Thomas More

Different Sensibilities

One of the last dinners before the close of the Templeton-Cambridge seminars for my fellowship took place at Trinity College. Along with my co-fellows, I was delighted to see (again after a space of 20 years or so) the Rev. John Polkinghorne, and also to meet for the first time Keith Ward, who was to be our last official speaker the next morning, on unity and diversity in world religions.

Polkinghorne is 80, and working on a new book. I hope I look as fit as he does when I reach that age. We had a chance to chat about his former colleagues, including Steven Weinberg.

Now, one should not take too seriously what one banters about over the dinner table, but after introducing myself and getting a chance to talk about his experience teaching and writing, I asked Keith Ward how St. Thomas More was regarded in the UK these days. Now, Ward’s not a Catholic, so I wasn’t expecting a great deal of enthusiasm, but he thought that very few people seem to be aware of More at all at any level in the UK, historical or otherwise, in spite of the popularity of films like Man for All Seasons in the U.S.

Peter Akroyd did write an excellent biography of More, not more than 15 years ago, and one which I enjoyed and thought was, on the whole, pretty fair to More. But Ward, after thinking about it for a few moments, sort of shrugged and told me with a wry smile, he thought More was a ‘bit of a nasty piece of work.’

Perhaps it depends on your sensibility.