Friday, February 13, 2009

How to Become a Saint

One of the mentors of one of my mentors wrote a posthumously published book titled How to Become a Saint, a title that is out of place in Protestant circles where we either emphasize that we are all sinners or that we are all saints.

I thought about that title yesterday as I fingered the manuscript of (Saint) Thomas More’s prayer that he wrote in the Tower of London while awaiting execution (yes, I really did get to touch the manuscript!). It’s a long, thin, scroll-like parchment with a lengthy, rambling prayer of adoration and devotion written mostly in English. Then at the end, before the closing prayer, there is a poem.*

It’s interesting to read what a doomed saint writes as he waits to die. It is not polemical, though More certainly demonstrated his skill for polemical literature many times before his imprisonment. It is not even particularly heroic, though he was preparing himself to die in defense of the Church. It may be pious, but it is an odd piety: a piety of extreme feeling (sighing, suffering, lowness, wrath, weeping), and a piety of extreme love (“loue,” by Renaissance spelling).
Rede distinctely
pray deuoutly
syghe depely
suffer pacyently
meke youe lowly
giue no sentenc hastely
speke but rathe and that truly
preuent youre spech discretely
do all your dedes in charytye
temtacyon resyst strongly
breke his heade shortly
wepe bytterly
haue compassion tenderly
do good workes busyly
loue perseuerently
loue hertely
loue faythfully
loue god all only
and all other for hym charitably
loue in aduersytye
loue in prosperyty
thinke alway of loue for loue ys non other but god hymselfe. Thus to loue bringeth the louer to loue without ende.
It strikes me as an odd exhortation from a martyred man—not to endure, not to fight, not to have courage, not to have peace, not to proclaim the truth, not even (though it is included, I suppose) to forgive. Over and over, at the end of his prayers in the days he awaited execution, this particular saint exhorted himself to love. Just to love.

Like most saints, More did not consider himself to be one—in a letter to Erasmus in which he discussed a literary scuffle the Englishman was having with a French poet, he suggested he deserved some grace “while I still dwell in this mortal abode, and have certainly not yet been entered in the number of saints (let me laugh at a laughable notion!).” But maybe he had unknowingly stumbled on the key factor in sainthood.

How do you become a saint? Love.


*For the record, this is not actually a poem that he wrote, but does come from the prayer scroll he used in the tower, so it is a poem he was repeating while he awaited execution.

3 comments:

Benjamin said...

I liked the prayer! Thanks for typing it out.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Very cool poem.

Though I'm very curious what "Breke his heade shortly" is about. Perhaps a continuation of the previous line, discussing temptation?

Still and all...one could do a lot worse for a life-motto.

Rachat de credit said...

Thank you it is a fantastic guide, now to become a saint is definitely simple by using your recommendation. Thank you