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The Purpose of Man and the Citizen of the State

A defining aspect of humanity is whom one chooses to serve, whether it is religion, country, oneself, or any combination of things. Robert Bolt’s play A Man For All Seasons, presents its readers with different ideas of loyalty. For example, Chapuys, a diplomat and lay ecclesiastic, believes “No man can serve two masters.”[1] Chapuys makes this statement in reference to Sir Thomas More and his decision about King Henry VIII’s divorce. Chapuys is somewhat mistaken. While a person should not hold multiple masters equally, he need not give up all other loyalties and serve one master. A person ought to hold one allegiance supreme, while still maintaining loyalty to others. In the Bible, The Lord commands this loyalty of Christians:

‘Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’[2]

There is more to this verse than merely the implication that Christians must pay taxes. This passage concerns a Christian person’s loyalty to the state. Ultimately, a Christian citizen must serve the state because he is a member of it, and he must serve God through the Church because God is his creator and it is God’s inscription that is on his heart. Furthermore, he must hold his loyalty to the Church supreme for it is the purpose of man to seek God, and it is through the Church that man does this.

It certainly seems that remaining loyal to two masters does not benefit Sir Thomas More. It is a concept, however, that is essential and necessary to his nature. Identity stems from how the state naturally arises. In Book 2 of Politics, Aristotle shows that the city develops from the village, which develops from the family, which develops from the individual.[3] This gives each individual multiple levels of identity; identity in themselves, their family, their state. A person finds identity through these because they are a part of each of these wholes. When a man is a part of a whole, like a village or city, that whole becomes part of him, giving him identity in it. In turn, when a person identifies in or with something, they are loyal to it. In the character of Sir Thomas More one can see two apparent loyalties — loyalty to the king and loyalty to God and the Church. More is a part of both the state and the Church, and therefore, he has identity in them and loyalty to them. In the text, More is shown to be loyal to King Henry. As More says to King Henry: “I am your Grace’s loyal minister.”[4] He is also identified as “a good son of the church.”[5] Bolt juxtaposes More’s identities in the play, and, since the Church and the King are at odds with each other, one can clearly see these loyalties in conflict. More now must prioritize his identities but remain true to both nonetheless. More acts justly when he gives Henry loyalty, which is what he owes him, yet he still remembers that he is made in the image of God and never forsakes God’s Church.

A Man For All Seasons gives plenty of examples of those who compromise their covenant to the church in order to stay loyal to the state. Wolsey, the Chancellor of England, is an example of this. Due to his position, Wolsey has a great commitment to the King, but he is also a Cardinal, and has a great commitment to the Church. When speaking to More about the divorce of King Henry and Catherine, Wolsey says, “In addition to prayer there is effort. My effort’s to secure a divorce.”[6] Wolsey, in loyalty to the King, surrenders his loyalty to the Church. Wolsey says he does this out of the fear of losing the bloodline, which would allow the potential for war.[7] However, it should be more important to Wolsey that England follow the Church not that the King achieves his desires. Wolsey’s sacrifice of his own commitment to the Church in order to appease the King will not only affect him, but also a plethora of others due to the separation of England from the Catholic Church.

King Henry himself is another example of turning away from the Church in order to preserve loyalty to one’s country. Henry desires to prevent war and maintain his bloodline, which desires have caused him to turn away from the Church. We see this fleshed out when Henry approaches More about the divorce and pleads with More to side with him. More again refuses to go against the Church. In response to this, Henry says, “No opposition, I say! No Opposition! Your conscience is your own affair; but you are my Chancellor!”[8] Henry wishes More to give up loyalty to the Church, just as he himself has. The King has ceased to care what the Church says and is deserting his loyalty to it in favor of being loyal solely to his state and, in this case, loyal to himself and his desires.

On the other hand, there are those in the play who commit solely to the church, and abandon their state. One example of this is Roper. In the beginning of Act 2, Roper is in conversation with More:

[Roper] The time has come for decent men to declare their allegiance…My allegiance to the Church.

[More] Well, you look like a Spaniard.

[Roper] All credit to Spain then![9]

Roper has gone so far as to give up his allegiance to his country completely for the sake of his allegiance to the Church. This may seem like the right thing to do because a Christian ought to be loyal first to the Church, but Roper gives up on the state completely. He is not rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. He has not given proper respect to the city of man, and instead has turned all his attention towards the city of God. Roper ought to serve his country and his God, he ought not abandon his country so readily in the face of difficulty.

There is, however, a point when it is just for a Christian citizen to give up his loyalty to a state. This comes at the point when it is no longer possible for a Christian to seek the good, the true, and the beautiful — God. This is the case because in the scriptures Christians are taught,

And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…[10]

It is the purpose of man to seek God. A state can impede a person’s ability to seek God whether it be through legislation against the practice of faith or a number of other things. When a state does this, then it is reasonable that a Christian citizen should relinquish their loyalty to the state.  Sir Thomas More does not reach this point. His ability to seek God is never impeded by the state. His ability to speak out against the King is the only thing that is hindered.

Sir Thomas More gives us an example of what it looks like to serve your state whilst staying loyal to the Church. Each of the other characters in the play goes against either their commitment to God or the state. When More gives the King his final word and tells Henry that he will not condone the divorce, the King demands that More at least refrain from publicly opposing the King in speech or in writing.[11] More abides by this. He makes a point not to write or even speak about the divorce, and even his family notices this. His wife, Alice, says, “He’s not said one simple, direct word to me since this divorce came up. It’s not God who’s gone subtle! It’s him!”[12] More has held his allegiance to God, for he has not disavowed the Pope and gone against the Church. Furthermore, he has not broken his word to the King for he does not speak or write of the divorce. He offers the King neither opposition nor affirmation. This is not complacency but rather obedience on More’s part.

Another example of More having a proper relationship between loyalty to the Church and loyalty the state is More’s conversation with the Duke of Norfolk prior to meeting with King Henry. When More approaches Norfolk he is wearing a cassock. Norfolk accuses More of dishonoring the King by wearing the clerical attire. In response to this More says, “The service of God is not a dishonor to any office.”[13] In this sequence Norfolk is saying that the King is more important than the Church and that More ought not approach the King in the dress of clergy. More is saying exactly the opposite; that he would be doing the King an honor by approaching him in that manner, because God is higher and more important than the King. More, despite his position of service to the King, is a son of the Church and knows that his purpose is to seek God.

A Christian ought to remain loyal to both God and his state. First, because it is surely wrong to give up one’s commitment to God and side with the state alone. If we are taught anything as Christians it is to obey God, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.”[14] It is the duty of a Christian to obey God and stay loyal to him. In the Catholic tradition this means submitting to the authority of the Church and its head, the Pope. Characters like Roper and Chapuys stay loyal to God and give up their allegiance to the state. On the surface this seems like a noble thing, and one should give ultimate loyalty to God. That, however, does not mean rejecting the state; they ought to serve the Church in cooperation with their state. God commands this of Christians, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”[15] Christians are to be obedient to God, and in turn be obedient to the state as God has commanded.

Moreover, Augustine shows us that it is important to use the things of earth to attain the things of Heaven. Augustine says that every man desires peace, the end of this being Heavenly peace, stating that “The whole use, then, of things temporal has a reference to this result of earthly peace in the earthly community, while in the city of God it is connected with eternal peace.”[16] Temporal things help us obtain heavenly things. Earthly peace gives us the opportunity to pursue the City of God. Therefore, the temporal state is something that Christians ought to use in order to better become like Christ. This relates to one scene in the play when Roper accuses More of following man’s law above God’s. Roper claims that he would cut down every law in order to get after the devil, and More responds:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper… This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down… d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?[17]

Roper has looked beyond the fact that, while the Devil could not stand up to the laws of God, neither could he. He has ignored the fact that the laws of man give him the opportunity to work toward following the laws of God. Humanity is not perfect, but giving up on it is not the way to work towards being a citizen of the city of God.

As a citizen one has a duty to their state. As a part of the family of God Christians have a duty to the Church and to God. These two identities and loyalties are not mutually exclusive. There is, however, a hierarchy among them; a Christian’s loyalty to God ought to preside over his loyalty to the state. It is necessary that a Christian citizen, like Sir Thomas More, hold true to both of those allegiances, remembering all the while that his true purpose is to seek God.

[1] ROBERT BOLT, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (NEW YORK: RANDOM HOUSE, 1990), 41.
[2] MATTHEW 22:19-21 (ESV).
[3] ARISTOTLE, ARISTOTLE’S POLITICS, 2ND ED.., TRANS. CARNES LORD (CHICAGO: UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2013), 1252a l.25- 1252b.
[4] BOLT, A  MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, 57.
[5] IBID., 39.
[6] IBID., 21.
[7] IBID., 22.
[8] IBID., 56.
[9] IBID., 82.
[10] ACTS 17:26, 27 (ESV)
[11] BOLT, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, 56.
[12] IBID., 68.
[13] IBID., 46.
[14] EXODUS 19:5 (ESV)
[15] MATTHEW 22:21 (ESV)
[16] AUGUSTINE, ST. AUGUSTINE’S TREATISE ON THE CITY OF GOD, TRANS. F.R. MONTGOMERY HITCHCOCK (LONDON: SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, 1922), BOOK XIX.
[17] BOLT, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, 66.

 

REFERENCES:
ARISTOTLE. ARISTOTLE’S POLITICS. 4TH ED. TRANSLATED BY CARNES LORD. CHICAGO: UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2013.
AUGUSTINE. ST AUGUSTINE’S TREATISE ON THE CITY OF GOD. TRANSLATED BY F. R. MONTGOMERY HITCHCOCK. LONDON: SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, 1922.
BOLT, ROBERT. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. NEW YORK: RANDOM HOUSE, 1990.