Theology Professor Cyril O’Regan presents first lecture of game day series on Saint Thomas More
While game day activities often include tailgates, concession stands, and thrilling marching band performances, opportunities for quieter, intellectual moments exist as well. Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life hosts a game day “Saturdays with the Saints” lecture series in Geddes Hall, the first of which took place last Saturday.
Cyril O’Regan, Huisking Professor of Theology, began the sixth season of the lecture series with a thoughtful talk entitled “Thomas More: Saint in a Time of Political and Cultural Crisis.” Rather than a simply chronicling the biography of the 16th century British saint, the talk examined More’s character and legacy.
O’Regan began by outlining the three main ideas of his presentation. First, he stressed that a saint “is not a fluffy toy or a puppy dog,” but rather one that “challenges … and [is] sometimes controversial.” Next, he noted that More’s life is “more nearly centered on cultural crisis … [which] lasts forever,” as opposed to more transient political crises. This, he argued, connects Thomas More’s example to our modern age and society. Finally, O’Regan described each saint as “a form of light,” and more specifically, “a refraction of Christ lighting out” to inspire and lead others to him.
As he expanded on these three themes, O’Regan delved into More’s personality. He admired the title of Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, as it communicates the grounded nature of More’s life, which balanced often-opposing characteristics. These included, O’Regan said, “sharp wit and deep learning … a sense of self and great gentleness … [and] a marvelous sense of fun and deep gravity.” With this personality, More remained “himself under all circumstances,” whether the “season” of his life was pleasant or not.
O’Regan conveyed a realistic image of More by recognizing his flaws. He acknowledged that some Protestants were executed when More was Chancellor but also clarified that the number of executions during that time period is often exaggerated. Furthermore, the rise of Protestantism spread hostility and resentment throughout society, and O’Regan admitted that at times, More “hardly rose above what was worse in the back and forth.” However, he also asserted that More’s imperfection “does not disprove that he was … on the whole, a good man.”
Another illustration of More’s humanity arose as O’Regan described his aversion to conflict and pain. “He had no taste for an untimely death,” he said, “and even less interest in a martyr’s death.” More in fact advocated negotiation, compromise, and efforts to improve the state. He believed that one should not seek out controversy, and O’Regan concurred by saying, “If we are to die a martyr’s death, this has to be God’s will, not ours.” Still, when More recognized that God’s will had brought him to such a sacrifice, he accepted it wholeheartedly. For this reason, he famously acknowledged himself as “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
O’Regan concluded by highlighting More’s life as an important model for people of modern day society. While the world and the state are naturally “objects of our love,” he said, the time may come “when we have to choose” between earthly law and divine law. Saint Thomas More, he stressed, teaches us the value of choosing the latter.
After his talk, O’Regan told the Rover how students might learn from More’s example. He noted that all saints are wonderful examples, and that as the patron saint of politics, More’s life focuses on that realm in particular. Still, he encouraged all to learn from More’s ability to negotiate peacefully, but when necessary, to definitively choose to follow God’s law, no matter what the cost.
The next “Saturdays with the Saints” lecture will take place on September 19 in Geddes Hall. Mary Catherine Hilkert, Professor of Systematic Theology, will present “Catherine of Siena as Woman of the Word: ‘It is Silence that Kills the World.’”
Sophia Buono is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and minoring in Education, Schooling, and Society. She enjoyed the summer immensely, when she had the privilege of volunteering at a nursing home, teaching middle school girls, and relaxing at the beach with her family. Contact Sophia at email@example.com.