer known to all; there is no longer a tradition enabling people to distinguish one from another. . . . Our intention here is to deal with some individuals of the new covenant, starting with those who surrounded Jesus during his earthly life and then, ideally, to survey the centuries down to our own time. We shall be dealing, therefore, with the images of the saints, and we shall try to explain why so many of them appear in the various depictions of Jesus and the Virgin. What is the significance of this phenomenon, in time and history, for us, and what does it say about us?

An Excerpt from the Book:

Thomas More, Martyr
Memorial: June 22; Martyrdom: July 6

Thomas, the upright father of a family and an official at the court of Henry VIII, gave his life out of fidelity to the Catholic Church; he is remembered for the resolute Christian tranquility with which he accepted his misfortunes, and as “a man for all seasons.” He shared his imprisonment and martyrdom with Bishop John Fisher.

Thomas was son of a common law judge, attended the University of Oxford, began the study of Greek, and completed his legal studies in London. He had a brilliant career and in 1529 was appointed chancellor of England. He was already a friend of Erasmus of Rotterdam, had studied St. Augustine, and had written Utopia, the book that made him famous. [On the book Utopia. The English part in the European movement known as humanism also belongs to this time. Humanism encouraged greater care in the study of the literature of classical antiquity and reformed education in such a way as to make literary expression of paramount importance for the cultured person. Literary style, in part modeled on that of the ancients, soon became a self-conscious preoccupation of English poets and prose writers. Thus, the richness and metaphorical profusion of style at the end of the century indirectly owed much to the educational force of this movement. The most immediate effect of humanism lay, however, in the dissemination of the cultivated, clear, and sensible attitude of its classically educated adherents, who rejected medieval theological misteaching and superstition. Of these writers, Sir Thomas More is the most remarkable. His Latin prose narrative Utopia (1516) satirizes the irrationality of inherited assumptions about private property and money and follows Plato in deploring the failure of kings to make use of the wisdom of philosophers. More's book describes a distant nation organized on purely reasonable principles and named Utopia (Greek for “nowhere”).]

His life as a successful lawyer and humanist was one of study as well. He rose at 2:00 a.m. and studied until seven; this was followed by Mass. To his daily morning and evening prayers he added the seven penitential psalms and the litanies of the saints. He often went, on foot, on pilgrimages to nearby shrines; he also did something unusual at that time: every time he had to face some test, he received Communion. During meals one of his daughters read passages from the Scriptures.

Thomas sang in his parish choir, served Mass, took part in parish life, was generous in works of charity, and, at his own expense, rented houses in which he took care of the elderly, the sick, and the poor.

In his writings, moreover, he opposed Luther and dealt with the “last things”: death, judgement, hell, and paradise.

His social and cultural popularity did not prevent his being tried in 1535 forrefusing to take an oath recognizing the supremacy of the king over the Church in England; he defended himself by silence. When the death sentence was pronounced, he responded to his judges in a noble speech of forgiveness in which he expressed his desire to meet them all again in paradise. He was spared the punishment of hanging and quartering, which was reserved for Catholics, and was beheaded on the hill of the Tower in London. During his time in prison he had written his Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, a Treatise on the Passion of Christ, and A Devout Meditation.

He ascended the scaffold with jokes on his lips, asked that those present pray for him, and attested that he was dying as a faithful servant of the king but, above all, as a faithful servant of God. He then recited the Miserere and had some humorous words of comfort for the executioner: he himself put the bandage over his eyes and placed is head on the block. It was July 6, 1535.

His severed head was displayed to the public for a month; his daughter Margaret prevented it from being thrown into the Thames by paying for it.

Thomas was proclaimed the patron of public servants by John Paul II on October 31, 2000.

He is depicted in a portrait as a gentleman of that period, a man of peaceful face, dressed in the robe of chancellor and wearing an honorary neck-chain.

Sections From Table of Contents:

Anne (Patron of Brittany) and Joachim, Parents of Mary

Peter and Paul

James the Greater, Apostle

Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs

Agatha, Virgin and Martyr

Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Francis of Assisi, Founder of the Order of Friars Minor

Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal

Bridget of Sweden, Founder of the Order of the Holy Redeemer, Patron of Europe

Joan of Arc, Virgin

Ignatius of Loyola, Priest and Founder of the Society of Jesus

Jean Marie Vianney, Curate of Ars

Theresa of the Child of Jesus, Carmelite Religious and Doctor of the Church