St. Thomas More’s A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation is a classic of prison literature. Arrested in 1534, More wrote his Dialogue while in the Tower of London during that same year, as he awaited his trial and execution the following summer. More’s book deserves attention this Holy Week as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, as its teachings may help faithful Catholics ponder the spiritual aspects of our present crisis.
More defines tribulation “as any interruption of well-being” (or “prosperity,” which he calls “just another word for well-being”). As such, tribulation is “nothing other than some kind of grief—either a bodily pain or some mental affliction.” More goes on to say that, “Since tribulation is not only every such pang as pains the body, but also every trouble that grieves the mind, many good persons have many tribulations that not everyone knows about, and consequently their well-being is interrupted without other people being aware of it.” Here, More also includes the experience of temptation as “a great inward trouble” and a “secret grief” in a person’s heart.
Such a sense of tribulation already suggests the Dialogue’s usefulness. More would urge us to consider all the “interruptions in well-being” that are underway at this time, whether here or abroad, and those “many good persons” who suffer alone and unbeknownst to us with troubles that grieve their minds. From homeless people to those who feel trapped in their own homes, More would challenge us to expand our idea of tribulation to include those who secretly suffer alongside us, or those who suffer far away, to those who suffer worse or even less than we do, including all who struggle with anxiety, faults, sins, and bad habits. Tribulations abound and call for our compassion and prayers.