The name of the English lawyer, statesman, outstanding humanist scholar of the Renaissance Saint Thomas More is known all over the world. Very often he is associated with the notion utopia he gave for the first time to the imaginary nation with unique political system, which he described in his writing. In this paper we are going to study briefly some facts from his biography as well as his major philosophical and scientific views, including his most famous writings and reflection of his convictions there.
Thomas More was born in the family of a lawyer in London in 1478. His initial education he received in St. Anthony’s School and later studied at the University of Oxford (Ackroyd, 5). Special interested he showed in Latin and logic disciplines. After coming back to London he studied law and in 1501 he started to work as lawyer. However the career of a lawyer was of not much interest for More, as he was considering joining some monk order. The only reason for More to refuse from it was his disinclination to celibate. During his whole lifeĀ More didn’t loose interest in such practices as self-punishment and flagellation. Within his life period More had two wives and several own children, as well as one adopted. The daughters of More got classical education, although during those times such education was normally available for men only. More was not afraid to contradict the usual accepted social orders, in case they were not corresponding to his own understandings and convictions.
During the period between 1510 and 1518 More took the position of one of the under scheriffs in London. This position was with rather high responsibility and allowed him to earn the reputation of an effective public servant (Fox, 13). In the following years More’s career continued to rapidly develop. He became a counselor by the king’s service and had to fulfill the mission to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. After that he got the status of the knight and became undertreasurer. Due to the fact, that More had a position, which was so close to the king, he had also all chances to spread his influence in the government. He was engaged in communication with diplomats from abroad, in making the drafts of the official documents of high importance. By the year 1523 More gained the position of the Speaker in the House of Commons (Fox, 25). The position of the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which he got two years later, gave him control over the northern territories of the country. We have already mentioned above, that Thomas More was a well-known scholar, however in reality he was more a literary man. For his great writings, he got the title of prominent humanist of Christian Renaissance. One of the best friends of More was Erasmus of Rotterdam, who dedicated his Praise of Folly to Thomas More, playing with More’s name, which meant folly in Greek (Fox, 27). Erasmus worked together with More on the translations of Lucian’s works.
More was very much involved into religious polemics of those times. He was a supporter of concrete hierarchy and always opposed heretics to the established faith. According to his understanding of religion, Christian faith served not only for salvation of souls after death, but should have been used also for establishment of earthly laws. More was an absolute opponent of the Lutheran Reformation. More had a great chance to express his ideas, when he was assisting Henry VIII in writing the Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which was supposed to serve an answer to the writing by Martin Luther One the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Critics underline, that More was so much convinced, or even obsessed with his ideas, that his writing was too violent sometimes and close to quarrelsome almost obsessed with harping on about Luther’s abominal bichery to the point where he loses himself in a wilderness of opprobrious adjectives (Ackroyd, 22).
The notion of heresy was already mentioned in this paper, in reality More didn’t accept it not only in relation to religion, but to the whole society either. Thus on the one hand More agreed with the statements of Christendom, that there is a need of strong control over heresy, on the other hand he saw an enemy of the Catholic Church in the person of Luther. Using all his power, More didn’t let the books of Martin Luther to be brought to England. He was one of the founders of a Star Chamber, with the aim to confront the heretical preaching of Protestants. As soon as More got the position of Lord Chancellor of England, he put this kind of aim as the major one: Now seeing that the king’s gracious purpose in this point, I reckon that being his unworthy chancellor, it appertaineth¦ to help as much as in me is, that his people, abandoning the contagion of all such pestilent writing, may be far from infection (Moynahan, 74).
In 1530 the decree was issued, stating that offenders were to answer in front of the King’s Council, not bishops as it was before. The Council treated them rather harshly. For example Richard Bayfield, who graduated from Cambridge University already being Benedictine monk, was burnt for distribution of the New Testament. There was a number of other priests and writers, whose executions were initiated by Thomas More. However not better destiny was waiting for More himself. After he refused to visit the coronation of Anne Boleyn, who was to become the Queen of England. He wrote a document, where he fully acknowledged, that she would be the queen and wished all the best to the king and his new queen, thus officially it could not be interpreted as treason. However, this kind of attitude to the new queen could not remain unpunished. More was accused of taking bribes, but he managed to prove, that there were not enough evidences supporting this crime. In 1534 More was said to join in a conspiracy with Elizabeth Barton. This was a nun, who predicted that the king won’t get the divorce. And again More was able to find a way out from the difficult situation, by providing a letter, in which he wrote to the nun, that she ought not to interfere with state matters (Moynahan, 89). However, when More refused taking the oath during the declaration of Ann Boleyn the legitimate queen of England, he was taken to the prison in the Tower of London. Later he was accused for high treason, because he didn’t sign the Act of Succession. More was sure, that he was safe as long as he kept silence as for his opinion concerning giving the power of the heard of the church to the king and was constantly avoiding this theme. He however underestimated his enemy Thomas Cromwell one of the most powerful advisors of the king at that time, who found the witness for testifying, that Thomas More didn’t agree, that the king could be the legitimate head of the church. This was the strongest and thus the final argument for the judges to vote for More’s conviction. Before his sentencing, More spoke freely of his belief that no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality (Moynahan, 143). The person, who was used to judge others, was also finally judged and sentenced for his convictions.
Within his lifetime More produced two famous writings Utopia and History of King Richard III. Utopia is considered to be very versatile and controversial work. More created an imaginary country, which got the name Utopia and presented a traveler Raphael Hythloday, who as critics state, was looking for truth, but was finding nonsense. Utopia was a mirror reflection of the real world the author was living in.
There was no private property in his imaginary country; absolute religious tolerance. There is no unified understanding of the real message of the author in this novel. On the one hand such order of things presumes liberty and freedom for people, on the other hand we should not forget the personality of More, who was obsessed with the ideas of discipline and order. This is in a way reflected in the fact, that atheists were not tolerated even in Utopia. Hythloday theorizes that if a man did not believe in a god or in an afterlife he could never be trusted, because, logically, he would not acknowledge any authority or principle outside himself. (Logan, 111).
Among critics there was another point of view, stating that the author wanted to convince the readers to take the responsibility for the imperfect societies they were living in, and put all their efforts in order to serve them. The novel by Thomas More was the first one written in the so-called utopian genre, which developed later in literature. The writers of this genre paid attention to ideal societies or countries and details of their structure and existence. Initially Utopianism was considered to belong to the Renaissance period, including the features of the classical societies described by Plato and Aristotle; later it was also related to the Enlightenment.
For five years Thomas More was working on History of King Richard III. The famous play Richard III by William Shakespeare has some common features with this narration. More didn’t support the descriptions of the king, presented by the historians, rather portrayed the king without flattery and idealization. Most of the critics agree, that the main idea of the writing by More was the expression of his critic towards royal tyranny as general and not only the actions of King Richard III.
Overall, in this paper we studied the biographical facts of the famous statesman, lawyer, writer Sir Thomas More. His remained in the history for many hundreds of years due to his unique resistance, firmness, loyalty to his principles for the sake of justice. He wasn’t and couldn’t be understood during the times he was living and he, in his turn, didn’t want to give up his position or to adjust it to the commonly accepted one at that moment. There are a lot of modern critics, who blame More for his religious fanaticism and intolerance, which was evident from his persecution of heretics. Even if this accusations are not absolutely groundless, More did it not for the sake of his own wealth or power, he did it out of his believes and convictions.