The sadness of Christ, T. More
The History of the Passion closes the long list of works, both Latin and English, written by St. Thomas More. His imprisonment in the Tower lasted from April 17 , 1534, to July 6, 1535, the day of his martyrdom. From the beginning he knew that he was never likely to regain his freedom and determined to make the best possible use of his time as a preparation for death. In all sincerity he expressed his satisfaction at obtaining so valuable a period of quiet and recollection for prayer and study. To Margaret Roper, his beloved daughter, he wrote of his appreciation of the grace of God that ‘hath also put in the king towards me that good and gracious mind, that as yet he hath taken from me nothing but my liberty, wherewith (as help me God) his grace hath done me great good by the spiritual profit that I trust I take thereby, that among all his great benefits heaped upon me so thick I reckon, upon my faith, my imprisonment even the very chief.’ 1 Similarly on another occasion he said to her: ‘They that have put me here ween they have done me a high displeasure.’… ‘I find no cause, I thank God, Meg, to reckon myself in worse case here than in my own house. For methinketh God maketh me a wanton and setteth me on his lap and dandleth me.’ 2 He had spent long years in writing against the new heresies the controversial books which form the bulk of his English works, but now, although occasional references to current controversies are still to be found, his chief preoccupation is to prepare himself, and his family, too, for the inevitable separation of death. Thus did he write the Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation and the History of the Passion.
Devotion to our Lord’s passion was familiar to him. ‘Every year on Good Friday,’ writes Stapleton, ‘he called together the whole of his family into what was called the New Building, and there he would have the whole of our Lord’s passion read to them, generally by John Harris. From time to time More would interrupt the reading with a few words of pious exhortation.’ 3 It may well be that in the present work we have echoes of those exhortations. Another clue to their contents may perhaps be provided by More’s words to Tyndale: ‘Who can speak of Christ’s passion and speak nothing of his mercy?’ 4