John F. Fink is the author of eight titles published by ST PAULS/Alba House including the present one: Biblical Women: Females in a Patriarchal Society (2008), Jesus in the Gospels (2006), Letters to St. Francis de Sales: Mostly on Prayer (2002), American Saints (2001), a two-volume work on The Doctors of the Church of the First Millennium (2000) and The Doctors of the Church of the Second Millennium (2000), and Married Saints (1999).
Visit any public library or a library of a Catholic college or university and you are apt to find numerous biographies of Thomas More, most of which will contain more proper names, dates and footnotes than you would care to remember, much less read. St. Thomas More: Model for Modern Catholics, by John F. Fink, is refreshingly distinct. In the foreword Fink clarifies that this biography is intended not as a scholarly work but as a popular one. He even calls Thomas More a "unique guy." There are no footnotes, but Fink does reveal his sources and provides an extensive bibliography.
Navigating this book is like paddling a canoe on tranquil water. The vocabulary is relatively simple. Fink's style is clear and crisp. Unlike many biographies in which the subject's life is presented in chronological order, this book is more or less divided into three sections according to More's roles in life: the early years; his roles as husband, father, lawyer, author, lord chancellor and defender of Catholicism; finally, his retirement, imprisonment, conviction and execution in 1535.
Fink states some of the well-known Thomas More facts, such as wearing a hair shirt under his outer garments, being the patron of lawyers and politicians, and writing the famous book Utopia (literally "Nowhere"). Of course, the entire friction between More and Henry VIII is treated thoroughly. Fink, however, also tries to convey the style and integrity of the man. For instance, he explains that if Thomas felt that he could not win a case for his client, he would inform the client of that fact and advise him to secure a different lawyer. When a fire destroyed all of More's barns, he wrote to his wife, "Let us heartily thank God as well for adversity as for prosperity, and perhaps we have more cause to thank him for our loss than our gain, for his wisdom sees better what is good for us than we do ourselves." In a letter to his daughter Meg, More wrote, "It is not a sin to have riches, but to love riches." Thomas More was the first Englishman to recognize the importance of the education of women. Even his friend Erasmus reversed his opposition to the education of women when he met Thomas's daughters.
Fink focuses on some unusual facts of More's life. Among his many civic duties, Thomas was made commissioner of the sewers, thus responsible for their maintenance. At home, he sustained a menagerie of pets including a fox, rabbits, a monkey and several breeds of birds.
More could be very opinionated. He made fun of lazy friars and greedy ecclesiastics, as well as lawyers and scholastic theologians. More was a fan of St. Augustine. He disliked the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, especially his Summa Theologica. (Remembering some of my required college philosophy and theology courses, I could identify with that.) Thomas More wrote that he liked an emphasis on love rather than on knowledge. At one time there was a friar who was preaching that anyone who recited the Rosary every day was assured salvation. Thomas replied that it seemed unlikely to him that anyone could purchase heaven at so little cost. Of special value is the epilogue. Here Fink writes succinctly of what happened after Thomas More's death. He includes some thought-provoking comments about More by such authors as Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, John Donne and Jonathan Swift.
At their canonization in 1935, Pope Pius XI stated that More and John Fisher are two figures who deserve our admiration and imitation. Blood and death are only one kind of martyrdom. There are other martyrdoms that one experiences in following the ways of God in the fulfillment of everyday duties. That is precisely the theme of this book, and John Fink does a first-rate task of developing it. If you are searching for an inspirational biography that is not ponderous, then John Fink's story of Thomas More is the one for you. --Reviewed in the February 2010 issue of St. Anthony Messenger by Donald J. McGrath, a retired English teacher at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
St. Thomas More is a biographical work written for a general audience of readers seeking insights into the life and times of one of England's most famous Catholics. This popular text is a welcomed contribution due to its summarizing and condensing of much scholarly information into an attractive and accessible hero story. John F. Fink, a noted author of eight titles for ST PAULS / Alba House, takes the reader into the daily life and political affairs of the "Man for All Seasons." Following the typical biographical sequence of birth to death, Fink skillfully and passionately presents Thomas More as a man unique to early sixteenth-centruty England and a man still relevant in the twenty-first century.
More is a model for modern Catholic men who try to balance secular success with an active spiritual life, in addition to being devoted fathers and loving husbands. And politically we see his strength of principle over expediency or popularity. So strong is this impulse for justice that More ultimately surrenders his life for truth. There is a good bibliography citing the most notable titles about Thomas More which facilitates the reader in deepening his or her understanding of this extraordinary man.
This title is recommended for libraries collecting religious biography and for personal reflection. --John-Leonard Berg in Catholic Library World, December 2009
On my first visit to London many years ago I took a tour of the government building containing the room where Sir Thomas More was condemned to death in 1535 for refusing to take an oath declaring King Henry VIII to be the supreme head of the Church in England. The guide, who was obviously not a Catholic, pointed to a spot in that big room and said, "Here stood the greatest Englishman of them all, Sir Thomas More."
Thomas More was indeed a great man. He was a man of principle who was a lawyer, judge, famous author, father of a large family, diplomat, ambassador, advisor to the King, Chancellor of the Realm, saint and martyr for the faith. Dozens of books have been written about him. He is also the patron saint of lawyers.
In this short book John F. Fink presents in a readable way the main facts about More's life. Thomas More was a man of great integrity--a man of principle. He was a lawyer who did not lie and a judge who never took a bribe. He was fair to all and kind, but he could also be severe when it came to upholding the law and moral principle. He was one of the few people who refused, for the sake of his conscience, to take the oath demanded by the king that separated the Church in England from union with the papacy and the See of Peter. His wife pleaded with him to take it; his beloved daughter Meg, who had taken the oath, begged him to take it and save his life. He refused because he knew it would be a mortal sin for him to deny the primacy of the pope in the Church. He would lose everything he held dear, and even his life, rather than deny his conscience. That, by the way was the main point of the play and film A Man for All Seasons.
Mr. Fink presents St. Thomas More as "a model for modern Catholics." That is an excellent point, since we live in a culture of relativism, materialism, hedonism and atheism. It is not easy to be openly a Catholic in public life, as we see in the case of too many politicians who claim to be Catholic while denying basic Catholic teachings on such things as the sanctity of all human life and the immorality of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. If St. Thomas More were a senator in the USA today, defending the teaching of the Church, he would be persecuted and attacked just as he was in the sixteenth century under Henry VIII.
If you like to read the lives of the saints, this is a good one. If you have a Catholic friend who is a lawyer or a politician, after you have read the book yourself I suggest you give it to him or her as a present. We need more people in public life. who model themselves on St. Thomas More. --Kenneth Baker, S.J. in the October 2009 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Especially among speakers of English, Sir Thomas More is a saint that people happily learn or relearn about as family man and public man. John F. Fink's St. Thomas More: Model for Modern Catholics (ST PAULS / Alba House, $14.94) smoothly and freshly presents many striking aspects of "the king's good servant but God's first," aspects relevant to us today. The book can wake up your own memory to details that you were forgetting and make connections that you never thought to make. And there is a lengthy selected bibliography. --Review for Religious, 68.3 2009
Modern Model: St. Thomas More: Model for Modern Catholics by John Fink tells the fascinating and extraordinary story of the saint's life. Borrowing a phrase from Erasmus, Robert Bolt in his play by the same name called St. Thomas More "A Man for All Seasons" and with good reason. Husband, father, eminently successful lawyer in England, an astute politician, second most powerful man in the realm, and one of the best authors of the Renaissance, he was also remarkably saintly. Faithful to the daily devotions and penances that he began as a young man, More was a devout Catholic and an ardent defender of the teachings of the Catholic Church against Martin Luther. Known for his wit and sense of humor, his dispute with King Henry VIII over the annulment of Henry's first marriage and the primacy of the papacy over the Church of England, resulted in his ultimate condemnation and execution as a martyr. --Crux of the News, March 16, 2009