A talk by Neil Addison, Barrister and Director of the Thomas More Legal Centre, given at St George's, Headstone, Harrow, 6 July 2012
For a Roman Catholic lawyer to be invited to a Protestant Anglican Church to celebrate the dedication of two graven images of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More is the sort of paradox that More, though I suspect not Fisher, would have relished.
Of the two men, Thomas More is definitely the better known. In modern parlance, he has the best PR – but perhaps that is inevitable. Fisher was after all a clergyman, a bishop, and while saintly bishops are perhaps not as common as they should be, they are at least expected to have some saintly qualities. More, however, was not a clergyman: he was a lawyer and, sad though I am to say it since I am myself a lawyer, I do have to concede that not many lawyers are saints.
And what would these saints, these martyrs, make of this service? I digress at this point to mention that Evensong is far and away my favourite Christian service. It is quintessentially English and yet in its origins it is part of a tradition of sung praise which is shared throughout the Christian world. It is a form of service that both Fisher and More would have recognised, since it derives from the sung office of monastic communities with which both of them would have been familiar.
They would no doubt be surprised to hear the office sung in English rather than Latin and probably shocked that it was English written by Thomas Cranmer. However, More who was himself a writer of ability would, I am sure, have acknowledged that Cranmer – unredeemed heretic though he may have been – was a wordsmith of rare quality who, in 'The Book of Common Prayer', created one of the literary and religious treasures of the English language.
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