Sunday, February 26, 2012

Men and Women of Integrity

One of my all-time favorite plays is "A Man for All Seasons," by Richard Bolt.* I love this story for a number of reasons (for instance, I love it as a lawyer seeing a fellow practitioner worthy of emulation), but perhaps, on the most fundamental level, I enjoy it because it is a portrait of that increasingly elusive specter in these morally dubious days: A man of integrity. (Although many definitions of integrity can usefully be put forward, let's just call it by an alternate appellation ... honor.)

In a speech given at BYU in December 2011, Elder Tad R. Callister lays out, rather succinctly, what the life of Sir Thomas More can teach us about being men and women of integrity:

["A Man for All Seasons"] is the story of Sir Thomas More. He had distinguished himself as a scholar, a lawyer, an ambassador, and, finally, as Lord Chancellor of England. He was a man of absolute integrity. The play opens with these words of Sir Richard Rich: 'Every man has his price! . . . In money too. . . . Or pleasure. Titles, women, bricks-and-mortar, there’s always something.' That is the theme of the play. It is also the theme of life. Is there a man or woman in this world who cannot be bought, whose integrity is beyond price?

The answer, whether you look to the play, the scriptures or the lives of those excellent (and relatively obscure) individuals who raise the world on the shoulders of their personal values, is yes. A resounding yes.

As the play continues, the tides of fate force More to face the ultimate test: Will you stand true to your internal moral compass even if doing so would cost you your life? Elder Callister continues:
As the play unfolds, King Henry VIII desires to divorce Queen Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. But there is a catch: divorce is forbidden by the Catholic Church. And so King Henry VIII, not to be thwarted in his desires, demands of his subjects the taking of an oath that will support him in his divorce. But there is a further problem. Sir Thomas More, who is loved and admired by the common people, is a holdout—his conscience will not let him sign the oath. He is unwilling to submit, even at the king’s personal request. Then come the tests. His friends apply their personal charm and pressure, but he will not yield. He is stripped of his wealth, his position, and his family, but he will not sign.


At the climax of the play, Sir Thomas More is being falsely tried for treason. Sir Richard Rich commits the perjury necessary to convict him. As Sir Richard Rich exits the courtroom, Sir Thomas More asks Rich, 'That’s a chain of office you are wearing. . . . What [is it]?'

Prosecutor Thomas Cromwell replies, 'Sir Richard is appointed Attorney-General for Wales.'

More then looks into Rich’s face with great disdain and retorts, 'For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. . . . But for Wales!?'**

Sir Richard Rich serves the perfect foil for More - the paragon of integrity - through his willingness to cheaply dispose of his integrity (which, as More and the Savior so clearly point out, is in reality his soul).

But how many of us sell our integrity (soul) so much more cheaply? For a better score on an exam? For a raise? For a few hours of entertainment? For a free (or discounted) meal? For recognition from our co-workers? For temporary (or perceived) freedom from mental pain or social duties? Again, turning to Elder Callister:
A lack of integrity is a major problem in the world. That deficiency undermines every business transaction and every spousal, family, and social relationship it touches. It is a concern of every profession. There are attorneys who bill for hours of service that they never rendered; physicians who recommend surgeries and procedures that were never needed; teachers who fail to prepare lessons but deposit their paychecks just the same; and, unfortunately, politicians whose integrity is governed by popular polls rather than by eternal principles. It is a day and age in which men and women of integrity are in desperate demand but in short supply.

In this sad world, many of us have, in one way or another, already sold our integrity. Fortunately, though, through the atonement of Christ, such a sale need not be final. Indeed, if we are willing to pay the price of repentance (which includes the hefty price tag of a lifelong change in thought and action), we can regain our integrity, the crown jewel of virtues, and be able to stand squarely with More, proclaiming to an honor-starved world world that our integrity is "NOT FOR SALE AT ANY PRICE!"

* I should note that I adore this tale independent of the extent to which it presents an exact portrait of the More of history. From what I've read, the play is, at least in spirit, modeled quite closely on the historic hero (described, nearly 450 years after his execution, as "the first great Englishman whom we feel that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our cool northern renaissance"). Nevertheless, I firmly believe that we should strive to equal the legacy left by the literary More whether that figure was sculpted entirely from the mold of the historic More or not.

** Some other key quotes from the play:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

* * * * *
Duke of Norfolk: Oh, confound all this.... I'm not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names.... You know those men! Can't you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?

Sir Thomas More: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"

* * * * *
Sir Thomas More: I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

* * * * *
Sir Thomas More: [talking to the witnesses for his execution] I am commanded by the King to be brief, and since I am the King's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die his Majesty's good servant but God's first.
[to the executioner]
Sir Thomas More: I forgive you right readily.
[he gives him a coin]
Sir Thomas More: Be not afraid of your office; you send me to God.
Archbishop Cranmer: You're very sure of that, Sir Thomas?
Sir Thomas More: He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.
[he kneels and puts his head on the chopping block]

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