Thomas More vs. Herman of Alaska

Welcome to the Saintly Sixteen! With your help, we have successfully cut our 32 saints in half. Numerically speaking, that is, not in a martyred kind of way. For this round, rather than the basic biographical information we enter the realm of Quirks and Quotes. Our brilliant Celebrity Bloggers will provide unusual information or legends surrounding their saints along with quotes either by or about their saints.

Yesterday Clare of Assisi snagged the final spot in the Saintly Sixteen by defeating Isidore of Seville 59% to 41%. Clare will face Elizabeth Fry in the next round.

Don’t forget, you can always go to the Bracket Tab, deftly managed by Bracket Czar Adam Thomas, to easily find previous battles if you need to refresh your basic knowledge on these saints. This is yet another free courtesy extended to you, the Lent Madness Global Public.

We kick things off with a matchup between Thomas More and Herman of Alaska. To get to this point, Thomas defeated James the Less in the very first battle of Lent Madness 2020, while Herman surprised Elizabeth of Hungary.

Thomas More
Sir Thomas More is as multi-faceted an individual as any in history: at once stern and witty; ahead of his time and behind his time; prayerful and pious, and yet also politically calculating and cunning. Opinions on More sway as easily as the breeze, depending highly on the counsel one chooses to take on More’s life and character, and there is a  good case is to be made that all those opinions are correct. Yet More’s conviction to the church, and his faith in God remain beyond question.

Among More’s masterworks was Utopia, writing some consider a political essay, and others consider political satire. In Utopia, More imagines the ideal community, including, fittingly, a good way to run meetings—a lesson many a church Vestry could stand to heed:

“One rule observed in their council is, never to debate a thing on the same day in which it is first proposed; for that is always referred to the next meeting, that so men may not rashly and in the heat of discourse engage themselves too soon… to prevent this, they take care that they may rather be deliberate than sudden in their motions.”

Given so many church meetings stress over finances, it is also notable that More’s Utopia also imagined a world where people, rather than wealth, stand at the center of human society:

“They wonder much to hear that gold, which in itself is so useless a thing, should be everywhere so much esteemed, that even men for whom it was made, and by whom it has its value, should yet be thought of less value than it is.”

Perhaps aware of his polarizing character, after he was imprisoned for refusing to disavow the Roman Catholic Church after Henry VIII’s assertion of control over the Church in England, More wrote to his daughter Margaret Roper:

“I do no­body harm, I say none harm, I think none harm, but wish everybody good. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith, I long not to live.”

And even as he was led to his death, More proclaimed that

“I die the king's faithful servant, and God’s first.”

More’s legacy is complex, including to Episcopalians and Anglicans. Perhaps foreseeing his own end, he wrote of Richard III in 1543,

“For men use, if they have an evil turn, to write it in marble: and whoso doth us a good turn we write it in dust.”

Whether More is for dust or marble remains a debatable question, even to this day. One cannot doubt, however, More’s depth of sincerity and conviction.

—David Sibley


Herman of Alaska
During his 85 years, Herman of Alaska dedicated his life to the Gospel. He maintained, “A true Christian is made by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity, according to the word of the Savior Himself.”

In 1794 when Herman embarked on a voyage to Russian-owned Alaska, he was filled with missionary zeal. “From this day forth from this very hour and this very minute, let us love God above all and seek to accomplish His Holy Will,” Herman reflected.

What he discovered in Alaska were flourishing trading posts, many fellow Russians, and the mistreatment of the Aleuts, the native inhabitants of that area.

His writings reflect how sickened he was of the harsh domination, and of his calling to comfort the populace in their misery. Herman wrote, “Since the welfare of this nation by the Providence of God, it is not known for how long, is dependent on and has been entrusted into the hands of the Russian government which has now been given into your own power, therefore I, the most humble servant of these people, and their nurse stand before you in their behalf, write this petition with tears of blood. Be our Father and our Protector. Certainly we do not know how to be eloquent, so with an inarticulate infant’s tongue we say: Wipe away the tears of the defenseless orphans, cool the hearts melting away in the fire of sorrow. Help us to know what consolation means.”

Herman’s life in the vast wilderness was tough; nonetheless his ministry to the Aleuts never wavered. While tending to the sick through an epidemic, he related: “I saw mothers over whose bodies cold in death crawled a hungry child, crying and searching in vain for its food...My heart was bursting with compassion! It seemed that if anyone could paint with a worthy brush the full horror of this tragic scene, that he would have successfully aroused fear of death in the most embittered heart.”

Herman never returned to his homeland and retreated to the life of a hermit in his later years. He always knew he was not alone. "God is here, as God is everywhere," he said.

Even as his life ebbed and he reflected on his relationship with his Maker, Herman remained committed to spreading the Gospel, questioning and challenging others: “I, a sinner, have been trying to love God for more than forty years, and cannot say that I perfectly love Him. If we love someone we always remember him and try to please him; day and night our heart is occupied with that object. Is that how you, gentlemen, love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?”

Upon his death on November 15, 1836, Bishop Peter Kashevarov reported, “In general all the local inhabitants have a reverent respect for him as a holy ascetic, and are entirely convinced of his having pleased God.”

-- Neva Rae Fox

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Sir Thomas More's Farewell to His Daughter, 1816-79, Painting by Edward Matthew Ward


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107 comments on “Thomas More vs. Herman of Alaska”

        1. I too just followed your link for the first time...but it won’t be the last time. Thank you for the memes!!

    1. I, too, just followed your link for the first time. And it, too, won't be the last. More! More (fromyou)! But, I had to go with Herman today.

  1. This is a tough one. Having lived in Alaska I simply can't fathom how anyone could further burden a people who already deal with such harsh elements of nature. I think I'll stick with Herman for his compassion and devotion to caring for God's people.

    1. It is clear in these trying times, as we watch the discrepancies in the testing of the rich and poor with this virus and consider the probable consequences, that prioritizing those that need more help is our duty. Herman shows us the way.

  2. If we love someone we always remember him and try to please him; day and night our heart is occupied with that object. Is that how you, gentlemen, love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?”
    May we, always.

  3. Herman's words being to mind the writings of Paul, and later expounded upon by Luther, not by works but by faith.
    At this time in history faith and not works had become even more important. As our churches close and our isolation increases it is good to remember "God is everywhere."
    Amen, and again, amen.

    1. I vote for Herman because of who he was and where he was and for whom he was, both in faith and works. But to you, Marian the Lutheran, I would place myself under your ministrations had I the opportunity. Your comments are consistently faithful and relevant.

  4. Both of these entries to the Saintly 16 are worthy, though More in the end,professed service to his king and Herman set his sights higher than man.

  5. Herman's steadfast love and commitment to minister to an abused people is without controversy. He's my choice today.

  6. Today's installment endeared me a little more to More... but not enough to change my vote. I'm sticking with Herman again.

  7. This was a tough choice for me but I went with More. Though controversial, I admire his consistency and his lesson of centering people rather than wealth is of particular personal value to me. It is how I try to approach my duties as a vestry person.

    Herman is also worthy and, while I admire his compassion, I must confess that the need for it was brought about by the artificial miseries of colonization upon indigenous people. His love and basic human decency are only extraordinary in contrast to the failure of so many of us to display those qualities.

    1. "“I do no­body harm, I say none harm,..."

      Excuse me?
      Burning Protestants at the stake is doing no harm?

      1. Exactly, Gregory! While, at least in my opinion, More's devotion and apparent humility were strongly offset by his hubris, Herman's love of God and compassion appear undiluted. I don't understand what another poster means by the "artificial miseries of colonization." They weren't "artificial" to the colonized, and Herman's efforts to alleviate them have earned him my vote.

        I wonder how More would have handled an Alaskan winter and an epidemic. I expect he'd have stayed tucked up safely in his house, warm and well fed.

    2. TJ - I agree. In the end Thomas More died for what he believed. No doubt he did make some poor decisions, it would be difficult to work for Henry VIII. I voted for Herman in the first round, but Thomas More was A Man for All Seasons.

  8. The first time my husband and I visited Alaska, we drove north from California and back through Canada. We passed through a small community named CHICKEN because, as legend had it, nobody knew how to spell PTARMIGAN. My vote is for Herman.

    1. I may bake a batch of hermits to enjoy with a Homousion cocktail, if I can ever find the ingredients for that.

    2. Kind of off the subject here, but I first heard of Chicken, Alaska when I read a book called, "Tisha," by Robert Specht and Anne Purdy. It's a wonderful story of a young woman who went to Alaska as a teacher and her life with whites and natives. Quite a book.

  9. Cannot vote for a person that put others to death in cruel ways. The humble and faithful Herman receives my vote today.

  10. Herman's my man. “I, a sinner, have been trying to love God for more than forty years, and cannot say that I perfectly love Him. If we love someone we always remember him and try to please him; day and night our heart is occupied with that object. Is that how you, gentlemen, love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always remember Him, do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?” Oh my God, how could I not vote for such an eloquent person. That first line is a killer! Amen, Herman!

  11. If we treasure martyrs, More was certainly responsible for creating some, with his zealous persecution of "heretics." My vote goes to Herman, who labored to help others, rather than to More, who applauded the torture of those who disagreed with him.

  12. There must be some political and religious rules and regulations “for the good of society and the Church.” Nevertheless, in both cases, I think less is more, whereas "Utopia" indicates, More is better.

  13. As a student of Robert's Rules of Order I have to go with More for pondering and writing about how we make decisions.

  14. Herman goes all the way to the final on my bracket. Lovely to give him another vote! We all need the helpers, these days.

  15. Herman's life is so compelling especially his caring for people during a severe epidemic. Definitely a reminder of today's pandemic situation. If only those at the "top" of the pyramid understood that they too meet an end perhaps the choices made through elected people would show the compassion needed for everyone at the "bottom". There is an odd connection between More and Herman. But my vote is for Herman.

  16. We recently returned from Alaska 09/19 and we both were struck by the vastness of the country and its beauty!
    We took the RR up to the gold mines, 3000 in the day went up and 300 came down! All, looking for GOLD, not GOD!
    You all, I am sure know who I have voted for!
    God Bless and be Safe in this 2020!
    What God brings us to,HE will Bering us Thru,

  17. I find this a tough choice. My initial choice was Herman, who in spite of the dominating culture in which he was raised, saw the sinfulness of what his fellow Russians were doing. It is a wise and saintly man who can rise above the dominating mores of his culture. Then I was reminded about Thomas More's Utopia which I choose to believe was his idea of a Christian world, not a political satire. If I remember correctly, it actually is quite in line with what our early Church Fathers believed, where Christians were to be interested in heavenly riches, but gave to the poor, took care of the sick, and put their neighbor's needs at least equal and preferably above their own. This is what the Gospels preach. What to do, what to do.

  18. Herman, as one who cared for and defended the rights of the indigenous people of Alaska, speaks to my heart at a time when Canadian indigenous and non-indigenous Anglicans are walking the path of reconciliation. While I admire Thomas Moore's "God first/King second" stance, as a Ricardian I am small enough to resent his role in the malicious defamation of Richard III. My vote goes to Herman of Alaska.

    1. Yes, that was quite the smear campaign against Richard! Another reason to vote for the compassionate Herman.

  19. Although Thomas More was not perfect as viewed through our 21st century lens, his commitment to universal religious toleration, free education for men and women alike, a firm stand against the political power of secular culture over the tenets of the church and our faith, death over favoritism to a king he loved, and lasting modeling of the expectations of servanthood are far beyond the contributions of many in the Round of 32...More!!

  20. Big shoutout to David Sibley for a wonderful writeup of More; no one could have more capably presented a case for More, balanced and thoughtful. But I voted for Herman, being moved by the words "Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity." That is one hopeful thought! Also his faithful service to indigenous people; would that all the early colonizers and settlers have done likewise. But profit superseded prophet in the New World to our lasting discredit and wretched deplorableness. Herman's humility impresses me as well: after forty years of loving God, I still do not love perfectly. Brother Herman, pray for us. (I cannot refrain from adding that the diocese of Alaska is missing an opportunity to establish a monastery and retreat center called Herman's Hermits.)

    1. Bwahahaha! Herman's Hermits - classic! I, too, am impressed by Herman's humility and life of love and service.

    2. " It is difficult to reconcile the author of Utopia with the heretic hunter of the mid-1520s, who personally broke into Lutherans' homes and sent men to the stake. It is true that Luther's challenge, from 1519 onward, and Henry's proposed divorce, menaced More with visions of schism, and that the literal defense of the realm became More's necessary objective as Lord Chancellor. (He likened the fight against heretics to the fight against the Ottoman Empire.) But certainly, the shift from Utopian to prosecutor, in the space of ten years, is a bewildering one."


  21. Another tough one. Happy Episcopalian that I am, my vote today goes to Thomas More. I love the compassion of Herman of Alaska, and his courage in taking care of the people afflicted by an epidemic. However, I also admire the political astuteness of Thomas. This is a much overlooked quality in the clergy, I suspect, but it is absolutely essential if the world is to be shaped in any degree toward God’s kingdom

    1. What an interesting point you make: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves."

  22. In the first round I voted for Thomas and not for Herman, but this morning my vote goes to Herman. His purity of soul, and the life he led, contrast with Thomas’s brilliant but decidedly mixed bag. This morning I’m seeing Thomas as an absolutist whose religious fanaticism extended even to himself.

    Not that I venerate Henry VIII; like many Anglicans I feel a tension between my church’s ambiguous institutional origins and the blessing it has been to the Church Universal. Nor do I devalue Thomas’s great intellect and worthy accomplishments; but Herman seems to have had no dark side, and his ministry during the epidemic speaks to these times with particular power.

    1. Well said. I thought I would go with Thomas More all the way, but I am leaning toward Herman. Herman's position that sin does not keep us from our faith is profound in this day when so many Christians keep trying to draw the circle tighter and smaller, and are expending so much energy and churning out so much legislation to prove who is more sinful than they.

    2. "whose religious fanaticism extended even to himself": what a brilliant insight, Davis. More reminds me of the officer in Kafka's penal colony, who is so committed to the "literal execution of the law" that he himself climbs into the execution machine to die grotesquely as the machine impales the law letter by letter into his flesh become corpse. So learned and yet so obtuse, so committed to the letter that kills, so resistant to the spirit that gives life.

  23. Thomas More has my vote as he did not retreat from the earthly powers that demanded his loyalty.

    1. “While tending to the sick through an epidemic . . . “

      and that’s how Herman of Alaska got my vote.