One less reason to dislike Thomas More

In his good piece on the “Escriva Option,” Austin Ruse mentions that he dislikes St. Thomas More:

I am reminded of one of the reasons I do not care for St. Thomas More (heretical, I know). More longed to have been a Carthusian, who are tougher even than the Trappists, and he imposed Carthusian practices on his family including, cruelly I think, interrupting their sleep at 1 a.m. to chant the Night Office. Such a thing is not natural for someone in the lay state.

His point is well taken, but his view of More may be mistaken.  We tend to interpret such things through the lens of our own sleep customs, forgetting that sleep worked very differently before about the year 1800. Before the advent of artificial lighting, people slept in two segments.  They would sleep for a while, get up for a while in the middle of the night to do this and that, and then sleep for a long time again.  So the middle of the night was a common time for story telling, love making, prayer, and so on and so forth.  Wikipedia lists some of the studies on this; another helpful presentation is here.

Notice that the custom of prayer in the middle of the night has almost died out even in monasteries.  The reason we lay people find it strange to get up and pray at 1:00 a.m. these days is not that we’re lay people, but that we live in these days.  St. Thomas More was not being cruel; he was not even being unusual.

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