This document is copyright (c) 1995, 1996 by Romuald Ian Lakowski, all rights reserved. All sections of Interactive EMLS (iEMLS) and iEMLS as a whole are copyright (c) 1995, 1996 by Early Modern Literary Studies, all rights reserved, and may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Archiving and redistribution for profit, or republication of this text in any medium, requires the consent of the copyright holder and the Editor of EMLS.

4. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies: Books I and II

Note: This text is an almost exact copy of Chapter 4, "The Dialogue Concerning Heresies: Books I and II." from my English Ph.D. dissertation,

The pagination of the original thesis is given in {} brackets, e.g. {125}, but for convenience paragraph numbers have also been added. A very detailed textual summary of Books I and II and a bibliography of The Dialogue Concerning Heresies, originally part of the Appendices to my thesis, are available in separate files (see below). (Books III and IV of the Dialogue are dealt with in Chapter 5, see below.)

Any comments or queries can be sent to the author at

Romuald (Ronnie) Ian Lakowski

Table of Contents

4. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies: Books I and II

Summary of A Dialogue Concerning Heresies: Books I and II

Chapter on A Dialogue Concerning Heresies: Books III and IV

Bibliography of A Dialogue Concerning Heresies

Return to Thesis Table of Contents

4. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies: Books I and II

4.1. The Argument of This Chapter

1. {125} The Dialogue Concerning Heresies is generally regarded as the best of More's polemical works.[1] Rainer Pineas calls it "easily the single most brilliant among More's many works of religious controversy,"[2] and Richard C. Marius describes it in similar terms as More's "first and most brilliant polemical work in English,"[3] while for C. S. Lewis the Dialogue Concerning Heresies "is great Platonic dialogue: perhaps the best specimen of that form ever produced in English."[4] At the same time More has often been accused of formlessness and incoherence in the composition of his polemical works, including the Dialogue Concerning Heresies. G. R. Elton in particular describes More's polemical works as "diffuse, ill-organized, repetitive and dull---and endless."[5] Thomas Lawler, one of the Yale editors, has portrayed the Dialogue Concerning Heresies as a "polemical maze":[6]

the Messenger enters the maze at the first digression in Book One...The structure of the Dialogue is the structure of heresy itself, one digression or bypath leading to another, farther and farther from the common way. (CW 6, 443)

2. Whatever one thinks of the image of the maze as a metaphor for heresy, it is clearly inadequate as an explanation of the structure of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies.[7] Brendan Bradshaw objects to Lawler's image that: "A Dialogue does not present a polemical maze, as has been suggested. It is not a labyrinth of sidetracks and blind alleys."[8] Louis Martz on the other hand defends More's digressiveness in his polemical works.[9] He argues that they embody a unity of the kind that one finds in St. Augustine's works, and that the argument grows "toward a unity of meaning by repetition, recapitulation, association, even by digression."[10] If More often takes us by the scenic route, as Bradshaw points out "the result is to achieve a novel perspective on the polemical terrain."[11]

3. {126} While Martz is undoubtedly right in pointing to the Augustinian "order of the heart" as an important dimension of More's literary artistry in his polemical works, I agree with Brendan Bradshaw[12] and Walter Gordon[13] that the Dialogue Concerning Heresies at least has a very definite and clear structure:

The Dialogue divides into two main sections: Books One and Two focus on issues related to the images, shrines, and other physical aspects of Catholic worship; Books Three and Four defend the Church's right to try and punish those preachers who would uproot and overthrow this worship. The entire opus, for all its conversational digression, maintains a consistency of thought and interest.[14]

My own analysis of structure offered below in this chapter and the next is essentially a refinement of that offered by Bradshaw and Gordon, though I distinguish three main sections rather than two in the structure of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies.

4. Besides the question of structure, there is the related question of form. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies takes the form of a reported dialogue ("He said---I said") between two voices, one of whom is usually called the Messenger ("quod he"), and the other whom I will call Chancellor More ("quod I"). Some critics have taken exception to the form of the work, G. R. Elton, in particular, in reviewing the Yale Edition complains that "the constant use of 'quoth I' and 'quoth he'... is only just less tedious than one would suppose."[15] Though he admits that the Messenger is a three-dimensional person, he goes on to claim that:

More's apparent fairness covered an essentially crude sort of argument. Though the Messenger is seemingly allowed to bring up one difficult matter after another, making several telling points, discussion is always terminated at a point chosen by [Chancellor] More and therefore usually without any proper or conclusive answer.... [Chancellor] More simply ties himself in knots, meeting no point of the opposite argument head-on.... The truth is that More had no intention to debate anything in the real sense of the word.[16]

Contrary to the views of Elton and others, I would argue that the "Protestant-Catholic" Messenger (he is not in fact a Lutheran but only reporting their opinions) does in fact put up {127} a rather stiff argument for the "other side," which Chancellor More is rather pressed at times to answer. Elton in any case shows himself to be rather textually naive in confusing the first person voice of the dialogue (Chancellor More) with the mind of the author (Sir Thomas More)---the same mistake that many have made in interpreting Utopia (confusing either Persona More or Hythloday with More). Elton's mistake is a rather common one---it is not wise in dealing with a writer as sophisticated as More was to take anything for granted. Even in More's other polemical works, such as the Responsio ad Lutherum or the Confutation of Tyndale's Answer, where the tone is often openly sarcastic and mocking, More was quite clearly fashioning for himself a polemical persona.[17] But here where the ironies are much more subtle and indirect, and where in addition we have to deal with two voices, one needs to be especially careful. More's use of the dialogue form in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies is every bit as sophisticated as in Book I of Utopia and in the Dialogue of Comfort.[18]

5. It is my intention in this chapter and the next also to prove that, contrary to the views of G. R. Elton and others, the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, has in fact, underneath its apparently rambling and digressive surface, a very intricate, but coherent and carefully worked out structure.[19]

6. My intention in this chapter is to focus on the intricate structure of the dialogue in Books I and II. Book I is by far the longest of the four books, taking up more than a third (roughly forty percent) of the total length of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, while Book II is the shortest at about fifteen percent. The contents of Books I and II deal mainly with the traditional Lollard attacks on the devotions to images, saints, miracles, pilgrimages and the oral tradition of the Church, as restated with renewed vigour also by the early English protestants, whereas the new Lutheran doctrines do not come in for much discussion until Book IV, and Tyndale's translation of the New Testament is not discussed until the end of {128} Book III. I intend also to show in this chapter how the questions and objections raised by the Messenger and responses made by Chancellor More are crucial to the unfolding of More's argument in defence of the authority of the Catholic Church and of the right relationship between scripture and tradition. The discussion of Tyndale's translation of the New Testament in Book III, and of treatment of the Lutheran doctrines of 'Justification by Faith Alone' and Predestination in Book IV will be postponed to the next chapter.


4.2. Textual History and Background

7. The textual history of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies is the most straightforward of the four texts under consideration. It was published for the first time by More's brother-in-law John Rastell in June 1529, and a second edition was published in 1531 by John Rastell's son William Rastell. William Rastell supervised its publication again as part of his 1557 Folio Edition of More's English Works. The first modern edition, edited by W. E. Campbell and A. W. Reed, was published in 1927, and was reissued in 1931 as Volume II of The English Works of Sir Thomas More.[20] This edition consists of a facsimile of the black letter text of the 1557 edition, together with a modern-spelling transcription of the 1557 edition. The first real critical edition of A Dialogue Concerning Heresies was published in 1981 as Volume 6 of The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More.[21] In contrast with its simple textual history, the Dialogue Concerning Heresies has the most complicated structure of the four works under consideration here. The structure of the work will be dealt with in considerable detail later.

8. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies is organised as a formal literary dialogue between two speakers---one of whom is usually indicated by the phrase "quod he" [he said] and the other by "quod I" [I said]. The introductory letters that frame the beginning of the Dialogue identify the "quod I" voice as being that of the Master Chancellor, i.e. the "author", Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1528, when the work was being {129} written (published 1529), and Chancellor of England in 1531, when the second edition was published. In the chapter heads to the individual chapters and in the Table of Contents in the 1531 and 1557 editions (CW 6, 1--20), which were compiled from the chapter heads, the two speakers are referred to as "The Authour" and "The Messenger." Since it would inevitably cause confusion to modern readers to refer to one of the two personae of the dialogue, the "quod I" voice, as "the author," I have chosen the title "Chancellor More" to designate the first person voice, and "More" to refer to the author, Sir Thomas More. The other voice, the "quod he" voice, will be referred to from now on as the Messenger. The one exception I have made, in the use of the above titles, is to retain the term "the author" for the narrative voice that appears in the Preface and in Book I, chapter 1.

9. There is also a third figure who enters indirectly into the work, simply referred to as "a ryght worshypfull frende of myne" (CW 6, 21/7) by Chancellor More (whom I shall refer to hereafter as the Friend); he is both a friend of Chancellor More, and the employer of the Messenger, who is the tutor to his children. At the request of the Friend, the Messenger reports to Chancellor More various heretical opinions, both Lollard and Lutheran, that were circulating in England at the time. The Messenger is a more-or-less orthodox Catholic, but he is obviously influenced by the heretical arguments that he reports, and has contacts with various heterodox elements at the English universities.

10. In addition, in the preface the author claims to have written his work down as a record of the conversations between himself and the Messenger in order to send it to the Friend. There are times in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies when the "quod I" voice, Chancellor More, directly addresses the Friend or in speaking to the Messenger refers to "my good frende your mayster" (46/19) in a familiar tone. Through this technique the reader is being invited in a subtle manner to identify himself with the role of the Friend---the 'postulated reader'[22] thus becomes a non-speaking character in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies. {130} Throughout the dialogue there is a 'homey' kind of atmosphere invoked and, indeed, the actual setting of the dialogue is More's own house at Chelsea.

11. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies is a handbook written for Catholic laymen and laywomen to show them how to deal with various heretical arguments, both the traditional Lollard and the new-fangled Lutheran ones. It is important to keep in mind that for all his enthusiasm in defending various heretical opinions, the Messenger is neither a Lollard nor a Lutheran, and that the audience that More was primarily writing for was a Catholic one. It is true that Tyndale, among others, wrote a vigorous response to the Dialogue;[23] however, More's intention, in writing the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, was clearly not to rebut directly the arguments of Tyndale and others, but rather to give his lay audience the theological weapons to counter heretical opinions.

12. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies is the first in a series of several polemical works written by More in English during the period 1528--1534.[24] There were also two earlier polemical works written in Latin.[25] While More did make use of dialogue and reported speech in some of the other English polemical works, especially in The Supplication of Souls, and in Book VIII of The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer,[26] he did not attempt to write a formal literary dialogue again until after he was imprisoned in the Tower in April 1534. There he produced what some consider his greatest English work, A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, and also collaborated with his daughter in the composition of a "mini-dialogue" in the form of a letter.[27]

13. In his polemical works, More was quite clearly writing for his own contemporaries, and not for posterity. In the period between 1528 and 1534, he wrote over a million words in early Tudor English. Tyndale, and other Protestant polemicists also took up the challenge implicit in the ending of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, and, though none of them was as voluminous as "Master More", together they more than matched his literary output. It {131} would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that in the "Battle of the Books" surrounding the beginnings of the English Reformation modern English prose was born. No one who is seriously interested in the history of the English Reformation, or for that matter in the beginnings of modern English prose can afford to ignore these works.

14. More has sometimes been faulted for his prolixity and verbosity. Not all of his polemical writings can be considered great literary works, though all contain many flashes of that characteristic Morean wit, and of his equally characteristic use of "merry tales", proverbs and aphorisms. More was in many ways a pioneer in his English works (together with such other contemporaries as William Tyndale) in shaping modern English prose into a medium supple enough and robust enough to express complex philosophical and theological ideas.[28] And at least in the case of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, More also produced a work of great literary power and sophistication.


4.3. Analysis of Text

4.3.1 Introduction to The Dialogue Concerning Heresies (20/1---37/22)

15. Like the Utopia the Dialogue Concerning Heresies has an elaborate introduction of almost twenty pages (21/1--37/22), consisting of a Preface,[29] two further 'prefatory letters' and an introductory narrative in Chapter 1 and the opening pages of Chapter 2 (35/10--37/22), before the dialogue proper begins on page 37/23 in Chapter 2.[30] This introductory material sets up an elaborate fictional frame within which the dialogue proper is meant to be read. The Preface begins with the 'author'[31] relating how a "ryght worshypfull frende of myne" (21/7), hereafter called the Friend, sent a "secrete sure frende of his" (21/8), referred to hereafter as the Messenger, to the 'author' with a certain 'credence', i.e. message of introduction, to be declared to him. From what follows in Chapter 1, it is clear that part of this 'credence' was meant to be read from a letter and the rest presented orally.[32] {132}

16. At first the 'author' had thought it enough to reply orally to the matters raised by the Messenger in his 'credence'. After the Messenger had departed, however, the 'author', considering the seriousness of the matters discussed by the Messenger and him and not wishing to trust only in the Messenger's memory, had second thoughts and decided to write the whole discussion down and send it to the Friend in writing. Since the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, which purports to be a record of a series of conversations between the author, Chancellor More, and the Messenger, is over four hundred pages long, the Messenger would not only have to have a lot of good will, but also an excellent, even 'photographic' memory. Though the 'author' protests his good faith in the Messenger, another reason he gives for writing their conversations down is the fear that the Messenger might be corrupted by the wrong side (i.e. the Lutherans) into misrepresenting the argument. However, the 'author's' rest did not last for long; for soon afterwards, he discovered that various copies of his 'manuscript' had been made, and some taken over the sea (to Germany). Fearing that his 'manuscript' would fall into English Lutheran hands, and that his words might be corrupted and changed for the worse, he then took upon himself the third business of publishing and putting his book into print.[33] Prior to publishing his 'manuscript', the 'author' showed it to various learned men, who at his request read it over.[34] This he did for two reasons.

17. The two reasons draw attention to two important stylistic features of the work (only one of which is dealt with in this study), to which at least some of More's contemporary (and modern) readers might be expected to object; namely, the strong language used by the Messenger, and the incorporation of merry tales into the dialogue:[35]

The one [reason] for the lyberall allegacyons of the messenger for the wronge parte so layde out at large / yt of myselfe I stode halfe in a doubte whyther it were conuenient to reherse the wordes of any man so homly / and in maner somtyme vnreuerently spoken agaynst goddes holy halowes [saints] / and theyr reuerent memoryes. The other was certayne tales and {133} mery wordes whiche he mengled with his matter / and some suche on myne owne parte amonge / as occasyon fell in communycacyon. (CW 6, 23/11--18)

The 'author' was encouraged in this by the example of the Church Fathers, who in the works they wrote against heretics, did not hesitate to quote the actual words of their opponents, even when they were "somtyme of suche maner and sorte as a good man wolde not well bere" (23/25--26). These same authors were also not afraid "to wryte a mery worde in a ryght ernest worke" (23/27). Nonetheless, he consulted the judgement of "other vertuouse & connynge men" (23/31), and followed their advice so that he let "nothyng stand in this boke / but such as twayn aduysyd me specyally to let stande / agaynst any one that any dowte mouyd me to the contrary" (24/10--12). Though the account of the Preface is obviously a fiction, it may reflect part of the actual process by which the real author, Sir Thomas More, actually prepared the work for publication, and it certainly does serve as a defence of the artistic decorum of the work, of More's deliberate adoption of the 'mixed' or 'middle style', combining, like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, matters of both 'sentence' and 'solace'.[36] The Preface ends with a prayer that God will grant those, who read "this rude symple worke" (24/14), as much profit in the reading "as my pore hart hath mente you and entended in the makynge" (24/16--17).

18. The first chapter of Book I begins with the 'letter of credence' sent by the Friend to Chancellor More. The Friend begins by thanking Chancellor More for his good company when they were last together and states that he is sending "my specyall secret frend this berer [of the letter]" (24/32), i.e. the Messenger, to discuss with Chancellor More some of the same matters that they had previously discussed---we are never told what these were---and some that had arisen since then, that everyone is talking about. The 'letter of credence' does not actually specify what these matters are; this is left for the Messenger later to deliver orally in his 'credence' in face-to-face conversation with Chancellor More, {134} perhaps, because they would be too dangerous to put into writing. The Friend is obviously disturbed by these matters:

For I assure you / some folke here talke very straungely of ye thynges that he shall moue you / Not onely for suche wordes as they tell / that come from thense / but also most especyally thrughe the occasyon of some letters lewdely wrytten hyther out of London by a preest or two / whom they take here for honest. But what so euer any man tell or wryte / I shall for the confydence and trust that I haue in you / surely take and tell forth for the very truth / what so euer ye shall affyrme vnto my frende / whome I sende vnto you.... (CW 6, 25/15--22)

The Friend states further that Chancellor More should speak to the Messenger as if he were talking to the Friend himself. He expresses confidence in the trustworthiness and good memory of the Messenger, and praises him as being "more then meanly lerned / with one thyng added / where with ye be wonte well to be contente / a very mery wytte" (25/29--31). The Friend has bidden the Messenger to speak his mind boldly to Chancellor More, and not to strain at any courtesies. The Friend expresses confidence in Chancellor More's ability to rise to the challenge in answering the Messenger's questions: "Thus may ye se I am bolde on your goodnes / to put you to labour and busynes / and sende one to face you in your owne house. But so moche am I bolder / for that in such chalenges [debates] I know you for a redy and sure defender" (26/2--6). The 'letter of credence' serves two functions. One is to remind the readers that the discussions that follow in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies are part of a much larger debate going on throughout England at the time, concerning, as we shall see below, the spread of heresy and the new Lutheran doctrines. The Friend obviously feels that these are matters of great urgency that need to be handled with some discretion on Chancellor More's part. The other is to establish the 'credentials' of the Messenger, bearing as he does the confidence of the Friend, and also to delineate something of the Messenger's character.

19. What follows immediately after this, however, is not the Messenger's 'credence' but {135} "The letter of the author sent with the boke", i.e. the fictional preface to the imaginary 'manuscript' sent by Chancellor More to the Friend after the departure of the Messenger (see the Preface). In his 'letter' Chancellor More writes that although he has confidence in the Messenger, he thought that the Friend

wolde rather haue chosyn to haue hard my mynde of myne owne mouth than by the meane of another / I haue synse in these fewe days (in whiche I haue ben at home) put the matter in wryttyng / to the ende / ye may not onely here it by the mouth of your frende / but also (whiche better is / than sodenly ones to here yt of myne owne mouth) rede yt (yf ye lyst) more often at your best leysure aduysedly from myne owne pen. (CW 6, 26/21--27)

Chancellor More then states that he went to this trouble not only because many doubted the truth of the charges made "not onely of [against] that man ye wrote of / but also of Luther hym selfe" (27/6--7). The man, whom Chancellor More carefully avoids referring to by name (more on this below), is obviously the subject of the letters that the Friend mentions in his 'letter of credence'. The whole introduction is a masterpiece of indirection in that only gradually do the major themes of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies come into focus---very much like the beginning of a movie, when the camera zooms in on the opening scene.

20. After this comes the 'credence' of the Messenger, i.e. those matters entrusted by the Friend to the Messenger to be delivered orally to Chancellor More, and to which the Friend's 'letter of credence' serves as an introduction. In his 'credence' (27/28--32/24), the Messenger makes four charges on behalf of the Friend that will become the subject matter of debate in what follows in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, though in fact we actually do not get to these matters until Books III and IV (more on this below). Chancellor More begins by addressing the Friend:

Your frende [i.e. the Messenger][37] fyrst after your letter redde (whan I demaunded hym his credence) shewed me that ye had sent hym to me / not for any doubte that your selfe had in many of those thynges that he sholde moue vnto me / but for the doubte that ye perceyued in many other / and {136} in some folke playne persuasyon to the contrary.... (CW 6, 27/28--32)

The first charge concerns an unnamed priest of whom "it was there not only spoken / but also thyder wrytten by dyuers honest preestes out of London / that the man ye [i.e. the Friend] wryte of / was of many thynges borne wronge in hande" (28/1--4). The Messenger's 'credence' goes on to claim that this priest had been greatly wronged, and falsely accused of preaching heresy by the clergy. This priest was almost certainly Thomas Bilney, but More as author goes to great lengths, as this remarkable periphrasis indicates, to avoid naming him. This is a very distinctive and remarkable feature of More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies. Apart from Luther and Tyndale, and Richard Hunne, who were too well-known to avoid naming, More very carefully avoids giving names. It is true that Bilney was still alive when the first two editions of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies were published, but the effect is clearly to draw attention away from individual heretics to the discussion of heresy itself. Despite the frankness, casualness, and intimacy of the conversations in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, there is a public, impersonal quality to the work, reinforced by the lack of mention of names and of concrete details of setting. It also gives a strangely impersonal, and even at times sinister, quality to More's description or anatomy of the varieties of heresy---a tone that pervades most of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies.

21. The second matter (28/19--29/16) raised in the Messenger's 'credence' is the burning of Tyndale's 1526 translation of the New Testament at Paul's Cross. The Messenger accuses the clergy of trying to keep the gospel out of the hands of the common people, and states that the cause of this is an ecclesiastical constitution (the Arundel Constitution of 1408), prohibiting the translation of any book of scripture into English. The third charge (29/17--31/6) condemns the clergy's treatment of Luther and his works. The Messenger states that even if Luther is a heretic there is some good in what he says. The reason that he was condemned was that he wrote somewhat liberally against the court of Rome and the {137} vices of the clergy. The fourth charge (31/7--32/4) concerns the burning of heretics, and the wars against the Turks. The Messenger charges that the clergy do not show a proper spirit of charity when they burn heretics; and that in the early church, the old holy Fathers used to dispute with heretics, and tried to win them over by teaching them, and not by faggots. And finally, the Messenger declares that we should convert the pagans, Turks and Saracens by peaceful means, and not by waging wars on them.

22. After the Messenger has declared his "credence" and after protesting his Catholic orthodoxy, he adds one more point of his own, which becomes a very important sub-theme running throughout Books I and II of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies. He argues that since Church leaders are fallible we can never trust the reliability of their judgements (or the truthfulness of their teaching): in particular, in the matter of heresy trials, that, since a man may easily be falsely accused, we can always doubt whether any person so condemned for heresy was in fact guilty:

he thought he sayd (as of hymselfe) yt men myght without any parell of heresy / for theyr owne parte / notwithstandyng any mannes iudgement gyuen / yet well and reasonably doubte therin / For though he thought it heresy / to thynke the oppynyons of any man to be good and catholyque / whiche ben heresyes in dede / yet myght a man he thought without any parell of heresy / doubte whyther he were an heretyke or no / that were by mannes iudgement condempned for one / syth it myght well happen that he neuer helde those oppynyons that were put vppon hym / but that he was eyther by false deposycyons or wrongefull wytnesse / or by the erroure or malyce of vniust iudges condempned. (CW 6, 32/36--33/9)

He effectively denies to ecclesiastical judges the ability to make binding judgements on the guilt or innocence of heretics. The Messenger, however, continues rather diplomatically by expressing full confidence and trust in the ability of Chancellor More to answer the points made in his 'credence'. Chancellor More continues his narrative, which throughout the 'introduction' (in Chapters 1 and 2) is addressed to the Friend, by asking the Messenger "what maner acquayntaunce was bytwene hym & you [i.e. the Friend]" (33/22). The {138} Messenger replies that he is the tutor of the Friend's sons. On being asked further "to what faculte he had most gyuen his study" (33/24), he replied the study of "the latyn tonge [i.e. grammar]" (33/25). After heaping contempt upon all the other liberal arts apart from (Latin) grammar, he indicates that "he had ben (which I moche commende) studyouse in holy scrypture / whiche was he sayd lernynge ynoughe for a crysten man" (33/35--36). The Messenger goes on to say that he has laboured to learn many texts of scripture by heart, and that he finds such great sweetness in the text itself that he has no time for the interpretations of commentators, or for reading any glosses. The best solution to difficulties in interpreting scripture is to compare one text with another, and to trust that God will reveal to the reader the true meaning of the passage. This introduces yet another major theme of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies: namely, relationship between scripture and the oral tradition of the Church, and on how scripture is to be interpreted.

23. After hearing this, Chancellor More, pretending lack of leisure, sends the Messenger away to give himself time to prepare a reply to the Messenger's charges, and requires the Messenger to return the next morning. He explains to the Friend his real reasons:

Vpon these wordes and other lyke / whan I consydered that your frende [i.e. the Messenger] was studyous of scrypture / & all thoughe I now haue a very good oppynyon of hym / nor at yt tyme had not all ye contrary / yet to be playne with you and hym bothe / by reason that he set the matter so well and lustely forwarde / he put me somwhat in doubte whether he were (as yonge scolers be somtyme prone to newe fantasyes) fallen in to luthers secte. And that ye peraduenture somwhat ferynge the same / dyd of good mynde the rather sende hym to me / with suche a message / for that ye trusted he sholde be somwhat answered & satysfyed by me. (CW 6, 34/24--33)

24. On the following day, when the Messenger returns, Chancellor More begins by repeating the charges made in the Messenger's "credence," and promises that he will answer them in turn:

And then I shewed vnto hym / that... I wolde (all superfluous {139} recapytulacyon set aparte) as bryefly as I conuenyently coude shewe hym my mynde in them all. And fyrst begyn where he bygan at the abiuracyon of the man he spake of [Bilney]. Secondly wolde I touche the condempnacyon and burnyng of the new testament / translated by Tyndale. Thyrdly somwhat wold I speke of Luther and his secte in generall. Fourthly and fynally / the thynge that he touched last / that is to wyt / the warre and fyghtyng agaynst infydels / with the condempnacyon of heretykes vnto dethe / whiche two poyntys / hym selfe had combyned and knytte togyther. (CW 6, 35/24--36/4)

Anyone reading this passage for the first time would naturally suppose, and everything which we have read up to this point in the elaborate introductory frame would tend to confirm, that this is a prospectus for the rest of the work that follows. And in fact, Thomas M. C. Lawler attempts to argue precisely this point in the introduction to the Yale edition (CW 6, 552--53). However, we have just reached one of the major cruxes in interpreting the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, for what follows immediately in the next two hundred pages of Books I and II of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies has nothing whatsoever to do with this prospectus. The prospectus does indeed rather accurately describe the contents of Books III and IV (see Figure 4.1 below), but, before we can untangle the web, it is necessary to read on a bit further.


The Structure of Books III and IV of Heresies

Book III
Chapter 1 Recapitulates argument of Book I:18 to Book II:7 (dialogue-within-a-dialogue between the Messenger and "An Unnamed Critic")

Heresies B
1. Chapters 2--7 "the abiuracyon of the man he spake of" [i.e. Bilney] (35/30) (B.1)
2. Chapters 8--14, 16 "the condempnacyon and burnyng of the new testament / translated by Tyndale" (35/31) (B.2)
[2b. Chapter 15 On the posthumous heresy trial of Richard Hunne (an important example of reported dialogue-within-a-dialogue)]

Book IV
Chapters 1, 2b Introduction to Book IV; Chap. 2b contains a further defence of images (in 1531 and 1557 editions) (cf. I:2 and III:1)
3a. Chapters 2a, 3--9 "somewhat wold I speke of Luther and his secte in generall" (35/32) (B.3)
[3b. Chapters 10--12 'On the examination of the English Lutheran preacher' (an extremely important example of dialogue-within-a-dialogue)] (B.3b)
4a. Chapters 13, 15--18a "the condempnacyon of heretykes vnto dethe" (36/3) (B.4)
4b. Chapter 14 "the warre and fyghtyng agynst infydels" (36/2)
Chapter 18b The Conclusion to the Dialogue Concerning Heresies

Figure 4.1. The Structure of Books III and IV of Heresies


25. {139} The account continues on from this point as if it were going to deal immediately with the first point. The man referred to here, as having recently abjured his heresies in an ecclesiastical court, has been identified by modern scholars as the preacher Thomas Bilney, who though never mentioned by name anywhere in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, would have been very well known to More's contemporary audience. Bilney, who was later to be burnt at the stake in 1531, has been seen variously as a Lollard, an evangelical Catholic or an early Protestant martyr.[38] In 1527, Bilney had been tried for heresy and had abjured (and was released a year later), but also denied that he had preached the heresies in question. It is fairly clear that at least in 1527, the doctrines that Bilney preached were mainly Lollard in inspiration. {140}

26. Chancellor More begins by vindicating the integrity of Bilney's ecclesiastical judges (Cuthbert Tunstall and Cardinal Wolsey), and denies the claims of those priests who had written letters out of London (i.e. the letters already referred to in the Friend's 'letter of credence') that Bilney had never in fact preached the heresies he had been accused of. He goes on to list Bilney's heresies:

For the artycles where with he was charged / were that we sholde do no worshyp to any ymages / nor pray to any sayntes / or go on pylgrymagys / whiche thyngys I suppose euery good crysten man wyll agre for heresyes. And therfore we shall let that poynt passe and so resort to the seconde / to se whyther it were well prouyd that he preched them or no. (CW 6, 37/16--22)

At this point it seems that Chancellor More is just about ready to launch into an account of Bilney's trial (an account that is actually postponed to Book III, Chapter 2), when the Messenger, refusing after all to let the first point pass, interjects "Syr quod your frende / I {141} wolde for my parte well agre them for heresyes / but yet haue I hard som or [before] this that wold not do so. And therfore whan we call them heresyes / it were well done to tell why" (37/23--25).

27. Here the dialogue proper begins, and in a move for which the reader has been left completely unprepared, Chancellor More drops (or rather postpones) his intended prospectus, and instead begins a defence of the traditional Catholic teachings on images, saints, miracles and pilgrimages, and other such matters, that takes up the whole of Books I and II. It is true that the rubric to Chapter 2 has already warned the reader that the 'author' intends briefly to declare "his mynde concernynge the confutacyon of those perylouse and pernycyouse opynyons" (35/17--18); however, there is no indication that this 'brief' excursus will last over two hundred pages!

28. Before throwing up our hands in despair and totally giving up on the introductory frame (at least as an introduction to Books I and II), there is one last important piece of evidence, that we have overlooked, namely the title-page. The title in both editions published in More's lifetime gives a detailed account of the contents:

A dyaloge of syr Thomas More knyghte: one of the counsayll of our souerayne lorde the kyng and chauncelloure of hys duchy of Lancaster. Wheryn be treatyd dyuers maters / as of the veneracyon & worshyp of ymagys & relyques / prayng to sayntis / & goynge on pylgrymage. Wyth many other thyngys touchyng the pestylent secte of Luther & Tyndale / by the tone bygone in Saxony / & by the tother laboryd to be brought in to England. Newly ouersene by the sayd syr Thomas More chauncellour of England. 1530. (CW 6, 3)

We have finally found the indispensable clue---there are not one but actually two "Dialogues Concerning Heresies", which I will call Heresies A and Heresies B to avoid confusion with the formal four-book structure. Heresies A (corresponding roughly to Book I, Chapter 3 to Book III, Chapter 1) which deals with the veneration of images and relics, praying to saints, and going on pilgrimages, and for which 37/16--22, already quoted above, effectively serves as a {142} prospectus; and Heresies B (corresponding roughly to the 'introductory frame' in Book I and Book III, Chaps. 2--16, and Book IV), which has already been outlined for us in the 'introductory frame, and for which 35/24--36/4, already quoted above, serves as a prospectus, and which deals mainly with the treatment of Tyndale's translation of the New Testament into English, and the spread of the Lutheran doctrines in England (and on the Continent). {143}

29. But nothing is ever what it seems in dealing with Thomas More, and the actual contents of Books I and II, can at best only be partially accounted for by this new "prospectus." Books I and II in fact have a "chiasmic" (a-b-b-a) or even quadripartite structure---like that of Books III and IV. The second half of Book I and the first part of Book II actually deal with the nature of the Church: Book I (Chaps. 18--31) deals with the relationship between the oral tradition and the written scriptures, and Book II (Chaps. 1--7) with the Catholic Church as the true Church of Christ. The first half of Book I (Chaps. 3--17) in fact covers the grounds of the new prospectus of 37/16--22, and this material is taken up again in the second part of Book II (Chaps. 8--12).[39] See Figure 4.2 for an analysis of the structure of Books I and II (including the introductory material).


The Structure of Books I and II of Heresies

CW 6, pp.1--20 Table of Contents (in 1531 and 1557 editions). Taken from the rubrics of the individual chapter heads
CW 6, pp. 21--24 Untitled Preface. Contains fictional narrative of the 'publication history' of the work

Book I
Chapter 1a (24/18--26/7) The letter of credence sent by the Friend to Chancellor More
Chapter 1b (26/8--27/27) The letter of the authour sent with the boke---i.e. Chancellor More's prefatory letter sent with the unpublished 'manuscript' of the dialogue to the Friend
Chapter 1c (27/28--32/24) The credence of the Messenger presented to Chancellor More orally after the reading of the letter of credence. (The 'credence' contains four points or charges that are dealt with in Books III and IV)
Chapter 1d (32/25--35/9) Chancellor More's narrative of his initial interview with the Messenger, after the Messenger has delivered his 'credence'
Chapter 2a (35/10--37/22) Messenger returns next day. Chancellor More promises to reply to the four points of the Messenger's 'credence'. Begins the discussion of the first point, the abjuration of Thomas Bilney, which however is then postponed to Book III, Chapter 2. Sudden and unprepared introduction of 'real' subject matter of the discussion that follows in Books I and II

Heresies A
Chapter 2b (37/23--51/19) Beginning of dialogue proper. Definition of heresies, defence of images, and discussion of The Image of Love (in 1531 and 1557 editions)
1. Chapters 3--17 On saints, images, miracles and pilgrimages (A1)
2. Chapters 18--31 On scripture and the oral tradition of the Church (A2)

Book II
[Chapter 1a (187/1--189/7) Recapitulates argument of Book I (mainly Chapters 18--31)]
3. Chapters 1b--7 On the Catholic Church as the true Church of Christ (A2)
4. Chapters 8--12 More on images, relics, saints and pilgrimages (A1)

Figure 4.2. The Structure of Books I and II of Heresies


{143} The sections of Heresies A (Book I, Chaps. 18--31, and Book II, Chaps. 1--7) that deal with the nature of the Church and of the relationship between the oral tradition of the Church and the written scriptures function almost like a "dialogue-within-a-dialogue" within Heresies A---in a fashion similar to the 'Cardinal Morton Episode' within the framework of Book I of Utopia. I shall refer to this part of Heresies A as Heresies A2, while the sections of Heresies A that deal with the defence of images, pilgrimages, saints and miracles, and so on, will be referred to hereafter as Heresies A1.

30. Before going on to discuss the argument of Books I and II, I wish to address briefly the relationship between the two halves of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, which I am now calling Heresies A and Heresies B. Heresies A is a general defence of Catholic beliefs---on the devotion to images and saints, on miracles and pilgrimages, and also on the nature of the Church and of the relationship between the oral tradition of the Church and the written scriptures---against the traditional attacks of the Lollards, as restated with renewed vigour by the early English Protestants; whereas Heresies B is clearly an occasional piece responding to the then current issues of the heresy trial of Bilney (1527), and the {144} ecclesiastical prohibition of Tyndale's 1526 English translation of the New Testament. Apart from the discussion of the problems surrounding Tyndale's translation and of translations of the Bible in general in the second half of Book III, and possibly the account of "The Examination of the Lutheran Preacher" in Book IV, Chap. 11 which deals with the central Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith, the topics of discussion in Heresies B are mainly of historical interest. The material in Heresies B is on the whole much more disjointed and less organised. And yet it is clear both from the elaborate 'introductory frame' and also from the historical circumstances, that Heresies B in some sense came first.

31. In 1528, More though a layman was commissioned by his good friend and fellow humanist Cuthbert Tunstall, then bishop of London (and later of Durham), to write in defence of the Catholic faith.[40] No doubt More and Tunstall, as the 'semi-fictional' account of the Preface suggests, discussed what matters More should address in writing in defence of the Church. The list was in all probability similar to that presented by the Messenger in his 'credence' outlined above, though it may have also included other matters such as the doctrine of Purgatory that More was to address in his later polemical works. However, More seems to have felt the need also to include a general defence of the whole system of Catholic beliefs then coming under renewed attack from English Lutherans, like Tyndale. Clearly, Heresies A is no afterthought in the way that Hexter has tried to argue in connection with Book I of Utopia.[41] Heresies A is too tightly and coherently organised to be a later addition. It takes up more than half of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, and makes the discussion that follows in Heresies B seem almost anticlimactic. More may have already conceived the need for such a general defence independently of Cuthbert Tunstall's commission and of the matters treated in Heresies B. Far from being an afterthought, More, who in real life was fond of surprising his friends and playing jokes on them, deliberately set out to surprise his readers and catch them offguard by giving them more than they bargained for---as he also {145} did with Utopia I.


4.3.2 Definitions of Heresy and Orthodoxy and The Image of Love (I: 2)

32. The 'dialogue' proper in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies begins with important definitions of "heresy" and "orthodoxy" that will be crucial for everything that follows. After affirming his own orthodoxy (37/30--34), Chancellor More starts off by defining heresy as "a secte and a syde way (taken by any parte of suche as ben baptysed / and bere the name of crysten men) from the comen fayth and byleue of the hole chyrche besyde" (37/35--38/2). To this Chancellor More adds an equally important definition of orthodoxy. He appeals to the sensus fidelium, 'the consensus of the faithful', and particularly the writings of the Church Fathers, as the basis for defining orthodoxy:

For this [ie. the common faith and belief of Christ's Church, cf. 37/34] am I very sure and perceyue it well / not onely by experyens of myne owne tyme / & ye places where my selfe hath ben / with comen report of other honest men / from al other places of crystendom / but by bokes also & remembrauncys left of long tyme with wrytyng of ye olde holy fathers / and now sayntes in heuen / yt from ye appostles tyme hytherto / this maner hath ben vsed / taught and alowed / and the contrary commonly condempned / thrughe the hole flocke of all good crysten people. (CW 6, 38/2--10)

The definition of heresy given above is crucial for the discussion of Heresies A1 and eventually for Heresies B, while the definition of orthodoxy as the sensus fidelium is crucial to Chancellor More's defence of Catholic orthodoxy, and of the equal value (as divine Revelation) to be given both to the oral tradition of the Church and the written scriptures.

33. Chancellor More begins his discussion of heresy by dealing with the contemporary attack on the veneration of images (Heresies A1 starts at this point at 38/11). It was a good place to begin since the question of images was central to the earlier Lollard attack on the Church in the late Middle Ages,[42] and was one of the central issues at the heart of the Reformation debate. Indeed, More's work has itself sometimes been referred to as the {146} "Dialogue of Images."[43] Chancellor More starts by arguing that the scriptural passages quoted by heretics as proof texts to condemn the worship of images[44] actually condemn the worship of pagan idols, and not the veneration of Christian saints. He then cites the example of various Church Fathers who "vnderstode those textes / as well as dyd those heretyques" (38/24--25).[45]

34. However, at this point in the second edition of 1531, More made an important addition to the text (39/26--47/22)[46] that results in postponing the real beginning of Heresies A1 to the next chapter. The material added in the 1531 edition becomes in effect a 'prologue' to the argument that follows, starting in Chapter 3. The addition deals with the attack on images contained in the mildly heretical The Image of Love, written by the Observant Franciscan John Ryckes (d. 1532), and first published anonymously in 1525.[47] Following his usual custom in his polemical works, More refrains from naming his opponent (although he apparently knew who he was). The discussion of attack on images in The Image of Love, serves as a microcosm of or preparation for the much larger treatment of heresies in Heresies A1 and Heresies B.

35. The 1531 addition opens with Chancellor More asking whether "these heretyques", when they mention the name of Jesus, hold it in honour and reverence or not. If they do, then:

syth that name of Iesus is nothyng els but a worde / whiche by wrytyng or by voyce representeth vnto the herer the person of our sauyour Chryst / fayne wolde I wytte of these heretyques / yf they gyue honour to ye name of our lorde / whiche name is but an ymage representynge his person to mannes mynde and ymagynacyon / why and with what reason can they dyspyse a fygure of hym carued or paynted / whiche representeth hym and his actes / farre more playne and more expressely. (CW 6, 39/32--40/5)

More argues, in terms reminiscent of the great mediaeval (Realist vs. Nominalist) debate on the relationship between res and verba, that an image may be a more accurate representation of a thing than a word. The Messenger replies by criticising the riches spent {147} on making images and statues, and quotes The Image of Love as saying that images are laymen's books, and that religious men should abandon all such dead images. The author of The Image of Love also condemns the cost of church ornaments, and states that the money so used were better spent on the poor. Chancellor More replies by declaring that though the author of The Image of Love was well-intentioned, he was carried away by his fervour and wrote ill-advisedly. Though holy bishops have sometimes relieved the poor through the sale of church vessels and plate, from earliest times churches have been ornamented with precious metals and chalices made from gold and silver, and not from wood. When Solomon used gold to furnish the Temple, there were many poor people in Israel and the furnishings of the Temple were not broken up again and the gold given to the poor. The Messenger replies by quoting the argument of The Image of Love that all those things in the Old Testament were gross and carnal, and that Christians should leave off worshipping God with gold and silver, and serve him instead only with spiritual things.

36. Chancellor More counters the argument that religion is purely spiritual by citing the example of the Old Testament patriarchs and of Christ himself on the need for outward devotion:

For as for ye good godly man Moyses / he thought yt to pray not onely in mynde / but with mouth also was a good way. The good kynge Dauyd thought it plesaunt to god / not onely to pray with his mouth / but also to synge & daunce to / to goddes honoure / and blamed his folysshe wyfe / whyche dyd at yt tyme as these folysshe heretyques do nowe / mockynge that bodyly seruyce. Holy saynt Iohan ye Baptyst not onely / baptysed & preched / but also fasted / watched / prayed and ware here [a hairshirt]. Cryst our sauyour hym selfe / not onely prayed in mynd / but also with mouth / which kynde of prayer these holy spyrytuall heretyques nowe call lyppe laboure in mockage. (CW 6, 44/6--17)

The Messenger responds that the use of rich ornaments in church and other such bodily ceremonies are, as the Image of Love calls them, shadows of the Old Law. Chancellor More replies that the Old Testament prohibition was meant as a condemnation of the idols of the {148} pagans, and that not all images were condemned since the Jews had images of the Cherubim in the Temple.

37. After repeating the traditional teaching of the Church on the difference between the reverence offered to an image (dulia) and that offered to God alone (latria), which becomes an important motif running throughout the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Chancellor More returns to the defence of images as "lay mennes bokes":

all the wordes that be eyther wrytten or spoken / be but ymages representyng the thynges that ye wryter or speker conceyueth in his mynde: lykewyse as the fygure of the thynge framed with ymagynacyon and so conceyued in the mynde / is but an ymage representyng the very thyng it selfe that a man thynketh on. (CW 6, 46/14--18)

More's view of language is very similar to that put forward by Plato in the Phaedrus,[48] except that Chancellor More puts more emphasis on visual imagery. For Plato there are only the spoken and written words and the "idea", but for More, following Aristotle and Aquinas here,[49] there is also the image, which can be a more effectual representation of a thing than any word spoken or written:

then is the wrytyng not the name it selfe / but an ymage representyng ye name. And yet all these names spoken / and all these wordes wrytten / be no naturall sygnes or ymages but onely made by consent and agrement of men / to betoken and sygnyfye suche thynge / where as ymages paynted / grauen / or carued / may be so well wrought and so nere to the quycke and to ye trouth / that they shall naturally / and moche more effectually represent the thynge then shall the name eyther spoken or wrytten. For he that neuer herde the name of your mayster [the Friend] / shall yf euer he sawe hym be brought in a ryght full remembraunce of hym by his ymage well wrought and touched to the quycke. And surely sauynge that men can not do it / els if it myght commodyously be done / there were not in this worlde so effectuall wrytyng as were to expresse all thyng in ymagery. (CW 6, 46/25--47/3)

Chancellor More then goes on to argue that an image of the crucifix is more effective in calling the image of Christ's passion to mind than the words "Christus crucifixus" (47/15), and that the real reason that heretics destroy images is to quench devotion in men's hearts {149} rather than to inflame it. At this point the 1531 addition ends, and Chancellor More concludes Chapter 2 by pointing out that the heretics who condemn the veneration of God's servants, the saints, and claim that God alone should be venerated, do not hesitate to give honour to earthly rulers, and even to their servants. Regarding church ornaments, God himself has given mankind enough riches both to ornament churches and also to give money to the poor.


4.3.3 On Saints, Images, Miracles and Pilgrimages (I: 3--17) (A1)

38. After reminding Chancellor More that he is repeating the opinions of others, the Messenger goes on to attack pilgrimages: "But ouer this it semeth to smell of ydolatry / whan we go on pylgrymage to this place and that place / As thoughe god were not lyke stronge or not lyke present in euery place" (52/10--13). He argues that when we invoke one image of Our Lord or Our Lady over another that it is a sure sign that we put more trust in the image than in Our Lord or Our Lady. Chancellor More responds by arguing that:

the flocke of cryst is not so folysshe as those heretyques bere them in hande / that where as there is no dogge so madde / but he knoweth a very cony [rabbit] from a cony carued & paynted / crysten peple yt haue reason in theyr heddes / & therto the lyght of fayth in theyr soulys / shold wene that thymages of our lady were our lady her selfe. Nay they be not I trust so madde / but they do reuerence to thymage for the honour of the person whom it representyth / as euery man delytyth in thymage and remembraunce of his frende. (CW 6, 56/10--18)

He goes on to argue that though the Christian believer may have a remembrance of Christ's Passion in his mind that: "he fyndyth hymselfe more mouyd to pyte and compassyon / vpon the beholdynge of the holy crucyfyxe / than whan he lackyth it" (56/22--24).

39. Chancellor More also replies to the Messenger's attack on pilgrimages that though God is everywhere, this did not prevent him from choosing to be present in a special way to the Israelites in the desert under the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and also to be present in a special way in the Arc of the Covenant and the Temple of Jerusalem. {150} When the Messenger objects, quoting the Gospel (cf. John 4:20--24), that "very worshyppers sholde worshyp in spyryte / and in truthe / not in the hyll or in Ierusalem / or any other temple of stone" (57/29--30), Chancellor More replies:

I wolde well agre / that no temple of stone was vnto god so pleasaunt / as the temple of mannes harte / But yet that nothynge letteth or withstandeth / but that god wyll / that his crysten people haue in sundry places / sundry temples and chyrches / to whiche they sholde besyde theyr pryuat prayers assemble solemply / and resorte in company to worshyp hym togyder / such as dwell so nere togyder / that they may conuenyently resorte to one place. (CW 6, 57/31--58/2)

The Messenger then asks why God would "set more by one place than by another" (60/9). To which Chancellor More replies that, though he did not know why, he was sure that God's "pleasure in some place is / to shewe more his assystence / and to be more specyally sought vnto / than in some other" (60/17--19).

40. The Messenger asks how he can be so sure of that and Chancellor More replies that God "hath proued my parte in dyuers pylgrymages by the workyng of many mo than a thousande myracles / one tyme and other" (60/28--29). He goes on to develop the argument from miracles further:

But whan so euer our lorde hath in any place wrought a myracle / all though he nothyng do it for the place / but for the honour of that saynt / whom he wyll haue honoured in that place / or for the fayth that he findeth with some that prayeth in that place / or for the encrease of fayth / which he fyndeth fallynge and decayed in that place / nedynge the shewe of some myracles for the reuyuyng / what so euer the cause be / yet I thynke the affeccyon is to be commended of men and women / that with good deuocyon ronne thyther / where they se or here that our lorde sheweth a demonstracyon of hys specyall assystence. And whan he sheweth many in one place / it is a good token / that he wolde be sought vpon / and worsshypped there. (CW 6, 61/5--16)

The Messenger immediately objects to Chancellor More's argument that the force of his argument depends on the evidence of miracles, and suggests that the miracles may be lies or the work of the Devil. To which Chancellor More replies that the force of his argument {151} depends not on miracles, but on the faith of Christ's Church: "by the common consent wherof these matters be decyded & well knowen that ye worshyp of sayntes and ymages ben alowed / approbate / and accustomed for good crysten and merytoryous vertues" (62/18--22).

41. The Messenger counters by raising a new argument that miracles are contrary to "reason and nature," and that he will not believe the reports of honest men, be they never so many or so credible "where as reason and nature (of whiche twayne euery one ys alone more credyble then they all) sheweth me playnly yt theyr tale is vntrew / as it must nedys / yf the matter be impossyble / as it is in all these myracles" (64/18--21). Chancellor More responds that some things are true even though they seem contrary to "nature and reason." For example, if a "man of Inde", i.e. an Ethiopian,[49a] had never seen a white man, he might suppose that it were contrary to "reason and nature" for man to be white. In such a case "who were in the wronge / he that byleueth his reason and nature / or they yt agaynst his perswasyon of reason and nature shall tell hym as it is of trouthe?" (65/8--11). He then gives several more examples such as the making of glass from fern roots, or the separating of gold from silver with a "fair water", or the drawing of a piece of gilted silver into a rod several yards long. The Messenger refuses to believe these examples. Chancellor More then promises to bring forward ten or twenty witnesses to confirm his report. The Messenger insists in a typically rationalist fashion on claiming infallible authority for his own subjective reason:

If they were quod he .x. thousande / they were worn out of credence with me / whan they sholde tell me that they sawe the thynge that my selfe knoweth by nature and reason vnpossyble. For whan I knowe it coulde not be done / I knowe well that they lye all / be they neuer so many that say thet sawe it done. (CW 6, 68/20--24)

Chancellor More claims to have seen these other examples himself, and promises to bring the Messenger the next day to where two trusty witnesses, his own eyes, can confirm the 152} example of the drawing out of the piece of gilt silver.

42. The Messenger replies that, unlike these earlier examples, "reason and nature techeth me surely / that myracles be thynges that can not be done" (71/7--8). Chancellor More denies this by arguing that, on the contrary, nature and reason show that there is a God who is almighty, and who can work miracles that cannot be done by nature. Just as Chancellor More and the Messenger have fundamentally different understandings of the nature of "reason" (consensual vs. private),[50] so also do they differ radically in their understanding of the nature of "nature". The Messenger argues further that reason shows us that:

god hath set all thynges all redy fro the fyrst creacyon to go forthe in a certayne order and course / whiche order and course men call nature / & that hath he of his infynyte wysdome done so well / and prouyded yt course to go forth in suche a maner and fassyon / that it can not be mended. (CW 6, 74/11--15)

God will never work anything against the course of nature, which he has already made "in so goodly an order / that it were not possyble to be better / and ye goodnes of god wyll make no chaunge to ye worse" (74/23--25). Chancellor More argues, on the other hand, that reason shows that though God has made all things good, it does not prove that they were "wrought to the vtterest poynt of souerayne goodnes" (74/32--33), for infinite perfection is found only in the Trinity. In working miracles, God does nothing contrary to nature, but does "some specyall benefyte aboue nature" (75/16). Being almighty, God can do all things, "& in doing of myracles he doth [them] for ye better" (75/18--19).

43. The Messenger remains unconvinced, however, and stubbornly sticks to his position. He refuses to believe in miracles, "For I spake neuer yet with any man that coulde tell me that euer he sawe any" (75/31--32). Chancellor More replies that among so many reports of miracles in every nation, both Christian and heathen, there must be some that are true, especially the ones mentioned in the scripture: "And syth ye be a crysten man and receyue 153} scrypture I myght in this matter quod I / haue choked you longe a go / with the manyfolde myracles and meruayls that be shewed there" (76/34--36). The Messenger backs down and admits "that god hath besyde the comen course of nature wrought many myracles" (77/9--10), but goes on to question "all suche as men say now adayes be done at dyuers pylgrymagys by dyuers sayntys or dyuers ymagys" (77/19--20). The Messenger clearly wants to have his cake and eat it too, on the one hand by accepting biblical miracles, but on the other hand by rejecting miracles done at pilgrimage shrines.[51] Chancellor More repeats his earlier defence of miracles as being only impossible to nature, but certainly possible to God. He then goes on to describe some natural miracles such as the "miracle of birth" or the ebbing and flowing of the tides. We only take these things for granted because they happen so commonly. In what is possibly an anticipation of modern coronary heart resuscitation, he then declares that there is no cause

why we sholde of reason more meruayle of the reuyuyng of a dede man / than of the bredynge / bryngynge forth and growynge of a chylde vnto the state of a man.... And I am sure / yf ye saw dede men as commenly called agayne by myracle / as ye se men brought forth by nature / ye wolde reken it lesse meruayle to bryng the soule agayne into the body / kepynge yet styll his shappe and his organys not moche perysshyd / than of a lytell seede to make all that gere newe / and make a new soule therto. (CW 6, 80/12--21).

God does not need our advice on when or where he should work miracles.

44. The Messenger next goes on to argue that the miracles done at pilgrimage shrines are all pious frauds. Chancellor More replies by arguing that though pious frauds sometimes are perpetrated, that God always brings them to light in the end. He then denies that there is any difference between biblical miracles and the miracles done at pilgrimage shrines, and cites the writings of the Church Fathers, who all reported the occurrence of miracles in their times. Chancellor More then concludes:

And where ye saye that of myracles many be nowe a dayes fayned / so 154} may it be that some were than also / but neyther than nor nowe neyther / were nor be all fayned. And any beynge trewe all were they ryght fewe / suffysed for our purpose.... (CW 6, 90/19--22)

Thus, it is a mistake to condemn all miracles done at pilgrimage shrines just because some are false.

45. The Messenger then returns again to his earlier attack on images (cf. Chap. 2). He first repeats the teaching of the Schools on images:

And therfore ye scoles as I here saye deuyse a treble dyfference in worshyppyng / callyng the one dulya the reuerence or worshyp that man doth to man / as ye bonde man to the lorde. The seconde yperdulya that a man doth to a more excellent creature as to aungels or sayntes. The thyrde latria the veneracyon honoure and adoracyon that creatures dothe onely to god. (CW 6, 97/26--33)

He goes on to assert that the veneration offered to images corresponds to the highest form of worship (latria):

For what doo we to god when we do worshyp hym in that fassyon that they call latria / but we do the same to sayntes and ymages bothe? yf it stande in knelyng / we knele to sayntes and theyr ymages / yf in prayenge / we pray as bytterly to them as to god. If in sensynge and settynge vp of candels / we cense them also and set some saynt .vii. candelles agaynst god one. So that what so euer fassyon of worshyppynge latria be / the same is as largely done to sayntes and ymages as to god. (CW 6, 98/2--9)

The Messenger then claims that the common people put their trust in images instead of the saints themselves or God. At this point Chancellor More postpones any further discussion of miracles, and begins an extended discussion of the relationship between the oral tradition of the Church and the written scriptures, and of Catholic orthodoxy---this is the matter of Heresies A2, which begins with Book I, Chap. 18 and ends with Book II, Chap. 7. The defence of images, pilgrimages, saints, and miracles (Heresies A1) is resumed again in Book II, Chap. 8. {155}


4.3.4 On Scripture and the Oral Tradition of the Church (I:18--31) (A2)

46. Chancellor More praises the Messenger for his steadfast defence of his position: "ye haue not fayntly defended your parte" (101/13--14), but have said "moche more than I haue herde of any man els / or coulde haue sayd of my selfe" (101/19--20). However, he puts the Messenger's objections to miracles aside for the time and turns to the twin issues of the authority of the written scriptures and of the oral tradition of the Church. The Messenger grants that the Church cannot stand without faith and that:

no man wyll denye but yt fayth is & alway shalbe in his [Christ's] chyrche. And that his chyrche not in fayth onely and the knowlege of the truthes necessary to be knowen for our soule helth / but also to ye doynge of good workys & auoydyng of euyls / is / hath ben and euer shall be specyally gyded and gouerned by god and the secrete inspyracyon of his holy spyryte. (CW 6, 111/5--10)

Chancellor More responds by arguing that if the Church has faith it cannot err either by failing to believe all that is necessary to believe in order to be saved, or on the other hand by believing in false doctrine. He goes on to claim that if the Church accepted the veneration of saints as lawful, though it were indeed unpleasant to God, then that would be a form of idolatry and show a lack of proper faith.

47. Since the Messenger, for all his gusto in reporting various heretical opinions, is a Catholic layman, he accepts that "the chyrche can not erre in the ryght fayth necessary to be byleued" (112/9--10). Chancellor More concludes that it follows from this that:

the chyrche in yt it byleueth sayntes to be prayed vnto / relyques and ymages to be worshypped / & pylgrymages to be vysyted & sought / is not dysceyued nor dothe not erre / but that the byleue of the chyrche is trewe therin. And therupon also foloweth that ye wonderfull workes done aboue nature / at suche ymages & pylgrymages / at holy relyques by prayers made vnto sayntes / be not done by ye deuyll to delude the chyrche of Cryst therwith / syth the thynge yt the chyrche doth / is well done & not Idolatry. But by the great honour done vnto sayntes / god hymselfe the more hyghly honoured / in yt his seruauntes haue so moche honoure for his sake. And therof foloweth it / that hym selfe maketh the myracles in comprobacyon therof. (CW 6, 112/13--24) {156}

Though the Messenger accepts Chancellor More's argument, he raises the objection that God is present with the Church mainly in scripture, that God "hath gyuen them and lefte with them the scrypture / in whiche they may suffycyently se / both what they sholde byleue / and what they sholde do" (113/27--29), and that they may "se all that them nedyth yf they wyll loke and labour therin" (113/31--32).

48. The Messenger argues that just as Moses and the Prophets left their books behind them, so also God is present with his Church in the holy scriptures. To which Chancellor More replies that if the Messenger is correct then the words of Christ were somewhat strangely spoken "For Cryst lefte neuer a booke behynde hym of his owne makyng / as Moyses dyd and the prophetes" (114/32--33), and that when Christ spoke these words the New Testament was not yet written. He adds further:

For where our lorde sayth that his wordes shall not passe away / nor one iote therof be lost / he spake of his promyses made in dede / as his fayth and doctryne taught by mouth and inspyracyon. He mente not that of his holy scrypture in wrytynge there sholde neuer a iote be lost / of whiche some partes be all redy lost / more peraduenture than we call tell of. And of that we haue the bokes in some parte corrupted with mysse wrytynge. And yet the substaunce of those wordes that he mente ben knowen / where some parte of ye wrytynge is vnknowen. (CW 6, 115/18--27)

The Holy Spirit has taught many things, such as the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, which are not contained in scripture: "And thus with secreet helpe and inspyracyon is Cryst with his chyrche / and wyll be to the worldes ende present and assystent. Not onely spoken of in wrytynge" (116/9--11). The Holy Spirit guides the Church and protects it from error in interpreting scripture:

He sayd not that the holy goste sholde at his commyng wryte them all trouth / nor tell them all the hole trouth by mouth / but that he shold by secret inspyracion lede them into all trouth. And therfore surely for a trew conclusyon in suche meanys by god hym selfe / by the helpe of his grace (as your selfe graunteth) ye ryght vnderstandynge of scrypture / is euer preserued in his chyrche from all suche mystakyng / wherof myght folow any damnable errour concernyng the fayth. (CW 6, 119/14--21) {157}

After condemning heretical preachers who take the Bible as their sole guide, Chancellor More reaffirms his own devotion to scripture. Human learning, however, has value as well and is not to be cast away, but is worthy to serve as a handmaid to theology. However, the best part of theology is contained in scripture.

49. The writings of the Church Fathers have special value for interpreting scripture. In addition, reason and faith are two good rules for interpreting doubtful texts. When any text of scripture seems to be contrary to the articles of the faith of the Church, then the interpreter should follow the rule laid down by St. Augustine:

let hym then as saynt Augustyne saythe / make hym selfe very sure yt there is some fawte eyther in the translatour / or in the wryter / or nowe a dayes in the prynter / or fynally that for some one let [hindrance] or other he vnderstandeth it not a ryght. And so let hym reuerently knowlege his ignoraunce / lene and cleue to the fayth of the chyrche as to an vndoutyd trouthe / leuynge that texte to be better perceyuyd whan it shall please our lorde wyth hys lyght to reuele and dysclose it. (CW 6, 127/29--128/2)

The Messenger objects that reason is an enemy to faith. Chancellor More replies that though God's grace is an important aid in interpreting scripture, God also makes use of man's reason. Reason in turn needs to be trained and developed: "reason is by study / labour and exercyse of Logyk / Phylosophy and other lyberall artes corroborate and quyckened / and ye iudgement bothe in them and also in oratours / lawes & storyes moche ryped" (132/6--11).

50. For More the word of God is primarily a spoken word. The law of Christ's faith consists not only of the words written in the books of the Evangelists, but also the substance of the faith which Our Lord said he would write in men's hearts. Christ "fyrste without wrytynge reueled those heuenly mysteryes by hys blessyd mouth / thorowe the eres of his appostles and dyscyples in to theyr holy hartes" (143/12--14). The faith of Christ came to the apostles:

fyrste without wrytynge by onely wordes and prechynge / so was it spredde abrode in the worlde / that his fayth was by the mouthes of his holy {158} messengers put in to mennes eres / & by his holy hande wrytten in mennes hartes or [before] euer any worde therof almost was wrytten in the boke. And so was it conuenyent for the lawe of lyfe / rather to be wrytten in the lyuely myndes of men / than in ye dede skynnes of bestes. And I nothynge doubte / but all had it so ben / that neuer gospell hadde ben wrytten / yet sholde the substaunce of this fayth neuer haue fallen out of crysten folkes hartes / but the same spyryte that planted it / the same sholde haue watered it / the same shold haue kepte it / ye same shold haue encreased it. (CW 6, 143/30--144/7)

No evangelist or apostle "by wrytynge euer sente the faythe to any nacyon / but yf they were furste enformyd by worde" (144/26--27). The apostles and evangelists also taught many things orally that were not committed to writing. Christ's word "nedeth none other authoryte but hym selfe / but is to be byleued and obeyed / be it wrytten or not wrytten" (147/34--35). St. Paul also commanded the Thessalonians to keep the traditions that he had handed on to them whether orally or in writing. Chancellor More asks the Messenger whether the faith of the Church is the Word of God spoken by God to the Church. The Messenger replies that God speaks to his Church in scripture, to which Chancellor More responds: "And is nothyng goddes wordys quod I but scrypture? The wordes that god spake to Moyses were they not goddes wordys all / tyll they were wryten? And ye wordes of Cryst to his apostles were they not his wordys tyll they were wryten?" (155/4--7). The Messenger continues to insist, however, that Christ has revealed his will sufficiently in holy scriptures.

51. Chancellor More at this point gets very frustrated with the Messenger's obtuseness, and points out various things, such as the change of the sabbath day to Sunday and the perpetual virginity of Our Lady about which nothing is mentioned in scriptures. He next raises the issue of the existence of contradictions between various places in scripture, and also between various interpretations of the same passage. The Messenger suggests prayer and drawing lots as ways of choosing between two interpretations. Chancellor More argues in turn that since Christ bids us believe and obey his Church:

therefore are we bounden not onely to byleue agaynste oure owne reason / {159} the poyntes that god sheweth vs in scrypture / but also that god techeth his chyrche without scrypture & agaynst our owne mynde also / to gyue dylygent herynge / ferme credence / and faythfull obedyence to the chyrche of Cryst / concernynge the sence and vnderstandynge of holy scrypture. Not doubtyng but syth he hath commaunded his shepe to be fedde / he hathe prouyded for them holesome mete and trewe doctryne. (CW 6, 166/15--23)

The Messenger is not convinced and the two of them argue back and forth inconclusively. Chancellor More asserts that "the chyrche alwayes hath and alwayes shall haue the knowledge and byleue of suche thynges as god wyll haue it bounden to byleue" (174/31--33). To which the Messenger replies: "god hath lefte holy scrypture to the chyrche / and therein is all / and the chyrche byleueth that to be trewe" (174/34--35), and furthermore that in the scriptures the Church has "warnynge and lernyng of goddes pleasure that ye speke of / without whiche it can not endure" (175/1--2).

52. Chancellor More is just about ready to throw his hands up: "Are ye there yet agayne quod I?" (175/3). The argument is clearly going round in circles at this point. He goes on to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church, and keeping it free from error:

Loo oure lorde sayd not that the holy goost sholde wryte vnto his chyrche all trouthe / but that he sholde lede them by secrete inspyracyon and inclynacyon of theyr hartes in to all trouthe / in whiche muste nedes be conceyued bothe informacyon and ryghte byleue of euery necessary artycle / and of the ryght and trew sense of holy scrypture / as far as shall be requysyte to conserue ye chyrch from any dampnable errour. (CW 6, 178/23--29)

More is unusual, as a sixteenth century author, in putting so much emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit. It has not been sufficiently recognised by modern critics just how organic More's conception of the Church is. Hence, the importance also of consensus, the "common corps of Crystendom" of More's English writings.[52] Chancellor More then raises the question, which has so disturbed modern Protestant Biblical criticism, of the authenticity of the authorship of the books of the New Testament:

Whyche gospell telleth you that Cryste was borne of a vyrgyn? The {160} gospell of saynt Luke quod he. How knowe you that quod I? For I rede it so quod he in the boke. Ye rede quod I suche a boke. But howe knowe you that saynt Luke made it? How knowe I quod he other bokys / but by that they bere the names of theyr authors wrytten vppon them? Knowe you it well therby quod I? Many bokes be there that haue false inscrypcyons / and are not the bokes of theym that they be named by. (CW 6, 180/1--12)

The Messenger responds that even if the Church did mistake the name of the evangelist, that nonetheless the gospel is true. Chancellor More responds by asking him how he knows that the scriptures are true. The Messenger is forced to admit that we believe in the scriptures because the Church has always done so. Chancellor More reiterates his point:

For were it not for the spyryte of god kepynge the trouthe therof in his chyrche / who coulde be sure whiche were ye very gospels? There were many that wrote the gospell. And yet hath the chyrche by secrete instinct of god / reiected ye remenaunt & chosen out these foure / for the sure vndoubted trewe. (CW 6, 181/12--17)

He then proceeds to demolish the Messenger's argument that we should believe nothing that the Church teaches unless it can be proved from scripture by pointing out that we could not believe the scriptures unless they had been approved by the judgement and tradition of the Church. The Messenger remains as obtuse and argumentative as ever and refuses to accept Chancellor More's proofs. In frustration, Chancellor More responds by reminding the Messenger of the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

haue we so sone forgotten the perpetuall assystence of the trynyte in his chyrche / and the prayour of Cryst to kepe the fayth of his chyrche fro faylynge / and the holy gost sente of purpose to kepe in the chyrche the remembraunce of Crystys wordys and to lede them into all trouthe? (CW 6, 182/12--16)

53. Book I ends without any real resolution and with the Messenger still refusing to accept any of Chancellor More's proofs. He says that he has another argument of his own that "tournyth vs yet in to as moche vncertayntye as we were in before" (185/28--29). When Chancellor More asks him what it is, the Messenger suggests they dine instead: {161}

Nay quod he it were better ye dyne fyrste. My lady[53] wyll I wene be angry with me / that I kepe you so longe therfro. For I holde it nowe well towarde twelue. And yet more angry wolde waxe with me / yf I sholde make you syt & muse at your mete / as ye wolde I wote well muse on the matter yf ye wyste what it were. (CW 6, 185/33--186/2)

Chancellor More then invites the Messenger to join him for dinner.


4.3.5 On the True Church of Christ (II: 1--7) (A2)

54. After the dinner is over they walk in the garden, and Chancellor More asks the Messenger "what thynge myght that be / that made our long forenone processe frustrat / and lefte vs as vncertayne as we beganne" (187/14--15). After summarizing the argument of Book I, the Messenger raises the objection that is to be central to Book II that a man, who "byleued the worshyp of ymages to be wronge and vnlawfull" (189/11--12), might argue that the Church is "the people that byleueth as he byleueth / that is to wytte / all these kyndes of worshyppe to be wronge / and that byleueth theym whome ye take for the chyrche to byleue wronge" (189/18--20). To which Chancellor More in turn objects: "If he and his company quod I be the chyrche / he muste tell where his felawes be" (189/21--22). The Messenger suggests that the Church consists of those whom Chancellor More calls heretics. Chancellor More replies that they cannot all be the Church, because the Church has one belief and one faith, and that, whereas the faith of the Church has always lasted, the sects of the heretics have quickly decayed. The Messenger replies that the Church can be found in Bohemia and Saxony, among the Hussites and Lutherans. Chancellor More objects that "amonge all the Lutheranes there be as many heddes as many wyttes" (192/10--11), and that in Bohemia there is:

One fayth in the towne / another in the felde. One in prage / another in the nexte towne. And yet in prage it selfe one faythe in one strete / an other in the nexte. So that yf ye assygne it in Boheme / ye muste tell in what towne. And yf ye name a towne / yet must ye tell in what strete. (CW 6, 192/16--20) {162}

It is significant that as late as 1528--29, when More was writing the first edition of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, it was still possible to see the new Lutheran movement as yet another brand of late mediaeval heresy along the lines of the Lollards and the Hussites.

55. The Messenger then suggests the Lutheran position that the Church consists of those predestined to be saved, wherever they are scattered. The Messenger goes on to argue that the Church is "all suche as byleue a ryght and lyue well where so euer they be / though the worlde knowe them not / and thoughe fewe of them knowe eche other" (198/8--11). Chancellor More replies that:

the chyrche of Cryste is a chyrche well knowen. And his pleasure was to haue it knowen and not hyd. And it is bylded vpon so hygh an hyll of yt holy stone / I meane vpon cryste hym selfe / that it can not be hyd. Non potest abscondi ciuitas supra montem posita. The cyte can not be hyd that is set on an hyll. And he wolde haue his fayth dyuulged & spredde abrode openly / not alway whyspered in hukermoker [secrecy]. (CW 6, 202/26--33)

He goes on to assert that "The chyrche therfore must nedys be the comen knowen multytude of crysten men good and bad togyther / whyle the chyrche is here in erth" (205/4--7). Our Lord in "his mystycall body of his churche / caryeth his membres / some seke / some hole / & all sekely" (205/25--26). Though many of the members of the Church may be sinners, "ye warmnes of grace goyng thorowe this hole mystycall body of Crystes chyrch myght gete yet & kepe some lyfe in them" (205/32--34). However, on the Day of Judgement:

than shall all these scalde & scabbed peces scale clene of / & ye hole body of Crystes holy chyrch remayne pure / clene & gloryous / without wem [spot] / wrincle or spot / which is (& for ye whyle I wene wyl be / as long as she is here) as scabed as euer was Iob / & yet her louyng spouse leueth her not / but contynually goth about by many maner medycynes / some bytter some swete / some easy some greuous / some plesaunt / some paynfull to cure her. (CW 6, 206/3--10)

One sees once again More's essential humaneness and catholicity. More emphasizes that the church is at once the "Mystical Body of Christ" and also "as scabed as euer was Iob", {163} because of the sins of its members.

56. Chancellor More goes on to define the church as "this company & congregacyon of all these nacyons / yt without faccyons taken / & precysyon [cutting off] from ye remenaunt / professe ye name & fayth of Cryst" (206/20--23). It is by this Church that we know the scriptures. However numerous the number of heretics: "ye heretykes be they yt be seuered / & ye chyrch ye stok yt all they cam out of" (207/6--7). Only the Church of Christ is "ye vyne yt cryst spake of in ye gospell / which he taketh for his body mystycall" (207/8--9). All the branches of heretics fallen away from

ye vyne of crystes mystycal body / seme they neuer so freshe & grene / be yet in dede but witherlinges that wyther / & shall drye vp / able to serue for nothyng / but for the fyre. (CW 6, 207/11--14)

With this point the discussion of Heresies A2 is finally brought to a conclusion.


4.3.6 More on Images, Relics, Saints and Pilgrimages (II: 8--12) (A1)

57. After appealing to the authority of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church which approved the worship of images, Chancellor More returns to the matter of Book I, Chapters 3--17 (i.e. Heresies A1), again to defend the veneration of saints. He begins by repeating the attacks made by heretics against honouring the saints:

Fyrst they put in doute whyther sayntys can here vs. And yf they do / yet whyther they can helpe vs. And fynally yf they coulde / yet wolde [wish] they we shold thynke it foly to desyre them / bycause god can do it better and wyll do it soner hym selfe than they all. (CW 6, 211/17--20)

He replies to these charges that since the saints while they were on earth were moved by the intercessions of others, now that they are in heaven they are hardly likely to show "lesse loue & charyte to men yt nede theyr helpe" (211/24). If while on earth the saints were free to help others "wene [suppose] we yt in heuen they stande tyed to a post?" (213/8). The Messenger accepts Chancellor More's arguments but objects: "Yet se I quod he {164} no cause or nede why we sholde pray to theym / syth god can as well and wyll as gladly / both here vs and helpe vs / as any saynt in heuen" (214/11--13). Chancellor More replies by asking him what need there is for a doctor in sickness "syth god can here you and helpe you both / as wel as the best / and loueth you better and can do it soner" (214/15--17). The Messenger responds, "this is his pleasure quod he / that I shall be holpen by the meane of theym as his instrumentys" (214/20--21), to which Chancellor More replies "So hath it quod I pleased god in lyke wyse / that we shall aske helpe of his holy sayntes / and praye for helpe to them" (214/24--25).

58. More's defence of the veneration of the saints is clearly rooted in his two-fold understanding of the Church as a community---the Communion of saints of traditional Catholic theology and the "Common Corps of Christendom". God the Father has given all judgement to his Son, and Christ delights "to haue his holy sayntes parteners of that honoure / and at the daye of Iudgement to haue theym syt with hym" (214/31--33). Christ was content that his apostles were sometimes "prayed to be intercessours to theyr mayster" (215/8--9) while he was on earth and confirmed it through the miracles they worked:

And thynke you than / that he beynge content and gyuynge men occasyon to pray to theym whyle they were wyth hym in erthe / he wyll be angry yf we doo them as moche worshyp whan they be with hym in heuyn? (CW 6, 215/11--14).

The saints are God's special friends and it behooves us to make friends with those God has in his favour.

59. The Messenger objects that some of the relics of the saints are false: "And therfore is it lykely some where a bone worshypped for a relyke of some holy saynt / that was peraduenture a bone as Chaucer saythe of some holy Iewes shepe" (217/20--23). Chancellor More replies that in the matter of the veneration of saints and relics:

the grace and ayde of god and his holy spyryte assystynge his chyrche / {165} hath gouerned ye iudgement of his mynysters / and enclyned the myndes of his people to suche consent. And that he hath not suffered them to erre in a thynge so nerely touchynge his honour & worshyp. (CW 6, 220/36--221/4)

Though some relics may be doubtful and some names forgotten or mistaken, God is "well contente that the relyques be had in reuerence / syth he specyally fauoureth theyr persons [through miracles] / and nedeth nothyng theyr names to knowe them by" (223/1--3). Even if we mistake animal bones for holy relics it does no harm to those who make the mistake, but God will not allow such mistaken relics to last and endure in his Church. The assistance of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit keep the Church free from error in matters of faith:

For els myght the chyrche be moost easely begyled in the receyuynge of the very scrypture / wherin they take outwardely but ye testymonys of men from mouth to mouth & hande to hande / without other examynacyon. But yt secret meane yt enclyneth theyr credulyte to consent in ye byleuyng all in one poynt whiche is the secrete instyncte of god / thys is the sure meane that neuer can in any necessary poynte fayle here in Crystys chyrche. For yf it myght / all were quyte at large. And that poynt ones taken away / scrypture and all walketh with it. (CW 6, 223/21--29)

60. Chancellor More's argument is that if the Church, the consensus of the faithful, is led astray in the matter of the veneration of the saints, then it could just as easily be led astray in drawing up the canon of scripture. The consensus of the faithful guided by the Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in More's understanding of the Church and in his defence of the veneration of saints in particular:

yf the chyrche of Cryste entendynge well / do all agree vpon any one thyng concernyng goddes honour or mannys soule / it can not be but that thyng must nedys be true. For goddes holy spyryte that anymateth his chyrche and gyueth it lyfe / wyll neuer suffer it all consent and agre togyther vpon any dampnable errour. (CW 6, 224/11--17)

The Holy Spirit would not allow the Church to consent to the worship of saints and veneration of relics if it were "a thynge dampnable false and fayned" (224/20).

61. The Messenger accepts Chancellor More's arguments for the veneration of saints but {166} objects that the saints cannot be pleased with the way that they are worshipped; for we worship them in the same way that we do God and we offer to their images the same worship that we offer to the saints themselves. Chancellor More replies to the Messenger's charges by denying that the common people worship the saints with the same honour (latria) that they worship God. If we worshipped Christ with the thought that he was the best man we could possibly imagine but that he was not God, this would not be latria. Latria does not consist of certain outward gestures or rites:

For yf ye lowly maner of bodyly obseruaunce were ye thyng yt wolde make latria / then were we moch in parell of ydolatry in our curtesy vsyd to prynces prelates & popys / to whom we knele as low as to god almyghty / and kysse some theyr handes and some our owne / or [before] euer we presume to touche them / and in the pope his fote. (CW 6, 230/19--24)

The worship of the saints is not idolatrous because no Christian offers them latria. Neither are the common people so foolish as to confuse the images of the saints with the saints themselves. If they prefer one image over another or prefer to go to one place on pilgrimage rather than another "they mene none other but yt our lorde & our lady / or our lorde for our lady sheweth mo myracles at the one than at the other" (231/7--9). Neither are they so foolish to take the images of Our Lady at Walsingham or Ipswich for Our Lady herself:

take the symplest foole that ye can chose / & she wyll tell you that our lady her selfe is in heuyn. She wyll also call an ymage an ymage / & she wyll tell you a dyfference bytwene an ymage of an horse and an horse in dede. And then appereth it well what so euer her wordys be of her pylgrymage by a commune maner of speche to call the ymage of our lady our lady / as men say go to the kynges hed for wyne / not meanynge his hed in dede but the sygne / so meaneth she none other in that ymage but our ladyes ymage howe so euer she call it. (CW 6, 231/30--232/7)

62. Nor is it superstitious to pray to the saints to satisfy our needs, for example when we pray to Saint Appolina for the toothache or Saint Loy for the health of our horses. Chancellor More cites Matthew, Chap. 6, to show that God cares for our material as well as our spiritual needs. Since in the gospels Christ considered it no breach of the Sabbath to pull {167} a horse out of a pit, it is lawful to pray for a poor man's horse on Saint Loy's day, and if our teeth ache it is a worthy thing to pray not only to Saint Appolina but also to God himself. Chancellor More argues that the existence of superstitious practises in the worship of the saints does not invalidate the veneration of the saints themselves. The question is not whether something can be done badly: "For if it may be well done / then though many wold mysse vse it / yet doth all that nothynge mynyshe ye goodnes of the thynge selfe" (235/28--30). Just because some men commonly go hunting on Good Friday does not mean that we should cast away Good Friday. Moreover,

Crystmas yf we consyder how commonly men abuse it / we may thynke that they take it for a tyme of lyberty for all maner of lewdnes. And yet is not Crystmas to be cast away amonge crysten men / but men rather monysshed to amende theyr maners / & vse them selfe in Crystmas more crystenly. (CW 6, 236/10--14)

63. Book II ends with a discussion of miracles as a proof of God's guidance of the Church: "To what purpose quod I were myracles specyally wrought by god / was it not to ye entente to make his messengers knowen and the trouthe of his message?" (239/26--28). The miracles worked by the saints and Doctors of the Church prove the truth of their message. There are no miracles found among the sects of the heretics which proves that they are not the true Church of Christ: "Now syth there be so many false sectes & but one chyrch true / & myracles not spoken of in any but one / it is a good token yt the matter & substaunce of them is true" (243/4--7), and "it is a good profe that ye same one in whiche onely they be done / is onely the very trewe chyrche of Cryste to whiche his holy spyryte and meruaylouse maiestye gyueth his specyall assystence" (243/10--13). Chancellor More concludes that the continued presence of miracles in the life of the Church proves that "the praynge to sayntes / the worshyp of ymages / reuerencynge of relyques / and goynge in pylgrymages" (245/17--19) are not "dampnable or dyspleasaunt to god / but thynges hyghly to his contentacyon and pleasure" (245/20--22). The Messenger is satisfied with Chancellor More's {168} argument and he departs, promising to return another time to discuss the remaining matters that he brought up in the beginning in his "letter of credence". These matters, which will be dealt with in Books III--IV of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, i.e. Heresies B, are discussed in the next chapter.


4.4 Conclusion

64. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies is the longest of the four works under consideration in this study. It also has the most intricate structure. As I have pointed out in this chapter, the first half of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Books I and II, what I am calling Heresies A, has a structure that is in many ways analogous to the first part, the parerga and Book I, of Utopia. The elaborate introduction (Preface--Book I:2, pp. 21--37) shows striking parallels to the elaborate parerga of the Utopia, briefly described in the previous chapter [of my thesis], and also to the fictive prefatory letters of William Rosseus and Baravellus in More's earlier Latin polemical work, the Responsio ad Lutherum.[54] While the (for want of a better word) "chiasmic" (a-b-b-a) four-part structure of Books I and II, where Heresies A1, the first part of Book I (Chapters 3--17) and the second part of Book II (Chapters 8--12), provides a container or envelope for Heresies A2 (Books 1:18--2:7), does so in a manner analogous to the way in which the 'Dialogue of Counsel' frames the dialogue-within-a-dialogue of the 'Cardinal Morton Episode' in Book I of Utopia.

65. The two major divisions of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies (Heresies A and B) have parallels not only with the two-fold structure of Utopia, Books I and II, but also, as I will show in my discussion of the work, in the two major divisions of the Dialogue of Comfort into a "Book of Comfort" (Comfort A: Book I: Preface--II: 8), and an extended meditation on Psalm 90 (91): 5--6 (Comfort B: Books II: 9--III: 27). More's fondness for four-part divisions of topics, shown clearly in the four topics of Heresies B, already briefly outlined in this chapter (see Figure 4.1), and described in detail in the next [chapter], have parallels not only with the {169} four part "chiasmic" (a-b-b-a) structure of Heresies A (see Figure 4.2), but also with the four major temptations of Psalm 90 (91) which, as I will show at the appropriate point, provide the 'architectural' framework for Comfort B.

66. In the next chapter I will deal with two important issues raised in Heresies B, namely Tyndale's translation of the New Testament and the Lutheran doctrines of 'Justification by Faith Alone' and Predestination. The structure of Heresies B is much looser and more heterogeneous, than that of Heresies A, and the argument does at times appear rather disjointed, but Chancellor More does fulfill his promise to deal with those issues (which will be restated in the next chapter) that were first raised by the Messenger in his 'Credence' at the beginning of Book I. {170}



[1] More's 'Polemical Works' consist of a series of controversial works in Latin and English, written in the period 1523--33, dealing with the central issues of the Reformation Debate. The Dialogue Concerning Heresies was the third in order of composition, and the first to be written in English.

[2] R. Pineas, rev. of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, RenQ 35 (1982): 617.

[3] R. Marius in The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer, vol. 8 of The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, (hereafter CW 8), ed. L. A. Schuster, R. C. Marius, J. P. Lusardi, and R. J. Schoeck, 3 vols (New Haven: Yale UP, 1973), 1344.

[4] English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1954), 172; rpt. in Essential Articles for the Study of Thomas More, eds. R. S. Sylvester and G. Marc'hadour (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977), 393.

[5] Rev. of CW 8, EHR 89 (1974): 385 (rpt. Tudor and Stuart Studies, 3: 447).

[6] See B. Bradshaw, "The Controversial Sir Thomas More," JEH 36 (1985): 535--69, esp. 552.

[7] See Pineas's review: "Lawler's essay dealing with More's view of heresy in the Dialogue is tendentious, while demonstrating insufficient familiarity with the nature and techniques of religious polemics, as well as some of the tenets of literary criticism." RenQ 35 (1982): 618.

[8] "The Controversial Sir Thomas More," 552.

[9] See "More as Author: The Virtues of Digression," Moreana 62 (1979): 105--19; rev. vers. as "The Order of the Heart," Thomas More: The Search for the Inner Man (New Haven: Yale UP, 1990), 29--51, 106--07.

[10] Ibid., 107 (34).

[11] "The Controversial Sir Thomas More," 552.

[12] Ibid., 549--551.

[13] Rev. of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Moreana 75/76 (1982): 51--55.

[14] Ibid., 51--52.

[15] EHR 98 (1983): 152--55, 153.

[16] Ibid., 154.

[17] For studies of More's literary and rhetorical techniques in his polemical works see Rainer Pineas's Thomas More and Tudor Polemics (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1968); L. A. Schuster, "Thomas More's Polemical Career, 1523--33," CW 8, 1135--268; and D. Birch, Early Reformation English Polemics, Salzburg Studies in English Literature: Elizabethan and Renaissance Studies 92:7 (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Universität Salzburg, 1983). For other studies see Polemical Works: General Studies in the Bibliographical Appendix. {171}

[18] For comparative studies of More's three dialogues, see the bibliography in Chapter 1, n.6.

[19] There is also an extensive summary of Books I--II:1 of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies in J. Gairdner, "Appendix: Abstract of More's Dialogue," Lollardry and the Reformation in England, 4 vols. (London: MacMillan, 1908--13; rpt. New York: Burt Franklin, 1974), 1: 543--67. (Gairdner, however, did not summarize Book II: 2--12.) Gairdner also provided a brief, incomplete summary of Books III and IV, see ibid., 567--78.

[20] A Dialogue concerning Heresies and Matters of Religion made in 1528 by Sir Thomas More (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1927); rpt. in The English Works of Sir Thomas More, Volume 2: The Dialogue Concerning Tyndale (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode; New York: Lincoln MacVeagh, The Dial Press, 1931).

[21] Eds. T. M. C. Lawler, G. Marc'hadour, and R. C. Marius, 2 vols. (hereafter CW 6) (New Haven: Yale UP, 1981).

[22] See Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961), 177. For the roles of the Messenger and the reader see also D. B. Billingsley, "The Messenger and the Reader in Thomas More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies," SEL 24 (1984): 5--22.

[23] William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More's Dialogue, ed. Henry Walter, Parker Society 44 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1850; rpt. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1968).

[24] The others were The Supplication of Souls and The Letter to Frith (CW 7), The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (CW 8), The Apology (CW 9), The Debellation of Salem and Bizance (CW 10), and The Answer to a Poisoned Book (CW 11).

[25] The Responsio ad Lutherum (CW 5), and The Letter to Bugenhagen (CW 7).

[26] In the account of the 'Wife of Botulph's Wharf,' see CW 8, 883/28--905/23.

[27] The famous "Letter of Margaret Roper to Alice Alington," Rogers, #206, 514-533.

[28] R. W. Chambers argues for More's (and Tyndale's) continuity with older traditions of prose writing in Old and Middle English, especially with the fourteenth century English mystics. I think Chambers somewhat overstates his case---there is much that is also new in More's (and Tyndale's) prose. See The Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and his School, (London: 1932). Also published as an introduction in Nicholas Harpsfield, The Life and Death of Sr Thomas Moore, knight, sometymes Lord high Chancellor of England, ed. E. L. Hitchcock, with an introduction by R. W. Chambers, EETS 186 (London: Oxford UP 1932), xlv--clxxiv.

[29] The Preface (21/1--24/17) has no title (the title at the top of CW 6, 21, reads "The furst boke"), but since it precedes the first chapter, and is not listed in "The table of the furst boke" on page 1, it is clearly meant to have a prefatory function.

[30] Since Chapter 2, which deals mainly with the 'The Image of Love', is something of a digression, the main theme of the dialogue in Books I and II, the defence of saints, relics, images, pilgrimages and the oral tradition of the Church, does not actually begin until Chapter 3 on page 51, some thirty pages into the work.

[31] The narrative voice of the Preface (and of Chapter 1), whose function is somewhat analogous to that of the voice that I am calling Narrator More at the beginning of the Utopia, is never actually identified in the text, but I have chosen the title 'author', which the rubrics actually later apply to the first person voice ("quod I") of the Dialogue (whom I choose to call Chancellor More), and also to the author of the second letter in Chapter 1 ("The letter of the author sent with the boke"). The 'author' narrator is clearly, like the Thomas More of the 'Prefatory Letter to Giles' of the Utopia at least partly a fictional construct. {172}

[32] This was a very common practise in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The 'letter of credence' was clearly meant to vouch for the reliability and trustworthiness of the bearer of the message. Even today ambassadors present a 'letter of credence' when they take up an embassy. For an example of More himself reading one of Erasmus's letters out loud to the Italian humanist Niccol<&og> Sagundino, see Allen,, III, #590, 592/11--12: "tua elegantissima ab eo mihi recitata fuit epistola" ["he read me your most elegant letter" (CWE 4: 389/14--15)].

[33] This, of course, is an elaborate fiction, like those in the Prefatory Letter to Utopia and in the introduction to Responsio ad Lutherum (CW 5) (1523). Unlike the Dialogue of Comfort or the History of Richard III, there is no evidence for any independent circulation of the manuscript of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies prior to it's publication in 1529.

[34] The Yale editors (CW 6, 602, note to 22/33--34) suggest Tunstal and Fisher. While plausible, this is pure surmise---Tunstall commissioned More to write against heretics, and Fisher had also written anti-Lutheran polemical works---both men would no doubt have had an interest in the work, but there is no proof of them actually having read it prior to publication. This also is part of the fiction of the Preface.

[35] More's 'merry tales' are an important part of his literary style in many of his literary works, but especially in the two English dialogues. They have been the subject of a number of literary studies, see Thomas Lawler's comments in CW 6, 449--50; W. M. Gordon, "In Defense of More's Merry Tales," Moreana 38 (1973): 5--12 and "The Argument of Comedy in Thomas More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies," Ren&Ref ns 4 (1980): 13--32; G. Marc'hadour, "The Devil and the Lombards: Two Merry Tales by Thomas More," Cithara 19:2 (1980): 5--19. See also the section on Humour and Wit in the Bibliographical Appendix.

[36] For More's knowledge of Chaucer, see A. Fox, "Thomas More's Dialogue and the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury: 'Good Mother Wit' and Creative Imitation," Familiar Colloquy: Essays Presented to Arthur Edward Barker, ed. P. Brückmann (Ottawa, Ont.: Oberon Press for U of Western Ontario, 1978), 15--24 and "Chaucer, More, and English Humanism," Parergon n.s. 6 (1988): 63--75.

[37] It is one of the many sources of possible confusion in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, that "frende" sometimes stands, as it does here, for the Messenger (when Chancellor More is addressing the Friend), and sometimes elsewhere for the Friend as in "my good frende your mayster" (CW 6, 46/19).

[38] See J. F. Davis, "The Trials of Thomas Bylney and The English Reformation," JEH 24 (1981): 775--790; E. Gow, "Thomas Bilney and His Relations with Sir Thomas More," Norfolk Archaeology 32 (1958--61): 292--310; E. G. Rupp, "The Recantations of Thomas Bilney," The London Quarterly and Holborn Review 167 (1942): 180--186; G. Walker, "Saint or Schemer? The 1527 Heresy Trial of Thomas Bilney Reconsidered," JEH 40 (1989): 219--38; S. Brigden, London and the Reformation (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989), 111--13.

[39] The actual contents of the argument of Book I, Chaps. 3--31, are summarized by the Messenger at the beginning of Book II, Chap. 1 (187/16--89/6). The argument of Book II, or at least the second half, is again (but less clearly) summarized at the end of Book II, Chap. 12 (245/12--46/6). And the central point of the second half of Book I, the equality of the oral tradition of the Church with the written scriptures as divine revelation, provides the theme of the dialogue-within-a-dialogue between the Messenger and the "Unnamed Critic" (my term) in Book III, Chap. 1, discussed in the next chapter [of my thesis]. {173}

[40] For Cuthbert Tunstall's "licence" to More, see Rogers, #160, pp. 386--88, translated into English as "Licence for Sir Thomas More to keep and read heretical books, 7 March 1528," in English Historical Documents, Vol. V: 1485--1558, ed. C. H. Williams (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967), 828--29. More was not the only one commissioned by Tunstall to write against heretics. John Skelton did so as well, see J. Scattergood, "Skelton and Heresy," Early Tudor England: Proceedings of the 1987 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. D. Williams (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1989), 157--70, esp. 159--61.

[41] E. J. Devereux has even argued the opposite position that the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, originally consisted of a draft of Book I by itself, which More then later greatly expanded into its present four book form, see "Thomas More's Textual Changes in the Dialogue Concerning Heresies," The Library 5 ser., 27 (1972): 233--5; cf. CW 6, 550--52.

[42] For More's relationship to earlier English defenders of images against Lollard attacks (especially Reginald Pecock), see CW 6, 748--59.

[43] D. E. Mason and R. J. Schoeck, "On More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529)," Moreana 27/28 (1970): 129--32.

[44] Ps. 113B:4--8, 1 Tim. 1:17, Jer. 17:5, and Exod. 20:4.

[45] See CW 6, 606--07, note to 38/22.

[46] This is the first of three 'major' additions to the 1531 edition. The other two occur at 355/28--59/31, and 386/18--388/34. Significantly, the second 'addition' in Book IV:2 also deals with the question of images, while the third in Book IV:11 refines a point made in the reported dialogue of "The Examination of the Lutheran Preacher." For the changes More made in the 1531 edition, see Thomas Lawler's discussion in CW 6, 556--75.

[47] London: 1525, by John Rickes. See E. Ruth Harvey, "Appendix A: The Image of Love," CW 6, 727--59. For More's treatment of The Image of Love, see M. Aston, "More's Defence of Images," England's Iconoclasts, Vol. 1: Laws Against Images (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1988), 174--183; L. Miles, "Protestant Colet and Catholic More: A Study of Contrasts in the Use of Platonism," ATR 33 (1951): 30--42; P. Stewart, "Heresy and Hypocrisy in the English Reformation" (Ph.D. Diss., U of British Columbia, 1992); J. B. Trapp, "Thomas More and the Visual Arts," Saggi sul Rinascimento, ed. S. Rossi (Milan: Edizioni Unicopli, 1984), 47--53; rpt. in Essays on the Renaissance and the Classical Tradition (London: Variorum Reprints, 1990), VIII: 47--53; and S. Brigden, London and the Reformation, 80--82. G. R. Elton rather surprisingly misses the point of More's discussion of the Image of Love. In his review of CW 6, he comments on Harvey's Appendix that she "discusses a devotional pamphlet, The Image of Love, which may have troubled More, who never mentions it", EHR 98 (1983): 153.

[48] 274b--78d.

[49] For the orthodox mediaeval defence of image worship by Aquinas and St. John Damascene, see CW 6, 742--48.

[49a] See CW 6, 618, note to 65/3.

[50] See Stewart's discussion of the shifting and contradictory meanings given to the words "reason" and "nature" in Book I of the Dialogue Concerning Heresies, in "Heresy and Hypocrisy".

[51] I am indebted for this point to an unpublished paper by Murray Tolmie, "Plato's Laws and More's Dialogue Concerning Heresies, Book I." {174}

[52] See B. G. Gogan, The Common Corps of Christendom: Ecclesiological Themes in the Writings of Sir Thomas More (Leiden: Brill, 1982). See also F. Murray, "The Holy Spirit in St. Thomas More's Confutation of Tyndale's Answer," Clergy Review 62 (1977): 388--92; P. Sheldrake, "Authority and Consensus in Thomas More's Doctrine of the Church," Heythrop Journal 20 (1976): 146--62 and "Thomas More and Authority," The Month 2nd n.s. 10 (1977): 122--5, 134.

[53] Chancellor More's wife, Dame Alice.

[54] See the Responsio ad Lutherum, Vol. 5 of The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. J. M. Headley, trans. S. Scholastica, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1969), 1--31, 795--98. For a recent literary study of the Responsio, see R. R. McCutcheon, "The Responsio ad Lutherum: Thomas More's Inchoate Dialogue with Heresy," SCJ 22 (1991): 77--90.

iEMLS Home Page