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How Do St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Aquinas Inspire You?

March 28, AD2014 6 Comments


When we say, “Someone inspires us,” what do we mean? Do we mean someone fills us with good feelings or someone’s example pushes us on to do greater things? The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word, inspirare, which means “to breathe upon, to blow into,” or animate with an idea or purpose. As shown in Chapter 2 of Genesis, where God forms man out of the dust of the ground and gives him life through “breathing into” him, being truly inspired by someone is life-giving. It animates us with a good purpose. Therefore, when I say that St. Thomas More (More), the patron saint of lawyers, and St. Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas), the Angelic Doctor, inspire me, I mean that their lives and teachings “breathed into” me the desire to become truly a man of faith and reason. A man that follows his conscience and works humbly within the law to promote the common good of all people, which first starts with protecting the dignity of all human life, marriage, and religious freedom. 

Not unlike the political leaders in More’s and Aquinas’ time, many of today’s political leaders abandon their own private consciences in their ambition for power and fame. As More wisely points out, “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”[1] We do not have to look beyond our own borders to see the truth of More’s statement. Furthermore, as Aquinas illustrates, the sacrifice of one’s conscience for the attainment of power, fame, or glory only brings further emptiness to the individual, not “happiness” or final fulfillment with God.[2] Therefore, both Aquinas and More inspire me to always follow my conscience lest I endanger more than my own soul – my country as well.

Aquinas and More also inspire me as a young lawyer to work within the law to promote life, marriage, and religious liberty. For both Aquinas and More, law’s final cause or end is to promote the common good, which is the directing of man towards his ultimate end, happiness.[3] Not happiness in the subjective sense (“just do whatever makes one feel happy”), but the natural right to pursue happiness as shown in the Declaration of Independence. The promotion of true happiness begins with protecting the dignity of all human life – a right to life that presupposes all other rights. One cannot grasp human rights in general without first understanding this essential right. Furthermore, laws that undermine marriage as between one man and one woman uproot and destabilize the family, the basis of civilization and the first community as Aquinas describes it. Finally, laws that inhibit religious freedom by forcing a person to violate his conscience not only creates instability by pitting the state against religion, but it also works to keep religion out of the public square.   

Unlike many Catholic politicians, St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Aquinas inspire me to take the road less traveled, the road of faith and reason. This means not separating my personal beliefs from my public duties. It means not going with the crowd for “fellowship’s sake.” It means following my conscience even if I walk this path alone.  As St. Thomas More once said to his friend, “For when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship’s [sake]?”[4]

As St. Thomas More once told the Chief Justice of England, “Death comes for us all… even for kings.”[5] The question, however, is not when death will come, but how we will meet our death. Will we be able to say as St. Thomas More did, “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first?”[6] Or, as St. Thomas Aquinas warned us in the Summa Theologica, will something like wealth, honor, fame, power, or pleasure prevent us from achieving true “happiness?”[7] The lives and teachings of St. Thomas More and St. Thomas Aquinas have “breathed into” me a good purpose – to become like them, a true man of faith and reason.

[1] A Man for All Seasons.
[2] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Pt. I-II, Q. 90, Art. 2 (Fathers of the English Dominican Province trans., Christian Classics 1981) [hereinafter Summa Theologica].
[3] Id.
[4] A Man for All Seasons (argument between Thomas More and the Duke of Norfolk about signing the Oath of Supremacy).
[5] A Man for All Seasons (Thomas More speaking to the Chief Justice).
[6] A Man for All Seasons (Thomas More before his death).
[7] Summa Theologica, supra note 2.


\"JosephJoseph Tompkins is a third year law student at Ave Maria School of Law and currently serves as the Business Manager on the Editorial Board of the Ave Maria Law Review. His law review article on the Catholic influence behind the First Amendment was recently selected for publication and presented to Justice Scalia of the United States Supreme Court. Joseph graduated from Ave Maria University with honors in 2009 and will do the same from Ave Maria School of Law in 2014. He is a proud husband and father of two children.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

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