“Ye use, my mayster sayth, to look so sadly whan ye mene merrily, that many tymes men doubte whyther ye speke in sporte whan ye mene good ernest.”

More, Thomas, Saint (1478-1535)

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 [and] worshyp of ymagys [and] relyques, prayng to sayntis, [and] goynge on pylgrymage. Wyth many other thyngys touchyng the pestylent secte of Luther [and] Tyndale, by the tone bygone in Saxony, [and] by the tother laboryd to be brought in to England. Newly ouersene by the sayd syr Thomas More chauncellour of England. 1530

London: printed by William Rastell, 1530


Folio: 26.4 x 18 cm. Collation: a-z6, A-C6, D4

SECOND EDITION, Revised by More, of this masterpiece of 16th c. English controversy. This edition was printed by More’s nephew William Rastell (1508–1565), the son of More’s sister Elizabeth (1482–1537) and the printer John Rastell (c. 1475-1537), who printed the first edition in 1529.

A fine copy bound in 19th century parchment over boards with a central blind-stamped arabesque. The text is in excellent condition with only minor cosmetic faults: The blank upper corner of the title page has been restored with out affecting the text; there are a few stains and scattered contemporary annotations. This copy is complete with the errata leaf (D4).

A fine copy bound in 19th century parchment over boards with a central blind-stamped arabesque. The text is in excellent condition with only minor cosmetic faults: The blank upper corner of the title page has been restored without affecting the text; there are a few stains and scattered contemporary annotations. This copy is complete with the errata leaf (D4).

Thomas More’s Defense of Catholic Orthodoxy in the face of the Protestant Reformation, “A Dialogue against Heresies”, is a masterpiece of 16th c. English religious controversy and literary innovation. Throughout he attacks Luther and Tyndale, enumerating their Protestant heresies, and refuting their theological arguments. More savages Tyndale for being Luther’s pawn, and uses the example of Tyndale’s English Bible (which More protests is no Bible at all) to demonstrate Luther’s corrupting influence:

"But now I pray you let me know your mind concerning the burning of the New Testament in English, which Tyndale lately translated, and (as men say) right well, which maketh men much marvel of the burning. It is, quoth I, to me great marvel that any good Christian man, having any drop of wit in his head, should any thing marvel or complain of the burning of that book, if he knew the matter: which whoso calleth the new Testament, calleth it by a wrong name, except they would call it “Tyndale’s Testament”, or “Luther’s Testament.” For so had Tyndale, after Luther’s counsel, corrupted and changed it from the good and wholesome doctrine of Christ to the devilish heresies of their own, that it was clean a contrary thing.”

The Second Edition:

Typographically, the second edition of More’s “Dialogue” stands in dramatic contrast to the first edition. In terms of its content, the new edition includes several important additions and a number of shorter interpolations by More.

By the time this second edition was printed, More had been named Lord Chancellor, and notice of his distinguished position was added to the title page: “Newly overseen by the said Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England.”

“Whether as a reflection of More’s official position or simply of the greater resources of William Rastell’s shop, the second edition is a more spacious and expensively furnished book than the first. The text is set in Rastell’s graceful secretary type [and] attractive ornamental dropped capitals now introduce each chapter… A major feature of the second edition, not found in the first, is the table that repeats each chapter heading...

“The second edition contains several major additions, though the extent to which More ‘oversaw’ the second edition remains something of a problem… of the three major additions of new material in the second edition, the longest, in Book I, deals with the ‘Image of love’ (1525), a suspect book that the Messenger alludes to with enthusiasm. The fact that More included a rebuttal of its attack on the veneration of images in the second edition suggests that the book had enjoyed a continued notoriety since its suppression by Tunstal in 1525…

More addresses Tyndale’s Response to the “Dialogue”:

“The two other major additions to the second edition, both in Book IV, seem to be responses to Tyndale’s ‘Answer’ to the first edition of More’s ‘Dialogue’… In the first passage, about three folio pages, More refutes the Messenger’s claim that Saint Gregory opposed the veneration of images, More cites the same letter to Serenus, Bishop of Marseilles, which Tyndale cited in his ‘Answer’ as evidence that Gregory was averse to the custom. The other addition to Book IV comes in the midst of More’s account of an examination at a bishop’s court of an unnamed heretical preacher on the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith. In Tyndale’s point-by-point refutation of this chapter in the first edition, he dismisses More’s citation of a crucial proof text of the orthodox position, James 2:19, by referring to his own already published commentary on the text in ‘The Parable of the Wicked Mammon”, where he defines faith as the ‘earnest believing of God’s promises.’ In the passage added to the second edition of More’s ‘Dialogue’, the unnamed heretic cites this definition of faith as the opinion of ‘some right learned men’, whom his examiners immediately identify as Luther and Tyndale. At the beginning of the passage of new material, they warn the heretic not to ‘run to his old gloss’ of James 2:19… Thus the three major additions to the second edition illustrate the effect that heretical books like the ‘Image of love’ and Tyndale’s ‘Mammon’ and ‘Answer’ had upon that part of the populace, represented by the Messenger and the unnamed heretic, inclined toward the Lutheran innovations.”(Lawler, The Dialogue Against Heresies, pp. 556-7)

More’s “Dialogue”: it’s form, purpose, and style:

“In 1523 More had written the first of his controversial works, the ‘Responsio ad Lutherum’, a Latin diatribe in which he answered Luther’s attack upon Henry VIII’s book on the seven sacraments… The procedure he employed for the ‘Responsio’ inevitably restricted the play of More’s literary abilities. For this new book, the ‘Dialogue Concerning Heresies’ of 1529, More found a format that gave him freer reign to treat the ‘diverse matters’ mentioned on the title page. Most of the major issues of the Reformation are dealt with, for More’s purpose was to give a comprehensive review of the errors to which the public would be exposed by heretical books and sermons, in particular those of Tyndale and Luther. The attempt to stem the flow of foreign books at the ports of entry or to confiscate or burn the books that slipped through the net had failed completely. The layman could read of these ‘diverse matters’ and, realizing this, Bishop Cuthbert Tunstal launched a new stage of the campaign when he sent More a package of heretical books with a license to read them in preparation for his task.”(Ibid. 439-40)

The beauty of More’s “Dialogue”, and what sets it apart from other works of early 16th c. religious controversy, is its literary form and style. Reminiscent of More’s “Utopia”, the “Dialogue” between More and his interlocutor, the “Messenger”, is an intimate, lively, and far-reaching conversation, held in More’s home so that his young visitor, who has come at the suggestion of one of More’s friends, might discuss freely what he has “heard some men say” concerning heretical topics. The Messenger, an educated but young and still impressionable man, has come under the influence of the reformers. His ability to reason is not so finely honed that he can see the errors of the ideas that have enthralled him, so More, at the behest of his unnamed friend, attempts to steer the Messenger clear of false doctrine. By using the dialogue form, More suggests a blue print for other English families to employ in their own households when debates over heresy arise.

The whole of the text is presented in the form of a letter, written after the “Dialogue” has taken place, so that the young man may have recourse to More’s guidance when he returns to the environment in which he first encountered heretical thinkers. The book is to be an “enchiridion”, a handbook (or dagger) used as a guide the Messenger and others like him back to orthodox belief; it is also a defensive weapon against the dangers of heretical thinking.

The “dyvers maters” of the title constitute a catalogue of the heresies put forth by Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and preachers such as Thomas Bilney, who seek to inculcate these pernicious errors in the laity, including well-educated university men such as More’s Messenger.

The topics include the veneration of Saints and their images, going on pilgrimage, the central Lutheran doctrines of ‘sola scriptura’, (the idea that the Bible contains all the information necessary for salvation) and ‘sola fide’ (justification by faith alone), predestination, and excommunication. “The structure of the ‘Dialogue’ is the course of heresy itself, one digression or bypath leading to another, farther and farther from the common way.”(Ibid. 443)

“The consequences of such heresies are set before the Messenger’s eyes in the last book of the ‘Dialogue’ in the horrifying picture of the Sack of Rome (1527), where the Lutheran troops negotiate ‘pacts and promises of rest’ without further violence before raping wives and daughters. The Sack of Rome is the final fruit of Luther’s schism, ‘of whose opinions or at the least of whose works all this business began.’ (Ibid. 445)

Weighty topics indeed, yet More’s literary genius is such that he makes not only the suasoria convincing but also the conversation so enjoyable. This is due in large part to the fact that in the person of the Messenger, More has crafted a complex and nuanced character, a humanist like More himself, not a straw man to be knocked down with the cudgel of orthodoxy. More’s anonymous friend has told More that in the Messenger he will find a wise man, “more than meanly learned”, with an excellent memory and “a very merry wyte”. Amusingly, the Messenger is wary of engaging in conversation with More for he has been warned about his wit:

“Ye use, my mayster sayth, to look so sadly whan ye mene merrily, that many tymes men doubte whyther ye speke in sporte whan ye mene good ernest.”

“The tales, anecdotes, fables, and proverbs that arise throughout the ‘Dialogue’ contain much of its deepest wisdom and are often especially revealing of the Messenger’s character. One of the problems that any university student faces besets the Messenger (though he does not realize it): how does one know surely what he knows? More illustrates this paradox with a merry tale of a young maid who knows she is a virgin but does not wish to tell how she knows she is a virgin. Intercourse with the heretics, More implies, is a more subtle proceeding, and neither we, nor More, nor the Messenger can be certain whether he is still a virgin when he can play the part of a Lutheran so well.”(Ibid. 447)

ESTC S115009; STC 18085