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Catholic Activity: On Preventing Pride and Vainglory in Children

A look at the household of St. Thomas More provides parents with ideas on ways to prevent their children from falling into the sin of pride.

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St. Thomas More, the saint "who died laughing," was the best of fathers, a merry man of wit and learning, devoted to his family, tender and solicitous about the education of his children no less than about their knowledge of the things of God. His "dear little wife," Jane, did not live to see their four children grow up, and shortly after her death Sir Thomas married again to complete the Chelsea household and give a mother to Margaret, Elizabeth, Cecily and John.

The More home was no ordinary English household. In addition to his own children, Sir Thomas had under his roof his stepdaughter Alice Middleton and his wards Margaret Gigs and Anne Cresacre. Other young students lived with the Mores — William Roper, Sir Thomas's ward Giles Heron, his nephew William Rastell. For all these young people Sir Thomas maintained his "school," where "devotion to learning came second only to devotion to the Church."

When he wrote Utopia Sir Thomas had made much of the education of both sexes. Here in the pleasant house beside the Thames his ideas, visionary to most Londoners, were tried out and found workable. His daughters learned Latin, Greek and Scripture; so did his son, nephew and wards (and later his eleven grandchildren also joined the "academy"). The head of the house taught them himself in the beginning; later he found tutors for them whom he carefully supervised and advised as to just what kind of things they should pour into his children's heads. He told them, for instance, "to warn my children to avoid the precipices of pride and haughtiness, and to walk in the pleasant meadows of modesty; not to be dazzled at the sight of gold; not to lament that they do not possess what they erroneously admire in others; not to think more of themselves for gaudy trappings, nor less for the want of them; neither to deform the beauty that nature has given them by neglect, nor to try to heighten it by artifice; to put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and Christian humility in themselves."

Sir Thomas, whose experience in the law and at Court had taught him with what contempt the world holds such advice, went on to forestall objections:

"I fancy I hear you object that these precepts, though true, are beyond the capacity of my young children, since you will scarcely find a man, however old and advanced, who is not stirred sometimes with the desire of glory. But, dear Gunnell, the more do I see the difficulty of getting rid of this pest of pride, the more do I see the necessity of getting to work at it from childhood. For I find no other reason why this evil clings to our hearts so closely than because almost as soon as we are born, it is sown in the tender minds of children by their nurses, it is cultivated by their teachers, and brought to its full growth by their parents, no one teaching what is good, without at the same time awakening the expectation of praise as of the proper reward of virtue.

"That this plague of vainglory should be banished far from my children, I do desire you, dear Gunnell, and their mother and all their friends, would sing this song to them, and repeat it and knock it into their heads, that vainglory is a despicable thing, and that there is nothing more sublime than the humble modesty so often praised by Christ."

The daily life of the More household — family and servants — revolved about the one great reality: man's end in God. At mealtime one of the girls would read a passage from Scripture, then the whole family would join in a discussion of its interpretation, followed by jesting and innocent merriment. Sometimes they must have had music in the evening for Sir Thomas loved singing and playing and had his wife instructed in the art of the lute and the virginals. Indeed it was a happy family where everything referred back to God. Perhaps it was his humility that made Sir Thomas so much "all things to all men." At any rate it was a virtue in which he counseled his children — to cultivate the humility that comes with seeing things as they really are — God's.

"How delectable is that dainty damsel to the devil, that taketh herself for fair, weening herself well-liked for her broad forehead, while the young man that beholdeth her marketh more her crooked nose! How proud be many men of these glistening stones, of which the very brightness, though he cost thee twenty pounds, shall never shine half so bright nor show thee half so much light, as shall a poor half-penny candle! How proud is many a man over his neighbor because the wool of his gown is finer! And yet as fine as it is, a poor sheep ware it on her back before it came upon his, and though it be his, is not so verily his as it was verily hers! All that ever we have, of God we have received; riches, royalty, lordship, beauty, strength, learning, wit, body, soul and all. And almost all these things hath He but lent us. For all these must we depart from, every whit again, except our soul alone. And yet that must we give God again also."

Activity Source: Saints and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York; reprinted by TAN Publishers, 1958

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